I love the promise of a new year. I love it in the same way I love the promise of a new season, and sometimes a new month, week or even a fresh new morning (especially the frosty mornings we’ve had this week). I like the first page of a new diary, the first sprouts in the soil. Perhaps this explains my love of the changing seasons, the new startness of it all. Either way, January is a both a calendrical and symbolic new beginning. When done from a place of love and kindness, using this time to celebrate your wins and set some intentions and #tinglygoals for the year can be really powerful.
I don’t usually start my review and planning process until later in the month, it takes me (and, it turns out, quite a lot of you) a while to get into the new year. But this year, I have turned my January Book (or Life Book, January Chapter) into an e course to enable me to better serve you, answer questions and go a bit deeper. So Dave and I started our January Book on New Years Eve, earlier than usual, so I can go through the process with students on the e-course. I was again reminded why I love this process, why it enriches my life and widens my perception. I entered the conversation with one subject at the front of my mind (without even knowing it) and ended it with a much wider appreciation of what constitutes my life, how I can choose to approach it, and a lot of gratitude.
I wanted to share some of my reflections on 2018 because it has been a surprising year, one with some real lows and some really high high’s. And also because I think starting with reflections on the last year is a really lovely way to begin the process, grounding us in the present- today,-and providing wisdom for when we feel ready to think about 2019.
I also write this for anyone who had a hard year and who may be resisting looking back. Some of this was hard to write but I have learned so much in the process. I am still distilling and mulling 2018 in my own January Book and this will continue throughout January, and in community with students on the January Book e course.
Quite a lot of this year was hard. I look back at journal entries in the first half of the year and wince. I was deeply sleep deprived (baby related) and starting to lose my shit with my mental health. The months leading up to and following us night weaning Auden (stopping breastfeeding at night) were some of the hardest of my life. My anxiety roared. I was heavily relying on beta blockers and paracetamol, was tearful and and anxious, waking with panic attacks in the night. I ended up in A&E in early summer with heart palpitations so bad I thought something was really wrong with me. I felt scared.
My word for the year was ‘Brave’ because I envisioned 2018 to be the year I took myself out of my comfort zone, took up my space, and started working more and charging my worth. It didn’t quite go to plan.
This did actually eventually happen, primarily in the last quarter of the year (more on that later). For the rest of the year I just had to offer myself kindness and more kindness. The January Book has a lot of room for change. I cancelled plans. Delayed goals, then delayed them again. I prioritised rest, and used my word for the year in an entirely different way than I envisioned. I needed bravery to simply get through some of the days. To say that I needed help. To go the the GP. To book counselling. To say no to some stuff I needed to say no too. To fully and honestly face my anxiety and inner talk. To talk myself down from panic attacks. In many ways, these are some of the bravest things i’ve done.
Dave and I have also been working through some financial stuff in 2018 that has been really bloody challenging. The result of maternity/ paternity leave and unexpected tax debt meant some changes to the way we were living that have not been easy. The financial instability combined with the anxiety and sleep deprivation has at times been a pretty toxic mix.
The January Book prompts me to speak to my past self like i’d speak to myself as a child, or someone I cherish and love. My journal although difficult to read at times, is also lovely. I heavily relied on it. My feelings are poured into the pages like a deep dark pool. But surrounding them like a tidal barrier are my gratitudes and intentions, gently directing me back into a healthier more positive place (I am so grateful for this practice). I see myself choosing to speak kindly to myself. Giving myself a break. I see my past self going into the garden most mornings to start the day with my coffee and my gratitudes. I see me deeply grounding myself in small pleasures, hanging onto gratitude for dear life, allowing myself to feel the feelings I felt, offering myself kindness.
I feel so so proud of the way I coped with those things, lots of which are ongoing. I am literally taking a moment to high five and hug myself simultaneously.
And then the final quarter of 2018 happened. I had been deliberating about what my offering was for a really long time, and then decided to sort of just go for it. Having finally felt rested and well enough to take a leap (thanks to sleep, drugs and CBT) and wanting to contribute more financially , I launched my ebook, A Soulful Gathering. It contained all the things I have learned about hosting and styling a stylish, soulful gathering, something I have wanted to write for years. I was blown away by the reaction of my community. I also launched 4 (!) Christmas workshops and two day retreats, volunteered to style a really special Christmas day event for care leavers, and started working on my first e-course, The Life Book January Chapter (or The January Book!). I had a few amazing press mentions and articles, released an accidentally slightly viral wreath making tutorial, had my best ever month financially in November and was interviewed for Sara’s podcast, Hashtag Authentic. Just writing all that makes feel ‘whoa’. In hindsight it was too much. I got sick over Christmas and didn’t give myself enough rest time. But it felt incredibly liberating to do the following: Just take action . Stop pondering. To stop agonising about what my ‘thing’ was. Try some things. Learn again and again to divorce myself from external approval. To hold things lightly. To play. I hold these lessons close to my heart as I look ahead to this year.
These are snippets of the story. There was so much other good stuff, too, a lot of joy. I haven’t even touched on kids, marriage, politics or lots of the other things that happened last year, but I wanted to share some of the high’s and low’s of last year, and how I approach them. I’m so grateful for The January Book process for providing a kind and loving space in which to figure all this out.
If you are reflecting on a tough year, maybe one significantly tougher than mine (i am deeply aware of all of my privileges in this), I have pulled together a few helpers.
How to look back on a tough year:
Speak to yourself like you’d speak to a child or someone you cherish
Offer your past self grace and understanding. Look at what happened simply as information about the circumstances in your life, rather than as evidence of your failures.
Remember. You’d be surprised how much you have forgotten about how much you managed. Here are some tips.
Look through your phone photos of the last year
Flip through your journal, dairy or calendar over the last year
Scroll through look your social media posts
Speak to trusted loved ones about their recollection of what you aced in 2018
End your reflections in gratitude. It can be hard, especially after a hard year, but think about who was there for you? Who were the good people? What were the good experiences? Write as long a list as you can manage and include the small little daily pleasures as well as the big stuff too.
What did you learn? What changes in perception or approach did you experience?