A year ago today I was probably walking home exhausted and over-heated from my full-time job at an ice cream shop in town. I was in a totally different place then, to where I am now. Not just in terms of work, but in all areas of my life. I guess the same can be said by comparing any two months a year apart, but I think I become particularly reflective around autumn, and this past year has held a lot more change than most.
Coming into September always feels like a new beginning – the start of a fresh academic year breathes a renewed wave of energy into everything, even if I’m not personally attending school that year. And so this seemed like a good opportunity to reflect on the last 12 months – the good, the bad and the lessons I’ve learnt.
Try to see the bigger picture
I am in a much more positive place now than I was last August. Even if I still struggle quite a bit on some days, the overall theme of where I am now and where I’m going seems to be a lot clearer and aligned with how I feel. It can be easy to get bogged down in the details of everyday anxieties and totally miss the greater context. Once I take that metaphorical step back, it helps me to see how far I’ve actually come.
It’s okay to be unsure
Like any other millennial, I was having a crisis over my future. Last August, I was nearing the official end of my gap year and had just cancelled my place to study at the University of Bristol. I had been scooping ice cream for the summer tourists in my hometown since April and by that point both my wrist and my mind had repetitive strain injury. I was getting over the phenomenon of cold dairy (and non-dairy for my fellow vegans) products and I was pretty near a rock bottom of sorts.
Being unsure doesn’t mean being stuck
A kind of dead-end rock bottom: not like a major freakout panic or life’s-falling-apart scenario, but just a sense of mild doom that this was it. That I might be stuck asking people ‘cup or cone?’ and feeling light-headed from the heat for the rest of eternity. Of course, like many things with me, this was a little melodramatic. I would’ve found my way out of there and into something else eventually (and in fact I did) but in that moment I felt trapped with no concept of how a promising future could form.
Mental health is more important than sticking to a plan
I didn’t feel ready, capable or willing to attend university at that point and spent a while feeling guilty about that. After a bit of time, I realised how unhelpful it is to beat yourself up over not doing the ‘normal’ thing. I wasn’t keen on the whole ‘uni experience’ thing, I wasn’t sure I wanted to commit to three years in one place and my anxiety was peaking. I felt fragile and needed stability and comfort. And that is totally okay.
But it is important to create a new plan
Knowing I wasn’t escaping to university made me feel stuck in the world of work – I wanted to progress and do something different with my life other than serving customers in a shop but I felt like my options would be limited without a degree. Nevertheless, I withdrew my university application and seemingly made life harder for myself – a naturally quiet and academic person attempting to forge an unconventional life path.
I knew I needed to start something new and so I researched alternatives to university. That’s how I ended up signing up for the Open University, a distance learning provider which would allow me to study for a degree from home and at my own pace.
Not everything needs a degree
At the same time, I successfully landed a job as a healthcare assistant working at the hospital. This was huge for me. My first ever salary job. One that is nothing to do with catering and retail. Something a little more interesting with a lot to learn. I started working on an elderly ward in January and the learning curve was a steep one. It was so overwhelmingly daunting at times and the shifts were long, but I feel so lucky to have had this opportunity. And there were parts of the job I really did love.
I am more capable than I think
Doing a full-time university course from home and working a couple of long hospital shifts a week didn’t really leave me much time for developing any hobbies. I did however, find time to start up this blog and get into photography more. I managed to stay on top of all of these things at once, and as someone who gets easily overwhelmed this was an important experience for me.
I am more creative than I think
Since November, I have written over 100,000 words on this blog, which is a pretty wild thought. I have taken more photos in the last year or so than at any other point in my life and I have picked up drawing and watercolour painting (mainly through starting a bullet journal). I have even had the opportunity to do several sponsored posts, meaning I have been able to make money through doing something I love – that is a pretty amazing thought.
Physical health massively impacts mental health
The last year and a half has been a bit of a struggle physically – reoccurring stomach problems that no one has an answer for have frequently dragged my mood deep into the sewer and the stress of trying to fight an unknown issue has brought me to the point of tears several times. This is hard to deal with, and has given me an insight into the lives of people who have to deal with chronic illness. It’s also taught me a lot about the vulnerability of our mental state and how easily it can be knocked off track.
Not everything has the ability to be understood
From physical health problems, to friendship and university rejections with no explanation – the world is complicated and we’re not going to be able to know everything for sure or feel satisfied with the few answers we’re provided with. It’s what you do with the information you have, the decisions you make and the mindset you adopt, which is important.
I treat myself more kindly
The voice in my head that berates me for being ‘stupid’ pipes up a little less often these days. Instead, I try to show myself the same compassion I have for other people when they find things difficult. I ask myself why I feel a certain way and I offer myself comfort. Creating things more, taking charge of my life decisions and stepping further away from conventional expectations have all been important parts of this process.
I’m proud of myself
Perhaps a cheesy point to end on, but so damn true. I am proud of myself for the things I’ve done in the last year, both visibly through work, study and creative endeavours, and also invisibly in the development of my thoughts and understanding of my feelings.
What is the biggest lesson you’ve learnt in the last year?
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