It’s that time of the year again. Time for me to pontificate about the new year whilst reliving any poignant moments from 2023. Strap in folks, it’s gonna be a bumpy ride.
In short, 2023 sucked for me. It sucked for many, I’m sure, and that’s why I write this stuff. To let you know that you’re not alone, if you’re one of these people. *shakes your hand in solidarity*
The thing that sucks the most is that, much like every other year, I went into it with expectations. Aka the killer of all things joyful.
I’m not a New Year’s Resolution type, but rather a “make some goals for yourself” type. While it’s fine to have goals, I think we all believe that if we achieve said goals, we’ll be happy. And that’s usually not the case. You have to be happy with yourself no matter what your goals are, AND whether you achieve them or not.
I’m someone who puts a lot of emphasis on achievements and work in order to feel “happy,” and I can tell you from experience that it’s not exactly a recipe for success. Sure, crossing a goal off of your list feels great, I’m not denying that. But it shouldn’t be what your happiness and quality of life depends on.
Things like social media encourage you to chase those goals, however unrealistic, lofty, or unfounded (idk about you but I am beyond sick of hustle culture). And when you’re constantly watching other people’s successes, it can make you feel like you’ve come up short when you’re probably, honestly, doing just fucking fine.
But we no longer want fine. Everyone wants to be exceptional. Everyone wants to be making big moves and doing big things. When did we stop becoming satisfied with feeling satisfied? When did content turn into complacent? Again, nothing wrong with aiming for a better life and “big things,” but first ask yourself, what does that look like for you? Do you even know??
I’m inclined to blame social media for this, because that seems to be the place where toxicity breeds. Someone out there is seemingly doing “better” than you, but, are they really??
Allow me to use myself as an example. I get messages from people sometimes who say that I’m “awesome” and “killing it” and things of that nature. Meanwhile I’m sitting there barely having the motivation to make a single post. The “grind” has come to a damn near halt, and it’s because I am burnt out as fuck.
I have done it to myself because this is my job, but it’s why I’m inconsistent, it’s why I feel creatively stuck, and it’s why I just essentially don’t fucking care anymore (as it pertains to creating content for myself, anyway). It’s made me miserable more times than not and I’m over it.
I hope to find some creative inspiration again soon, but I am not there yet. And I’m finally making my peace with that.
Even in dating, one of the things you hear people complain about is the fact that dating is exhausting. I take breaks from it regularly for this reason. Sure, all it takes is that one great date to change it all, but it’s a numbers game. People wouldn’t be talking about it if it weren’t the norm.
To that end, I was in a weird situationship in the beginning of 2023 that messed with me more than I care to admit, but I bring it up because looking back, I can see it clearly now. Ahh the gift of time!
Starting the new year knowing that you’ll never be more than just backup to someone is like jumping into a taxi that’s actually a Ford Pinto. It will not get you to your destination and it will likely blow up in your damn face, too.
So yea… I started out 2023 in a REAL bad place. On the surface, everything looked fine, so it was harder to pull myself out and realize it, but I spent close to 1/2 of the year just sorta zombie-ing through the days. I knew in my head the situationship was a dead end, and while I let go of it, I didn’t let go of how it made me feel. And that wasn’t on him, that was on me. Only person who can change the way I feel about me is me. So I did what any normal person would do. I got depressed.
Just kidding, that’s not what any normal person would do. But it’s what I do.
I should also mention that on top of the shitty romantics, I had a big problem with my knee occur right after my birthday, which brought around a small but mighty bout of depression and PTSD. Then I had a falling out with a friend shortly after. We have since made up, but it wasn’t helpful on top of what I was already dealing with.
My work life wasn’t going super swimmingly either. As a self employed social media manager and UGC (user generated content) creator, I lost a lot of clients this year. That part is the nature of the business; you work for yourself on a contract basis (usually 3 – 6 months), so you gotta be hustling and bringing in new business even when you have clients, if that makes sense. Welp. I stopped doing that. The motivation was just gone. Social media felt like a chore (still does, a lot of times), and it’s my literal job, one that I chose.
I felt trapped in a hell of my own making, on many levels. I wondered how I got here and how I let it get this bad. One thought after another, one spiral after another spiral. I felt really low. Still do on some days. The majority of my clients at that time didn’t respect me (not unusual in this line of work, unfortunately), so I started doing what I thought I’d never do: resenting most of the work.
When you’re a social media manager, you’re not really treated like a person. You’re treated like a content machine. You don’t need sleep, time for yourself, or weekends. You’re basically always working and you have to be available all the time. Because “it’s a job you can do from your phone, so it’s gotta be quick and easy.” I sometimes want to say to those specific clients, “if that were the case, why don’t you just do it??”
I have lost clients simply for taking a fucking vacation. Not exaggerating. I lost 2 clients this year right before and right after a vacation. Because I asked for some time to myself. Out of fear of losing my remaining clients, I just decided to work while I was in Greece and London with my mom this summer. I envy those of you who have the ability to unplug for real.
It isn’t the worst job in the world and it certainly has its perks, but the cons outweigh the pros lately. That’s why this year I am committed to changing how I work with clients. I’d like to do more team trainings (like this one I did for Widow Jane – great whiskey brand in Red Hook by the way) and more coaching. I discovered that I enjoy the teaching process almost as much as the creating itself; it felt more rewarding in a lot of ways.
I’ve never been shy about the fact that I struggle with depression and anxiety. So if you were/are in the same boat as me in 2023, where things just felt/feel unnecessarily low, know that it isn’t how it’s always going to be. You’re going to climb out of it. We can do that together. Because I’ve gotten knocked down so many times that I feel like I’m sort of a pro at picking myself back up.
Try out this tactic that I do at the end of each year: look back in your camera roll and find the highs as well as the lows. Do more of the things that brought you joy, and less of the things that brought you down. It sounds so simple but we spend so much time focusing on what we DO want and no time on what we DON’T want. Write both of these things down and make them part of your goals for 2024.
For me, this is the crazy part. When I looked back in my camera roll last week, I am not kidding when I say I barely remembered a large part of 2023. It was shocking, honestly. I felt like I was just floating above myself, looking down and flipped a switch on the back of my head that reads “autopilot.” I was just going through the motions. It was a blur and not in a “time flies when you’re having fun” kinda way, but rather in a “I really must have blocked this out” kinda way.
I went back a little further and looked at 2022. Yes, I have a lot of content on my phone. 2022 was such a good year for me. Personally and professionally, hell even romantically (even though nothing lasted for longer than a few months). It was fun. It was exciting. I listened to a lot of live music. I saw a lot of my friends. I made skits for social media.
Case in point: I did things that I loved and tried new things. It was probably the best version of me that I felt show up in a long time. And then 2023 just pulled the rug out from under me and I have not felt like 2022 Dara in a while. But I know I’ll find her again.
My life isn’t that bad and I know that, I have that perspective and I’m lucky in a lot of ways. But I believe that pain is pain. What is a struggle for me might not be a struggle for you, and vice versa. I know I’m a resilient person, but when you have multiple things go wrong or work against you, and when your brain is naturally hardwired for negativity, that slide into the depression deep end of the pool is a lot easier than you think.
All this is to say that no matter how many IG quotes you read or how many “good vibes” you put out for the new year, you can’t predict these things. You have to roll with them. Sometimes I’m good at rolling with them and sometimes I let them roll over me. And it’s ok to let that happen. If you need someone to give you permission to stay in bed on a lazy Saturday all day just because you feel like it, I grant you that permission. It’s only when it becomes a habit or a pattern that it transforms from “a lazy day” into “depression.”
Here’s 7 things I recommend for a better mental health year in 2024:
Take social media breaks. Or straight up avoid it. Unfollow accounts that make you feel bad about yourself. Mute people if you have to. Staying off social media has always, always made me feel better and have a more productive day. I just wrote this piece the other day about how I NEVER start my day by looking at my phone. It’s a game changer and I highly recommend it.
Surround yourself with people who bring out the best in you. If they’re sucking up your energy or your happiness, distance yourself from them. No time for fake ones.
Journal. I try to write a few pages every morning. I just read “The Artists Way,” and this is one of the creative practices they suggest. I find it helpful to sort of brain dump my anxieties or anything else that’s taking up my brain space before I start the day (and you don’t have to do it in the morning).
Develop a gratitude practice. I know this is probably the last shit you’d expect to hear from me, but I swear this has been helping my mood significantly in the morning. I say out loud or write at least 5-10 gratitude affirmations. It helps you focus on the positive things in your life. Something I desperately need assistance with.
Find new ways to love old things. I love a few things, but one of them is tiny things. My friend Deanna bought me these tiny food collectible items and I absolutely lost my shit over them. Things don’t have to be big in order to bring joy. It’s LITERALLY the little things, in my case.
Take breaks to just do nothing. I am someone who deals with feeling overwhelmed a lot, to the point where I feel like I literally want to just hide from my responsibilities. And being that I work from home, I have the ability to go into my bedroom, turn down the lights, put on some spa-like music and just sit in there for 5-10 mins, doing some deep breathing and/or meditating. It helps reset my mental clock.
Lastly, don’t be afraid to talk about your mental health with the people who care about you (or with your doctor). All they want is to help you feel better. There’s no weakness in admitting you’re going through some shit. And remember: tough times are temporary.
Do more of what you need, as well as what makes you happy. Lord knows that’s all I’m tryina do this year. Please see tiny food things below. Instant joy.
My podcast (You Both Suck) is the only thing I’ve felt really good about over the last year, and I’m hoping that continues to grow. It’s been a slow burn, but I have faith in it. If I’m wrong, I’m wrong, but at least I’ll know I tried and I gave it my all (in the ways that I can).
I have gone through many ups and downs, but I’m not going to live a life filled with regret. I’ll be damned if I wake up and say “I shoulda done that.” Not this year, not any year. That just ain’t me.
I wanna taste love and pain
Wanna feel pride and shame
I don’t wanna take my time
Don’t wanna waste one line
I wanna live better days
Never look back and say
Could have been me
That’s my energy for 2024.