For several years now I have been choosing a word for each year – something which I want to try and focus on throughout the year. Some years have been more successful than others. 2015, for instance, was the year in which I chose the word “Surrender” and within the first month I found out I was being made redundant! It was also the year in which I fell ill with the virus that triggered my post-viral illness – talk about learning to surrender! Other years were less successful, like the year in which I planned to “Create“, but my ever decreasing health meant I barely created a thing. So this year I’m changing it up slightly and choosing not just a word but an affirmation, and that affirmation is this – “I am unapologetically me”.
This affirmation came to me last month when my therapist asked me to choose one to focus on over the festive period. We’ve been working for several months now on my self-esteem, and during our last session I’d been reflecting on how much I have changed over the past year. Thea’s transition has not only opened up a whole new world for her but also for me too. Things I had just accepted as weird quirks about myself suddenly make much more sense now that I have a better understanding of things like gender identity and sexuality, which I’d have never explored in this depth if it weren’t for her starting on this journey. And as a result I have started to express myself more freely. Like when I went to get my hair cut and wore the following outfit…
Before this year I would have happily worn the pinafore dress and even the bright yellow tights, but not with a loose, graphic t-shirt underneath. That would not have felt right to me. I can’t even explain to you why not, it just wouldn’t have felt right. It would have been too “in your face”. It didn’t fit. It was too much. It drew attention. It wasn’t me.
Except it was me. It is me. It’s all me. The bright yellow tights are me – I love yellow. The pinafore dress is so me. The Proud Mythical Beast is everything about me – it’s both the pride in who I am as a person, a member of the LGBTQ+ community, and a fan of GMM. The only part of me that didn’t fit this look was the hair that desperately needed trimming! And for the first time ever I went to my wardrobe, took out the clothes that felt right, put them on with joy, and wore them out with pride. I was unapologetically me. And it felt good.
Why the need to be “unapologetically” me?
You might be wondering why I feel the need to be unapologetically myself? Have I been apologising for myself all these years? Well the answer to that is yes. Yes, I have. I have spent most of my life feeling like I somehow have to justify the space that I take up, and apologise for being me a lot of the time. I can’t tell you why I am this way, just that I am. Although I have to say that this past year I have started to wonder whether I might be neurodivergent, given how many similarities I see between myself and Little Man, who is both autistic and has ADHD, which might go quite a long way towards explaining why I have struggled so much throughout my life with trying to fit into this world which has never quite made sense to me.
Anyway, this has trickled into nearly all areas of my life. I have tried to play it safe constantly. I’ve been the typical “good girl”. The high/overachiever. The perfectionist. Until I fell ill, that is. And then I have battled with constant and crippling guilt and anxiety over being a huge failure, as I could no longer do all the things that I felt made me “worthy” in this world. Instead I was simply a burden on those around me. It’s a pattern of behaviour and thinking I have been trying to overcome for years, as this memory from Facebook on New Year’s Eve in 2019 reminded me last night:
Christmas 2009 vs. Christmas 2019.
In 2009 I was living in a gorgeous house, and working in a role I loved but which I knew I couldn’t continue in. I knew I had to slow down, and yet the past decade has been one of the busiest (and most overwhelming) times of my life. In just ten years I:
had a baby (following a horrific pregnancy)
worked in 5 different roles
wrote a book
relocated twice (moving house 3 times!)
worked with several clients as a freelancer
read a “Blogger Keynote” at a conference
was shortlisted for a blogging award
helped Thea fight and win 2 DWP appeals
worked with Little Man’s school towards an EHCP (ongoing)
campaigned for many causes
lost a few friends, but gained some amazing new ones!
cleared our debt, only to go straight back into it when we both got too sick to work.
When I look at that list I realise it’s no wonder I got so sick. I was already physically exhausted thanks to the EDS and Endo. But a reprieve in 2010 made me think I was fine and then my pregnancy messed me up in so many ways. The hardest part of it all was when my desire to help others led to me losing friends in some rather spectacular ways.
I pushed myself far too hard, physically, mentally, and emotionally, and I broke. The second half of the past decade has been an unravelling of my life. I have learnt so much about myself and the world in the dark places, and there have been times when I haven’t known how I was still surviving. And yet I have survived. And I have to have hope that the next decade will bring opportunities for growth and thriving, rather than mere survival. That I might learn to be the one to receive help, rather than always fighting for others, and that by doing so I may start to find a new balance. Because when I look over the past decade, it’s not the things that strike me as important but rather the connections made, both internally and externally. And I am amazed and truly grateful to have made so many new friends who accept me just the way I am, even though they have only ever known me as “sick Amanda”. Maybe she’s alright after all!December 2019
That bit in bold! Oh, innocent Amanda of December 2019, how little you know of the decade to come! We’ve only just begun and already it feels like we’ve lived a whole lifetime, doesn’t it? I thought I’d been through a lot in the 10 years from 2009 to 2019, but look at how much the world at large has been through in the two years of 2020 to 2021! A global pandemic is enough to shock anyone’s system. But like many others, we’ve added our own additional challenges and changes into the mix too…
As early as January 2020, just one month after I posted the above message to Facebook, I was struck down by the flu and then labyrinthitis which left me with utterly debilitating dizziness and vertigo. I spent most of 2020 stuck in bed, unable to cope with any light, sound, or movement. It was sheer hell, and I experienced suicidal feelings for the first time ever. I have never been so scared in all my life, and the thought of catching Covid and potentially retriggering such intense symptoms again is beyond terrifying to me! So living through this global pandemic is pretty hellish, it has to be said.
But what a way to learn “how to receive help” as I wrote in that Facebook message. I mean I didn’t exactly go beyond mere survival to thriving, but I did have to learn how to receive help for even the most basic things. Thea began having to give me bed baths because I couldn’t even make it to the shower with help. And as our financial difficulties continued with battles with the DWP and issues with our Tax Credits (seriously, hope you never get ill like I am), I also had to learn to humbly ask for and accept help from others who offered gifts of food etc. Learning that my worth lay not in what I did but in who I was, that I could be unapologetically me, even if that meant being ill and dependent on others, has been a tough lesson to learn and one I think I will probably be learning all my life…
How I hope to be unapologetically me in 2022
So how am I going to be unapologetically me in 2022?
Well, first of all I am going to continue dressing in a way that feels good to me. When I get dressed that is! As a chronically ill person I spend an awful lot of my time in pyjamas. But even if I’m not going anywhere, I may try and use some of my energy some days towards getting dressed, just to explore this side of myself. I’ve never really been one to do that – never seen the point of expending my precious energy on putting on make-up or doing my hair, only to have to expend more of my limited energy taking it off again (I’ve always had limited energy, even before getting post viral illness). But this year I feel the urge to actually use some of my energy towards dressing up just for the purpose of expressing myself a little bit.
Secondly, I want to do some more writing. One of the goals I set for myself in a previous therapy session was to try and complete my novel and self-publish it by the end of 2022. It’s not the big YA fantasy that I’ve been working on, that is still a massive project that I love but it will take a lot longer than a year to work on due to all the world building involved and the fact it is longer than one book in length! No, this is an adult contemporary sapphic romance, with an asexual main character who struggles with anxiety. It’s something I started last year, and I feel very connected to the main character (I wonder why!!) and it is my dream to see it one day for sale on the Queer Lit website. Because writing the kind of character I need to see on a page to reassure me that I am not alone is important to me.
Finally, I want to get back into my spiritual life a little bit more this year. The past few years have been so desperately focused on mere survival that spirituality has very much fallen by the wayside. My faith has been there, in the background, but actual practice and joy within it has been lost. And I miss that. Someone asked me about celebrating Yule over on Twitter and I could answer about how I would normally do it, but realised my heart hadn’t been in it for a very long time. And I wanted to change that. So Thea and I had a big clear out of our books, getting rid of what felt like it no longer served us and bringing the ones we wanted to read or re-read to the front of our shelves. And I spent some of my Christmas money on new prints and a couple of God and Goddess items for a little altar space in my bedroom. I also signed up for a course to explore Morgan le Fay more deeply this month during the cycle from one new moon to the next. I’m making time for it, I’m making space for it, and I’m going to unapologetically walk my path between the worlds of Paganism and Christianity.
Here’s to 2022 and a year of being unapologetically me, whatever that may mean.