Rosh HaShona, the Jewish New Year, is a little bit different than the secular one that falls on January 1st. Instead of beer snacks and champagne, we have apples and honey; instead of interminable football games, we have interminable synagogue services, and instead of getting drunk, we get very sober and reflect on the year just past, preparing ourselves for the other major holiday, Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, which comes just around the corner.
Even though I don’t go to temple anymore, and I’m only Jewish in the sense that I make a hell of a brisket and will plotz if you don’t finish what’s on your plate, I try to make some time in my life to privately observe the High Holy Days and honor the culture that made me who I am today.
It’s been a tumultuous, painful, amazing, eye-opening, disappointing, progress-filled year for me, and I think it deserves a bit of a retrospective. This time last year, I was in the (unknowing) final weeks of my first job out of college, one that taught me so much about what to do – and especially what not to do – in the working world.
I was also, as some of you know, very, very deeply mired in an episode of clinical depression that completely changed my outlook on life. At the end of October, I would do the best thing I’ve ever done for myself and begin a course of anti-depressants, but I spent the majority of 2011 crying.
Really, just crying. When I woke up, when I went to work, when I got home, before I went to sleep…I don’t understand how I even functioned at the very minimal level at which I was operating, but it was my reality for so long, and I was so deeply enmeshed in my own sorrowful ruminations, that each day was little more than an obstacle I wasn’t sure I could face.
There was nothing I could do to stop it, even though I had started therapy in the fall of 2010 (and it’s helped me in more ways than I could possibly list here). A “good day” was one where I successfully persuaded myself to do the dishes, or didn’t sneak off to the bathroom in the office for ten minutes and stand in the corner with my hands over my eyes, shaking in silent grief and desperation over one of the many triggers of my despair – and the fact that I had absolutely zero control over my emotions, zero ability to motivate myself into changing anything, and a deeply misguided fear about what taking medication really meant.
I got let go from my job the day after I finally worked up the courage to take my first Prozac. At the time, I thought it was a sign. I didn’t realize it would be a sign that I’d be unemployed for an entire year, but it was definitely an auspice of my freedom: freedom from the darkness – the chemical illness – that had engulfed my mind for so long, and that had kept me chained to a life I didn’t want.
A lot of people find all of this uncomfortable to talk about, or tell me I should have just snapped out of it, or ignore me all together when I try to explain how profoundly it altered who I thought I was – and who I wanted to be. I don’t care. It’s not a shameful secret, in my opinion.
It was an illness, and one that I suffered through alone, because that’s the nature of the beast. I’ve met many, many other people since then who have struggled with the same thing, and are better off for talking about it, taking action, and owning it as part of themselves.
A month or so after I started on my pills, I was writing again. I was smiling again, and crocheting, and even dating a little bit. I was doing things I thought were completely beyond my capability: things that were proving to myself that no, I wasn’t just a waste of space that had no business believing life could ever get better. I was someone who could live, and try, and even fail and be okay. I had something to contribute, and I knew that I had to attempt to, because I had wasted enough time.
I kissed someone. I started cooking again. I published a book, and shared a piece of my soul in the process. I started a blog, and made beautiful things for my friends and strangers out of yarn and imagination and love. I embraced the idea that I’m a writer at heart, and that’s not something I have any need to run from. I tried, harder than I’ve ever tried to do anything before, and I don’t think I’ll ever be as proud of myself as I was this year, when I pulled myself up out of a deep, deep gutter by willpower alone.
That’s what this year meant to me. A renewal. A chance. A hope. A solemn lesson on my own fragility, my own character, and my own strength. I will forever be a better person because of it – because I know that I never, ever want to fall that far again, and that’s something I’m glad I learned while I’m still young.
You might not have had such an eventful year. You might not be Jewish. But on this beautiful autumn weekend, when the world is in flux and change is coming, I urge you to take a moment for your own reflections about where you’ve been and where you want to go. Munch on some apples and honey and just remember that life is sweet, but the warm glow of progress, even if it’s something as simple as doing the dishes, is sweeter still.
L’shana tova, everyone, and may you find health, happiness, and fulfillment in this new year.