With a new year upon us, IntraSpectrum Counseling wishes to acknowledge the additional impact that this time of year can have on our mental health, especially for those in the LGBTQ+ community. The blog post below offers insight for those who may be struggling, and for their allies.
A New Year. A Fresh Start. The world feels new, and a lightness in the air fills our lungs with hope. This is the time of year that inspires us to aspire, dream, and become the best versions of ourselves. A time to celebrate what we’ve overcome in the last year and what we strive to work towards for our future. The world is brighter, and opportunities seem abundant. We seem to embark upon the world with newfound energy and passion that was seemingly absent from our lives at 11:59pm on December 31st. We believe this is a time for fresh starts and the perfect opportunity to embark on new endeavors. Through reflection, we identity what needs to change in our lives while actively committing to the cessation of bad habits and behaviors we deem unhealthy, This is the one time of the year when we welcome change, bargaining with the universe that our actions will be just and we will be rewarded for such introspection.
But what is a new year when we are still being held by our past? What are we to do once we realize the problems we believed we’d left behind are waiting for us with no resolution? How does one process grief, trauma, anxiety, and depression once we’ve settled into the new year with the same hopelessness that suffocated us last year? This is what many of us quickly realize in the new year. We do not feel a sense of relief or the hope of new opportunities coming our way. The opportunities seem scarce as we face another year of uncertainty, where we must be even more cautious of our actions and interactions with others. We are afraid to breathe in the new year when a pandemic continues to dictate our every move. The lightness in the air becomes heavy, as we grasp for solutions that continue to elude us. The hope we felt has now become fear that another year will pass us by with our only motivation is survival while dreams become too abstract to strive towards. The energy that seemed to be propelling us forward has stopped, and we realize we’re exactly where we were ten days ago.
We as humans are designed to compartmentalize our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors as it makes it simpler to handle the complexities of life we encounter each day. We realize the goals we set for ourselves in the new year will take more effort than we can muster. Manifesting, a term often used in current times to reach goals, appears to be wishful thinking with each passing day. The truth is, change is hard and when we’re still trapped in the dark recesses of our mind, it seems impossible. So if we’re wanting to change something significant about our emotions and behavior, like managing depression, anxiety, or seeking help in recovery from substance use, again seem too hard to obtain. The goal we thought was closely in our grasps drifts further away from us each day. All the time we spent evaluating what we need to change about our lives seem futile, and we often resolve to believe the state we’re in will go on in perpetuity.
How do we stop this pattern from happening again with no answers in sight? We believe the answers vacillate between immeasurably complex and outrageously simple. Here’s a secret; it’s both. While working with LGBTQ+ who are struggling with depression, anxiety, substance use, or experiencing a lack of a social support network, I’ve observed through the years the tremendous weight the new year can place on someone struggling to manage their mental health. After losing my family during the holidays years ago, approaching the new year and trying to imagine a life that was full and satisfying at the time was incredulous. The sensation of feeling stuck and believing you are unable to make meaningful changes in your life is cumbersome and at times deepens our depressed mood. Common phrases such as, “just keep going’ and “you’ll be fine” seem ridiculous as we are held captive by doubt and the lack of validation needed to process our struggles.
For context, this time of year is when many seek help in discerning if they have substance use issues. If I were to say those common phrases to the people I provide services for, their reactions would be anger and it would be warranted. When working with gay men contemplating seeking treatment for recovery, how helpful would it be to sound so dismissive by saying everything will be fine while not acknowledging the experiences that led them to seek out services? When talking to them about drugs, I can acknowledge the pervasiveness of substance use within our culture. As gay men, we are introduced to substances that enhance our bodies, our sexual experiences, and our social lives. I’m not here to debate what’s right or healthy as a community when broaching this topic. But I reference this point to create dialogue that is constructive and nonjudgmental. Awareness and affirmation is my purpose. With that, I’d ask the same questions as with any behavior that has some perceived adverse consequence. In every activity or behavior we choose, we have to weigh how it impacts us and our ability to function as well as how it effects having a healthy life. What is healthy for you? How much will this impact your life if there’s no change? Does it impede your ability to function? How has it effected your physical and mental health? We all have this ability to ask these questions and find meaningful solutions, but due to circumstances or strife, we forget what we are capable of achieving.
When I approach awareness training, it’s designed to help people understand and come to terms with where they’re at mentally and emotionally. It’s crucial to not only acknowledge where we are, but also accept what continues to narrate our lives rather than us being able to tell our stories. What I ask of you to do in this time is to reflect on resolutions vs obtainable goals. Resolutions are the frame of what we desire but it is not sustainable by desire alone. When we apply obtainable goals, which are increments of measurable change, these benchmarks allow us to see the progression towards the goal is what motivates us to continue forward. The first step is asking yourself three questions: What do I want? What do I fear? What is missing? When asking yourself what you want be as expansive and creative as your capacity to dream. Be unabashed and honest in what you want to change in your life and the reason this change will be instrumental in you having a healthier lifestyle and mindset. Be honest in how difficult circumstances, whether they be from your actions, past experiences, or both, have on your ability to reach what you want to achieve. When asking what you fear, again be honest with what continues to inhibit you from making meaningful changes in your life. Analyze how you developed a mindset that fosters the belief you are unable to make meaningful change. When asking yourself what’s missing, investigate what is needed to confront your fears while reaching your goals. While seemingly simplistic, these three questions are what has led many I’ve worked with over the years into manifesting their goals and dreams. Ask yourself where and how you can receive support.
Manifestation is an activation of our will. Our desire to obtain something we deserve, something that we need to better our lives. But for our will to be effective, we have to admit where we are and all the problems we brought from last year. They’re still there. But so are you. Don’t forget what it took to bring you to this moment. You have the strength to achieve all you wish in this world, you just have to reach out and find the support needed to move forward Keep reaching out, until someone hears you, validates you, and will manifest with you. Manifesting, like most things in life, are a team effort. Let this year be the one where you embrace the help of others and actively seek it out to move you toward your journey. Reach out, and make this year yours for the taking. Manifest.
IntraSpectrum Counseling is Chicago’s leading psychotherapy practice dedicated to the LGBTQ+ community, and we strive to provide the highest quality mental health care for multicultural, kink, polyamorous, and intersectional issues. For anyone needing affirming and validating support in their healing, please click here or email us at email@example.com.