The Curse of December
Over the last few years I’ve noticed a troubling trend. Every December, my mental health falls apart. At first I thought it was just a bad phase. The following year I told myself I had to break out of the pattern. The year after that I found myself there again. This year I thought I was prepared for it but I really wasn’t. The curse of December was on me again before I knew it.
December for me is like a game of Tetris at a level that’s much too advanced for me. Things are piling up so fast I don’t even know where to move them and how to make them fit into the limited rectangle of emotional bandwidth and physical energy that I have.
It starts slow in November, sneaking up on me like a mosquito at twilight. By the time I feel the sting of it, it’s already December. That mosquito is wedding season. Without fail in November, the invitations begin to arrive and it feels like they are screaming at me. “What’s up you fucking loser, guess who ELSE found love this year while you didn’t?”. I take a deep breath and go through my whole 10 step process (which I perfected over the years) of calming down.
- I acknowledge that I am angry. I acknowledge that I am jealous that someone else found something that I am looking for.
- Feel the anger without judgment. It’s okay to feel angry and jealous. There are no good or bad emotions. All emotions are okay.
- Remember that emotion is a wave. It rises and falls and it will go away soon. Deep breaths.
- Just because someone else found love, it doesn’t mean that you won’t find it.
- You don’t know the ups and downs they’ve been through to get where they are.
- It’s better to wait for the right person than to rush into a marriage because you have FOMO.
- Life is a jungle gym, not a race. Everyone has their own path. Comparison is the thief of joy.
- It’s okay for you to live a life in which romantic love isn’t for you. You have so much else that others don’t have. Focus on that.
- Be a decent human being and respond with a congratulations message and add it to your calendar.
- Hey you’ll get to meet all your friends again and get drunk and dance. It’ll be fun catching up with everyone.
If doing this twice a week isn’t enough, December is also NRI season. Everyone and their mom is in town in December. It’s always so much fun to have everyone back together but it also means all the drama descends at once. Person A isn’t on talking terms with Person B. I’m not talking to Person C but she’s been invited to Person A’s dinner but I’m closer friends with Person B so if I find a way to skip that dinner I can dodge Person C and stay loyal to Person B. Meanwhile Person D’s ex is marrying Person E’s brother so should I check with person D if they’re coming for the wedding since they’re Person E’s childhood friend? Or should I not say anything and just show up and see who’s there? Oh fuck I totally forgot about Person F’s birthday in the middle of all this and she’s going to be pissed. You get the drift.
Also the NRI/Wedding crowd doesn’t understand that their party season is peak work time for me. Being an actor means that shoot season peaks between November and February when the weather is just perfect. No rain, no blinding heat, just clear skies and winter sunshine. It also means theatre/show season. Everyone is out and about and taking off from work so it’s time to put on shows for them to watch! It also means that some of my favourite shows and artists are travelling to perform. But I can’t watch their shows because I’m working at mine. (grimace). So somehow I have to make it to rehearsal, breakfast, a house warming lunch, manage a show in the evening and show up for drinks and then dinner, every day, while sending emails, audition videos, invoices, and travelling for work (grimace intensifies).
Oh I forgot to mention, ALL OF THIS also seems to coincide with a reduction in my medication. My antidepressant dosage has gone up and down and up again over the years but somehow every year in December, while work picks up, I find myself in a position to go down on my meds. (Fulfilment from doing work that I love is a great way for me to reduce my dependence on meds). But with a change of dosage comes a few bad days while my body adjusts.
Now to add a twist to all this drama, I always seem to find someone to fall in love with in the middle of this chaos. I don’t know if it’s wedding season or because I’m meeting so many people for work, or because the universe hates me, but November/December is also peak season for me to fall into something that will inevitably wear off as soon as February rolls around. Some people choose cocaine but I choose the new crush dopamine rush to keep me going through the December madness.
If you’ve lost track already, here’s a recap of The Curse of December:
- Wedding season
- NRI season
- Shoot season
- Show season (shows that I’m working)
- Show FOMO season (shows that I’m missing because I’m working)
- Changes in medication
- Falling in love
Safe to say that by December 15th I’ve had at least one anxiety attack. By Dec 31st, I’ve had at least three.
But on a more serious note I think there’s a much bigger, more important reason that December descends on me this way. It’s the end of the year when I review all the goals I had set out in January. And rather than seeing all the things that I did, I can only see all the things that I didn’t. All the books I didn’t read. All the movies I didn’t watch. All the kgs I didn’t lose. All the trips I didn’t take. All the money I didn’t save. All the goals I didn’t achieve. All. My. Failures. All the reasons that make me incompetent, unworthy, not good enough, a failure.
All the things I had pinned my self worth to in January stare back at me, checkboxes empty, those tiny squares encasing the void that I was trying to prevent myself from falling into. Fuck. How is it December already and how have I done so little?
I wish I had a list to show the perfectionist that runs my brain. A list of reasons that I didn’t accomplish all those things. I would say to her:
Actually, I didn’t read all those books because I started a new job. I didn’t watch those movies because I was getting a grip on working with a new team in a new industry. I didn’t lose those kgs because my favourite person died this year and I wanted to eat cake while I cried. I didn’t travel as much as I wanted to because I spent that money on therapy and medication. I didn’t save money because I barely made money. I barely made money because there was a fucking pandemic. I didn’t exercise or eat right or spend as much time with my niece as I wanted to because I was struggling with a major life change after cutting off a narcissist and acknowledging and processing years of trauma. Actually, I did as best I could given the circumstances.
I wish I could give that perfectionist that runs my brain a different list. A list of things that I did, or that happened, DESPITE everything else. I would say to her:
Actually, this year I was on a poster for a film which released in theatres. My face was plastered on the backs of autos and on walls. I watched myself as the female lead in a feature film, in an actual theatre. People hugged me and took photos with me afterwards. I took a leap of faith and auditioned for a Hindi play and I actually got the part. I am doing something I’ve never done before, as scary as it is. I signed up at a new gym that I love and rediscovered my love of lifting. I also stopped myself and went to physiotherapy to address an injury instead of powering through the pain and permanently damaging my body. I went to Goa twice this year to honour the life and death of my biggest childhood role model. I earned more in October and November this year as a freelancer/part time employee in the arts than I did at my job in a multi national software company. I managed to read a few books that I cherish deeply. I found some shows that kept me company during difficult times. I don’t think I did such a bad job this year.
Actually come to think of it, I even tried a new approach to this year’s December maelstrom because I knew ahead of time that I would have to maintain a balance.
- Wedding season — I focused on the friends, the reunions, the laughter, and love. Also having turned 30 now, aunties have given up on trying to pressure me to get married. I’m a lost cause now.
- NRI season — I learned to say no to those bazillion plans. I learned to say that I need to rest, that I’m working, that I can’t make it.
- Shoot season — I love my work, so I enjoyed this as I always do.
- Show season (shows that I’m working) — Same as the above.
- Show FOMO season (shows that I’m missing because I’m working) — I am honestly constantly thrilled that I get to work in this industry. If there’s any reason I’m missing a show, I’m glad it’s because I have to work at another one.
- Changes in medication — Lower dosage means recovery, means improvement, means I’m getting better.
- Falling in love — As tough as this one is, I’m learning to appreciate on the grandeur of the feeling of reciprocated attraction, rather than the fear of its impermanence. It’s the best kind of hormonal intoxication and there’s no point resisting it just because it’s December. That new crush dopamine rush is what great art is made of and who am I if not an artist?
I hope that the perfectionist who runs my brain will read this and cut me some slack. I hope that she’ll see that this year’s December wasn’t so bad after all. That this whole year wasn’t so bad after all. All the grief I felt this year was only because I had so much love in my life that I could feel the pain of losing it. The intense struggle of cutting away from a close family member has been a huge weight off my aching shoulders. I breathe easy now knowing that I am safe. Enforcing boundaries broke a few hearts but it’s helping heal mine. My body got through a pandemic that destroyed lives. It may not look the way it used to but it moves and breathes and refuses to give up on me. My mind is able to function with a few less milligrams of store bought serotonin every day. Reframing my approach to love, friendships, and relationships has taken so much pressure off. I am learning to see the value in imperfection, in impermanence, in those tight hugs that say “I’ll miss you until we meet again”.
Maybe by finally looking at The Curse of December in the eye and acknowledging its presence was the first step in finally casting it off. Maybe next December will be a little easier than this one. Maybe I’ve overthought all of this and these grand realisations are just a consequence of growing up. Maybe it’s time to crack open a beer and celebrate myself this holiday season. Celebrate everything I did despite everything that happened. Celebrate everything that happened despite everything I did. Celebrate December so consciously that it no longer feels like a curse.