2022 is the year I finally learned that despair can be overcome
After being prompted by Medium to think about what defined my 2022, I rather uncharacteristically immediately thought of hope.
2022 has just begun. The most corrupt British government in living memory continues to mishandle Covid-19. Whether the lockdown is formally lifted or not, one thing is clear; life is different.
Things are simultaneously too much and too little; the days blending into one indiscernible chunk of time, as unvariegated as the space occupied within its duration.
It is now February, and I am 30. I hate birthdays, especially milestone ones, as they usually serve as a bitter reminder of my perceived failures. The urge to immediately compare your life with that of your peers, friends, and even enemies is a common one. As is the fear that you are falling behind in an eternal race growing with each year.
At least, that was how I used to feel. But this time is different; this year hope and resilience bloom in what I once feared was barren soil. And whilst despair and loneliness and pain remains, something new is starting to take shape.
It is summer, and heat and life have come anew to the UK. Climate change is real; but the Western world is only taking it seriously now that it is their lands that are burning.
Things are going ok personally and it confuses me after years of bleak unhappiness. There is a dangerously seductive quality to hopelessness that we don’t talk about enough. If you genuinely feel that nothing can change, you will soon find your body does not respond to the increasingly shrill cries of your brain to move. And the will to make changes slowly depletes as you resign yourself to a hollow simalcrum of life, inured to the idea you will never be happy.
This is something that those blessed without mental illness never understand. We are aware that there is no physiological reason for our lethargy, our sadness, and our minds and souls not functioning as they are supposed to be. But cognition doesn’t change the emotional and physical toll; debilitating and frightening in equal measure.
But things are different now. The seeds have sprouted; a sapling stands in place of dead bark. Joy at life, at living, is slowly returning. I am unused to both the emotion and the act of enjoying things instead of going through the motions.
It’s like returning to a sport I haven’t played in years. My muscles are stiff, but the memory swiftly returns.
It is autumn, the season where, as Larkin says, the leaves suddenly lose their strength. I’ve always loved this time of year. Where others see death and decay, I see reminders of resilience; for though the leaves come and go, the boughs which support them remain ever strong.
Doubt weigh heavily on my mind but is now balanced by happiness. This is something I was convinced I would never feel again. I am living, rather than going through the circadian rhythms of merely surviving. It’s not much, in comparison; but I am finding that comparing myself to others is no longer important.
Endurance is what makes a writer according to James Baldwin. Everything else is meaningless. It is a lesson I have taken to heart, both in life as well as in profession. But now, at 30, I realise perhaps I have applied it in the wrong manner. Life is not a chore to be grimly endured, as I felt for so long.
There comes a crucial moment in every adult’s life when they realise no-one is coming to help you anymore when you stumble and fall. Instead, perhaps for the first time, you can help yourself get back up.
Self-love — and by this I do not mean the oft narcissistic self-regard touted by White thought, but rather the ferociously radical compassion espoused by bell hooks — is something that never played a role in my life. Until this year.
It’s not all good, of course. Life is far too complex to be defined by singular experiences.
Despair, conversely, paints the world in disarmingly simple tones. You feel worthless; therefore you are worthless. You feel like you cannot progress; therefore you do not progress. And thus the multitudes contained within all of us are reduced to simple pejoratives.
What accounts for this change in my temperament? The philosopher Soren Kierkegaard once opined that human being spend half their lives thinking about the past and the other half thinking about the future.
But when the pandemic hit, the world was forced to pause. The future seemed grimly uncertain, and plumbing hypothetical depths potentially too upsetting. The past became our focus; but this time, rather than being set in stone, it became a chrysalis of sorts. Mutable and inchoate in equal measure.
It is winter now. Packed snow compresses even more tightly with a satisfying crunch under my boots. I take in the frost-bent branches of skeletal trees. Change is advertised through a multitude of seasonally appropriate cheerful listicles; transformations at a discount, productive starts to the new year in the form of top ten tips ad nauseum.
The end of the year is a difficult time, as it naturally forces me to think about what has gone by and the seemingly vast distance still remaining between me and others.
But, at the end of 2022, I find myself having triumphed over the despair that had infiltrated my life for so long. Something new and hopeful has grown in its place; my garden is no longer clutched by the weeds of the past.
I have not achieved what I wanted to this year. But, and this is the crucial difference, I have achieved enough.
And for the first time I am looking forward to what the new year can bring.