The night of the bench: learning from 2016

I like New Year’s resolutions post mostly because I’m big on reflecting. A friend noted that I’m big on anniversaries; my birthday (July 1) and New Year’s Day (January 1) fall exactly six months away from each other, so I find they’re good times to look back, plan and learn.

This year was weird.

I started in my apartment in Toronto, and was gone by March. I had resigned myself to a weird situation: I had admitted that I was at one of the deepest parts of my depression, and wasn’t quite sure how to get out.

I had left a job in November, and December was spent in a bit of a haze, doing absolutely nothing. I wasn’t sleeping or eating regularly; I just kind of let my whims decide what I did. I felt slobby. Shit sucked.

Sometime in December (I don’t remember when exactly) I reached a really low point. All I remember is not being able to sleep due to anxiety; when I’m trying to sleep, my brain gets the chance to think all that stuff that you get to try to push aside during the day. The self-doubt can be really crippling, and the cycle that your brain runs makes it really difficult to drift off.

Eventually, 4AM rolls around and I decide I’m hungry. It’s lightly raining, and I decide, what the hell, let’s go get some food. There are restaurants at three of the four corners of the one intersection I walk to, and two of them are closed for cleaning when they’re normally 24 hours. The third doesn’t have a grill running, so I settle for chicken.

Something I’ve become aware of in the last year is that I’m not very patient when it comes to people; this is something I need to work on, obviously, but that night, I was especially just done. Annoying patrons at 4AM mean I’m going to sit outside. In the mist. On a bench.

Every time I pass by that bench, I remember that night, eating chicken and facing the Guess store across from it — it’s one of those situations where you want to burn an absolute lowest point into your mind to remember that you survived it. That night was genuinely bad because I felt some dangerous feelings crop up that no one really wants to admit to. Things just felt extremely hard at that point, and you have lapses in what you feel are normal, sane, “regular” thoughts processes to have.

But hey, I’m still here.

The rest of the year has been a ride, mostly because I’ve committed to more regular therapy, and trying out new things that’ve given me my first strong progress in a long time.

Since then I’ve learned to be less critical of my choices, and more compassionate. I’ve gotten more confident with my thoughts and opinions, and realized that opinions are not more right just because a lot of people believe them.

That sound weird to put down on paper, but I’ve always had trouble balancing that confidence with empathy. I want to be able to self-aware about how I present myself, and how my own bias might affect what I believe is real. I value empathy in other people and myself, and authenticity and humility are two qualities I love in others.

However, found that I overdid this sometimes and equated disagreeing with someone as a failure on my part. I didn’t trust the confidence I did have on certain things, and just thought “Man, I just must be a terrible person.”

With politics becoming a larger part of discourse all over the Internet, this was accelerated to the point where I equated me disagreeing with someone as contributing to making their problem worse; this just fed back into a dumb loop of negativity that didn’t get me anywhere.

It also took my therapist telling me directly to trust in the process of what I was doing to fix myself, and not get overly worried that I was going to become “stuck” in a shitty spot. This is crucial to improvement, mostly because it prolongs your suffering to think that you can’t get out of it. Having someone reassure me that my problems were going to get fixed gave me something to believe in; I kind of needed that “step-in” from someone else to let me know I wasn’t alone in figuring myself out.

Still, you have to trust that your brain is capable of making small adjustments to how you live, even if it’s on a subconscious level. Having the confidence that you’re moving somewhere, even if you’re not directly saying “I’m making Change X from today on,” is important. It lets you disengage from the constant thinking of “I’m not doing anything. I need to be doing something to improve. I’m wasting my time.”

In short, this year was essential because I figured out how to quiet the “timer” that thinks about how far I’m falling behind other people, momentum, or any of that other stuff. You have to make your journey at your own pace, especially if you know you’re not purposefully slacking off.

Thankfully, the thing I was able to keep confident about was my ability to write. I rediscovered the physical joy I experience when I look at a piece I’m proud of and realize it’s good. I started writing under a pseudonym about manga that came out every week. I made more efforts to have the stuff I create not be “things” that needed to make me money, gain me status, or other shit in order for me to be satisfied by them.

To be honest, that’s what I need more of right now: to keep making stuff, keep working at being a better person, and then eventually have a more solid foundation to tackle the harder stuff.

It’s really simple to write out, but it took a ton of time for me to get to that point; I always thought that I hadn’t worked hard enough to know for sure that something wasn’t working. I felt I was mostly lazy: if I wasn’t, I could’ve balanced life better, made something bigger for myself, or just generally avoided problems. “Have you really given it your all? Are you sure there was nothing else you could’ve done?” was a common question.

The thing is, through the rough patches and recovering, I feel better about saying “maybe this path to success isn’t for me.” Previously, it felt like admitting this was also admitting I wasn’t capable of grasping the opportunity. Essentially, I was beating myself up when I didn’t have to.

I just realized that sometimes that’s how it is: it doesn’t mean you can’t get to a goal in another way. Which, again, seems simple, but when you’re fighting doubt and the anxiety that comes with “what if’s,” it’s hard to let that gain enough real estate in your brain to become something you believe on a daily basis.

This year, I got to do a lot of cool stuff. I got to go to California a couple times to do social media for Beyond the Summit. I got to cover two Dota majors for Dotabuff. I got to take a tea course at a community college and learn more about a passion. I got to go to Pound 2016, meet some friends in person, and get bylines for ESPN.

I lost 25 pounds and started feeling better about my body. I got to walk my mom down the aisle on her wedding day. I’ve embraced other hobbies (tea and pro wrestling) and am more comfortable articulating why I enjoy them. I’ve taken comfort in having my hobbies not be something I need to make money from. I’ve embraced having things “just for me” without feeling bad for “being selfish.”

I basically took the first steps in breaking a terrible mindset that thought that if I wasn’t working on “getting somewhere” constantly I was falling behind. This was an overreaction to years of reminders that the economy is terrible, journalism is dying, and you are worth what you produce. Anxiety, depression and competition exacerbated that, and it took letting it all go to finally see an improvement.

I cannot emphasize how important it is and was to do that.

It doesn’t mean I’ll never “be back” to writing for a living, nor does it mean I’m resigning myself to never having financial stability. It just means I’m getting more confident that I can do that without compromising my values, authenticity or goals. It’s possible. Life doesn’t have to suck.

And on that note, neither does 2017. I want to keep making things better in terms of my foundation, and I want to be able to make things I’m proud of. Coming up with concrete resolutions is normally a thing, but I’d rather keep my focus where it should be.

All I can really do is thank you for reading and supporting my work for now; I hope you’ll continue to enjoy it.

Matt Demers writes about video games, culture and the Internet. You can find him on Twitter and watch him stream on Twitch.

Matt Demers

Matt Demers is a former esports journalist who currently works as the Social Media Director for Evil Geniuses.