So long 2022, thanks for the tough love

by Mick Rhodes | editor@claremont-courier.com

So long, 2022. You sure were a year of bracing contrasts.

As I’ve written repeatedly this year, life is both exhilaratingly beautiful and heartbreakingly sad, and 2022 provided those extreme backstops and everything in between.

Covid took so many. We also lost friends to cancer, accidents, heart attacks, and suicide. There’s the yin.

Babies were born, folks fell in love, and even in the face of hateful rhetoric and regressive, discriminatory legislationenacted or proposed across much of our country, I believe we inched closer to becoming more welcoming to the marginalized and underrepresented. Yang for the win.

That optimism has become increasingly necessary as I approach 60. Getting swamped by the horrors — the seemingly never-ending cycle of school shootings, fentanyl overdoses, and mental health crises among them — is just too easy. I’m sure I’m no different from many in that it’s a daily struggle to stave off hopelessness in the face of this onslaught.

Lately I’ve taken to rising early and writing a poem every morning. I’ve found by distilling my thoughts and feelings — gratitude, fear, love, (lots of) anxiety — before I unleash myself onto the world, I enter the day with a little more joy. Pulling apart and examining this stuff lets a little air out of my worries as I begin the day. People tell me early morning exercise can do the same thing, but I’m just too dang lazy for that, so a poem-a-day it is.

I’d like to report a year of healthier habits, but that would be a fib. I still drink. I enjoy good whiskey a little too much. I went through brief stretches of laying off the booze in 2022, but as is often the case this time of year, I seem to be finishing with a flourish. I know alcohol is bad for me, and in fact lost a close friend to the effects of alcoholism in September. So, yes, I will endeavor to rein in my drinking in the coming year. Many of my peers have quit altogether. One day I may gather the courage to make that leap.

Though I did have a rare burst of eating less, if not healthy, late this year when I hopped on the dreaded low carb train, from my birthday in November onward I have reverted back to my natural state of bad choices, usually in the evening, and have a little blubber poking up around my belt for proof. Just like with alcohol, I know as I careen toward 60 I no longer have the luxury of eating like a 30-year-old. My jam is “salty crunchy.” That means chips mostly, which are verboten with the low carb cult. The plan is to continue down this slovenly path through the New Year, then to go back to string cheese, bacon, and Michelob Ultra.

By far, my most perilous issue this year has been my fragile mental health. This has been an up-and-down feature over the past decade; some years I’m cruising, others I’m crashing. My poems are helping, and I’m going back to therapy, again, in the new year. I know my primary triggers, all of which are out of my control. It’s my reaction to those stressors that needs attention. Coping mechanisms, I believe they’re called.

I’m not ashamed of my mental health struggles. The older I get, the more I realize I am surrounded by folks in various stages of crisis, dealing with grief, guilt, shame and every other manner of later in life heaviness. Normalizing our therapeutic, psychological, psychiatric, and pharmaceutical journeys helps destigmatize the whole thing. And as I meet more and more folks who are struggling, it’s oddly comforting; I know I’m not alone, and that’s all we really want, isn’t it?

I’m deeply grateful for my incredibly kind and brilliant wife, my friends, family, writing and making music, all of which have helped me push through this uniquely trying year.

It’s also been a beautiful year. Lisa and I were married in June. It’s such a joy and honor to share my life with her. Combining our broods has had its challenges, as expected, but overall it’s been a lovely mash up.

I’ve learned quite a bit this year as well, personally and professionally. I changed jobs in July, going from reporter to editor, which opened up an entirely new facet of stuff I did now know how to do. It’s been challenging in a wonderful way.

In August I wrote about how Cash Whiteley, a local unhoused man, came to be living on the streets. In time, I offered to help him get treatment for a longstanding medical issue, and wrote about that too. But when Cash decided he didn’t want to be helped, and walked out of the hospital, I was angry.

It was a pivotal moment. It forced me to look at my motivation and be honest about how my ego played a part in my belief that I could, by force of will, some free time and patience, change someone’s life for my version of the better. It taught me to listen more, to be less arrogant, and to allow for the possibility that not every idea I have needs to executed immediately, or at all.

I enter 2023 humbled by the lessons of 2022. I endeavor to “let that sh%& go,” to live with more purpose, less hubris, more joy, less worry, and more gratitude, less judgment.

My wounded heart remains open; it reminds me that even when things are bleak, kindness — to both myself and others — is the only path worth taking.

Happy new year, everyone.

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