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Ruth Durkin: For the sake of old times

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As we hurtle into 2017, Ruth Durkin reflects on the passing of the years, what they signify, and the inevitably disappointing parties.

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The celebration of New Year brings with it many expectations. If you’re not feeling in much of a party spirit, you can find yourself feeling alone amongst a throng of people exuberantly welcoming the start of a new calendar.

We have all linked arms with those around us at the stroke of twelve and uttered a pitiful rendition of ‘auld lang syne.’ It wasn’t until I sat down to write this that I looked up what it actually means, and for the first time learnt the accurate lyrics as opposed to the inaccurate mumblings I’ve previously uttered into a champagne flute.

How has 2016 been for you? Have there been some happy, challenging and difficult periods? Have we learnt more about ourselves? Are we pleased to close the door on the past twelve months, are we mourning the loss of someone or something, or has it been a year when slowly but surely, things have taken a turn for the better.

One New Year’s Eve I found myself in a pub surrounded by some very young revellers who were downing shots and whooping and cheering. In comparison to them, my table of subdued wine consumption must have looked fairly morose. At the stroke of twelve they downed yet more liquor before embracing everyone in the near vicinity whilst shrieking “happy new year!” One of the young women hugged me and whispered into my ear “I hope your life gets better because it looks really sad at the moment.” I was actually feeling fairly positive, but this observation filled me with dread and self-consciousness that I didn’t appear to be having a good time.

Another year, I was in a dark pit of depression, and had decided to stay in on my own on New Year’s Eve. I knew the gregarious get-together would only serve to highlight my low mood and thought it was best to keep my sorry feelings to myself. I allowed myself to be talked into attending a house party, where at midnight I sat alone in a chair and watched everyone else sing ‘auld lang syne,’ embrace and hug each other as I watched from a distance; dissociated as though I was watching the room from afar.

I have often found New Year’s Eve to be a shallow and superficial celebration. When reflecting on the past year, very few people will discuss their deepest and darkest experiences of the previous twelve months. I’ve had my ear chewed off by people boasting about promotions, new houses, new cars, holidays and gifts. I’ve lied my way through such encounters, claiming that I too had a fantastic year; omitting details of the struggle to maintain some sense of normality during a tumultuous year of mental ill health.

Who says we have to feel great at New Year, and why is it only on that particular day that we are meant to make a commitment to change or improve ourselves? The truth is that we can decide to make a change on any day of the year; it doesn’t have to be when everyone else does. If you’re not feeling in a great space when the clock strikes twelve on New Year’s Day, you don’t have to wait a whole year for another chance to turn things around. Resolutions can be made anytime.

‘Auld Lang’s Syne’ asks whether the old times, and the old friendships should be forgotten at the turn of the year.  There are lots of times I’d like to forget, and friendships that have been lost that I try not to dwell on; sometimes as a result of my mental ill health. Somewhere beneath the bragging and boasting of New Year parties there is a truth that many of us miss at midnight; the singing of Auld Lang’s Syne which asks us to reflect on the past and choose what we take forward with us, which relationships we cherish and those we have to let go of.

Ruth Durkin

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