A Year Of Growth

A Year Of Growth

Every New Year I find myself thinking about a previous New Year’s Eve, one that’s barely a fragment of memory: sitting in my kitchen as my uncle and grandad, sitting near the radiator, turned to each other, and said, “Well, well, well. 2002.” At this point I’m not even sure if it’s a real memory, but it’s one I’ve gone over so many times in my head that it feels like one.

2018’s been quite a year. Politically tumultuous, to the point where I’ve just stopped watching or reading the news as much as possible, because I couldn’t face the despair and uncertainty. It feels like the world is going to hell in a handbasket a lot of the time, and there’ll be time enough to yell in terror when it’s actually happening, so I’m going to buy myself a few more weeks of peace if I can.

On a personal level, though, I’ve actually made a vast amount of progress in 2018, which is easy to lose sight of as I think about all the things I didn’t manage to achieve. My perfectionist brain loves to dwell on the failures, but in an attempt to stick my middle finger up at it, I’m going to list all the things I did do, and ignore the ones I didn’t.

Me holding two gold trophies, wearing a large medal around my neck. I'm dressed in an embroidered waistcoat, dark shirt and tie.
Because frankly I deserve a few trophies.

This year, I:

  • Went to Scotland with the ASNaC department.
  • Applied for jobs, and had about ten interviews, which involved travelling all over the place.
  • Started competing again with my Irish dance school, and over the course of the year went from having one dance in Primary and a handful in Intermediate, to being in Open in everything except my two heavy shoe dances and trad set.
  • Taught Irish dance, performed in a St Patrick’s Day performance that I largely choreographed, kept the society running throughout the year, organised handover, taught dance at a child’s birthday party.
  • Performed in Swan Lake with the university ballet club — wearing the men’s version of the swan costume, because I finally plucked up the courage to make a point of presenting in a way that made me feel confident rather than dysphoric.
  • Founded The Muddle Ages, a discord server for medievalists, and in doing so made some of the best friends I’ve ever had.
  • Wrote a dissertation on gender and sexuality in Táin Bó Cúailnge, which I absolutely poured my heart and soul into.
  • Sat my exams and got a first, which was more than I could ever have hoped for at the start of the year.
  • Graduated — after four years and innumerable anxieties and struggles.
  • Went to an academic conference for the first time, on the Isle of Skye.
  • Attended an Irish dance summer school in Limerick, which confirmed my interest in choreography and exposed me to the possibilities of fusion dance styles and new choreographic techniques.
  • Rewrote Butterfly of Night, twice, and in doing so made it substantially better.
  • Got a job in digitisation.
  • Joined the world of bookstagram and co-hosted a photo challenge with Cait (C.G. Drews, @paperfury) which was super successful.
  • Started hanging out with Quakers and found some spiritual direction for the first time in literally years, giving me hope that maybe I can figure out that side of things.
  • Left my job in digitisation because it wasn’t making me happy, although I wasn’t sure what I’d do next. (Plucking up the courage to jump into the void like this was a big deal and I’m so glad I did it.)
  • Rewrote Bard, and again, made it substantially better than the previous draft.
  • Got a different job, this time in a bookshop, which I like and am good at.
  • Wrote the first draft of To Run With The Hound, a novel I’ve been thinking about writing since 2015.
  • Read 186 books (though I’m hoping I can make that 187 before the clock strikes midnight — I’m almost to the end of Ninefox Gambit).

And in more abstract terms:

  • Became more confident with adulthood and people skills, including coping with a customer service job during the Christmas period. Sometimes I even answer the phone without panicking first.
  • Made substantial progress with my mental health and anxiety, despite significant stress because of finals and job-hunting, and managed a second full year without psychiatric meds — this isn’t for everyone, but it’s what seems to be right for me.
  • Got substantially fitter and therefore more able to cope with my health issues. I can do things now that I wouldn’t have dreamed of doing two years ago.
  • Developed more confidence being my authentic self — I’m now out as nonbinary at work and at dance, as well as online, which was a step I hesitated to take for a long time.

I’m sure I’m forgetting things, but that’s more than enough to be going on with. Yes, there are goals I didn’t achieve this year, but there are also things on that list up there that I’d never have expected and which absolutely wouldn’t have been on my list of goals last year. At the start of 2018, if you’d told me I’d go to an academic conference, join (or at least dither on the edges of) a new faith community, have 10+ job interviews, or get a first, I’d never have believed you.

Me looking back over my shoulder in the graduation procession. I'm wearing a black gown with a furry white hood. In the background, the chapel of King's College Cambridge is just visible.
Graduation, June 2018

But the biggest piece of progress I’ve made is in my confidence, I think. While I still have anxiety and I still struggle with it, I have a level of self-assurance that I couldn’t have dreamed of a year ago. I’ve come out of my shell, figured out my strengths, and become much more comfortable in myself — even if I’m also constantly aware that I’m not yet my best self and have a long way to go.

Teaching dance was a huge part of that: there’s nothing like helping someone else learn a skill to make you realise what you’re capable of. Finishing my degree helped too, as did pushing myself out of my comfort zone. Early in this year I had my first ever job interview; by the time I started working at Waterstones I’d had what felt like a thousand of them. I’ve travelled and met new people and stayed in touch with some of them; I’ve continued to develop my academic interests since leaving uni with the help of my medievalists friends; I’ve written and read and photographed and so on.

So yeah, now that I look at it, 2018’s actually been a pretty good year. Oh, it hasn’t been perfect; my health’s fluctuated as always, and I’ve had rough patches and periods of despair. But honestly, for the first time in several years I’m sitting here at the end of the year and feeling like I’ve grown and developed and improved over the course of it, and that I’m somewhere on the right track towards getting where I need to go.

We’ll see if 2019 follows through on that. I’d planned to talk about some of my goals, but this is already a pretty chunky post, so I guess I’ll just have to save that for another day. Maybe it’ll encourage me to blog more — which is one of my goals!

Whether or not you’ve had a good year, I hope you can go into 2019 with hope and some level of joy, in the knowledge of what you have achieved in the past twelve months rather than the anxiety of what you haven’t. If 2018 was a rough one, I hope there’s relief ahead. If it was a positive one, may 2019 build on those experiences and make something even better. I’m sure we all fall short of being our best selves, but let’s make the next year one in which we take a few steps closer to it.

I’ll see you on the other side, friends.

A photograph of me standing with my arms wide on a rocky outcrop in Argyll. In the background there are hills and a loch.
Argyll, January 2018.

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