Looking back at this last year, it’s hard to believe how much has changed since I wrote my review of 2021. It has been a year of significant change and challenge, but also one that’s ending with more hope than I have felt on the last few New Year’s Eves.
As always with my end of year reviews, I’m going to look at more than just what went well – reflecting on the challenges and the lessons I’ve learned is just as important to me as celebrating my strengths. I’ll also round off with my aspirations for the next year – which in recent years have taken the form of three words I want to embody.
Before I dig into 2022, I’ll remind you of the ones I set myself this time last year: Invest (in myself, my happiness and my boundaries), Grow (as a person/writer/artist) and Dare (to be braver, bolder and more open to change). Let’s see how well I did at living up to them.
One of the greatest strengths of my year has to be the joy and purpose I find in creativity. At the heart of that this year has been my novel-in-progress, which I completed both the second and third drafts of in the spring and early summer, before beginning a fourth draft this December. Working on this book, which centres a chronically ill protagonist, has been a source of real pride and fulfilment (as well as the frustration, self-doubt and imposter syndrome that tend to come along with creative projects). I’m so excited to carry it with me into 2023.
In addition to the novel, I’ve also had fun with creative experimentation this year – which I always think feeds into improving and evolving my existing creative practice – including learning to crochet (badly), teaching myself the basics of lino printing (so messy, so fun) and even dipping my toe into the waters of playwriting when I was awarded a place on a course for disabled writers new to the craft.
I’ve also managed to sneak in a couple of publication credits, although my submissions spreadsheet has been much quieter overall. I was delighted to have my biography and illustration of Angela Carter included in the brilliant Illustrated Women in History zine in the spring – as well as having my illustration of Angela and another of Jeanette Winterson featured in an exhibition for Women’s History Month. My publication list as a poet also went up by one with my poem “Structural Integrity” being featured in Issue 4 of Untitled: Voices in April.
Outside of my creative work, this year was all about making big (scary but exciting) changes. After over a decade of calling London my home, I decided it was time to try a fresh start somewhere new and moved to Edinburgh in August.
This decision is one I had been considering for a while but which I had put on pause in the last couple of years (for obvious reasons). Much as I love London, and I’m not sure I will ever stop feeling like a Londoner, the life I want for myself was never going to be possible there. I wanted to move somewhere that still had so many of the brilliant parts of London – especially a bustling arts scene – but without the same drawbacks of its size, incessant fast pace and increasingly impossible cost.
Once I decided to make a move, Edinburgh felt like the obvious choice and the move was solidified by me securing a place on something I have also been dreaming about for several years – a Master’s in Creative Writing. I began studying at the University of Edinburgh in September and can’t quite believe I’m already a semester in. At times it has been incredibly overwhelming to change so much and to do it by myself (more on that later) but I’m really proud of myself for taking the leap and making it happen. After two years of remaining still, I think my heart needed to make a big move.
My city and student status aren’t the only changes I made this summer, however. I also moved on from YoungMinds after two and a half years in July, moving back to the first charity I ever worked for – Young Lives vs Cancer – to cover their Voice and Engagement Manager role until mid April. It has been so lovely to come back to a charity I enjoyed working for so much and which gave me the opportunities to grow the career that I have now (and it also works perfectly alongside my study!) I’ve been working on a few exciting projects, shaping up the organisation’s approach to meaningfully engaging young people and their families in the development of its work, supporting the design of a new project for young people with lived experience to become campaigners, as well as leading the development of the charity’s first ever children’s voice plan.
Another shift in my charity work has been making the decision to stand down as a trustee for Action for M.E after 4 years on the board. I have loved being a part of the organisation, but as I decided to pour more of my energy into study it made sense to step back from this commitment at the end of my term. I’m still involved on the Policy and Communications Sub-Committee, though, sharing my experience both as a patient and an expert in Children and Young People’s Voice.
And finally, it would feel wrong not to add Sima as one of the strengths of my year. From beginning the year burnt out, through all of the challenges and the intensity of change, he has been a constant, positive force in my life and I’m grateful for him every day.
This year has not been a straightforward one, despite the progress and achievements I have made. It has certainly felt at times as though my decision to move and go back to university has, to many people, been seen as a signal that I’m willing to move on from covid, and with that an implication that my concerns about the pandemic are an issue of my mindset and not they reality we’re all still living in. Adjusting to the ever-changing puzzle that is navigating a deadly virus no one wants to deal with anymore but which still poses a significant threat to all our lives (and especially to vulnerable people’s, like mine) has been… well, exhausting.
This year, as it became increasingly clear that covid protections were a thing of the past and the new normal would have to involve living alongside covid in the long term, I did begin to redraw my boundaries around it for the sake of my mental health. Having shielded alone from March 2020 up until the summer of this year, I couldn’t keep shutting myself away with no end in sight. So, I decided to move to Scotland, to go to university in person, to spend more time out and about, to try to feel more connected. At this point, for me, a certain amount of risk is necessary for my wellbeing – like everyone, I need social contact and connection. However, that doesn’t mean that I’m dropping it all. It would be so easy for society to take more care to lower the risk of covid for all of us.
Throughout this year and into the next I will continue to mask on public transport, in shops, in medical settings and in spaces where there are crowds and wearing a mask won’t inhibit the experience (eg cinemas, theatres and galleries). I will continue to test whenever I have symptoms, or if I’m meeting other vulnerable folk. It would be so easy for all of us to take these sorts of steps, and it’s hard to always be the only person in a mask everywhere I go. It’s hard not to carry that feeling of being “other” with me as I spend more time in the world again, seeing even more clearly the lack of ongoing awareness and community care that continues to harm vulnerable people. Connection to others has never been more needed and yet feeling able to connect feels more challenging than ever. I’ll be carrying that challenge into 2023 as I continue trying to navigate these ongoing challenges and questions, where what’s good for my mental health might not be the right choice for my body.
Alongside this, one of the greatest challenges I’ve faced in the latter half of 2022 has been dealing with the other side of change; away from the bright and shiny parts of making big moves and starting new adventures, change can also be incredibly draining and unsettling. It has been a huge shock to my system to leave my home city of eleven years and to feel brand new and displaced so far away. I didn’t expect the homesickness and doubt I’ve felt, despite the amount of thought and care I’ve put into this decision. From the outside, it can look as though the sort of move I’ve made is pure excitement but it has absolutely come with a lot of questions and anxiety which I’m still working through now.
The change in the demands of my time and energy now that I’m both working and studying has also been an intense struggle for both my body and my mind, and has added to the challenge of adjusting. Through much of October and early November I struggled a lot with the ongoing battle so many of us with chronic illnesses face – the disconnect between what we want to achieve and what our bodies will allow us to do. It’s hard to know you could do so much more and do it all better if your body would co-operate and I’ve had to do a lot of work to shift my expectations of myself, which has brought up some challenging feelings. I’ve managed to find balance over the last few months, but I’ve had to adapt a lot and be incredibly resilient to make it through. Essentially, what I’m saying is that change is really hard even when those changes are positive ones. This year has involved some incredible steps forward in my life but they’ve not been easy to take and I think it’s important to be honest about that.
This year, compared to previous ones, has felt harder to draw clear lessons from, but the one theme that feels clear to me is that I’m braver than I give myself credit for a lot of the time. So often I’m really quick to bat away compliments or successes, to believe that what I’ve done is something that anyone could or would have chosen or been able to do, but this year – in particular in this last quarter – I have been told often how brave my choices have been this year and, now I’m looking back, I can see it. I used to think that bravery couldn’t include doubt or anxiety but now I think that bravery is feeling all of that doubt and facing all of those fears and trusting yourself to keep going anyway.
Looking back at the challenges I’ve faced this year, and how difficult so much of this year has been, to be able to reach the end of it now and to have made it through, to have chosen myself and to have kept on going is something I can be proud of. Over the last month or so I have been thinking a lot about the discomfort of growth and of change, and I’ve been learning to accept it and to trust that I will find my way out of the other side. I genuinely believe that next year will be all the better for it. I’m taking that belief, and that patience, with me into the new year.
In moments of doubt, I come back again and again to this quote from Jeanette Winterson: “When we make a change, it’s so easy to interpret our unsettledness as unhappiness, and our unhappiness as a result of having made the wrong decision. Our mental and emotional states fluctuate madly when we make big changes in our lives, and some days we could tight-rope across Manhattan, and other days we are too weary to clean our teeth. This is normal. This is natural. This is change.”
And so, where do I want this year to take me as we roll into the next? My words for 2023 are:
Build – creating my new life in Edinburgh through building connections, community and belonging
Explore – new opportunities in my career and creativity
Pursue – my goals and dreams (in particular, my Master’s and my publishing goals)
I’m excited to see where these guiding words lead me but, for now, I’m wishing you a happy new year and farewell to 2022.