My word for 2016 is peace: here are 5 things I’ve learnt so far

A beach in India.

“My word for 2016 will be peace. I’m going to focus on staying still.” – Me in January

At the start of the year, I set my one word goal as peace. I’m still not sure whether it was prompted by trying to stay still, but the months that immediately followed setting this resolution were possibly the most emotionally tumultuous of my life. They say that if you want to make God laugh you should tell him your plans.

Emotional roller coaster sounds like such a cliche but it is the most useful way of describing how it felt. I went from not wanting to get out of bed to manic excitement in the space of a few hours. I returned home from work a nervous wreck, likely to collapse into uncontrollable tears for barely any reason at all. It was exhausting.

Thanks to a combination of medication, writing and talking, my moods are now much more stable. I’ve had a chance to think about how my year is going in terms of peace. The conclusion? I’ve learnt a hell of a lot.

1. Sometimes peace means accepting that things aren’t going well.

For the most part, there was no reason for the emotional turmoil I was in the midst of. Trying to work out why I felt like I did only added to the exhaustion and the anxiety. Sometimes these things just happen.

I started to feel a ton better when I accepted that I was struggling, stopped judging myself for this, and gave myself a break. I was honest about my mental health struggle with other people, and upfront about not always having the energy or inclination to hang out. I took the pressure off needing to have the most productive work days ever, or the best workouts. I accepted things as they were. It was peaceful.

2. Eliminating distractions paves the way for important changes to take place.

In January I said “I am going to enter 2016 with the idea that I have everything I need to be happy – relationships, possessions, job, health – and my resolution will be to enjoy them rather than to improve or acquire.”

I posed the question “How can there be growth without movement?” I was sceptical that there could be, and it would be tempting to put my depression down to stagnation. But I think what happened is that I finally stopped distracting myself from my depression, and faced up to how I was feeling. At first this was awful, but it paved the way for seeking the help that I needed to start to feel better.

Interestingly, putting an end to the smaller movements made room for bigger movements to take place. I stopped changing my hair, throwing out things, and rearranging furniture, and applied for the masters degree I’ve been putting off for eight years. I figured out what I wanted from work and took on more responsibility.

3. Generally, I’m okay.

In January I said, “On a slightly deeper note, one of the conclusions from the coaching I went through this year was that I feel very stuck in the identity I’ve constructed for myself, and beneath the surface I’m not 100% sure who I am or what I enjoy. This is fucking scary. (So scary that the swearing is definitely necessary).

So I also hope that staying still and practising being mindful in my life (rather than always rushing to the next thing), will help with this. I mean, I can’t be so repressed that an entire year of giving space to be myself will continue to leave me drawing a blank.”

Okay, so this has either happened, or I realised that I knew who I am all along and was making a big deal out of not much. Either way, I don’t feel any angst about this. But that could be the fluoxetine speaking.

More seriously, I think having an online presence encourages us to try and fix an identity as we present a personal brand. This stops us accepting the evolution of our identity and interests. When I stopped wanting to crochet, instead of thinking “I’m feeling a bit low today and don’t want to do this right now” I panicked that maybe I constructed this crafty girl persona and that wasn’t me at all. Turns out I lost interest in a lot of things I used to like doing because I was depressed, not because I didn’t know who I am or what I like to do.

4. Peace is never a permanent state.

That’s not to say that I’m fine now. I read a fantastic piece by Daisy Buchanan about mental health in The Pool today. In in, she says “We’re all fighting, and it’s hard, but life feels that much harder when we think that we’ll only succeed if peace is a permanent state.”

When I set my word of the year to peace, I think I thought “I will practice over the course of the year and at the end I will be peaceful”. But peace as the permanent end goal is unrealistic and far too much pressure. I wouldn’t even want peace to be a permanent state. I want to feel crazily excited when I’m jumping around at a gig, or on the back of a motorbike. I want to feel driven and badass at the gym. Peaceful sex? No thanks.

5. You need to choose peace every single day.

After a few panic attacks at the gym I stumbled upon an important truth: I could choose to panic about this or I could decide that I’m not going to. Obviously, once you’re on the brink of a panic attack you can’t choose to stop it (whatever certain strands of CBT might say). But I’ve found that I can stop getting to this point if I take a little pressure off myself by telling myself it doesn’t really matter.

I feel better about my life than I did six months ago because my attitude has changed. I’ve taken ownership of some of my choices and stopped feeling like a victim.

This isn’t a one off decision. I have to choose happiness over misery, peace over anxiety, every hour of every day. It doesn’t get much easier and I don’t always manage it. But my life is so much better when I do.

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