New Year’s Resolutions: Janus Has the Last Laugh

janus-pic1-phyl

Bust of Janus – Vatican Museum, Vatican City

The Roman god Janus stands at the doorway of time, looking back at the Old Year with one of his faces and looking forward to the New Year with the other. He lends his name to the month of January, because the turn of the year is a significant, almost mystical moment. Once you have stepped through that doorway, you are not the same person, and who knows what you will now become? January 1 was the moment to make New Year’s resolutions and begin to create that new, different person—

Except that even by mid-January, and certainly later, two things seem to have become clear. First, everyone who made a New Year’s resolution has already broken it and failed miserably to change anything. And second, it’s a universally bad idea to make these resolutions in the first place. Once a person fails, he or she is likely to be discouraged from making any other future changes. As we walk through that doorway, we should kick Janus in the shins for the very idea of New Year’s resolutions. Shouldn’t we?

The problem is that both of these assumptions are at least partly false. Somewhere I sense Janus casting us a bit of a knowing look.

Why do people have this impulse to make a life change starting on a significant date? I suspect New Year’s resolutions reflect a psychological need for rites of passage. Those are the rituals—whether religious. like one’s first communion, or secular, like a graduation ceremony—that help people transition from one state of being to another. While still the same people, psychologically they have somehow stepped out of one phase of their existence (“I’m a student”) and into a different one (“I’m a graduate who is no longer in school”). It’s not that a student doesn’t know she’s no longer in school unless she has the ceremony; it’s more that a border has been established in her consciousness between “then” and “now.” It’s been marked and made official in some way.

Many psychologists speculate that one reason people feel rootless in the modern world and somehow have to “find themselves” is a lack of rites of passage. In older traditional societies, people used to fit more obviously into fixed slots, and they experienced more clear phases of life. But now it’s less easy for people to know where they really stand. Surprisingly, with so many choices available in today’s world, people still often feel like nothing is firmly in their grasp and that most things are out of their control. So they create significant moments when they can either ground themselves in one thing or can move from one state of being to another. Thus the resolutions pour forth: I’m going to lose thirty pounds; I’m going to socialize more; I’m going to read fifty books this year; I’m going to quit smoking; I’m going to take a trip to Japan.

But alas, despite the psychological need for significant transitions and changes, New Year’s resolutions just don’t work. The need might be there, but those resolutions don’t do the job.

Well…not so fast, there. Janus has begun to look positively smug. And wait till you see why.

Dr. Mike Evans (co-founder of Reframe Health Lab and now with Apple; formerly of St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, the University of Toronto, and the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute) has created a fascinating five-minute video specifically addressing New Year’s resolutions and offering some very encouraging statistics. These are based on studies of resolution-making by Dr. John Norcross (of the University of Scranton and SUNY Upstate Medical College). The bottom line is that you are probably ten times more likely to succeed if you plan your life changes to start at New Year’s than if you try to make those changes at any other time of year.

Dr. Norcross’s studies showed that people who planned significant life changes at times other than at New Year’s had a 51% success rate after two weeks, but their continuation rate dropped drastically to 4% after six months. Yet people who planned their changes for New Year’s had a stunning 75% success rate after two weeks. And even though this rate also dropped by the six-month mark, it still sat at 46%.

Did you see that? A forty-six percent success rate if you try to change at New Year’s, and four percent if you try at other times!

This sets New Year’s resolutions in a whole new light, doesn’t it? Dr. Evans thinks that New Year’s, despite the hoopla, creates a chance for people to be mindful and reflective. Those who succeed in their changes are likely to have planned them carefully and gradually. And there’s also a bit of a community aspect to New Year’s resolutions, because people usually go public with their planned changes, and others are more likely to give these people support and view them in the desired new light. So let’s see: an individual setting a point at which to pass from one state to another; a community to recognize and support this change in state. Why…this is beginning to sound suspiciously like a…

Maybe, after all, there is really something to this idea of New Year’s resolutions fulfilling the psychological need for a rite of passage. And Janus, standing at the boundary between the old state of being and the new, gets the last laugh.

[A similar version of this article was previously published in February/March 2014 in the now defunct Zen Dixie magazine]

Wedding clothes for wheelchair users

Wheelchair Users Benefit from this Revolutionary Fashion Design

Leather jacket with back cut away, for wheelchair user

Stylish women’s leather jacket by Izzy Camilleri (Photo by Phyl Good)

“I realized that all my clients are seated…The clothes differ in dressing and ease of dressing.”

As this thought came to fashion designer Izzy Camilleri, like a light bulb going on, or perhaps a thunderbolt, a whole new world opened up, both for her as a designer and for her potential new clients—people in wheelchairs. For twenty years, until 2009, when Ms. Camilleri launched her first fashion line for wheelchair users, she had been well-known for her exciting collections in the mainstream fashion industry as well as film and television. But a commission from Barbara Turnbull, Toronto Star reporter and quadriplegic, changed Camilleri’s life. And, one can argue, the lives of a world full of wheelchair users.

When you peruse the offerings on the website of Camilleri’s company, IZ Adaptive, you don’t see the over-the-top drama of her designs inspired by Bladerunner, the spectacular fur worn by Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada, or even Camilleri’s signature body-fitting black leather and fur. But every item of clothing available through this online store is stylish, well-fitting, and often beautiful in an elegant, understated way. These clothes have had an effect in people’s lives that is dramatic in its own way, not to mention enduring and life-altering. As one of Camilleri’s clients, a quadriplegic from a mountain biking accident, told her, “Your clothes are really liberating.”

Stylish, yes. Fashionable, yes. But liberating? Don’t wheelchair users wear the same sorts of clothing everyone else does? The answer is yes – but no. As Camilleri discovered at the beginning of her journey, speaking to a small focus group of wheelchair users, the chair and the type of injury affect everything from the types of clothing users can even wear, to the sizing and even to where seams or pockets should go. If a person sits unmoving for hours at a time, for example, pressure sores become a problem. Add a pocket seam that exerts extra pressure, and the problem becomes quite serious.

That’s just the start. Think of the last time you wrestled backwards to get your second arm into a shirt or jacket after the first arm went in just fine. While this move might be possible (with some difficulty) for a paraplegic, who is only paralyzed from the waist down, it is likely impossible for a quadriplegic, paralyzed from the neck down, even with a trained helper. A wheelchair user may thus find him or herself wearing clothes two or three sizes too big, just to be able to get into them. And then, confined to the chair’s small space, that extra material bunches up and might make the person appear, in Camilleri’s words, “a sloppy mess.”

Men's slacks and shirt for wheelchair user

Men’s slacks and shirt (Photo by Phyl Good)

Who wants to go to a job interview that way? Or even just roll down a sidewalk?

At first, that small focus group (two quadriplegic women, one paraplegic woman, and one woman with MS) described so many different clothing issues that Camilleri was almost overwhelmed with the detail. But as she continued researching and peeling away these layers of confusion, it was that thought – “all my clients are seated” – that provided the final key. Recognize that the clients are seated, then recognize the differences in their abilities as they sit in their chairs, and ask, “What does that mean to the patterns?”

The first thing it means is that the distribution of material in the garments must shift. For a seated person to look the same in a pair of dress pants as a standing person does, with the same clean lines, the “pitch” of the pants must be different. There is less material at the front to bunch up, but there is more at the back to accommodate the curve of the hips and upper thighs. A shirt for a paraplegic may need slightly wider sleeves and shoulders than one for a quadriplegic, to accomplish the same look. Why? Because the back, shoulders, and arms of someone who constantly moves the wheels of a chair can be “pretty buff,” as Camilleri says, while someone in a power chair will not build those muscles the same way.

Power chairs require other clothing changes. Getting a jacket, blazer, or coat on and off can be difficult with all the material that normally goes behind the back and legs. Quadriplegics often wear jackets instead of coats, because it’s impossible to get extra material from coats properly tucked under, meaning that they are often underdressed for bad weather. That’s unhealthy and can leave them cold for hours. The solution? An ingenious design in which outerwear or blazers have most of the back cut out, with front and back fastenings that allow the garments simply to slide off the arms (or be put on by the arms) in two pieces. This design adds another element of convenience: even someone untrained can help the person remove their coat or blazer, without the shifting of the person’s body that would need to be done by a trained helper with a regular coat.

Camilleri has had to be a trailblazer; while mainstream fashion design always follows a certain trajectory, she has had to create the path for wheelchair fashion virtually from scratch, from researching the scattered demographic to designing the clothing to learning how to inform wheelchair users about this new opportunity. It’s hard to succeed with wheelchair fashion, as many failed competitors can attest. IZ Adaptive almost has the market to itself; only Rolli-Moden in Germany is similarly successful, and its offerings are somewhat different. Yet it has taken from 2009 until late 2014 for Camilleri to finally think about doing this work full-time without needing to supplement it with other design work.

Wedding clothes for wheelchair users

Wedding clothes (Photo by Phyl Good)

The IZ Adaptive website and Facebook page are full of testimonials from people in wheelchairs, who are for the first time wearing clothing that both fits and looks good. Providing great clothes for them was an idea that was long overdue. Wheelchair users the world over are now reaping the benefit of the hard work, dedication, and expertise in style that Izzy Camilleri is putting into what is a revolutionary and welcome design idea.

[This article originally appeared in the now-defunct online Zen Dixie magazine, December 2014]

[Photos taken at the late 2014 Royal Ontario Museum exhibit of Izzy Camilleri’s designs, entitled, “Fashion Follows Form: Designs for Sitting.”]