At the end of each year since 2011, I’ve written a reflective essay looking back at the previous 12 months and ahead to the coming year.
Whoa, boy. Where to begin with you, 2016?
Well, let’s start at the beginning – one year ago, when I was looking back at what was one of my hardest years, hoping with everything I had that I’d make it through the year looming ahead.
This time last year, I wrote a goal for 2016:
In 2016, I want to have the strength to accept whatever kind of year I have – and to see any steps, no matter how small or meandering, as progress. I don’t want to spend any more time feeling stuck.
Little did I know how much this year was going to test all of us, let alone how we’d fight our own battles while trying to stay sane in the increasing craziness we saw around us. I thought I was tired last year, but 2016 really took its toll on a lot of us.
I realise I’m in an incredibly privileged position, and will likely be untouched by many of the horrible things happening currently or those which will happen in the next few years, but not all of my loved ones are in that same position. I am here for them. I am here for you.
I’m not going to reflect on social or political struggles of 2016 because that’s not what this is for. These notes are my way to reflect inwards and see how far I’ve come in the previous 12 months and make any necessary adjustments in order to move into the new year. So here are some of the things that changed for me in 2016:
Health (sort of)
Last year I made a quiet ‘anti-resolution’ for myself: I told myself to stop working out. I know it sounds ridiculous, but I was sick and tired of feeling like I was overworking myself for what felt like no gain. I wasn’t feeling healthy, despite training for and running a half marathon – I was just feeling desperately drained. I no longer felt the post-workout high of endorphins, I just felt exhausted and sweaty and inadequate.
So I gave myself permission to stop.
It wasn’t a perfect year of exercise abstinence: I still ran a couple of times, I went through a brief phase of doing quick floor workouts and I did an amazing mud run with Bon for her birthday. But in general, I tried to eliminate the pressure to work out and just let myself sit in it – to revel in the luxurious idleness I’d granted myself. To try and truly see it as luxury instead of laziness. To see it as self care instead of self sabotage. I wasn’t sure how it would turn out; all I knew was, I couldn’t keep pushing myself.
It was easier than I thought it would be in certain ways – sleeping in is great! It was also harder than I thought to let go of the constant stream of messages, both in my head and all around me, telling me I’m getting fat and lazy. That I’m not good enough, thin enough, happy enough. Aren’t we all tired enough of hearing this? I know I am.
What I noticed as the year went on was that, instead of disengaging from those messages, I found myself tuned in to them more than ever. Every commute on the tube was a parade of thinner, fitter, happier women surrounded by ads full of happy, thin people.
I’d always thought of myself as being somewhat immune to these messages, but when I brought out my summer clothes in late spring and found that nothing fit me anymore, I realised how much easier it is to seem untouched by messages about the ‘perfect body’ when you more closely resemble society’s ideal. The further away from that I moved (in reality and/or in my own perceptions) the more those messages hit me. I still didn’t want to work out – I knew I really needed the break – but the psychological arena I faced after deciding to ‘let myself go’ was not without its challenges.
The only positive health-conscious thing I did try in 2016 was to monitor my alcohol consumption more carefully, with the help of the Drinkaware app. I found it really useful to map my drinking and have access to research-based health information to help me make better choices.
I like drinking (not to be confused with getting drunk, which I don’t particularly enjoy). I am a foodie, I love to cook and eat delicious, quality food, and for me a glass of wine or a craft beer goes hand in hand with that. But I was curious to see how much the alcohol itself contributed to my enjoyment, so for periods of the year I switched to alcohol-free or low-alcohol beer and wine. Turns out, alcohol-free wine generally sucks, but there are a few great beers out there, most notably the Brewdog Nanny State.
It was great. If there were more options out there are delicious as the Brewdog, I’d happily switch on a more permanent basis. Being able to genuinely enjoy having a couple of beers in the evening without the negative impacts to my mind or body from alcohol = yes please.
The big news from 2016 is, of course, that Jake and I decided to get married. There was no proposal, no grand gesture, no ring – just a natural progression in a conversation that had been ongoing since shortly after we moved in together. I still wake up every day grateful to have him by my side, and can’t wait to invite our family and friends to celebrate with us in September.
Other relationships this year have ebbed and flowed as they often do. My mental health struggles often leave me feeling painfully lonely, but when the fog clears I can see just how many hands are held out to me every day.
For those friends who reached out over the past year: thank you. Even if I don’t respond to your messages or don’t have much to say, I’m so thankful you’re here.
This year, it’s time to recommit to myself again, this time with the hope that I’ve given myself enough of the rest I needed to come back stronger and healthier.
Time to get up, stand up, look up.
Let’s do this.