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I’m not a big fan of New Year’s Resolutions, at least not in the hyped-up, designed-to-fail sense. Any time a segment of the calendar rolls over — new year, new month, new week, new day — is an opportunity to take stock of life and figure out if anything needs to change. That said, I’m not standing with the Internet Smartass contingent that likes to remind us that designating a specific moment in the earth’s revolution of the sun as the starting point is arbitrary and human-made — no shit. I happen to like humans and the way we make cool things like years and seasons and weekends.

What I like about the start of a New Year is that even the name itself says, “Big Picture.” Day-to-day concerns tend to be small-picture, short-term stuff like making grocery lists and figuring out if anyone has a birthday this week. Monthly stuff is longer-term. Something about the New Year makes it easier to look back on the Old Year and reflect.

2015 Rocked

So, what did I like about 2015?

  • I made an EP with two of my favorite musicians.
  • I moved from Michigan to Virginia, and my employer kept me on remotely so I didn’t even have to do the job search thing.
  • My wife and I adopted the sweetest calico cat.
  • I was prescribed Prozac, which does a much better job of managing my anxiety than Celexa was.
  • I took better care of myself overall, with doctor visits, physical therapy, counseling, and so forth.
  • I joined a gym, which I still attend somewhat regularly.
  • I took up drawing again, and this time I worked extremely hard on improving. It was a blast.
  • I learned to enjoy reading and playing video games without feeling like I should be doing something more productive.
  • I ate a lot of good food with a lot of good people.

That’s good stuff. I worked hard on being mindful about how I spent my time. I have a tendency to commit to leisure activity that makes me miserable — if I watch the first episode of a TV show, then I need to watch the whole season; if I’m playing a video game, I am damn well going to play it on Normal or Hard difficulty, even if it means dying frequently and replaying the same sections over and over.

No more of that. I’m good at turning things off and playing on Casual or Easy mode now, and I’m much happier for it.

2015 Sucked

Some stuff didn’t quite go according to plan. There was some chaos in my family that required an extra trip to Michigan shortly after I moved to Virginia. Our adorable new calico needed all of her teeth out right after we got her; later, so did our dog. Pets can be expensive. Good thing they are so cute and cuddly.

I had grand plans for music — continue teaching myself piano, record a new EP or two, maintain my voice. However, something caused a shift in my brain. It may have been the move, or the Prozac, or even just the sheer number of comics I was reading, but suddenly I found myself wanting to draw and write comics. I felt guilty at first, like I was betraying my inner musician, but it wasn’t long before I was able to embrace it.

My wife sprained both of her ankles. I don’t think I need to elaborate on why that sucks.

2016 Will Be Amazing and Terrible

This might be Star Wars talking, but I think I want 2016 to be about finding balance. Most of the time, I’m either all-in on some creative project, or else completely checked out and binge-watching TV shows. I need to learn to pace myself and make time to get out and see friends — or stay in and play online games with friends, depending on who is around.

Part of this process is going to involve figuring out milestones for the creative work, which I hate doing because it feels so corporate, but knowing whether I’m ahead of schedule, on track, or falling behind will help minimize the “I should be working” feeling I get whenever I’m not making stuff (or, you know, amp it way up if necessary).

As much as I hate making phone calls, I need to find a dentist and an optometrist this year. Despite great strides in taking care of myself after the move, I never did get around to replacing those particular medical professionals in my life.

Stuff What Helped Me

I’ll end with some tools I found last year that I’ll be carrying into the new year.

  • Bullet Journal. First off: This is FREE. They have journals you can buy, but Bullet Journal is a system, which is described in detail on the site. I’ve never been good about keeping a planner, but somehow this works pretty well for me. This, by far, has been the most helpful tool in my box. I highly recommend checking it out if you have trouble getting stuff done.
  • Xmarks. I thought I was done using browser bookmarks back in 2009, but I’ve never been able to get the hang of web-based services like Google bookmarks or Delicious — I usually forget about them. I gave Pinterest a go, but that ended up being more of a distraction than an aid. Now, if I stumble upon something useful, I just bookmark it and let it sync to all my browsers. So far, so good, but we’ll see if I’m still using it in six months.
  • Scrivener. I’ve barely scratched the surface of all the things Scrivener can do, and it has helped me immensely as I’ve been developing this comic idea. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s basically a program that lets you create digital Trapper Keepers for all of your writing projects. I love it.
  • Aeon Timeline. I won’t lie, I haven’t used this yet, but my wife loves it.

Meatbag Maintenance

Traditionally, I am not good at taking care of myself. 

In high school, I crashed at a friend’s house one night and he located some grapefruits for breakfast. We’d been having a conversation about how much I like sugar, so I started piling it on my grapefruit half — probably six or eight spoonfuls. My friend was aghast. “There’s no way you’re eating that. That’s disgusting.”

I ate it.  

Now, I was trying to be funny that day, but it’s a pretty good summary of my attitude toward my overall health. It’s not that I never tried to exercise or eat healthy, I just didn’t try very hard.

I didn’t realize how my habits were affecting me until I started changing them. When I added the bare minimum amount of exercise — 10 minutes of walking on a treadmill every day — and added fresh vegetables to my sugar-and-starch diet, I started having more energy. Excited at this development, I started looking for other things I could do to improve my quality of life, things to either help my overall energy level or hack my brain to do better creative work.

Eventually, through trial and error, I developed a routine: Wake up, meditate, freewrite, go to work, come home and treadmill, write, chat with my wife, sleep. It was a good routine. I don’t mean to imply that it was super rigid (i.e. I was fine to skip writing in the evening to go see a movie), but every component contributed to my overall well-being.

Then I got sick.

After a few days of watching bad movies and drinking orange juice, I tried to get back to my routine. I overslept and had to run out the door to work. When I got home, I was exhausted and went to bed early. I overslept again. To make up for it, I tried to stay up late, but was too tired to think. As I fell further and further behind on my projects, the more futile it seemed to try to resume progress on them. Everything went on hold as I binge-watched teevee shows on Netflix and whined about never getting anything done.

It would take another few years to admit that there was a problem with my brain and seek help for depression and anxiety. I’ll talk more about that journey in the future (probably a lot more), but the short version is that medication has been a godsend. It turned the volume down on the extreme negative feelings and enabled me to resume running, work on more creative projects, and give myself permission to relax and enjoy books or bad movies. When a routine gets disrupted, instead of wallowing in self-hatred, I’m able to ask what needs to change to get back on the treadmill, or finish the book I’m reading, or release more music.

And it’s a positive feedback loop. I’ve read assorted things about how exercise does good things in your brain — I notice that the more I run, the more creative ideas I have. The more ideas I have, the more I want to maximize my energy to work on them, so I eat healthier to avoid sugar crashes. Eating healthier gives me better fuel to run. The meds prevent me from beating myself up when I don’t run for two weeks, or pick up McDonald’s on the way home from work, so it’s easier to shrug it off and get back on track.

I guess what I’m trying to get at is this: Everything is connected, so when I take care of one aspect of my life, every other aspect benefits.