First, this is for those of you who never thought you’d make it through the year.
You did it. You survived. You defeated the impossible because you knew this wouldn’t be possible—and yet here you are. It may surprise you that you’re still alive, you may not even be happy about it, and there may be parts of you that still want to give up the fight. We need to acknowledge, though, how big an achievement it is for you to have made it. How big an achievement and how little praise the world gives you for this feat. For the last 365 days, you have woken up every morning and have survived, and now that’s added up to a whole year of surviving.
Maybe you’ve found moments of living amongst the surviving. Perhaps there have been genuine laughs, perhaps you can think of a time when you managed to get to sleep calmly, or perhaps you’ve even had fun. You might have had tangible successes—you’ve made money, you’ve worked on assignments, you’ve passed tests. Maybe some good people came into your life this year. You have learned new things about yourself. You’ve been kind; to others and to yourself. Take a moment to think of those things right now.
At the same time, it’s important not to dismiss how hard this has been. I bet there have been moments of barely surviving. I know that there have been days like dungeons devoid of happiness, bereft of hope, and completely lacking in motivation or energy. You’ve lost people you didn’t want to lose. You haven’t made money, you didn’t hand in the assignment, and you didn’t pass the test. Maybe this year has shown you what sitting on rock bottom looks like. Maybe the nightmares have eaten you alive. Maybe you don’t even know what a good night’s sleep really looks like. Maybe you’ve messed up and made mistakes. Maybe you haven’t been kind, and maybe you hate yourself.
So: you’ve sometimes survived, and sometimes lived, and sometimes barely survived. It’s. So. Hard. I understand. And because I understand, I am infinitely proud of you. And I thank you for defeating the impossible. I thank you for being here. It’s a miracle that you are here, a miracle that you have created for yourself. Which simultaneously makes you the miracle and the creator of miracles.
If you are someone who has made it through the year and thought you would end your life beforehand, you have, by definition, been dealt a lethal kind of pain. Through a strength of your own that you may or may not recognize, you have resisted the urge to end it when it all felt like too much. You inspire me with how you have defied the odds. It’s possible that not many people will recognize how big of a deal this pivotal moment is; it’s possible that you don’t even recognize it yourself. I see it, though, and I am sending you my genuine congratulations. Please: keep going.
Now, to those who continue to struggle. To those who feel like the struggle will never end. To those who are unsure whether they’ll make it through this year or not.
It completely makes sense that you’d want to end the pain you’re currently experiencing. To end any engagement with the anxieties and the sorrows characterizing your life right now. It makes sense to feel, no—to know—that you can’t make it through another minute of this life. You are completely right in the sense that your truth is valid. You know yourself best, and I believe you when you say it is not possible.
There is another truth, though, and if you hear me out as I explain it, you might find that it can co-exist with the truth you carry right now. I’m not going to convince you that your desire to end your life is the result of “not being with it,” or “thinking irrationally” or “being so mentally ill that your entire being has been hijacked by this foreign impulse.” (These, by the way, are quotes I have heard myself in one form or another.) I won’t tell you these things because I don’t believe them. I believe you; wholeheartedly.
And there’s something else. The other truth that I also believe in is time. It is not the goodness of time that I believe in. Time is neutral and, by nature, uncertain. But that’s the thing… both time and uncertainty hold just as much possibility for good as they do for bad.
I can see you reading this in confused anger, asking the obvious: “Doesn’t that mean things can get worse? How the fuck does that help me?”
Yes, things can get worse. And I know that you can’t handle that right now. No, I am not promising you that time will provide the magical resolution restoring your will to live. I know you have heard enough platitudes, and I am aware this may sound like one too. I am merely making the point that the possibility for glimmers of good to happen exists, if you give yourself time. Those glimmers of good don’t feel worth it at the moment—nothing can possibly match the pain you are currently feeling—but with time, you might develop a greater capacity for receiving and feeling that good.
Time is equal to change, and change will happen. I have evidence: from the incredible clients, I have worked with, from my friends and loved ones, and from myself. I, too, have wanted to end my life in the past. And while that feeling was valid, it proved to be an unfinished sentence. One that, with time, led to different sentences, paragraphs, and even books.
Perhaps time alone won’t be sufficient for you to find hope, peace, or relief from suffering. Perhaps you need to give yourself time to find out exactly what other unique ingredients you need to add to achieve that. You can get help to find out what you would like to pair your time with—and there are numerous online resources to assist you in finding that help, like Psychology Today’s Find a Therapist, the UK’s Counselling Directory, or the APA’s Psychologist Locator.
I have always seen time as an abstract philosophical dimension rather than numerical objectivity. It’s not something to be measured, reduced to restricting and predetermined limits—it is something infinite and expansive and unknown. The choice to end your life—and thus to end your time—is yours. I know it feels like it’s not a choice, that you have to, and there is no other way, but it’s important for you to know that it is in your hands, and no one is going to take that away from you. You genuinely can choose to live, though. You can, and you will find reasons to stay alive. Hope exists, without a doubt. Maybe you can’t see the point now, but there is a point, and you’ll find it.
A quote from Matt Haig’s book, Reasons to Stay Alive, comes to mind, a quote I highlighted in bright purple in my copy before I even believed it:
You will one day experience joy that matches this pain. You will cry euphoric tears at the Beach Boys, you will stare down at a baby’s face as she lies asleep in your lap, you will make great friends, you will eat delicious foods you haven’t tried yet, you will be able to look at a view from a high place and not assess the likelihood of dying from falling. There are books you haven’t read yet that will enrich you, films you will watch while eating extra-large buckets of popcorn, and you will dance and laugh and have sex and go for runs by the river and have late-night conversations and laugh until it hurts. Life is waiting for you. You might be stuck here for a while, but the world isn’t going anywhere. Hang on in there if you can. Life is always worth it.
To end, I’m not going to say Happy New Year. It’s unrealistic for an entire year to be filled with happiness, and such an expectation can be more harmful than helpful. Instead, I wish you a year of more manageable days than unmanageable days, a year of growth and flickers of hope and okayness, and a year where you can aim towards feeling and coping with all the feelings that life has to offer—not just happiness. That might take time, though. And if all you do this year is make it through another year, you will have done something amazing.
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