“I’m going out, to see about, my own frontier.” Sara Watkins, Young In All The Wrong Ways
In the weeks before Christmas it dawned on my that I was not enjoying my life. My predominant emotions were stress and anxiety. I woke up filled with dread, my jaws aching from a restless night of grinding my teeth, and I spent the day counting down hours til I got to go to bed again.
What’s especially weird is that I had been feeling like this for a while – slowly putting one foot in front of the other and assuming that the feelings of discomfort would pass. I stopped having things to say to friends (or at least, I stopped having anything positive to say), I stopped writing, and I stopped feeling properly excited about anything.
I kept crocheting granny squares because I used to be excited about crochet. It was my thing in 2016, so it has to be my thing forever, right?
I was still banging at my square peg, but the hole had been round for a while, and it wasn’t going to change back. I had forgotten that the only constant was change, and I was trying desperately to cling onto an idea of myself that had long since left.
I suspect a lot of people feel this way, but the thing about high-functioning anxiety and depression is that you are very good at coping, and because you are coping, you assume that there’s nothing else you should do.
So I plodded on through work, through studying, and even through an interview for a part time job, assuming I could feel more like myself if I just had less to do. And then Christmas – six glorious days where I didn’t have to do anything or be anywhere or produce anything of value. I ate. I slept. I spent time with family without also trying to crochet a jumper. I wore the same pair of jeans and hoody for several days straight. I didn’t worry about my hair or make up.
A few weeks before Christmas my Grandma had a stroke and was taken into hospital. A few days before Christmas we were told that she wasn’t making any progress so they would take out her feeding tube, and then it would only be a few days until she died.
(She actually took sixteen, because the women in my family aren’t half stubborn.)
I found it hard to comprehend how the NHS can decide whose life is and isn’t worth living, and how leaving somebody to starve is considered more humane than euthanasia.
I drove the increasingly smaller roads to the nursing home and watched her sleep. I sat on the floor by her bed demonstrating hamstring stretches to my sister. I looked up owl noises with my mum. We watched terrible TV in the shared living room while the staff undressed and washed her, and then asked us for the name of our funeral directors.
I never once made it back to Oxford without crying at the wheel, but it was a different kind of sadness to the one I’ve gotten used to. It wasn’t the stale, heavy sadness of depression. It was the raw acute sadness of losing somebody I loved.
I ran every day in January to raise money for Oxfordshire Mind, which showed me both that I can do hard things and that I have a supportive network of friends and family that show up when I ask them to.
I had a lot of time to think over those 100 miles, and I figured out how to get my life back on track. It turns out that I had the answers all along, but had forgotten to trust my own feelings.
This week I started a new job. For the last few years My Life My Choice has provided me with an income, identity, and friendship. It’s taught me most of what I know about social justice, charity management, and the kind of work I want to do in the world. For a while I dithered on the precipice, because to get a life only potentially much better, I had to sacrifice something safe and comfortable and known.
I read an essay by Laura Jane Williams that could have been meant for me. She said, “Before you begin, everything is perfect, because before you begin it’s a world of imagination painted in only your best and most favourite colours.” So I handed in my notice and I broke my own heart. But I already feel lighter and more sure of myself.
Decisions build in their momentum, and with each “yes” or “no” I remembered how to listen to myself, and I remembered what matter to me.
Despite running every day in January, I am happy to accept that I am not, and will never be, an athlete. Living with an aspiring Olympian has caused me to constantly second guess how and how much I move my body. But honestly? I am just not interested in putting in the hours into physical activity that Grit does, and I shouldn’t compare myself and feel bad because we have very different priorities.
I exercise primarily for my mental health, and to feel a connection with my body. I’ve decided to celebrate the 1-2 times I week I make it to the gym, rather than berate myself for not doing enough. Walking everywhere might not get my heart rate up, but it makes me feel good. Jogging ten minute miles isn’t going to break any records, but it’s enough for me.
As flattering as it is to get messages from cute queer babes, suggesting we knit in pubs together or go to gigs, I’ve deleted the dating apps from my phone. In my ideal life I would be much more polyamorous and much less assexual. In my real life there isn’t enough hours in the day, and I would rather spend them with my friends and one partner. Identity politics can be weird, but I don’t need a girlfriend to point out that I’m not as straight as I pass for.
We’ve been gradually sorting through our stuff, accepting that our flat is too small to keep everything. I’ve been worried about being too dramatic, because a few years ago I definitely jumped on the minimalist bandwagon and got rid of things that I regret. This time I’ve decided to put most of my energy into not buying anything, and reading The Year of Less by Cait Flanders has helped me to get into the right headspace for this.
I stopped trying to talk myself out of wanting babies, and accepted I am broody as hell. This doesn’t make me less of a feminist, or mean that I have to justify those times I told people I didn’t want a family. People change, move along.
I’ve been reading much more fiction, which is something I’ve always loved, but talked myself out of because it’s “too indulgent”. But who is judging but me? And why would I deprive myself of the things that I enjoy?
Although I started the habit to check in on Grandma, I’ve continued to try and phone my mum at least once a week, because I love her and she’s going through a difficult time.
I’ve said no to a few projects, and I’m trying to stop feeling guilty about the things that I can’t do. 2018 is definitely going to be about doing less.
Although really, I’m trying not to let anything I do be A Thing, and be more flexible about responding to my wants and needs.