I’ve written so many versions of this now. Draft after draft of clumsy opening lines and scattered thoughts about the great year I’ve had.
It would be safe to say that this time last year I was in a bad place. In 2017 a job I once loved became a humiliating and demoralising slog for reasons beyond my control. It made me miserable, and like an oil spill the misery seeped into every aspect of my life.
When you’re in a low like this, it makes problems big and small feel that much worse, and chief among my problems was The Big One. The one I’ve spent my twenties invariably coming back to whenever I’m struggling: the belief that I don’t deserve to be happy.
This belief was rooted in a horrible mistake I made in late 2010, on the day my grandad died. After a long summer spent in and out of hospital I had the chance to join my family at his side, but I chose not to. I chose seclusion at the very worst time, letting him and my family down.
The mistake, and circumstances around it, led to a mental breakdown during Freshers Week of my final year at university. I wouldn’t realise it was a breakdown until a few years later, and handled the fallout about as well as a 20-year-old student would.
For years I punished myself — the regret and guilt rattling around in my head, creating the idea that if I can let down a loved one the way I did then I’m not deserving of love at all. Most of the time this ticked away on a low level, sometimes it was all I could think about. It took me most of the eight years since to figure it all out and rid myself of that belief, but this year I did, and that’s the point of this post.
Initially I thought the decision was purely a selfish one. Now I know it was made out of fear. A fear of change and the unknown that everyone harbours. I was just another young idiot scared out of his mind who made a mistake.
It didn’t need to weigh me down for so long, but it did, and it took the year I’ve had to put the finishing touches on my reconciliation.
The low of 2017 continued into 2018. My day-to-day was spent at work, in defeat, and ten years after starting my journalism course I wanted to put the career behind me. The problem was, I had no idea what I was even capable of doing instead. I figured PR (because that’s the natural, clichéd jump, right?) but didn’t have a clue if it would be the right fit. Journalism was all I knew.
Eventually redundancy forced my hand. I was one of a large group of talented journalists who lost their jobs in a round of redundancies everyone knew was coming sooner or later.
It’s strange to feel relieved about losing a job, but by the time it happened I took it as a good sign that my employer no longer wanted me. Of course, it ended up being the best thing to happen to me all year.
I knew I had to leave journalism behind, and soon enough I found a job in PR. I was apprehensive and nervous as hell, but eight months later it’s going better than I ever could have imagined. Turns out, as ever, that I had nothing to worry about.
Tough Mudder was nothing to worry about either. When I signed up I had barely ever run before, and genuinely didn’t think I was capable of completing the 10-mile obstacle-filled endurance test. I only signed up because my oldest friend made it part of his stag, so I used the prospect of letting him down to spur me on. In the end our team smashed it, raising a decent amount for Mind in the process, and I’ve never been prouder of myself.
Then there were the weddings. This year I got to see some of my closest friends get married, on two beautiful, perfect days that revealed my true form: a soppy and sentimental mess. These two days, spent surrounded by so many loved ones, were among the happiest of my life. This sounds like a corny moment of realisation in a terrible movie, but the immense joy opened me up to the idea that maybe I deserve a bit for myself.
It was after the first of these weddings that I finally felt ready to move on from the cycle of guilt and self-loathing. It was the day after the second that I first attempted to write all this down.
I decided to write this because I figured it would be a healthy thing to do. Because writing about my demons in the past tense is therapeutic. Because finding the words for all this is a distillation of the last eight years, and putting a full stop at the end feels definitive.
For as long as I remember I’ve approached each new year desperate for change, practically begging for a fresh start, but this is different. Whatever might change, whatever could, I feel prepared for it in a very new way. A great deal has changed already and the idea of further change doesn’t scare me the way it once did.
And that’s it. That’s what’s changed most of all. I’m ready. Whatever changes come my way, planned or not, I’m ready.