Summing up an entire year is hard.
It’s a vast expanse of time and yet nothing at all. 12 months, 52 weeks, 365 days, 8760 days, 525,600 minutes. A lot can happen in that amount of time.
A lot did happen to me this year. And yet it doesn’t feel like a lot. It’s a strange juxtaposition that makes it difficult to boil 2019 down to any one thing.
Though if I boiled it down, I like to imagine it would look like the brown sludge you get if you boil coke.
I think I can boil 2019 down into three things. Three separate periods of time, each with their own happenings, challenges and occurrences.
Part the First: The Waitening
The first part of my year was characterised by waiting. For an important appointment, for vindication and possibly even for Godot. Though he never showed up, the bastard.
I spent much of the first part of the year in the limbo between getting a referral and waiting for it to come through. It wasn’t fun.
The things I was struggling with, the reason for seeking the referral in the first place, caused me a great deal of distress. My depression got worse. It worried a lot of people, including me.
I hit the second anniversary of surviving a suicide attempt determined not to end up in that place again. My determination paid off; I didn’t end up there again.
I turned thirty, which I hear many people worry about. Not me. I’m looking forward to my thirties. It’s the age where people finally start taking writers seriously.
My professional writing stalled as I turned my focus inwards, trying to understand myself. I journalled a lot and tried not to beat myself up about the lack of other kinds of writing.
I finished my fourth novel, despite my brain doing its best to stop me and then stalled on the publication of it.
I got through the waiting. I survived. Sometimes that’s the most important thing you can do.
Part the Second: The Diagnosis
It feels like hyperbole when people say that a single day can change your life, but I experienced it this year.
My referral came through. I got diagnosed with ADHD. And everything changed.
The second part of 2019 was very much dedicated to coming to terms with what it means to learn you have ADHD at 30, and to treating it.
I walked out of the appointment and for the first time in my life the nasty voice in the back of my head was gone. The one that spewed a constant stream of invective about how awful I am and that I can’t do the things I want to because I’m shit.
It just… disappeared. And the few times it’s tried to come back I’ve shut it down immediately.
Because I’m not shit. I’m not useless. I’m not any of the things that voice used to tell me I was. The things I struggle with, the things I find frustrating that other people don’t seem to, I find those things hard because I have ADHD.
My brain is literally wired different to most peoples’ and expecting it to do the same things as a neurotypical brain is a recipe for disaster. Things like, say, a PhD.
For the first time I understood why everyone else in my office seemed to have such a radically different experience of their PhD to me. I understood why my PhD felt so hard; because a PhD requires self-directed study, focusing on the task at hand and managing your own time well. All things that are difficult when you have ADHD.
Especially when you don’t know you have it and therefore don’t have access to any help for it.
For the first time I understood why finishing my PhD broke my brain so thoroughly, why my depression and anxiety ended up so bad. Turns out that’s pretty common for people with ADHD who go undiagnosed for so long.
And, I’m not gonna lie, I got a little angry and bitter that no one had noticed it before.
But then I started treating my ADHD, trying to work with my brain instead of against it. And that’s when everything changed.
I started on stimulant medication and discovered that it is in fact possible to concentrate on a task for more than three minutes. I suddenly found it was possible to get lost in a project and come up for air before the low-blood sugar shakes started because I hadn’t eaten for five hours while I was busy.
I learned I can hold a conversation without drifting off distracted, without letting sentences go unfinished and without interrupting eighteen times because I just thought of something I have to say right this second.
I found out what it was like to not have a hundred tabs open in my brain at any one time. For the first time in my life I went an entire day without a song stuck in my head. And I started sleeping better than I ever have in my life.
There’s still a lot for me to learn about my ADHD, a lot of unhealthy coping mechanisms for me to unlearn. But everything is so much better already, and so many parts of my life make sense now.
I have ADHD. And I can learn to work with that.
Part the Third: The Liminal Space
Something a lot less uplifting dominated the last part of the year.
My mother-in-law was admitted to hospital with suspected pneumonia in early October. Sam Jay and I rushed to Leicester to be with while the doctors poked and prodded, trying to confirm or deny pneumonia. We didn’t get home until after 2am.
It wasn’t pneumonia, just a chest infection, if there is ever such a thing when you have COPD, and she was very frail. The doctors kept her in for five weeks, the first couple of which Sam, Jay and I practically lived at the hospital, the most liminal of spaces. We never knew what day of the week it was.
Two days after she finally came home she was readmitted. And a week later she passed away.
I’ve not spoken much about losing my mother-in-law because the grief Sam feels is so much more acute. It’s taken precedence. So too has the grief felt by my father- and sister-in-law. My job has been to support my loved ones, and I hope I’ve done it well.
But I think it’s good to acknowledge that this is a loss for me as well. That I am grieving too, and that it’s okay for my grief to take up space.
My mother-in-law was in my life for almost 12 years, more than a third of it. We were related for half of that time. And I feel the loss of that. She was a complex woman, and she occasionally rubbed me up the wrong way, but I miss her.
I miss her.
The Odds and Sods
Sprinkled across the top of the three layer cake that was 2019 were other happenings that didn’t quite fit into the general theme. Most good, some not so good.
I spent a weekend demolishing a brick wall because the contractors never turned up. It was an enormous amount of fun but oh boy my arms ached afterwards.
I helped rescue a pigeon that had decided it wanted to live inside our chimney. Thankfully, there wasn’t a fireplace at the bottom, just an air vent. I think we are occasionally still finding the odd feather in strange places.
I missed Hornsea Carnival for the first time in probably more than a decade because of an infection in my leg. Instead of spending the weekend in the park I spent it in bed, my leg swollen and angry looking leg propped up on a pillow. It took two weeks of antibiotics to get rid of it.
I walked over hot coals for charity, raising over £300 for the Nottingham Breast Cancer Research Centre. I also broke an arrow point first against my throat. I still have the arrow as proof.
I wrote almost 300,000 words.
I read 25 books in a single month.
I became auntie Tonks to one of my best friends’ baby, and it’s exactly as awesome as I always hoped.
It’s been a mixed bag for sure this year. Amazing highs and some very painful lows.
It’s been a macrocosm of life as a whole.
As I look towards the next year, the next decade there are many plans, hope and dreams forming in my mind. Some of them will happen, some of them won’t. And that’s okay.
That’s how life goes.
If I told 2019 to “come at me, bro” then I have only this to say to 2020; please be gentle with me.