A year is a big ol’ chunk of time. While 2017 easily wins the title of Worst Year of My Life So Far, these past twelve months have also been peppered with positives. Between the sobbing fits and long tearful walks and whole evenings spent pouring my heart out on Reddit, I did so much. I traveled. Danced. Made new friends. Reconnected with old ones. Went to shows. Saw movies. Played games. Read. Wrote. Learned to be happy again.
Somehow, in the midst of crippling situational depression, I managed to carve out a handful of distinct happy memories that no one can take away from me. And however lame or unimportant those memories may be, I think that’s something to be proud of.
I’ve spoken enough about the thing that made 2017 so awful for me. This time, in the spirit of 2018, I’m focusing entirely on the good, amazing, awesome things that happened while I was too busy being sad to notice.
Seeing as this is (well, supposed to be) a writing blog, it’s only right that I start on topic.
As I wrote in a previous post, one of the unexpected side-effects of having my heart broken was the huge amount of creative inspiration it triggered. I managed to turn the raw pain I was feeling into a big, bold, beautiful rewrite of my book, one that reignited my passion for the project and brought me my first real bit of writing success. In August it was announced that my novel, THE GIRL YOU LEFT BEHIND, was a runner-up in the Daily Mail’s First Crime Novel Competition. That is huge.
I didn’t manage to get the entire book finished last year like I’d wanted to — turns out it’s pretty difficult to cope with pressure when you’re already weighed down by crippling depression! Who knew? — but I did get over 50,000 words done, words I love, and I’ve started 2018 with the motivation to write lots more. I want to show the world what I’m capable of — and not just with this book, either. I’ve got blog posts planned, ideas for other novels, and also a Big Secret Project that I’m really excited about. My literary future is looking bright.
I remember writing last June about how I hate people dishing out the phrase “everything happens for a reason” after a breakup. How could there possibly be a silver lining? Well, look at me now: living proof that it’s true.
When it comes to my family, skipping events is a crime punishable by death — so even though I felt like death, I was regularly marched out of my bedroom and forced to consume pizza, drink cocktails, and Shake It Off on the dancefloor.
So despite my rapidly plummeting mental health, 2017 was still a year stuffed with birthday meals, gigs by my favourite local covers band, movie quizzes, cinema trips, nights in, nights out, a fancy Valentine’s Ball, BBQs, firework displays, and more than a few visits to my local Slug and Lettuce. And even though I know I wasn’t at peak happiness for a lot of those events, I’m so glad my family dragged me along and made sure I enjoyed myself. At a time when my faith in others had been destroyed, they helped me rebuild it. I’ll always be grateful for that.
Reuniting with the Writing Buds
In June, August, and November I got to meet up with members of my online writing group, Writers United. We met on Facebook years ago while having a communal meltdown in the comments section of a Richard and Judy novel competition, and we’ve been firm friends and critique partners ever since.
We write novels and short stories, sci-fi and literary fiction, and we’ve even got all the publishing bases covered: Elisabeth (Libby) Carpenter with her traditionally published 99 RED BALLOONS; Paul Stephenson and Caroline Harris with their self-published books BLOOD ON THE MOTORWAY and THE WAVE QUEEN; and Jo Fenton with her upcoming indie thriller THE BROTHERHOOD, published by Crooked Cat. And I’m sure there will be many more published authors among us in the future!
Honestly, when the group first started I never expected to grow to love these people like I do, but I did. We’re all so different, from all over the UK and all walks of life, but we fit. I’m so grateful to call these people my friends. ❤
We have two main mottos: “onward and upward” and — more importantly — “what happens in Pizza Express, stays in Pizza Express”.
Trips and Holidays
I’d already promised myself that I’d enjoy the hell out of our annual Cornish holiday by eating dessert at every opportunity and wearing not one but two brand new bikinis, but adding in the big fat British heatwave of June 2017 made it all the more special. I think it was the first time I properly understood the term “self-care”. I used to roll my eyes at it before, thinking it was something the over-sensitive had to do when life got slightly dramatic, but that week in June, I felt it. I felt the happiness soaking into my skin, and some of my sadness washing out into the Atlantic. I understood the power of self-care.
I had two other family mini-breaks during the year, London and Portsmouth, and plenty of other trips and experiences in-between. Seeing The Cursed Child, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, and winning several movie quizzes at my local cinema were the highlights!
In January 2017, my brother married his lovely wife Hannah. They eloped to Gretna Green, but had a party a few weeks later to celebrate with family and friends. Welcome to the family, Hannah!
I was also lucky enough to be invited to another wedding — which was Back to the Future themed!! My old friend John and his wife Caroline put on a lovely event, with Enchantment Under the Sea banners and a marquee screening the films (although my sister and I barely left the dancefloor during the reception). It was a wonderful day — although I may have taken the 1950s’ clothing suggestion a bit more seriously than most of the other guests…
I’ve always been a bit of a squealing animal lover, but I think 2017 was the year I really embraced it.
Whether I was walking my (incredibly noisy) doggy nephews Hans and Bruno, getting mauled by my cats Libby and Rosie, taking selfies with my sister’s kitties while babysitting my actual nephew, feeding our local foxes, browsing dog memes/pupdates on the internet, or eyeing-up cute woofers in town, animals became a stable and comforting part of my everyday life.
You know that old joke — money can’t buy happiness, but I’d much rather cry in a Ferrari? It’s the same with animals. No, curling up with a purring cat or a couple of snoozing dogs didn’t magically cure my depression and make me well again, but my pets brought me comfort at a time when little else did. And now the dust has settled, I really enjoy this caring, cutesy side of myself that emerged. I’m a cat person, a dog person, an everything person! (Well, within reason.)
I’ve always struggled with low self-esteem and a lack of confidence. I’m a shy, nervous person by nature, and my social anxiety often fuels the furnace of self-hatred. (You know when you do something embarrassing and your mind reminds you of it when you’re trying to get to sleep? Try all day, every day. That’s what it feels like.) So when faced with rejection of the being-with-you-makes-me-physically-sick-and-I-never-really-loved-you variety, I fully expected that furnace to kick into overdrive.
But it didn’t.
Somehow, inexplicably, all that fuel of sadness and confusion and hurt got redirected to my usually chilly oven of self-confidence. And it was a big fire.
For the first time in my life, I found myself strutting down streets with my head held high, lipstick on and hair bouncing behind me, checking myself out in every available reflection. My writing flourished, becoming more arty and beautiful than I’d ever dared to attempt before. And I managed to kick my nerves straight in the face, doing crazy things like asking to try on shoes in shops, turning up to a party all by myself, and going on dates with complete strangers.
I’ll never be a wholly confident person, not in terms of ditching the shyness and social anxiety, but I can be confident within my own skin. I can love myself. And now, honestly, I do.
A Certain Point of View
I remember 2017 being the worst year of my life — but after sifting through the photos and memories and highlights and curating them into this post, I have to admit that there was a lot of good there, too. And looking at those smiles and selfies, it feels wrong to ignore them, to write them off.
And that’s how you drag yourself out of situational depression, I think. You pull on your over-the-knee socks and slap on your lipstick and turn up your favourite music. You binge comedy shows that make you laugh. Go to movies you know you’ll enjoy. Spend time with people you love. Work on achieving everything you’ve ever wanted to.
And eventually you look back on the photos, the ticket stubs, the stories, and you realise that even though life felt like it was standing horribly still, it wasn’t. It went on, and you went with it.
So even if you don’t feel like it, pose for those photos. Say yes to that party invite. Get tickets to all the movies you can possibly squeeze in.
Show your future self just how strong you can be.
Was 2017 truly the worst year of my life so far? Absolutely. But these last ten months have taught me that we all have the power to take control of our lives and rewrite our own narratives. The past will always change us — but we get the final say in how. So scrap what I said in the first paragraph of this post. I’m reclaiming 2017. I’m rebranding it.
2017: The Year I Survived.
That has a better ring to it, don’t you think? 🙂