Remember that time I spent a couple hours reflecting on 2015, only to have WordPress glitch and lose all my writing when I hit save? =( I was so frustrated with myself for not taking better care to save earlier and draft elsewhere, and was extremely close to using it as a sign that these thoughts shouldn’t be posted out in the world for anyone to see, but I just can’t let that be how I start 2016. I’m going to do my best to throw it back together and not labor over every last sentence, but let’s just assume it was an amazing piece of writing and forgive any pieces of this post that may be slightly less eloquent.
As a highly reflective person I find the coming of a new year to be a time when everyone around me seems to be reflecting as much as I often do about life and the past/present/future of their personal world. While I enjoy taking the time to look back at the year and consider how it has changed me, I also find it difficult to process that much emotion and life “stuff” all at once. Times of transition are really difficult for me and I tend to struggle a bit during holidays so I’m sure that all contributes to the discord I feel as the new year approaches. I also think we put a lot of pressure on ourselves at the beginning of a year to “get it right this time around” while also looking back and realizing that some of our plans came to fruition, and many did not. I’m trying to work on being ok with that by acknowledging that making plans and having goals is a good thing, but it is even better to work towards something with intention while also accepting that whatever actually comes will be exactly what it ought to be.
I’ve kept these quotes in my journal for the past couple years as a reminder to set my sights on what I want in life while also acknowledging the value within opportunities and experiences I couldn’t have planned for.
Looking Back at 2015 – You Can’t Throw Out the Good With the Bad
When reflecting on a certain period of time I find it helpful to scroll through my social media posts in places like Twitter, tumblr, Instagram, and my blog. This activity immediately transports me back to those months and days, helping me to recall where I was mentally and emotionally at that time. It reminds me of the things I was doing, the people I was spending time with, and what I was processing or dealing with. In doing this for 2015 I realized that, while a lot of good things came from the year, all in all it was quite rough. The One Word challenge has become quite popular recently, with many people believing it helps people think positively and create the kind of year they want, but if we’re being completely real and I had to pick one word for how 2015 actually went I would likely choose ouch. Actually, this Vine sums things up pretty nicely…
Sometimes I’m reluctant to say that things sucked, or to be completely honest with sharing negative thoughts and feelings. I guess I don’t want people to think I am just complaining or focusing on the negative, and in retrospect all these tough times seem much more dramatic and yet much less significant than they felt in the moment. I have so many amazing things in my life and lots of privilege and ease that others dream of having, so who am I to complain about some of this stuff? But, I also know that this is my journey, so it wouldn’t be right to change the story of these experiences for the sake of appearances or because I have worked through them and have a different perspective now. I can’t deny that most of 2015 was extraordinarily hard, and as I looked back in my social media archives I realized there were only a couple months that went in the books without a great deal of suck.
I would add that all the tough times came with side effects, and could be summed up into “one words” like growth / acceptance / living / compassion / self-care. Because, while it often seems easiest to focus on just the good or just the bad, the reality is that most of the time you can’t fully separate them. In the past year I’ve experienced some of the darkest of times and lowest of lows, some of which I had never encountered before. It was upsetting and scary, frustrating and overwhelming, and absolutely humbling. I now own an inordinate number of life lessons because of the experiences I managed my way through this year, and every single one of them shaped the person I am today.
While struggling your way through an experience or fighting with your own brain it can be hard to acknowledge the good, but in retrospect it is all around you. When you’re battling depression and having to coax yourself to get out of bed and take a shower you are also learning that those bad days pass, sometimes teaching you self-care and forgiveness when you end up staying in bed all day, and other times teaching you the inner strength you have to get up and get through a series of events even when it seems impossible. When you have yet another anxiety attack during a meeting you start better understanding yourself and some of your triggers while also learning new strategies for refocusing or for catching your breath when you can’t breath while also trying to stay somewhat engaged in the conversation. You also start to learn that it is ok to ask for a break, or to advocate for small changes that might help you avoid potential issues in the future.
And when you have that one happy day among weeks of total suck, where you just can’t stop smiling and laughing and enjoying everything about the world, it feels that much happier and brighter because you suffered through all the other days to get to this one. Sometimes it’s hard to enjoy that blissful day to its fullest because you wonder how long it can last, but if you ignore the “other shoe will drop” mentality that lingers at the back of your thoughts you get to immerse yourself in every second that you do feel so insanely happy.
During each moment, and perhaps even when reflecting on a year, it can be easy to say “everything sucks” or “everything is awesome!”, but it’s probably more like “things suck pretty bad right now, but I am learning and growing an awful lot” or “I feel super happy right now and am so glad I know how to appreciate this happiness, due to not being happy all the time!” No matter what the experience may seem like on the surface there’s always much more to it once we have the distance and ability to dig deeper.
What 2015 Taught Me What I Taught Myself Because of 2015’s Experiences
I’d say that overall 2014 was a pretty awesome year, with a whole lot of positivity and optimism that didn’t seem to require a great deal of work. 2015 was quite possibly the polar opposite of that, wrought with challenges and requiring so.much.work. The last few months of December 2014 were pretty awful, and I started 2015 just trying to put one foot in front of the other and pick up the pieces as best I could. Maybe without really knowing it I was comparing 2015 to the awesomeness of the year before, constantly trying to force it (and myself) back to something it was not meant to be. Regardless, it was a year of learning a LOT about myself, my marriage, my friendships, my mental health and how to cope with my mental illnesses, and what is truly important to me as a person. I was humbled to learn that I am both weaker than I ever thought and much stronger than I could have imagined. Just a few of the bigger life lessons I learned this year:
- I came to understand vulnerability, shame, guilt, and what it is to be deeply hurt by someone else while also feeling as though really you hurt yourself.
- I learned that grief and loss aren’t exclusively related to death, nor do they follow a straightforward formula. You don’t just carry the pain for a while and then become better – some days for no obvious reason you’ll be instantly sucked into the feelings you thought you’d processed, and instead of being angry at yourself or feeling guilty for thinking and feeling that way you instead need to tell yourself it’s ok to both hold onto that pain and to let it go.
- I worked on my communication, both with people I care about and with myself.
- I realized that as a whole our society prefers outlandish comments and stereotypical jokes over discussing the reality and complexities of marriage, choosing to have a family, mental illness, and seeking professional help. I worked on how to be more open and honest about my own experiences with a few close people I trust, and I made progress in sharing my story on my public blog and vlogs. I still have a lot of doubts and sometimes agonize over what and how to share with whom, but I know that it’s worth it if even one person finds comfort in hearing my story in the way I’ve found it helpful when others do the same.
- I realized that often what you perceive people are feeling or thinking and what is actually going on are different, and that most of the time you are projecting your insecurities. I also became aware of the way expectations and building things up too much in your mind can be the culprit for a lot of unhappiness, stress, and struggle.
- My awareness and acceptance of myself was improved when I saw who I am through new perspectives and lots of research about the highly sensitive person, giftedness, burnout, depression, anxiety, being an empath, codependence, being childfree by choice, and self-care.
This post is pretty focused on the intensity of the year, and if I have a chance I will take some time to enumerate a few of the lighter highlights as well as share what I am focused on going into 2016. (If you’d like to see some of the posts I was reflecting on you can take a look at my tumblr archive or Twitter account.) I know that changing the date on the calendar isn’t going to magically change everything around me, but I am hopeful that the new year will entail a lot of wonderful moments and won’t be filled with quite as many struggles or intense times. I’m making plans to help make those things a reality, but I also know that when the tough times do hit I will be able to make my way through them and come out on the other side with some new tools in my toolbox.
Happy 2016, everyone! Here’s to a fresh start and working together to make it a wonderful year!