I cannot think of another year of my life that has been so full of change on a personal level. It’s felt like 2016 has been the year that I disassembled and learned what I really needed from life. I wasn’t “unhappy” before, but I’d largely withdrawn from the world because of my migraines for the last few years. My chronic pain necessitated a smaller scale of living.
This year has been full of breakthroughs, newness, and awakenings – all of which came with intensity that felt overwhelming at times. This list feels powerfully celebratory to me. I anticipate that I’ll probably cry while I type this.
Here’s a list of some of the things that happened to me this year, in no particular order, that brought me joy, growth, and gratitude.
1. Thanks to the wonders of Western medicine, I got my migraines managed. I still get them often enough to be challenging (and their management is time consuming), but I can participate in life much more fully now. This new development is liberating.
2. I moved out of New York City. I love NYC, but it’s a terrible place for a migraineur (even with them being better managed). It’s a place I’ll go back to visit joyfully, but I’m relieved to no longer live there.
3. I moved back to Melbourne, Australia. The flat whites, trams, and incredible livability beckoned me back to the city where I did my master’s and started Sex Geekdom.
4. I got divorced. My ex-husband and I amicably decided to end our nine-year marriage. We realized we wanted fundamentally different things for our futures that were not reconcilable. There’s been a lot of grieving, but this goes on the gratitude list because it’s felt freeing too.
5. I wrote a poem for the first time in my adult life. I don’t know that it was particularly “good,” but the creative flow felt amazing. My best friend (who’s a poet) cried when I read it to her.
6. I went on tour with my professional soulmate, Louise. We taught workshops in New York City, San Francisco, Melbourne, and Auckland. Teaching with her is one of my favorite things in life and it had been way too long (two years) since I’d gotten to do that. I’m committed to not letting that kind of lapse happen again.
7. My awesome stylist brother dyed my hair purple and I love it.
8. I launched the Tea & Empathy feelings cards that I’ve been wanting to birth into existence for ages. I use the cards in my workshops of course, but they’ve also become an invaluable tool for my own reflective self-care practice. I often use them to map out my emotional landscape to get clarity on my own feels. Check out the #teaandempathy hashtag on Instagram to see photos of my card maps and others’ too. Shoutout to Liz Andrade, who did the gorgeous design work.
9. I experienced a significant shift in my baseline emotional state. After years of practicing mindfulness exercises to manage my chronic pain, I’ve had a kind of “joy awakening.” I still experience the whole range of challenging feels, but where I bounce back to – my baseline emotional state – is a high level of joy. This “side effect” is quite well documented in the literature on people who do mindfulness meditation for long periods of time. It’s been fascinating to experience as a quite secular human. I suspect I’ll be writing more about this in 2017.
10. I went to New Zealand for the first time. I have yet to meet Sirocco, my patronus, but that’s a goal for 2017.
11. I fell in love. Paul and I were both in relationships when we met in 2013 and we had a warm-but-platonic relationship ever since. Then we both found ourselves single and fell in love with a rapidity that surprised us both. It’s been one of the most riveting things I’ve ever experienced. Normally when you fall in love, you don’t know the person very well. Falling in love with someone you already trust is exhilarating. And he wrote some Star Trek fan fiction about us, which made my geeky heart swoon.
12. I had the honor of doing Tea & Empathy with a huge variety of people. I did it with people who have chronic pain, sex educators, doctors, perpetrators of domestic violence, university staff, artists, teenagers, and many others. Every time I do, they thank me for giving them space to talk about their feelings and for giving them tools to connect with the people in their lives. I love that I get to do this work.
14. I went to a lesbian wedding in Salt Lake City and it was fucking enchanting and made me feel happy to be alive. During that trip, I also got to play with this chair, which delighted me beyond all reason. One of the brides took that video and you can hear her laughter.
15. I met my name twin IRL. Other Kate McCombs and I originally connected because her uncle found my website and punk’d her grandfather by convincing him she’d changed careers (much to his shock). She relayed this story to me on Twitter, and we followed each other for ages. Then she moved to NYC and we had a coffee date. Turns out, we really adore each other!
16. I got certified in Mental Health First Aid. I highly recommend investigating if that training is offered in your community.
17. I successfully navigated my Australian work visa application. Bureaucratic opacity is no match for my grit.
18. I made several new close friends, most of whom I met on Twitter or Instagram first. (What a time to be alive.)
19. I learned I love Marmite and Vegemite. My favorite way to eat it is thinly spread on good toast with a little butter, and then dipped in a poached egg.
20. I got good at sitting with my pain. One of the main reasons I experience so much joy is that I’ve gotten good at sitting with pain, discomfort, and challenging feelings without judging them. It’s a classic mindfulness exercise. I think it’s the single most useful skill I’ve acquired as an adult. The second being to able to cook poached eggs.
Being able to move toward discomfort, rather than resist it, has made it much easier to move through my feelings about the divorce, the international move, the Australian visa process, and the election.
This list isn’t meant to obscure the ways in which this year was difficult. After all, sitting with those difficult feelings can make more space for the joyful feelings.
What this list does for me is anchor the ways in which this year was expansive. It’s meant to highlight the moments that brought me joy. And it’s meant to remind me just how much I have to look forward to next year. I think 2017 is going to be powerful. I’m committing to my community, my self-care practices, my joy, and my work. I’ll need those to be at my most useful.
Happy New Year, friends.