A DISCLAIMER – this week’s column is self-indulgent (if my understanding of the term is correct). There is no commentary on the news this week. Kindly wait for the first issue of the new year for that – and skip over this one.
THE day this paper goes live (and two days before the weekly upload to our website), I will have become a year older. I want to say I am turning 27, but the memory is so hazy that every time I bring up this number I have to re-do the repeated calculation of modern year minus birth year to confirm that yes, this is indeed my age with a ninety-percent guarantee.
This memory has been on an observable decline, much like the rest of me in this year. I have been told that I am too young to be forgetful, and other people have sent me articles that coincidentally point out that certain mental illnesses have a studied and confirmed negative effect on memory – definitely a mere coincidence.
The Christmas / post Christmas column that I write has always been a retrospective, a year in review from the self looking inward. I have written three Christmas columns to date – this will be the fourth. Each one has had shared themes – my favorite Christmas song, for instance – White Wine in the Sun – and each one has been a look back, without fail, into the journey of that year, the highs and lows, the developments in the person that is Angel Castillo.
If there were a theme to this year’s retrospective, for the person that is me, it would be – I’m tempted to say pain, which is entirely true but far too edgy for my liking – something along the lines of some sort of synonym with a more contemplative and personal connotation.
I have never particularly been a fan of Christmas. Even in my most pro-Christmas column, I state viewing it as a mere established tradition rather than anything of personal significance, but at worst I have had a slight animosity toward it. Suffice it to say, the fact that this year marks the first year in a decade where I have felt abject distress over the holiday season should provide enough context.
If the past three years or so were essentially me coasting along on the waves, I would describe this year as the one where I beached into a face-full of sand, at least personally.
Not to say that the year hasn’t had personal highlights, and from the outside, it does appear like a relatively good year. I have received my first significant work arrangement improvement in years, I started a new hobby, reconnected with some people, spent time with family, and so on.
But internally, everything has been a disfigured slurry of incoherent thoughts, the vast majority of them negative. Where in the past I would describe my state as being on a “chemical medical cocktail” that kept me functional, this year it is impossible to figure out what kept me in that functional, semi-productive state (and the level of functionality is up for debate). The cocktail is mental this year, and where in past Christmases I described the year as one of struggle, then this year has been one of survival – where there were genuinely nights that the fear that one of the head-voices would say the right (wrong?) thing and I would not make it to the following day was entirely real and a possibility. One where I have subsisted on one meal a day on occasion, slept an average of two hours a day, where I indulged in food and entertainment for the slightest spark of dopamine where I could, and then fall into sheer fatigued lethargy after, having drained what little battery was left inside.
The days have blended together so seamlessly into a faded picture in the fog of thought – in fact, I woke up today thinking it was two days earlier and ended up writing my stories for the paper this week late as a result – in the blink of an eye I am a year older, a decade unhealthier, and the memories are gone from my data-banks.
A massively bitter mixed bag this year was. Sure, some treats in it, but between all the questioning, all the doubt, the voices, the mire within, that little sweetness is hardly enough to tide over the vast majority of it.
It is the bitter taste that sticks to you through forgetfulness. I could tell you very few of the highlights of this year – though I am certain there were, if not by virtue of the quality of the year, then by virtue of mere logic; surely if there are troughs and dips then there are peaks – but I could say the tiny moments that cut deep at 5 AM, which by now is an early bedtime for me. The lonesome stills. The endless questioning of whether I qualified as any sort of good or deserving of good, the painful attempt to open up about turmoil within swatted aside with expletives and admissions of non-understanding, the fear of abandonment, the struggle to even acknowledge that the self deserves a minimum of care, all the bleakness swept under the rug one way or the other, and the horrifying realization that it is not all entirely unjust, undeserved, or unwarranted.
Frankly, even this piece has been a struggle to write. I was instructed to write on the “memorables’ ‘ of the year for myself – and I apologize, but I remember mostly this. I am sure there was more than this – please, there must be more than this – during the year, just locked away in the inaccessible portion of my recall. Every bit, from wracking the brain to come up with a discussion of my year’s retrospective that wasn’t holiday-inappropriate, to writing this and deciding what level of honesty was appropriate for a year-ender, and to struggling whether to even let it see the light of day, whether it was too self-indulgent, too much, too little, too anything – but the deadline is forcing my hand. So now you have this drivel.
(If you’ve made it this far and read that bit, I will assume that there was at least some level of pull that I was able to put on this “column”. Next week, I will be back to my regular news commentary. Read that instead.)
That has been the flavor of my 2023 for the vast majority of my waking hours in this year – in the gaps between the work-fueled newsman focus, and the regular game-days and little private conversations – the flavor has just been this taste of mulch.
If the previous Christmas columns were of staunch realism and cautious optimism, this year marks the first where I greet the coming year with exhausted resignation – and the slightest twinge of hope. I am not sure if I want it there. I could not say whether it is better to have that hope or to have none entirely, and to endure without hope, without witness, without reward – to endure, and in enduring grow strong, or to hold on to that mote and let it power the self forward.
Regardless, it is there, the tiniest sliver of it. The trouble with hope is that it’s hard to resist.
Is there a point to any of this drivel? Not quite. I am just following the prompt the best I can in the state that I am in, and it has taken this shape. Maybe there is no point to any of this. But it’s the best I can do, so I will do it. And perhaps that is why on occasion I attempt to reach out to others in the same darkness, in the hope that I can ease the ail – because you know what you do with all that pain? You hold it tight, until it burns your hand, and you say – no one else will have to feel this way.
The year ends. The struggle will not. But there will be a new beginning – at some point, somewhere, a change will come – from the moment that the realization sinks in that you – that I – do not want to be here anymore – here being as much a state of existence as a physical location. That moment is the most powerful spark, enough to bring new life to one resigned to stagnation, once it comes, once it clicks.
Everything ends. Everything begins again.