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Depressing January

Posted on Saturday 7th January 2012 at 18:18
As someone who loves the festive season, I'm always surprised to find that not everyone does. For me, the idea that Christmas is wonderful is utterly unquestionable, yet as far as I can tell, almost as many people don't like it as do. One thing everyone seems to agree on though, is that January (and February and March if we're honest) is a depressing time of year. But why?

As a child, I have clear memories of that feeling of post Christmas deflation. For me it tended to start pretty much as soon as the last present was unwrapped. It wasn't that I didn't get what I wanted or was ungrateful, it was just that the waiting and surprise were both over and real life was gradually resuming. In more recent years, Christmas has been less about the presents and more about the whole day, so I no longer find my excitement ebbing away as the wrapping paper gets cleared up.

However, the more able I am at coping with the Christmas anti-climax, the more I seem to notice it's bigger meaner cousin, the January Blues. I don't really remember them in my childhood at all, but with every year that goes passed, I dread the period between Christmas and Easter more and more. I know lots of people who find it a depressing time, but, aside from those who have Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), why is this the case, and what can we do about it?

Most people blame it on the weather, and why not? After all, it's not a pretty picture. Wind, rain, storms, snow (if you're lucky) and never ending coldness. Hang on a minute though? Don't we all live in heated houses these days? And drive heated cars? And wear thick, warm clothes that protect us from the weather? In fact, now that I think about it, because I work at home, the only time I actually go out is on days like today, when I chose to spend a few hours hiking across Dartmoor, loving the feel of the bitterly cold wind making my face go numb.

Ok, so what about daylight levels? True, our body clocks are controlled by light levels and nothing puts a smile on our faces like bright sunshine, but we do have electric lights these days, and actually, the sun shines almost as much during the Winter as during the Summer, here in Plymouth. Admittedly that isn't a lot, but the change surely isn't dramatic enough to cause this much moodiness?

Another theory is that it's the lack of anything much to look forward to for those few months. Well, I'm not sure I do less of anything now than I do during the Summer. In fact, I usually do exactly the same sorts of things as I would in the Summer, so no change there. Besides, I like working. I like it enough to find distractions like good weather and social activities in the Summer rather annoying. I like being able to get my head down and work uninterrupted for a few months of the year.

I don't know what the answer is, I really don't. I don't make New Year Resolutions, so have no reason to be disappointed when I fail to keep them. I'm less fat than I expected to be after Christmas, my bills are all monthly direct debits, so no massive January utility bill shocks, my car tax isn't due for another month and petrol has come down recently. The fact is that life is bleeding well exactly the same as it was last month, but with lots of space in my living room where there was once a ridiculous tree.

Am I just pathetic, or is there a reason for the January Depression? Do you have a way of dealing with it? Should I just decide it's the weather and go on holiday to somewhere sunny til April?

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So this is 2012

Posted on Tuesday 3rd January 2012 at 16:18
I'm not exactly immune to a little introspection (why else would I have created this blog?!), and the New Year is as good a time for it as any, not least because it's the best chance I ever seem to get to find 5 minutes by myself in which to carry it out. So, if you will permit me a little too much self indulgence, here is a post all about my thoughts going into 2012.

If I'm honest, I'm not exactly where I thought I'd be this time last year. Actually, that's not entirely true. I'm in a StarBucks in Bristol a couple of days after New Year, which isn't that much of a surprise to anyone, as I often find myself in such a place at this time of year. What is more of a surprise is that I still live in Plymouth, and not through choice.

A year ago, I was growing rather fond of Plym, as my networking efforts appeared to be paying off. I had met a good many people over the past few months and was about to embark on 3 months of frantic planning in order to pull off 24 hours of fund raising, part of the global Twestival movement.

The fondness hasn't really stuck though. There are good things about Plymouth, of course there are, and I'm sure when we eventually pack up and move on I shall miss the sea, the views, the people and the close proximity of so many fantastic natural wonders. But, more than 3 years after I first visited the city, the overwhelming impression I have of it is still one of depression, deprivation and an intense feeling of being horribly cut off from the rest of the world at a time in my life when I'm not quite ready to get away from it all.

The frustrating thing about being young is that everything keeps changing - especially my views on things - so I'm aware that I can't judge myself, my situation or my place of residence in an even handed way. In all likelihood, by the time I move on (probably this summer) I shall have changed again my view on the subject, and may well miss the backwater aspect of Plymouth more than I can currently appreciate. The Grass is Always Greener, of course.

For all the frustration it causes, remaining Plymouth passed my planned departure date has at least allowed me to cement my business a little more. MRG Web Development has jumped from infancy to late childhood, if not adolescence, and although there is a way to go before I can honestly describe it as mature, or even recession proof, it is finally growing in a stable fashion, and beginning to cover my living costs.

I've learnt a lot of very harsh business lessons in the last 12 months. I now have client contracts and a content management system, and 14 months of professional experience under my belt, rather than the 2 months I hard a year ago. I don't doubt that I'll learn a great deal more over the next year too, though I hope the lessons will be a little easier and less critical to my success than those which have come my way so far.

My finances, though far from ideal, are also more stable than previously, and over the next year I hope to steadily improve the situation still further, not least by bringing my prices in line with the average for my industry, and building on the considerable coding knowledge and experience I have learned recently. I work a lot faster than I once did, and, thanks to the structure of my CMS, I'm able to deliver tried, tested and refined code for most aspects of any project I develop, and I already have plans for further development.

Several personal web projects lie in wait for the coming weeks. First and foremost I need to finish developing my business website, over at mrgwebdev.com. This is proving harder than any website I've ever developed for a client, as I'm responsible for writing business winning content, as well as designing and building the thing. Still, it needs to be done, and soon, as I shall need to up my marketing efforts this spring, in order to ensure that I am working at maximum capacity as often as possible.

Next up, I'm planning to build myself an invoicing system. This may not exactly sound revolutionary, and it isn't, but so far I've not yet been able to find an existing system that I'm entirely happy with and would therefore be willing to pay for. It may sound counter-intuitive to spend many hours building a tool from scratch when so many exist already, but there are few things more annoying than trying to use something that doesn't work the way you do, and paying lots of money for the privilege.

Last, but by no means least, I'm planning to build a website for my brother, to support his career as a racing driver. He is currently trying to attract sponsorship, and we both hope that a professional looking website that properly communicates his attitude to racing will help potential sponsors to see how serious he is.

On top of all this, the next few months are going to be a busy time away from work, with L enrolling on her final teaching practice before she becomes a qualified teacher. It's going to be a stressful time for both of us, as I'll be doing everything I can to support her through the most trying phase of her professional development so far. I know she will get through it ok, but nothing is ever worth achieving unless it is challenging, so we must prepare for it to be thus.

Despite the last 12 months being harder than they've been fun, I'm beginning to feel optimistic about those yet to come. It isn't going to be easy, I know that now, but with every month that passes I'll gain the upper hand a little more and begin to really succeed at least.

Happy New Year

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