New year, slightly better me
I’ve always thought New Years Eve was a weird thing. I’m an introvert so naturally dislike the idea of enforced large-scale merriment. I’m also short (really short) so a crowded nye pub ends up being an endurance test where I spend the evening trying not to have my eyes poked out by other revellers’ elbows, or avoiding being stood on by tall men carrying pints who literally can’t see me.
By extension I’ve always disliked New Year resolutions. Obviously I’ve still made loads of them over the years, but usually with the unspoken acknowledgement that I’m not actually going to keep them. I’ve never lost the weight, written the novel, learnt to sew, or run the 10k. As for most people, the evidence over the years points to one clear conclusion as far as the efficacy of resolutions goes.
But this year has been different. I turned 40 for a start; which focuses the mind. I’ve had work challenges which have made me question who I am, how I see the world and how I add value. I’ve been reflecting on how I make difference. Have I spent the last 40 years living a life that gives me joy? What do I want the next 40 years to look like?
And my daughter has struggled with starting school. I assumed that being at primary school would mean that she needed me less, but the reverse is true. She needs me more; and in different ways. I have to learn a new way of being a parent.
I need to make some changes. I need to make some promises to myself. It just so happens that I’m doing it at new year.
I wouldn’t have thought I’d be writing this, but here we are. This isn’t coming from a place of smug superiority or a rabid fitness drive. This comes from sitting in the bath suffering through my tenth attack of cystitis this year. Cystitis is brutal. It sounds like a mild inconvenience, but it can be incredibly painful and debilitating. In September a particularly bad attack meant I had to have a week off work. Apart from the champagne on Christmas Day that I drank out of sheer bloody-mindedness — I spent this Christmas period sober; drinking water until I felt sick and hovering near bathrooms. Which is scary and embarrassing when you’re staying in someone else’s house.
I’m trying to investigate this medically, but have hit a dead end. My GP is fantastic, but no-one knows why I’ve been getting this since I was 17, it seems that some people are just unlucky and the next step is taking a preventative antibiotic every day.
At this stage I’ve pretty much accepted that daily antibiotics is my future. But my own experience, and the medical research, points to alcohol being a trigger; so getting rid of it seems an obvious choice.
I know this will be challenging. Not because I drink everyday, but because I’ve been drinking in a reflexive, habitual way since I was about 15 years old. It’s the culture I grew up in and it’s how many people I know function. It’s Friday night so you have a drink. It’s wine o’clock. It’s the reward for the getting to the end of another long, hard week. It’s what we do. When my partner and I discussed this we discovered that, although we grew up differently, this drinking philosophy was exactly the same and that we have both uncritically followed it for our entire adult lives. I’ve read a few articles in the last few weeks that show I’m not the only one becoming more thoughtful about their habitual drinking, including this great piece by Dan Keiran. And this stark confessional about alcoholism by Jack Monroe.
The other challenge is drinking as a social activity; particularly with my parents. Again this is something my partner and I have both seen with our families. When we visit them our parents demonstrate how much they miss us through the liberal application of booze. My Dad will buy our preferred drinks if he knows we’re visiting. He’ll ensure sure that our glasses are permanently topped up. And I’ve realised that this is how he shows affection. He expresses his love in this way. When I stopped drinking through pregnancy he reacted angrily and I think he felt slighted; rejected. The thing he did for me I no longer wanted. However, I know we can get through this one. When I visited my parents the second time during my pregnancy Dad had bought every possible variation of Schloer and proudly served me ‘White Grape’ flavour in a wine glass. We found another way.
So now I’ve only got two real problems: finding something to drink in pubs that isn’t a tooth-aching, neon-bright bottle of J20; and dealing with the fact that most of my Christmas presents were booze.
I need to write more.
My brain is a strange place. It’s quick and busy and relentless. Most of the time it’s narrating everything I’m seeing and thinking and feeling. It’s looking for meaning and stories in everything. And at the moment none of this has an outlet.
I need to write more.
I also want writing and storytelling to be part of my life. It’s what I love and what I think I’m good at. Storytelling — in any form — is my passion; it really is the thing that sparks joy in my soul. I want to find out what could happen if I immerse myself in it. How would it feel to give the time, energy and commitment to finding out what I can really do?
I’ve been working with a life-coach friend to understand what practical steps I need to take to make this real:
I sit with my daughter while she falls asleep; I can use this to create 20–30 minutes of writing time every evening without changing my schedule at all.
I need to create a writing space — this is tough as we live in a lovely but miniature house where every space is used. But nothing is impossible. I’m thinking about a ‘desk in a box’ which I can open up on the dining table and pack it away when I’m done. If you have any other ideas please send them my way!
Look for writing competitions to give myself something to work towards and a way of putting myself out there. This one will involve putting on my big girl pants.
Get some accountability — talking about my writing and telling people about the ideas I’m working on to start to create some external support and accountability.
And the big one — look in to the possibility of applying for a Creative Writing MA. This has been my dream for years and I wish I’d applied as soon as I finished my degree, but I have to go from where I am now. If I want it enough; I am certain I can find a way to make it happen.
In 2019 I’m going to write more, but I’m also going to make my writing more visible. I’m going to be brave.
I read about 32 books last year, and by capturing my reading in a spreadsheet, it became clear that I tend to stay in my comfort zone. There’s nothing wrong with that; I read to find peace and joy and comfort. But I also want to grow and develop. This year I want to read more, and I want to read better.
I want to read more non-fiction, and read work by different authors who are writing about other experiences and perspectives.
So far I have these titles lined up:
Hello World by Hannah Fry
Why I’m no Longer Talking to White People About Race by Renni Eddo-Lodge
Daring Greatly by Brene Brown
Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari
What else should I be looking at? Let me know your recommendations.
I’ve also signed up to the Penguin Reading Challenge to give myself a helping hand out of my literary comfort zone.
I’m going to say something that will not endear me to you; up until recently I found being a parent quite… easy.
I know, I know; it’s meant to be secretly eating chocolate buttons and swigging gin from a Tommy Tippee cup while locked in the bathroom. And some days it is. And for some families it is. Parenting is difficult in different ways for everyone.
But mostly, for me, it’s been easy. When my daughter was a baby I figured out her sleep routine and rolled with it. I co-slept, I baby wore, breast-fed on demand, and did baby-led weaning. My daughter was a chilled jolly baby and we had a ball.
But that’s changed. Since starting school she‘s found life more challenging — it’s busier, it has more people in it and she has a lot less control over her days. She’s also, as Brene Brown beautifully puts it, “stepping in to her power”. She’s hugely independent and gets frustrated when she can’t do things for herself. She‘s also struggling being in an education environment when she’s young enough to still want cuddles and care.
She requires support from me in a way she never has before and I have to step up and be the mama she needs.
I’m under no illusions that I know what I’m doing. I hold strongly to the ‘it takes a village’ theory of child rearing. So I’m reaching out for help.
I’ve signed up to the ‘Timid to Tiger’ parenting course delivered through my daughter’s school which starts in two weeks.
My partner and I are starting to follow some of Brene Brown’s teachings in The Gifts of Imperfect Parenting.
I’ve shared my situation with other parents I know. They’re my village, and I’m hoping we can help each other as our children grow and change.
Before I became a mum I hated asking for help. I never did it and I generally refused help if it was offered. In the last five years I’ve learnt that being a successful parent, and being a successful human being, means being honest about your strengths and weaknesses, asking for help when you need it and giving help to others in your turn.
So, these are the things I’m trying to do, or to do better, in 2019. I’m not aiming to be a new me — I don’t think that’s possible and I’d be setting myself up to fail from the start. What I’m aiming for is realistic steps forward: things I can do to be a slightly better me each day.
What are you aiming to do in 2019? Let me know your thoughts and plans.