You could call 2018 many, many things but you certainly could never call it boring. This is not the time or the space to think about that on a national or global scale – I think starting a new year fresh with hope is probably a better idea – but I thought I would sum up what 2018 has meant for me personally.
I love writing my monthly round ups, so it seems only fitting to drum up an annual version too, albeit with slightly different categories (just to keep things interesting). Here is my year in review.
This year I have grown my business significantly and I’m incredibly proud of the impact I’ve been able to make doing work I really love. It has felt very special that over the course of 2018 I’ve been able to really shape and focus my freelance work, setting myself on the course I had always intended when starting out in 2017. Looking back has really given me both professional pride and the warm and fuzzies – which is an ideal combination in my book.
This year I have:
- Worked with over 300 young people, teaching them about mental health, increasing their employability skills and raising aspirations
- Supported over 150 volunteers on projects from youth work to team challenges
- Trained over 40 volunteers to deliver emotional support to young people in need
- Worked with 10 charities and social enterprises as a facilitator, tutor, consultant, content developer and artist
This year has shown me what is truly possible when I set my mind to it and I cannot wait to see what next year has in store.
In 2018, I’ve reconnected with my love of volunteering through two different roles. Firstly, I’ve worked with the education charity Yes Futures as a Wellbeing Coach, supporting young people in Dagenham on a 1-1 basis. These students have been identified as struggling with low self-esteem, low confidence and resilience. The programme is continuing into the new year but it has been incredible to see the progress my students have made already. I totally identify with the students I’m working with – they’re modern day versions of who I was at school – and it feels so satisfying to give back in a way that is so close to my heart. So much of who I am and the way I work was shaped by the people who worked with me and supported me through the toughest years of my young life. I wanted to be one of those people for future generations, so the role has been entirely in sync with what I set out to achieve all those years ago.
Alongside coaching, I also joined Action for M.E as a Board Member this autumn. It’s still very early days but I have already learned so much and I am so grateful to have been given the chance to work with a cause that means so much to me. This role feels like a step up that will help my personal and professional development and I’m really proud to have the opportunity to make a difference to people living with and affected by M.E. I’ve also done some fundraising and media work for the charity this year, selling zines about living with M.E with part of the profits going to AfME and doing an interview for BBC Radio London on my experience of the condition.
This year I’ve been working hard on my novel, which has taken the bulk of my focus where writing is concerned. I’m now about halfway through the first draft and the process of getting there has been fascinating. Writing a book is bloody hard work and there has been a lot of frustration along the way, but those moments where the words flow and the ideas strike are pure magic. I’ve set myself a loose goal of finishing the first draft by my 30th birthday in June, but we’ll see whether that happens. I’m loathe to be too strict with myself as it appears a big part of my process is long spells of ruminating with interludes of flurried writing, so time limitations aren’t necessarily a natural partner for my way of working.
I have still managed to sneak a few bits of other writing in along the way, however, with a poem and a CNF piece being shared by the always excellent Dear Damsels and a CNF piece on diagnosis for Drawn Poorly Zine. Writing my monthly round ups has also been a good way of keeping words flowing, even if they aren’t doing so creatively.
In September, I completed a 4 week course with Ministry of Stories, which focused on facilitating creative writing workshops for young people. This will come in handy for an exciting new project I’m working on with the incredible Write Like a Grrrl, which launches at the end of January. Watch this space for more details.
Beyond developing myself as a writer, this year has seen me developing myself as an artist (that still feels weird to say, in all honesty). It started with a doodle inspired by a conversation with a friend, which turned into a zine, which turned into multiple zines, selling zines for charity, running two zine workshops, creating a community led zine and designing a mural for a community centre. As I was working on the mural (image below) someone stopped and asked me if I was the resident artist; I laughed and hurriedly said no but when I stopped to think about it I realised it wasn’t a silly question and that on that day I suppose I was.
I’ve found so much joy from doing this work, which just sort of evolved instead of being planned, and I’m increasingly keen to improve and develop a foundation of skills and knowledge, as so far I’m entirely self taught. Experimenting with art has definitely been an unexpected highlight of my year.
This year I treated myself to a trip to Amsterdam – I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea but I absolutely love a solo city break. I find them so refreshing, discovering new cultures and exploring whilst taking time to myself to write. Several thousands of words of my novel were written in cafes across the city as I took a break from sightseeing (and too much vintage shopping).
I’ve also seen some brilliant theatre this year, highlights being The Inheritance, Hamilton and Wise Children. I’ve not seen as much as I would like but just enough to keep me happy. I definitely want to see more in the new year, though that shouldn’t be too hard given I have tickets for three shows already booked!
This year has also been peppered with events and talks, from seeing Matt Haig in conversation with Bryony Gordon at the Southbank Centre to a zine festival at Somerset House. This year I’ve learned about how zines can support activism, organising a feminist festival AND I got to be in the same rooms as Sadiq Khan and Allison Janney (aka CJ CREGG!). Not bad going, really.
I’m stronger than I think
The beginning of this year was rough. My body felt like an empty battery that refused to charge back up and I spent most of my time stuck in bed, not helped by a cold that saw me pretty much bed bound for 10 days solid. I didn’t feel especially hopeful in January and I didn’t know how I was going to cope and keep going if things with my health didn’t improve. I was scrabbling for support, scrabbling for answers, trying to figure out how to handle returning to a debilitating place. I was worried things wouldn’t get better, that I wouldn’t be able to come out the other side again, but I should have had a little more faith.
I look back now and I honestly can’t believe where I am now and that I have come so far over the last twelve months. Fighting to be heard by a broken health system feels impossible at times but slowly I’ve managed to make some waves. I owe a lot to my osteopath, who has helped me to turn things around, and my therapist who has helped me to cope with the challenging emotions that come with chronic illness. However, I should probably take some of the credit too. A lot of my progress comes down to sheer grit and determination – not giving up on treatments that made me worse before I got better, not flaking on appointments that ate up hours each week, not backing down on demanding NHS support, taking it in my stride when receiving a new diagnosis, working hard on reframing my perspective to make the best of my situation.
I feel like a different person ending the year to the person who started it and I’m so grateful to be able to start a new year fresh with hope and optimism that things can, and will, continue to get better.
Beyond believing in my strength and resilience when it comes to my health, this year has also taught me to ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’. I never really liked that phrase before but some of the best moments of 2018 have come from putting myself out there and putting imposter syndrome to the side.
The best example is my collaboration with Hidden River Festival, which would never have happened if I hadn’t taken a punt and sent an email suggesting I could run a zine workshop. That small idea turned into co-creating a community zine, running two workshops and creating the mural mentioned earlier on. I had so much fun working on that project and it boosted my confidence so much but if I hadn’t sent that message none of it would have been possible.
I’ve spent far too long holding myself back over the years because of fear and self-doubt but this year has shown me how incredible and enriching taking chances can be.
Going into 2019, I don’t want to set myself specific goals – I don’t think they always help – but I do want to go in with a few key words I want to build on.
I want to finish my first draft in 2019 and work on crafting the story and making it better. My hope is to celebrate my 30th birthday with a writing retreat, to spend some real time with the full draft and begin the editing process with some inspiration and structure. Let’s see.
I also want to continue drawing and making zines, as well as branching out and doing more creative teaching and tutoring, supporting others to build confidence and skills.
Over recent years I’ve realised that if I’m not learning I’m not happy. Learning new things gives me a sense of momentum and growth – I like to challenge and stretch myself. I have a long list of ideas for what I’d like to learn and know more about, so I’m not strapped for ideas.
For Christmas I asked for a place on a short course on illustration which will start in the spring, which is a pretty good starting point to achieving this particular aspiration.
Moving forward with what I’ve learned this year, I want to go into 2019 with the mantra that it’s better to learn from failure than to spend time regretting inaction. So many amazing things have happened for me this year purely as a result of putting myself out there. I want to step boldly into the new year, embracing all the opportunities that come my way and going after what I want in the process.
If 2018 has taught me anything, it’s that you never know what is possible but you can find out if you try.