As the new year breaks, a cold and grey beginning to 2023 for those living in London, I am tucked up warmly and thinking about the adventures, failures, highs and lows of 2022. I think each year teaches us something, if not many things. We learn a little more about ourselves and others and that, I think, is something to catch a hold of before memories start to fade.
So here are some of the lessons 2022 taught me. One or two are things I needed to be reminded of, while others are new and have taken a lot of adjustment, so much so that I'm still figuring out how to practise them honestly each day of my life.
1. Failure demands patience and self-compassion: In September I failed my driving test. I cried and cried and drank wine and cried. I poured so much of my time and energy and money into trying to pass. Patience is not something that comes easily to me and so this was a vital reminder that sometimes life will grip us by the shoulders and make us wait. In this case, I have to wait six months to try again. Sigh. In order to drum up the motivation to keep going, I had to be kind to myself. Lots of people fail their first test, and perhaps failing would eventually make me a better driver.
2. No one should be placed on a pedestal: no one is perfect. True friendship and love requires us to understand and accept the flaws of those we choose to have in our lives, while appreciating all the things we love about them. Putting others on a pedestal places extra pressure on them to be flawless (an unachievable goal) and discounts your needs as the other (equal) person in the relationship. Whether your partner or your friend, they do not deserve anything more than you do.
3. You cannot control everything in life, but you can control how you respond to what life throws at you: we usually fear the things we cannot control, the unexpected challenges that rear their heads when we’re feeling vulnerable. My mother lives in a larger body than most and suffers with claustrophobia and severe motion sickness. Helping her to navigate 5 flights in 3 weeks as part of our trip to South Africa reminded me that, no matter how much time we spend ruminating on the situation, trying to find answers to all possible scenarios, we will never have full control over the outcome. Instead we must remind ourselves that we will adapt to whatever happens at the time and that we are capable of doing so with strength and resilience and calm. Thankfully all was fine. She swears she is never flying again.
4. Selfishness isn’t always a bad thing: sometimes we need to put ourselves first. Say no to things you no longer want to do. Spend your personal time with the people who add value to your life; the people who bring you joy; the people you love. You do not always need to make others feel validated, especially if their views and values do not chime with yours. There is no need to please others at the cost of your own integrity.
5. Dreams demand consistency: once we understand what it is we want from life, what we are working towards, where we want to get to years down the line, the only way to get there is through consistency. Commit and recommit to your dream, to your passion, to your goal. Find ways to enjoy the journey until you reach your destination. Each time I sit down to write something, I feel content. I am nowhere near where I want to be yet and that’s okay.
6. We do not have to “fix” our mental health conditions: depression cannot be cured by self-help books. Anxiety does not simply disappear through meditation practice. Of course things like these can greatly help, they can offer tools to help us when we suffer. Mental health conditions require patience, we need to learn to live with them. To do this, we need to first accept that they are part of our lives and then find ways of living despite them. The next time you feel compelled to buy something to help you “fix” your mental health condition, remember that we live in a capitalist world that wants us to simply spend money to solve problems. We cannot spend our way out of depression or anxiety or grief.
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