2017: A year in review

So, 2017 has been quite a year, hasn’t it? It’s certainly one of the more surreal in recent memory and one of the most disheartening on a global scale. On a personal level, this year has been challenging, as a fresh flare of my M.E has largely dominated the last twelve months.

However, as difficult as this year has been, it has also been transformative and has pushed me to grow in more ways than I could have imagined last December.  I’ve had some truly beautiful moments woven amongst many trying days and, looking back, I’m really proud of what I’ve managed to achieve.

My best experiences

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Developing my writing and building my community…

This year I decided to invest more in my passion for writing and it has paid off dividends. This began with taking part in The Next Step with Write Like a Grrrl, which not only offered me skills development and feedback but also connected me to an even wider network of amazing women. I then spent a long weekend in June at GrrrlCon, which took place in Manchester. The incredible array of speakers and workshops, combined with spending quality time with many of the women from my Ignite and Next Step courses, really helped to give me the momentum to keep writing and keep believing in myself.

These experiences, combined with meeting my original grrrls each month, are some of my most treasured from 2017. I wouldn’t be where I am with my writing without these women and I feel so lucky and so grateful to have them in my life.

 

A long awaited trip…

This summer I went to Stockholm for the first time, after over a decade of dreaming about visiting. Ever since I was seventeen years old I have been longing to go to Sweden’s capital; as a teenager I was obsessed with Swedish fashion and lifestyle bloggers, who would share snippets of their fabulous lives in Stockholm. I would spend hours lusting after their chic interiors and quirky vintage clothes and longed to experience a taste of it myself. As I began to plan a getaway to mark finishing my job and beginning a new chapter in my life, it seemed like the perfect time to go.

I was nervous at first in case it didn’t live up to my expectations but it turned out to be even better than I’d hoped. I alternated playing tourist, from taking a boat trip around the archipelago to learning about Vasa, with writing in cafes and building this very website. It was precisely the backdrop and the break I needed to reflect and begin developing my next steps. I’m so glad I chose this year to go and I doubt this trip will be my last.

Moving in alone…

This was the year I finally took the plunge and decided to take a big step: living alone. I cannot tell you how glad I am now that I made the choice. As a natural introvert, having my own space is honestly the best feeling and was becoming a necessity with my health the way it has been. I love being able to make my flat whatever I choose – a quiet retreat when I’m feeling unwell, a creative hub when I’m feeling inspired or a welcoming space to share with friends.  Yep. I really love it.

My proudest moments

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Going freelance…

If you had told me a few years ago that I would start my own business before I turned thirty I think I would have laughed. However, this is probably what I am most proud of myself for achieving this year – it has been an exciting adventure already and I’ve only just begun. Working on projects with charities from The Mix to Marie Curie has made for a great second half to my year whilst also allowing me the flexibility I need in my life right now.

Becoming a novelist…

The idea for my novel came to me in January, out of nowhere, as I walked down Whitehall. I remember feverishly scribbling down the idea in a cafe in Piccadilly, feeling energised and excited.

I began writing it in earnest in March and now, in December, I’m really pleased with my progress. I want to make 2018 the year I finish the first draft and I’m crossing my fingers I can make it onto people’s bookshelves in the coming years.

 

Building my publication list…

Alongside embarking on my novel, it has been amazing to have my writing featured by a number of brilliant publications in 2017. See my blog here for details of all of my pieces, including links to those available to read online.

My lessons learned

Acceptance can be empowering…

This year, whether I like it or not, has been dominated by my health. I have been living with M.E for twelve years but this year I have been forced to take time to reflect on my relationship with my condition and to face hard truths about the way I’ve managed it over the years.

It took me a while to realise that I have never truly accepted my condition and how damaging my attitude has been. After my teenage years were defined by illness, I became determined not to let the same be said of the rest of my life. As soon as I built my health back up I seized it with both hands, so happy to have what felt like a second chance. The trouble is, I was so invested in not being defined by my condition that I saw it as something to fight and not something to live with. I would ignore my body’s warning signs, reluctant to admit that my body couldn’t keep up, which, in the long run, only made things harder.

This year I have finally begun working towards acceptance, embracing my condition as a part of my life, and the shift in mindset has already made such a huge difference. Working with my body, owning my diagnosis and accepting it as a part of who I am – without it needing to be a defining feature – has made everything so much easier. My body isn’t my enemy, my condition isn’t a weakness and, even though it’s hard, I am beginning to believe I can build a life I love all the same.

 

It’s ok to let your brave face fall…

This lesson sits closely with the last – part of trying to distance myself from my condition manifested in not talking about it or letting other people in. This year I’ve found immeasurable value in others’ openness about their health – in helping me not to feel alone (see my blog on Unrest) – and, after being inspired to share more about my own illness, I’ve experienced the unexpected value my own openness can bring.

For instance, in November I dedicated my instagram story to M.E for the day. I captured a day in the life of managing a condition like mine – one that no one sees – from the pills I take and the exercises I do, to the amount of rest I need. I was so moved by the response – I realised how powerful simple acts like this can be in helping others to understand conditions like mine and perhaps approach them differently. I also hope that with my honesty I can bring others in the same situation a degree of comfort too.

It turns out that by being honest and letting others in I have felt more like myself than I ever did when I was hiding behind a brave face.

It’s ok not to have a plan…

I have always liked plans: a comprehensive holiday checklist, created by cross-referencing 3 different online versions to make sure that nothing gets missed off; a step by step five year career plan including notes on the skills I would need to develop to get into the jobs I’ve thought I’ve wanted. Yes, I know. I’m a nerd.

Last year, however, I diverted from my five year plan a little – I stepped away from the career path I had been following to try my hand at something new. This was a carefully planned diversion, of course, but whilst I learned a lot from the move the biggest lesson I learned was that the diversion wasn’t right for me either. I realised that sometimes even the best laid plans don’t work out… so this summer I threw away my plan entirely.

It was one of the scariest decisions I’ve ever made but also one of the best. I’m relishing the freedom and the flexibility I have now, the excitement of working in a different and less defined way and I’m allowing myself the time to focus on my health and figure my path out as I go. I’m learning that sometimes the best plan you can make is not to have one at all.

And I guess that’s how I’m going into 2018… No great plan. No great expectations. Just the intention to learn, look after myself and continue to do my best to grow.

Happy new year, everyone.

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