Updated: Dec 29, 2020
So here we are, Fuckers. At the end of 2020. The days that we’ve all waited for.
Do we all logically realize that today is no different than tomorrow in a practical sense? That this is an imaginary line drawn between planetary rotations? That the events of one calendar don’t end when you put the next one on the wall? Sure.
Do I think it’s really important to honor the end of the year and the beginning of the next one, anyways? I really fucking do. And it’s for one of our trauma-brained reasons. Our brains suck at processing information. We don’t close the door on unpleasant memories easily. We struggle to clear out the cache and start browsing with a clean slate. Making a delineation between "now" and "then?" Well... it actually helps.
And that’s where analytical processing and narration come in.
I’ve spoken about narration before. I really need to do an entire episode on it. It’s a tool I use daily, I would guess. It’s one of the main strategies I used in the beginning of my trauma rehab to start putting my old memories and resentments to rest. In short, I think it’s powerful.
The other part of this - taking an objective distance from your recollections and factually figuring out what went well, what wasn’t so strong, and what to focus on next year - well, that’s a bit of narration mixed with Applied Behavior Analysis. What happened? How did I respond? What was the outcome? How would I like to change that outcome in the future to work towards the functional life of my dreams?
So, that’s the world where my head has been living for the past week or so. Starting to warm my brain up to the idea of revisiting the past 12 shitty months. Compiling categories of information to get a good analytical look at the major areas of life - i.e. work, relationships, health, finances, self-satisfaction. Writing lists and turning historical crumbs into visually-organized graphics to help my brain form a cohesive picture of the times we’ve been through. Looking for lessons in the data. Trying to see myself from an external, less biased lens. Figuring out how to recalibrate this machine for a better 2021 in the areas that need a tune up.
Today, I thought I would give some examples and recommendations on how to do the same. Because most years, the last thing I wanted to do was to own up to my own life. Taking a close look back at the events that had crushed and shamed me? The things I tried so hard to avoid? Give my inner critic another month of insomniac material to humiliate myself about? No, please.
Is it an idea that probably fills you with dread, fear, and anxiety? Yep. And that’s why I want to encourage you to do it even harder. You’re feeling resistance to the possibility of feelings, and you know that’s going to be something worth overcoming in the new year. There might be pain and personal judgement in your future, but that’s not going to change anytime soon. Let’s start dealing with those feelings now, rather than later.
Wrap up your 2020. Pocket the lessons you were meant to learn. Readjust for the future. Put those old memories to bed. Place them firmly on this calendar and move on with less baggage.
Plus, realizing what you’d like to improve is a powerful tool. You can start to structure your life and your responses to it differently. You can start to change your daily experience. You can build up the faith and self-confidence from even minor successes. You can learn to laugh at the mishaps.
This end of year rewind is a challenging process. But that’s how you know it’s important. If it was easy, you wouldn’t need to sit down and formally do it. You wouldn't be so opposed to it, either. Unfortunately, that’s not how our trauma heads work. So, approach the idea while treating yourself with grace. Try to remember that 2020 was a shitshow for everyone. It’s best to just laugh this year off as “one hell of a story” that everyone will be detailing with nostalgic hilarity in 20 years. Because, at a certain point, all you can do is laugh.
So, if there are a thousand and one bad things to recall, at least rest assured that they already happened, you survived them, and now you’re ready to put them in the past instead of endlessly torturing yourself in the future. You made it through challenges that you’d imagine to be crippling; give yourself some gotdamn credit and put weight into the idea that you can figure anything out.
Gonna give you my usual warning. If something monumentally triggering or traumatic happened to you this year, don’t try this activity on your own. If you had some deep dark recovered memories or suffered a new trauma... Consult your therapist before you get triggered into oblivion. Don't be trauma-brained irresponsible and end your year on a sour note.
Everyone else, just hear me out. Consider some version of the exercises I’m going to detail. If you want to do them differently, go wild. Everyone works differently. But I do recommend taking a long, honest, unpressured look at the current state of affairs. Feel the feels. Try to get your head up to speed on the last chapter before we start all over again.
Alright, let’s talk about settling up the past year so you can move on.
The first thing I started doing a few years ago was making a list of the “life inventory” I had collected. It was a way to take a big picture view and stop getting so pissy about the tiny missing details.
By that, I mean, if I was looking at my life objectively on paper, what would it say about my current statuses? What's actually working? What have I accomplished? What would a generic society pat me on the back for securing? What would my ideal society feel fondly about?
After I actually named all the things going in the right direction, I looked for areas for improvement or gaps in the data. What was missing from my stockpile of accrued achievements?
In other words, I think it’s important to
Take inventory of what you have now
Make a life “wish list” - what’s missing?
So, for me, that would look like
I have a job that allows me a lot of freedom and control.
I have an in-progress master’s degree program that helps me understand brains better.
I have this massive trauma project that brings meaning and connection to my life.
I have a trustworthy vehicle, my own puppy, a fair number of friends, some oh-shit money in the bank, a renewed interest in creativity, a few living options to choose from, a clear direction in this usually-meandering journey, my health, and better-than-ever relationships with my family members.
You know? Not too shabby when I acknowledge the basic positive facts. On paper, I should be a fairly peaceful and self-confident human. Something to keep in mind on all the days when I feel like I have nothing. I've accomplished some things in this life, even if they've been completely accidental and meandering. Maybe I can stop judging myself for feeling like I "should be" doing better by now. I've got the basics and beyond. I've changed my life to fit my needs. I've learned to live for myself. I'm actively working to improve things every day. Not so shitty, after all.
Alright, so digging up positives from your life might be really hard. You might not believe any of the things you write down. Or you might put a negative spin on all the oppositely charged sentiments. Even if you make yourself see your life circumstances clearly and semi-positively (or at least neutrally), that information will probably leave your head in about 5 seconds. It's easy to forget what we're doing right. This is why writing it down matters. You have a mini guide to legitimate self-regard at your fingertips for use at a later date. Helpful.
Now, the harder question to process and release. What’s missing?
I wish I had closer friends and a concentrated group like I used to.
I wish I had better work-life balance.
I wish I had a place that really felt like my chosen home.
I wish I had more time and cash for Archie’s progress, less fear over health downturns, more obligation-anxiety control, an inspiring space to work, less panic about winding up in the poorhouse, more tolerance to energetically distressing situations, and more successful romantic relationships…. You know, fuckit, let’s just say more successful “all relationships.” Humans still baffle me more often than not.
Cool. Now don't get stuck in the wallows. Just make a basic plan to correct what you're not stoked about.
Looks like I need to focus on finding more stable income - or feeling more stable with my income. I need to slow down my reaction times and be more analytical about my actions before I make them - in work and in relationships. I need to figure out health insurance. I need to learn more about how exactly safe and balanced human associations are supposed to work. Oh, I also really need to figure out my sex life someday - more on that in another episode.
That's it. Things to keep in mind. Nothing to bludgeon myself over. Just pointing out the areas that tend to get ignored in the daily production details. Research I need to do, skills I need to practice, and mentalities I need to foster.
Another way to approach this is to consider, “What did I do well this year?” and, on the other hand, “What tripped me up this year?” Plus, what are the commonalities in each column?
For instance, I made a list of ten for each.
What did I do well?
Consistency in work, health, and routine
I wouldn’t say infallible optimism, but non-pessimism
Re-centering myself faster
Decreased need for external validation
Overcoming fear of being seen
Not taking relationships SO personally
More gray thinking
Appreciating boundaries and autonomy in both directions
Checking in, naming, and adjusting my inner world. Not getting stuck.
Slowing my reactivity… at times.
What wasn’t so great?
Using productivity as an anxiety escape
Codependency and insecurity when in romantic partnership
Letting stress become agitation
Giving in to personal triggers (men, ambiguity, bad energies)
Lack of patience
Tendency for isolation or social avoidance
Panicking before all the chips had fallen
Entertaining imposter syndrome
Communicating under the influence of imbalanced energy
To simply the information into trends...
In general, my strengths were mental. My cognitions were strong. My actions were logical. My direction was very clearly defined.
My weaknesses were emotional. I let anxiety get the best of me at times. I was sensitive to negative vibes. I put a lot of negative pressure on myself.
Hey, things to work on. How do I mesh my emotional brain with my logical one? Things to put on the priority list for next year.
Alright, so those activities are not too bad, right? No big surprises, just some reminders of where my brain excels and falls short. Future directions to work in. Fucked up core beliefs to examine. Naming your experience is always step number one.
At the very least, get this much done. I promise, it will be a perspective shifter if you’re honest and objective with yourself. There might be some sting, but it’s your body’s reaction to the initial recognition that something needs to change. It means something. Pay attention and don’t fear it. And DO NOT SHAME YOURSELF UP.
For more trauma brain settlement, listen up.
Month by month replay
Next, I recommend piecing together all the individual events that made up the year. Sounds overwhelming? Yep. So start by breaking it up into months. Create your narrative of 2020 so it makes cohesive sense in your head.
If you just don’t want to right now… think of it from the perspective of yourself at 75 years old, looking back on exactly what a tough Motherfucker you were during a global pandemic. Wear your scars with pride. Remember the events, so you aren’t forced to repeat them for the next 50 years until they stick.
So, here’s how I recommend you do it.
Make a horizontal timeline graphic, or make a vertical list of each month. Choose your own weapon. Go through and fill in the extremely broad takeaways first for each month. Then dive deeper into the details, fill in everything that you remember - whether we’re talking physical events or ways that you felt.
When your monthly recall is complete, it’s time to make a story out of the data.
Create a logical flow from January 2020 to the present. Acknowledge what you’ve been through. Then pat yourself on the back for surviving and showing up again the next day. If you’ve managed to handle all of this in a year, you can do anything.
For example, my truncated and personally redacted version would look like this:
January: working at the brewery - shit is always challenging, dating DB - shit is always challenging, living in the spare bedroom of a friends house - shit is always challenging. Trying to find a new home - challenging. Working a second job - challenging. I’ve all-but-given-up on TMFRs, which was a blog at that point - it was disappointing. I was connected to my BF and loosely with my roommates, rarely talk to my family members, generally feel hated at work. I reconnected with DF, and otherwise feel very alone and powerless.
February: Found a place to live! Signing a lease with my new roommates. It’s in a great spot. The brewery is getting fucking nuts now; plans are always a joke. My relationship has gotten even worse - I never know what to expect. My health has been on a downturn. I’ve been drinking and smoking a lot. My 30th birthday rolls around and it is terrible. I find out my boyfriend is a secret alcoholic. I’m feeling supportive stress crushing me, but no one ever helps shoulder the burden when I need the favor returned. Challenging, mental-health-shaking days. But moving into my own space was a great happening.
March: Everything is on fire. Relationship ended in an alcoholic rage, an apology was received, and the relationship was reinstated a few weeks later. The brewery is a literally shit river. Then the lockdown hits - now I work full-time remote. It is terrible. No one will communicate with me, my anxiety is through the roof, and meanwhile, I have no idea how to fill my newfound time. Start getting back into creativity to fill the mental void where depression has cleared unused space. Sort of feel like a kid on a snow day, as far as the pandemic. A tiny bit paranoid, but certain that it will work out.
April: Hahaha, no, nothing is working out. The lockdown continues, work is an absolute bitch, I’m barely leaving the house because of the always on-call dynamic. I’m finally furloughed from work and start being able to take care of myself. Holy shit - I can manage my mental health again. My relationship is doing better, but we have the same old struggles over avoidance, communication, and misunderstandings.
May: My relationship is over. I’m upset and unhappy, but it's time to stop being mutually distressed. I start jogging and pouring all my energy into taking care of myself instead of getting depressed. I start writing a LOT for traumatized motherfuckers again. When I’m called back into work, I quit. I need to take care of my mental health and work on projects that matter… no idea how I’m going to support them, long term. But I randomly decided to make a podcast one day.
June: I’m in Illinois to settle up medical and car appointments. Nothing is going according to plan and I keep getting delayed. The podcasts I threw together without a single plan have actually been getting attention? I’m thrown into manic overdrive, trying to learn how to do better. My friend DF who I reconnected with in January is helpful, but also puts a lot of personal pressure on me. The vibe is weird. Meanwhile, I have no idea what I’m doing, but my attention is a million percent focused on TMFRs again. Unfortunately, my health and mental health take a downturn with the change of scenery and challenges of being in my home-area. I’m anxious. After a long conversation with my friend, the discord community is born.
July: Annnnd my only strong friendship is over; DF and I are on the outs because of his *feelings.* Another connection down. It hits me hard. I work even harder to fill the gaping emptiness inside of me. My podcasting efforts are still all over the place, but I’m working my ass off figuring it out. I also start jogging more intensively. For the first time ever, I feel confident wandering around the streets and expecting cars to move the fuck over. I start getting up earlier and earlier to beat the country sunshine. I get my health back on track. I jump at the chance to foster a floppy puppy named Archie.
August: Hey, things are wild. I’m caring for a dog who’s more like a newborn baby. I’m exhausted with his constant care and hatred of letting me sleep. The shelter is driving me insane. I start school for the first time in 6 years or so. I’m ridiculously focused on the academics in my life… and ridiculously stressed by everything thrown on my plate. I’m working full-time on TMFRs. I officially adopt Archie. I decide I’m tired of also being sad over my lost partnership in May - I sign up for a dating app on a whim. I accidentally hit it off with someone immediately. Uh oh.
September: I’m now dating someone, apparently. It’s not really my choice, so much as he’s infatuated and making things happen despite my protests. We have a crazy connection though - it does feel really significant, and although I’m resistant, I let it happen. We spend half of the days in the month together, despite living 90 minutes apart. Big future plans are made. He helps me with the podcast and setting up a patreon. It looks like my life has taken a drastic turn on accident. But I am so stressed out about it. At least Archie learns to eat better. The discord community is really working and the podcast is seriously gaining traction!
October: I really need to go back to Atlanta. I spend more time with my boo - things are good. I get into a massive blowup with my mom - things are bad. Out of the blue, that new boyfriend breaks up with me because he’s stressed about me returning to the South. Boom, over as quickly as it started (whattasurprise). I’m heartbroken. I can’t leave in this emotional state, so my plans are blown apart. We have a traumatic horse weekend at the farm. I re-sign up for that dating app - hey, all the boys still like me. Turns out, I still don’t really like them. I’m immediately bored. Internally tormented. Ruminating and emotional. Archie scoots along. I reach out to someone from my past, for better or for worse.
November; Oh boy. The election freaks me out and I can’t leave for Atlanta until it’s over. It’s finally over… and… I find out about my dad dying. Emergency mode; siblings reunite and mobilize, plans completely off the table, heads spin. We all head to Wisconsin, view my dad, sort his things, retrieve his ashes. See strange signs. Visit my childhood home in Illinois, wow - that kicks me right in the feels. Ask that ex-boyfriend for one simple favor in the midst of the chaos; he is a flippant asshole… so I can now resent him rather than mourning him. Thanks! In the meantime, whatever, because the guy from my past slips right into the position where we left off. He helps enormously with my dad development. I miss him like hell when we aren’t fighting like cats and dogs. Uh oh, sounds like my version of crack. At the same time, my head is all over the place, too many things to try to understand. I’m vacillating between depressed and anxious. My brothers go to Mexico and I’m left in Illinois to flounder. I finish up my semester and panic my way through trying to catch back up with both jobs. I have to close the community because it’s too busy.
December: My head is slowly coming back around, but it is a daily rollercoaster. Sometimes I’m livid, sometimes crushed, sometimes guilty, sometimes blank. I want to go to Atlanta, but i can’t. I give myself time and permission to be a mess. Eventually, I get back to working on Traumatized Motherfuckers in big picture thinking ways and reimagined structures for the future. Unresolved relationship guy from my past provides a lot of highs and lows - we’re not speaking for weeks after my latest round of telling him to git fucked. Until… we’re back at it again, like always. Now what? No idea. But I’m immediately riled. Plus, it’s Christmas time and we can’t celebrate it in my family - not that we normally do. Both brothers are morose. I feel powerless and project-overwhelmed. How is this podcast still working? I’m just trying to look at 2021 and let this flaming bag of crap run out of steam.
Yeah, that about summarizes my year. Quit a toxic job, created a non-profit position, lost important folks, re-started my relationships with my family, adopted a wheelie dog, got my health under control, and generally was spun out by romance all three times it wandered into my life. Then, worked a lot.
Just putting it all out there, tied into one story on paper, helps my head a great deal. It’s almost like looking back at a dream when you consider everything that can happen in the course of a year. Stringing the events all together in a digestible format makes it feel more real. My brain can finally see the journey it’s been on looking backwards. Plus, I can see all the things I do to myself. Like letting love dominate me on repeat, while firmly stating that I will not.
To take it one step forward, after you do this… you know my next advice. Keep writing with a critical eye.
Journal it out. Look for connections - how did one event lead to the next? What helpful folk did you meet this year? What did you learn about yourself? What did you learn about your mental health? What strengths did you find? What did you overcome? What needed time to sort itself out? What events would you like to rewrite? What trends do you see at various points in the year?
Basically, tie up the loose ends. Look at your year like it’s a novel. Fill any of the plot holes that have been causing your brain to ruminate. Notice the adventure you’ve been on. Give yourself recognition for all the challenges you’ve been through. And don’t forget to laugh at the ridiculousness of everything.
Why did I end up staying at my mom’s house for 6 months by accident? Because the circumstances were insane. Because my mental health kept me from leaving several times over. Because my heart started impacting my head more than I wanted.
Why do I wind up in temperamental relationships? Because I let myself fall into them, even when I know they are a bad idea. In spite of knowing that I don’t thrive when I’m partnered up, I do it anyways when I sense a connection. Because I’ve made the mistake of letting one serve as a bandage for the wounds of the last. Oh, and because I really do love chaos. Feels like home. I get a taste and I can’t stop coming back for more.
Why did I put myself in a position where my financial security and therefore anxiety was in danger? Because working in a tumultuous environment with people who hate planning and communication was breaking my head. After I left, I got my mental and physical health in order. I got back to the project that mattered to me. I stopped feeling so unfulfilled and conflicted inside, even if I was working more than ever before.
Answer the questions that you judge yourself about. Give your actions merit using logic and reason. You aren’t out there, flailing without any common sense. Shit happens, you adapt, and those circumstances can lead to additional unpredictable occurrences. Place them and feel like a reasonable adult.
Get more specific
So, having gotten this far with things… Were there any areas of life that were particularly difficult for you this past year? If you answered “all of them,” I understand that. But, if you can handle the potential overload, it helps to dig deeper into the topics that have been torturous. Maybe take a harder look at one area each day, give yourself time to reflect, and keep your head clean by closing the door on all the shit that drove you nuts.
If you struggled to find a steady mental middle ground: Chart your mental health.
Make a graph, what do you remember about your mental duress month by month? Was it high energy anxiety or low energy depression messing with your mind. Chart major events and the ways they impacted you. Recognize the times you brought yourself back to a comfortable middle ground, and how.
If you were plagued with health, substance, and weight issues: Chart your physical health.
When were you doing well? When were you struggling? What habits helped? What crutches tore you down? When did your physical ailments follow your mental challenges? What broke your good streaks? What kickstarted them?
If you were unfulfilled in your social connections: Chart your relationship health.
When did you have a fulfilling social life? When were things rough? When were you isolated? When did you have support? Who was the most important person, when? Did you have any beneficial relationships? What would you change if you could do it all over? Who do you need in your life in the future? Who probably can get lost?
If you hated your job this year: Chart your work events and your moods. What happened that went well? What pushed you into a tailspin? What made you feel valued? What made you feel expendable? What pushed you to the stress limits? What kept you returning to the same job every day? What stops you from getting a new one?
If you had a project, routine, or hobby that you meant to start: Chart your experiences.
When did you get started? What made you stop? What made you begin, in the first place? What tiny marks of progress did you make? What were your successes? What would you like to improve? What stopped you from giving it your all?
Alright, so there’s five common examples of trauma-life-issues. Could you have other areas to explore? Totally. But do you get the idea? Sure you do.
Now, if you go through all this trouble to break things down into small pieces, don’t miss the chance to look for larger patterns again. Check for connections in all the data. Find a way to make the information feel stupidly redundant, now that you really consider everything.
What I mean is, consider: When did issues in one place correspond to mental fuckery? When did stress at work bleed into stress in your social connections? When did your health cause distraction in your daily duties? When did your hobby get derailed due to your personal life? When was your mental illness steering all the ships at once?
And, pay attention to slumps across the board. What were you feeding yourself mentally during all of these times? What are the common denominators throughout your good and bad streaks in all areas? Maybe having a toxic connection in your life? Maybe repeating a narrative of doom and self-hatred? Maybe your health anxiety? Maybe returning to that shitty job day after day after day.
Start paying attention to the ways you’ve lived and the outcomes you’ve experienced. Notice what works and what cripples you. Pinpoint the issues that need your attention in the future. Prove to yourself that you aren’t a flaming tornado of destruction; there are reasons why one life disruption bleeds into another.
There’s logic in all the baffling ups and downs, even when they seem to be unrelated. You probably can’t see the connections when you’re buried in the weeds. But looking back now, as if you’re in an airplane looking down on your year, what can you notice?
The information is powerful. And I recommend you get acquainted with the trends that rule your life so you have somewhere to start making changes. Even if those changes are just cutting yourself a little fucking slack, because, actually, a lot has happened now that you think about it.
Lastly, I have some easy recommendations for broad life rehabilitation efforts.
First, I recommend you get a few organizational tools under your belt. No, they aren’t fun when you start using them. There’s a lot of resistance, self-criticism before you even start, and dread. Again, that feeling means you’re touching on something important. Something challenging. Something you’ve probably been avoiding, and therefore, you haven’t been correcting.
Here’s a few other things that I can tell you will really help in your new life efforts.
Go spending. For good reasons. You should get on amazon, give yourself permission to browse, and buy:
A journal and a day planner. Start tracking your daily life. Start planning your intended actions for mental health management best-practices. I know, nobody likes physically writing. But you can learn to enjoy it when you see the benefits in your life. Put your thoughts in one place, keep them safely stored in a book, and you don’t have to juggle them around in your skull for days and weeks on end. You can sleep at night. You don’t have to wake up every morning with a manic panic over your obligations that day. Get a physical planner and see what your life really looks like, where you have opportunities, and feel more confident in your general handling of adult responsibilities. Plus, think of how cool it will be to look back at your day to day actions some time in the future. This could be the year you get your shit together - wouldn’t you like to see records of that journey?
Go on a self-care splurge. Get face masks, bath products, hair dye, art supplies - whatever it is that makes you feel better, somehow. Give yourself permission to indulge in small ways. Everyone needs to have things that they love in life - or else what’s the point? What will make you calm down? What activities put you in a calm flow state? When can you process events in life without being bowled over by the emotions of them? Invest in those activities. You need them. The world needs you. So you need to care for yourself.
Get some goddamn plants. We all need something to take care of. We all need life in our lives. We all deserve a calming, peaceful environment to unwind. Plus, caring for plants is a meditative practice. Pull your head out of your butt and water those bitches once in a while. Prune off the yellow leaves. Rake in the appreciation of a life that you’re cultivating. Buy some simple indoor plants and start reaping the rewards of new friends. Feel like you don’t have the equipment? Grow lights are cheap. Fertilizer is a once a year purchase. New pots can be found at thrift stores. You can do it. Watch some youtube videos if you don’t know how to start developing a green thumb.
Finally purchase “that thing you need to get started.” Is it a computer, hiking shoes, white noise machine, new fridge of healthy food? Just do it. Of course, it feels bad spending money. But when you have the tools you need in your life to finally take action on the ideas that regularly drum up your inner critic, you have one less thing to shame yourself about. So, get started. Purchase that item and have one less obstacle to living the way you want to. Stop giving yourself an excuse to be inactive that ultimately circles back to make you feel like a failure.
Worried about spending any of the money necessary for these items? I feel that too. So, let’s get your finances in order.
“Budget” has a bad rap, but the truth is, when you know how much money you need and how much you have left over, you can release some financial fears. You can give yourself permission to invest in your own needs. You can logically tell that scarcity-driven hypervigilance to chill out, because everything is under control. My therapist taught me that. I take no credit.
So, make a simple budget.
First, plan for your minimum expenses. Make sure you’re easily covered on rent, utilities, groceries, insurance.
Then, set aside money for your health and wellness. This would be things like therapy, exercise of your choice, self-care purchases, grocery items you’ll actually want to eat.
If you’ve got it, make a scheme for your debt payoff. Let’s say, set you auto pay for your credit card minimum payment +50 bucks. Check for credit transfer offers with 0% APR. Crunch numbers to viably plan for a full debt payoff without breaking your back.
Then, start planning for a better life, long term. How can you save some each month? What can you cut back on? How bad is your food expense? Can you get a second job to pay down your debt?
Just get some numbers in your head. It doesn’t have to be a black and white exercise. First, start working things out. Realize that it will take time to get your finances all figured. Just be open to the process of coming up with a plan - it might take a while, but avoiding the preliminary data won’t help you make any big decisions down the road.
Lastly, I recommend that you ponder three big questions.
There are some huge ideas to tackle - patterns that run through the center of all our prior analyses. Idealistic goals to sew into your brain quilt for next year. Principles to base your upcoming experiences on.
Who were you in 2020?
Who do you want to be, and for who, in 2021?
What skills/behaviors will that entail?
For instance, I was a miserable salaried worker and then a broke contracted writer in 2020. I supported other people’s mental health management. I was a better daughter than I have been. I was a more stable and understanding romantic partner than ever before. I was a good friend - although I struggled with isolation. I was a decent dog mom with challenging circumstances and a lot of learning to do. I was a student. I was a nervous ball of energy. I was a workaholic. I was impatient and often felt empty. I was avoidant of my loneliness and fear of free time.
In 2021, I want to be a persistently present friend. I want to forge healthy relationships. I want to be caring, understanding, and connected. I want to continue pushing my efforts to help others with this trauma parade. I want to keep improving life for Archie. I want to be more patient and slow to react. I want to rebuild myself as a reliable associate to have in real life, as much as I am on the internet. I want to be less hard on myself. I want to find a life balance that supports my development across the board.
What skills do I need? I need to slow my emotional and behavioral responses to stimulation. I need to be more flexible when it comes to humans and plans. I need to learn to set and maintain boundaries. I need to listen to my own intuition more often. I need to care about myself. I need to see things with a wide view, rather than getting trapped in the details. I need to be kind, caring, and open - even to the people closest to me, which seems to be the hardest. I need to feel personally competent and worthy enough to be vulnerable for others.
And now, I have nice little reminders to myself when people start getting on my last nerve, when I’m about to explode, or when I’m running in my workaholic hamster wheel like my life depends on it. Don’t let your thought patterns and mental illness turn you into a human you hate. Put them in their place and be better - for you, everyone you know, and even people you haven’t met.
Wow, thanks, self. That’s the least shitty you’ve ever been to you.
I’m going to end this by stating the obvious: I know you do not want to do any of these activities.
I bet you can feel the panic bubbling just hearing about these suggestions. Your chest might be tight, you might be fidgeting, your brain may have left the building completely. You're probably calling me a mindful bitch. "Go do yoga already, woo-woo turd." I know.
But a life unexamined is a life wasted, right? Continually living by the relative comforts of avoiding your trauma responses? As someone who did it for years... It seriously doesn’t pan out to be the existence that you hoped for. And, to make matters worse, you carry the tension of a life unfulfilled around with you. If you know deep down you could be doing better or just doing something differently but ignore the inner pushes? You’ll gather a lot of extra internal stress and brain obsession. No one needs that.
It hurts at first, but paying attention to where you’ve been and where you still need to go is like ripping the bandaid off. Just get it over with. Welcome the discomfort and use it as motivation to finally get things moving in the right direction. The longer you put it off, the longer you’ll be feeling like an individual failure without a single iota of hope.
With that sentiment, I want to say again… the real challenge of 2020 is to not beat the shit out of yourself for any of these reflections.
Look at the year objectively, as if it’s someone else you’re analyzing. Try to keep your shame and guilt emotions at a distance from the activity. Truth is, this shit has already happened, you’ve already beat yourself up in real time, there’s no reason to do it all again. This is an analytical activity to feel better in the future, not queue up a new round with the firing squad. DO NOT GET NEGATIVE ABOUT YOURSELF, just look, laugh, and reflect.
If you want a few brain hacks to be gentle with yourself, here you go!
Pretend it’s 2 years in the future and you’re looking back at these events clear-as-day with the insight you’ve earned in this time. The connections are clear now. The emotional sting is gone. And you can have a good chuckle at your young, nervous self.
Pretend it’s your friends’ year in review - how would you talk to them about the events, the highs, the lows, and the intentions moving forward?
Remember, you think that trying something and failing is the worst thing you can go through - it’s not - never trying and living with self-satisfaction is. Living a life un-actualized and beating yourself up every day for it is the worst thing you can do - causes more internal strife than any sting of rejection or embarrassment ever could.
Taking action isn’t the hard part, it’s the moment leading up to the move. When you fall off the wagon, it’s the moment when you turn back towards your practice that contains all the bravery and wisdom - not every moment that you were following the habit before. Embrace it. Recognizing where you took a wrong turn and making the right adjustment is hard. Give yourself a cape every day you manage to course correct.
When all else fails. Tell yourself: there’s no proof that the past is even real, life is a simulation, and the human memory is flawed. Who knows what really happened. No one ever will have a full or accurate understanding. Now laugh and let it go.
Helpful? I hope so. Yes, these are things I really tell myself. And I haven't fully throttled myself into oblivion just yet.
Okay friends, I'm out. I'll be back later in the week with a look at what I plan on doing better for everyone in 2021 and a revisit to some of the best podcasts of the year, at least, if feedback has anything to do with it.
See you on the last day of the worst year of your life. Hopefully.