By Sonali Kokra Dec. 11, 2019
Decembers and I just don’t get along. While you’re giving thanks for all the silver linings of the year, I’m hypnotised by the dark clouds. Like a show reel of the lowest points of my year — an almost debilitating heartbreak, every missed opportunity, and my most acute failures — that’re playing on loop in my mind.
I tried to avoid it, I swear I did. I tried to run from it, throw money at it, even flirt my way out of our annual meet-and-greet, but it still managed to catch up and squeeze me in its cold, hard, cruel embrace, the sneaky little bas****. I’m talking about December, of course, the soul-sucking final lap of the year that has this uncanny ability to make every thought, insecurity, and fear that I’d carefully shoved into the darkest, unseen corners of my mind come tumbling out from their little iron cages and attach themselves to every waking moment — and many sleeping ones as well. December is like that lovely friend’s exhausting spouse, the one you would otherwise cross the road to avoid, but enduring him with a smile glued in place is the price you pay for your friend’s happiness.
Listen, I’m happy for you, I really am, don’t get me wrong. I wasn’t pretending when I hugged you hard at your promotion party, or toasted your happiness at your wedding reception. I meant it when I sent you photo after excited photo of all the frenzied little raving notes I made in the margins of your latest book, or assembled the biggest diaper cake anyone had ever seen for your baby shower. I was glad I picked you up from the airport after your fourth international holiday of the year… I really wasn’t. I’m not envying your overflowing cup of life. Okay, maybe I am, but it’s only a little, and I’m already adequately ashamed. I just want you to know, it’s not you, it’s me. Don’t dismiss it as a cliche, please. Decembers and I just don’t get along.
I’m going to try and explain what it feels like, so you can maybe understand. It’s like going to sleep on a satin silk pillow, expecting to wake up with soft, tousled curls, but somewhere in the middle of the night — you don’t know why, how, or when — you flipped it with a burlap sack and now your hair is gnarly, full of static, and wild. And you tug, and you wrestle with the hairbrush but nothing works, and in the end, you’re left clutching the broken handle while the paddle clings to a knot as big as your fist. December is that month.
You ask me to dress up and party, party, party, and I do; I blow off work one Thursday, because Friday is always suspect, and giggle with you as we try on ridiculous sequin dresses that cost too many thousands and cover too little. I buy one more stick of Ruby Woo that I’ll never actually get to the bottom of because despite what everyone says it’s just too darn red for daily use. But who cares, that’s just what one does in December, after all! I dutifully ask people, “So, what plans for New Year’s Eve?”, because come on, you always know when they want you to ask, and frankly, it’s just nasty to knowingly rob them of this life’s simple pleasure. On some days — not always, but often enough — I even convince myself that I care what the answer is.
I look at all the happy, glittering, drunk faces at the million December parties we attend and wonder if there are other eyes that mirror the hollowness of my own.
But the truth is that even while I’m there, laughing and shimmying in front of the mirror alongside you, I’m not really, there there. I’m not present, at least not in the way I usually am. It’s like this thick curtain of fog separates me from you, and even though you can’t see it, it’s making it harder and harder for me to focus. Some days your face is a blur and your voice an echo. I once tried to tell you and you wondered if I was depressed and needed help. We guffawed and snorted over something silly the next week and maybe you thought everything was okay again and maybe I thought that’s just for the best, and we never spoke of it again, and that was that. My mother rolls her eyes and calls it a case of melodrama-titis and, I’ll admit, even I found it equal parts funny and hurtful. My secret, on-again-off-again therapist wonders if it is seasonal affective disorder but we’ve discarded that explanation many times over — Mumbai’s days don’t get shorter, and my circadian rhythm has been painfully out of tune for well over 16 years now. That’s just how it is with me and Decembers, I’ve come to tell myself.
I look at all the happy, glittering, drunk faces at the million December parties we attend and wonder if there are other eyes that mirror the hollowness of my own. I honestly can’t tell. Is everyone really so delighted by the year that just went by, and waiting with open arms and bated breath, for the next one to crash in, or have we all gotten this scarily good at masking what’s truly going on within? Are there others who go through December feeling like they’re swimming in tar? Like you’re kicking, paddling, and windmilling with all your might, but you’re still not getting anywhere, goddammit?
I don’t envy you your successes, I envy your ability to celebrate them. While you’re giving thanks for all the silver linings of the year, I’m hypnotised by the dark clouds. Like a show reel of the lowest points of my year — an almost debilitating heartbreak, every missed opportunity, the most painful embarrassments, and my most acute failures — that’re playing on loop in my mind, and I don’t know how to get it to stop. And so starts another spiral of guilt and shame, because even as I’m wallowing in misery, I know how much I have to be grateful for; how much worse it could have been, and how much harder so many others have it. If I told you the disappointments I was obsessing over, you’d tell me I was a thankless, ungracious wench, and I’d agree. I know, I know, I know, and yet I can’t get the litany of self-directed criticism to stop.
There’s 20 more days left to this blighted month, and if you’re one of those hidden, haunted pairs of eyes at one of those interminable parties that are all beginning to merge into one another, laughing just a little too enthusiastically, singing an octave too high, to make up for everything you shouldn’t be feeling and are, and everything you should be feeling but can’t… you’re not alone.
Sonali Kokra is a journalist, writer, editor and media consultant from Mumbai. She writes on feminism, gender rights, sexuality, relationships, and lifestyle. In her 12-year-long career, she has written for national and international magazines, newspapers and websites. She was last seen as the lifestyle editor of NDTV, and HuffPost.com, and has published a coffee table book on Shah Rukh Khan.