​Happy? New Year

Posted by Howard Menaker in Life After Paralysis on January 05, 2023 # Mental Health

New YearHere we are again. The New Year.

This is the time we traditionally look back at our lives in the year just ended and look forward to the year that has just begun. We “resolve” to do certain things to make our lives better.

I have kept a journal of my private thoughts for several years, and as the new year began, I did something I had not done in a very long time. I went back to see what I had written in January's gone by. Most entries sounded all too familiar – I will improve my health; I will eat healthier; I will work harder on my rehab. But one year stood out to me and made me truly stop and think.

In January 2019, I wrote to myself:

“Things I will quit this year:

  • Trying to please everyone
  • Living in the Past
  • Living for the Future
  • Overthinking
  • Fearing change
  • Being afraid to be different
  • Sacrificing my happiness for others
  • Thinking I am not good enough”

This list hit me right between the eyes. We often work hard (or resolve to work hard) on our physical well-being, but do not take the time or make an effort to improve our emotional well-being. Yet here was a guide to being a better and happier individual, a manual for my own mental health. And it made me realize yet again that I am responsible for my own happiness, no one else.

For those of us with spinal cord injuries, our physical health is never far from our minds. Can I improve function and mobility through physical therapy? How can I avoid pain? Will I get a UTI or another infection? But spinal cord injury affects our emotional health and mental well-being as much as our physical fitness. So how often do we stop and ask the question: what should I be doing to improve my mental health?

When I looked at the list from New Year’s Past, I was struck by the fact that it was not a list of what I would do, but a list of what I resolved not to do. Stopping bad habits or negative thinking is often a lot harder than getting to the gym to work out. And yet, these steps will pay long-term dividends that are far more important than any physical improvement.

We all have stretches when we feel depressed or discouraged. At those times, and even before these feelings set in, we need to stop and take stock. We need to ask: What am I doing that drags me down, that makes me depressed, frustrated or angry? What is the source of those negative feelings? We need to answer these questions honestly. Most importantly, we need to explore what we can do to pull ourselves up out of the dark places. We should also remember the importance of the mental health of our family and caregivers. They too, need help to get through the tough times brought on by our injuries.

Many people find community and empathy in the Reeve Foundation Peer & Family Support Program. Others get professional counseling. Some keep a journal, as I do. Some have a valued friend to whom they can talk about how they feel. Do what works for you. What you do is not as important as the fact that you do something on a regular basis to help stay on an even keel.

It is a new year. We all get a fresh start. We all get to correct the course of our lives when we feel we have drifted into murky or dangerous waters. If you think carefully about what you will do, and what you will not do, to improve your mental and emotional well-being this year, it truly can be the best year of your life.

Howard Menaker is a retired communications and public affairs executive, with over 30 years of experience in international corporations and trade associations. Previously, he worked as an attorney, specializing in civil litigation. He now devotes much of his time serving on non-profit boards of directors, including a prominent theater company and a historic house museum in the Washington, DC area. He and his husband split their time between Washington and Rehoboth Beach, DE.

The National Paralysis Resource Center website is supported by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $8,700,000 with 100 percent funding by ACL/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by ACL/HHS, or the U.S. Government.