I approached midnight on the 31st of December 2016 with what might mildly be termed as ‘mixed feelings’. I was in Germany at a big folk dancing event, dressed up, with bloody glitter on my face for crying out loud (self-inflicted, so I can be as scathing about it as I like). I had been dancing, enjoying the company of my Someone and some of my best friends, playing music, and generally having the sort of good time all my folk dance friends will recognise. And yet midnight loomed as this big moment in my head, as it had been for weeks, before I even realised that I had one hour fewer before it hit me because of the time difference. Actually, I noticed midnight had happened before the big countdown did, which was nice because it sort of defused the moment. I checked my phone, saw the magic numbers 00:00, and realised that I had made it.
At the stroke of midnight, I turned to my Someone, wished him a Happy New Year, then said “I made it” and promptly started crying. (I would like it on the record that I managed not to smudge either my eyeliner or mascara in the process of this, of which I am disproportionately proud.) The moment passed, I shared the last of my Christmas chocolate with him, passed around my small plastic bottle of rum (my hip flask carked it in my rucksack on the way over), and spent the first few minutes of the New Year feeling as happy and loved as any person could wish to be.
A year ago on the 5th of January, I was released from the psychiatric ward in which I spent the first five days of 2016, having been picked up from Donnington Bridge at around 2:30am on New Year’s Day (details here). What I didn’t know then was that these days would also be the prelude to my life completely turning around over the course of the next year, a springboard from which I’d end up catapulting (deliberate choice of word here, it wasn’t an entirely graceful process!) into a totally new life.
The main feeling I have about all this is a sense of incredulity as to just how much has happened in 366 days. I still can’t quite believe where I am, what I’m doing, and I still get choked up whenever I replay “I made it” in my head. However, instead of dwelling on all that (there’s at least 3 blog posts on the subject already), I’m going to list the things that I wish I could tell my year-ago self were going to happen this year.
- Help came. A fantastic nurse, an excellent therapist, and finally being done with the whole deal of being passed from pillar to post on a weekly basis. Not only that, but I was able to accept and work with it to drag myself out of the mental mire in which I’d been drowning. My new care system since moving is also amazing, and looks to be about to do some serious good in my second phase of recovery.
- I moved city. I uprooted my entire existence, took it several hours north of where I’d been before, and somehow, it’s worked. Lord only knows how…
- I got back into academia. Ok, maybe this was the least surprising thing to happen all year for anyone who really knows me, but the fact that I managed to get my arse into gear, apply, get in, and complete the first half of the course without losing my marbles is still pretty awesome. And I’m planning on applying for my PhD which is NOT SCARY AT ALL.
- I made friends. This is not a natural gift for me, and not something I’m used to in the slightest, but I have found people who understand me, who know how to do hugs with me (it’s not as simple as “give me a hug” all the time), who like the same music I do, who don’t care how weird I am, who in fact seem to kinda like that. I have a network of people in my new city who know what my brain does, to whom I can reach out if things get bad, and who are always, unfailingly there.
- I found a Someone. I was convinced I’d be single forever, which, while not a terminal condition by any stretch, was a really sore spot for me for a number of reasons relating to a bad relationship situation I was in a few years ago. But, lo and behold, I have found a Someone, and he’s rather awesome :)
- I have succeeded in dancing my legs off. Almost. I mean, I made a bloody valiant effort at it, and I’m going to try again this year, but I did loads of dancing and awesome stuff that makes me unspeakably happy. Some of this with the aforementioned friends, some of it with Someone, all of it marvellous.
- I rediscovered myself as a musician. This was one of the things I really thought I’d lost forever when I was really ill, and I couldn’t see a way back to enjoying music with the totality I had before. This year, I have been around a number of amazing people who have helped me find what I want to do with my music, and I’m looking forward to carrying that on.
- I had bad days, but they weren’t the end of everything. Actually, I’ve had some pretty damned horrific days, and they were terrifying when they were happening. I thought I had lost everything, the progress I’d made, the battles I’d fought, the rebuilding of my brain up to that point. The sun still rose the next morning (though in the UK, you could be forgiven for not noticing, sometimes) and I made it through to do better next time.
- I learnt to be kinder to myself. I am, and have nearly always been, the very worst of my critics, in pretty much every aspect of my life. A mental health nurse I met during one of my many crises towards the end of 2015 gave me some lifechanging advice: to be kind to myself. I have a long way to go on this one, still, but it sure makes life easier when I can do it.
- Being alive is 100% worth it. Needless to say, bridges and psychiatric wards sometimes aren’t the sort of place where this sort of thing is obvious. I was in so much mental pain when I went into hospital that I couldn’t see any way in which living could, or would, ever be worth it. I admit, there have been periods of, say, a couple of hours at a time where I wasn’t this resolved on the subject. However, the fact that I can count these moments only on my hands is definitely an improvement.
These 10 things aren’t the only unbelievable things that happened in 2016, but they’re a pretty representative list. It misses out the two festivals I’ve attended outside the country, including one where I travelled into the middle of France on my own, the number of new rooms I’ve walked into without knowing anyone, the highly respectable mark I got for my first essay, the successful plane flights, working through my abusive relationship from years ago, helping numerous friends and family members through various kinds of crap that I wouldn’t have been able to cope with before, rediscovering my alcohol tolerance, negotiating levels of awkward that would have previously rendered me unable to speak or interact, getting my bassoon out again, singing carols in public without losing my crap, learning some Norwegian, learning to clog dance, being a Boggart for a while, a wedding, IVFDF, Skint, ICBINI, Folk Weekend Oxford, owning a power drill, using said power drill without bringing any walls down (yet), almost finishing my first handmade dress, gardening, climbing… Ok, I’m glad I didn’t expand all of those.
Anyway, my point is 2016 may have sucked because lots of excellent, famous people died and there were some occasions on which people seemed to desert reason shortly before casting important votes. But for a year that I didn’t think I’d see, it could have been a hell of a lot worse.
Happy New Year, everyone. I can actually say it this year :)