It’s the festive season, and a mental image appears in my brain. It’s me, sipping a green juice, towelling down the glistening sheen left on my muscled torso having just completed my latest marathon.
Imaginary me glares down at the real me lounging on the sofa eating pizza in pyjamas. He boldly declares that now is the time to get on with drinking less, eating better and getting fitter.
“Bro, it’s a new year,” he’ll brashly declare. “New year, new you.” Recently, this apparition makes me vomit a little in my mouth.
The last time this happened, at the tail end of 2019, I was a month into a diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis. The “New Year, New Me” statement felt particularly poignant. We were heading into a new year, and I was a new me, but not one of my choosing.
Multiple Sclerosis is an unpredictable degenerative neurological condition, which can result in loss of cognitive function, mobility issues, balance and sensory problems, and a plethora of other symptoms. There are currently treatments to manage symptoms and slow progression, but no cure.
As 2020 dawned, the mantra was running around my head like the music of an old fairground carousel, but one where the speakers have become warped to make the cheery music sound increasingly threatening and dangerous.
This was because the adage was correct. A new year could bring a new me, and that me might be unable to climb the stairs unassisted. Extreme, perhaps, but nevertheless, it isn’t the most hopeful way to approach a milestone.
For those with degenerative conditions, it feels like a threat, and it is equally damaging for those who live with chronic illness.
Now, over a year in to my diagnosis, and with a pandemic putting an end to much of my work, I have had a lot of time to think. It’s made me realise this tired motto can get in the bin. For those with degenerative conditions, it feels like a threat, and it is equally damaging for those who live with chronic illness.
Really, promising that we’ll transform ourselves every year is our brain’s way of telling us that the way we have existed for the past year is simply not good enough. That your life doesn’t live up to the image it’s trying to conjure of who you should be.
There is of course nothing wrong with wanting to make changes in your life, and it is, in fact, an important thing to do. As we mature, grow and educate ourselves, it is good to make adjustments, create new mentalities, value new things. But a completely “new” you is an unnecessary and unrealistic aim.
In a way, “New Year, New Me”, is the ultimate form of procrastination. Anything that really needs change, and a change that’s likely to stick, needs doing pronto. “I will continue stealing my housemate’s milk for now because next year I will be better at buying my own.” Buy your own now, you cheapskate. “I really must eat less meat, it’s bad for the environment.” Sure thing, here’s a courgette and a recipe book. You can do these things as easily in any month of the year as you can in January.
So, as we hurtle toward 2021 and my brain fizzes with the phrase, I’m shutting it down immediately. In a year when the word “unprecedented” has been thrown around with, well, unprecedented commonality, we all deserve to be proud of ourselves. Unless you are stealing milk from your housemate.
Next year, I’ll continue to be proud of who I am, but aware of what I’d like to improve. At the core I will always be the same me: the one with MS, who loves to eat pizza so tries to stay fit but really could do better. The one whose friends tell him that his eyes are too close together. The one who should drink more water and less Irn Bru. I’ll try and work on a few things, but if I can’t then that’s fine. I’ll celebrate the person I am first and foremost, probably while demolishing a large pizza.
Robin Hatcher is a comedian and freelance writer.