The decade is nearly over and a new one is about to begin. There’s been a ‘what did you accomplish this decade?’ thing going around on Twitter and there are a lot of people for whom that is rather a depressing question. In a lot of ways, I’m in a much worse position now than I was ten years ago because of my illness – though the Tories being in power for all that time hasn’t helped with that situation.
Anyway, it’s not so much that looking back at your accomplishments is necessarily a bad thing, but if it’s the only thing you’re looking at, that really says something about what you value – and who you value. On the other hand, sometimes it’s nice to have a look and see what’s happened and how we’ve changed. That’s what I’m going to do here.
What happened this decade? To me, I mean. In 2010 I was working at the Post Office, and struggling to forgive my father. I was a Christian, thought I was straight, and was obnoxiously healthy. Ten years later I haven’t worked in four years and have completely given up trying to forgive my father (one of the best decisions I ever made). I’m bisexual, atheist, and obnoxiously unhealthy. Obnoxious to different people (mostly Tories), but still.
In the ten intervening years, I moved north, lived with my sister, worked in a call centre, got queer, became a feminist, made friends, got therapy, attempted suicide, gave up Christianity, had a cat, got sacked from the call centre, moved back in with my Mum, got more therapy, started liking myself, realised I had ME/CFS and got diagnosed with it. There’s a lot more, of course, but this is a blog post, not a full-length biography.
What were my favourite parts? The best bit, unsurprisingly, was starting to like myself. It was really hard and took a long time. I’m still irritated that my local mental health service wouldn’t accept ‘being happier’ as a therapy goal because personally I think that’s quite important. But they were the ones who told me that I wasn’t ready for change when I was literally begging for therapy because I was feeling so suicidal, so I think they were just kind of shite. My Mum and sister paid for me to have private therapy instead.
Not hating myself was really quite exciting. I’m still enjoying it, though I do rather wish it hadn’t overlapped with getting ME/CFS, because I never really got a chance to try it out in the wild, as it were. Still, Twitter can be a good place to test that sort of thing – if you still like yourself after a month on Twitter you’re doing something right!
I loved living in the north, even though I was super depressed for most of it and mildly psychotic for some of it. I had a lovely little house (favourite housemates were my sister and my cat, least favourite was She Who Did Not Know About Cleaning!) and lots of good friends, and it was a delightful place to live. It even has an LGBTQ+ bookshop now! Although there were some terrible times there, there were many wonderful times as well.
What were my least favourite parts? Being suicidally depressed was quite bad, and psychosis is no picnic either. And the last few years have been frankly rather awful. ME/CFS is a nightmare.
What new things did I do? I lived away from home, and that was huge – in a good way, mostly, though it turns out that I’m very very bad at living with strangers. Either I’m a complete shambles and too anxious to go to the kitchen and everybody starts complimenting me on how thin I’ve got, or they apparently don’t know that cleaning or household expenses are a thing and I’m incapable of telling them. But most of it was really good.
I had a cat, which was wonderful in every way (except the part where she started having weird breating difficulties, but the vet fixed it). A warm, soft, cuddly, affectionate animal companion is just delightful. I only had Lucy for eleven months, but she absolutely lit those eleven months up. Also, having a cat and a budgie at the same time can be pretty entertaining.
Becoming a feminist was a nice new thing as well. Feminists, it turns out, are not a gang of rabid man-haters but people who actually give a shit about other people. Similarly, the exciting new experience of actually liking myself did not result in me hating everybody else. In some ways it even made liking them easier and better.
What has stayed the same? I still love to read and write and have books. Everything that’s changed means I read and write different things and in different ways, and have different books, but I don’t think I’ll ever not love books.
I have a surprising number of the same friends. I’ve lost some, and drifted away from others, and met brilliant new ones. But many have stayed in my life and it’s lovely to have that constant. And of course there’s my family, who started off awesome and remained that way for a whole ten years!
And I’m still me, you know? So much has changed, and so have I, but I’m still the same person. I still have a silly sense of humour, and care a ton about other people, and want to be an author when I grow up, and to be more than I am now. Things change, things stay the same.
What did I learn and how did I grow? I learned so much! I mean, it was ten years, it’d be kind of worrying if I hadn’t, but even so. I learned things about science and history and lots of other things, but more importantly I learned about people – me and other ones.
About other people as a sort of general group, I learned about some of the many cruelties, injustices and inequalities in the world, and I learned about some of the people who fight against them (and the ones who fight to maintain them). I learned how important it is to listen to minorities about their own experiences, and how how much bigger this makes the world. I learned how to see patterns in the ways that different people are treated and why it’s important.
I learned that reading books and articles and poems by people who are different from me opens up new worlds and there are several books which are now up on my ‘favourite ever’ lists which I probably never would have read if I’d not been making an effort to seek out more diverse writing.
About other individuals I learned many things. I learned that if you visit a medical professional with your self-harm scars showing they’ll assume anything wrong with you is because of depression. I learned that some workplaces are super supportive and helpful when you’re mentally ill even if they do have to sack you in the end. I learned that sometimes it’s all right to trust that people actually like you and aren’t just being polite.
I learned that not everybody likes it when you become ill and disabled. Actually, nobody likes it because it’s shit, but some people will treat you like you’re shit. Of course, it is they who are actually shit. I also learned that I have been incredibly lucky in my friends because the vast majority of mine have stuck around and rallied around and generally been pretty fucking amazing.
And about myself I learned that I’m all right really (hurrah!) and that maybe I can be the person I’ve always wanted to, and if not then at least I can try to be the best I can be, which, really, is all any of us can do. I’ve grown into myself. Does that make sense? I know more about who I am, and that means I can be who I am more.
What am I hoping for in the next decade? Well, obviously I’d like to recover from ME/CFS at least enough to be able to work a bit, because I’m still brainwashed by capitalism to think that that’s the only way I can really have any value in society.
I want to keep on learning about myself and being me in the best way I can. I want to be able to do good things for other people and make them happy, but it’s hard to know how that’s possible at the moment. Perhaps I’ll find a way. Perhaps I’ll just find a way to mind less. I hope I’ll find a way, though, because the minimal things I can do at the moment don’t feel like enough.
Most of all, I want to be happy. I don’t mean glitter and dancing and the hills are alive. I just mean I want to feel that life’s all right some of the time, instead of that it’s horrible all of the time, because that’s really hard to live with. I’m trying really really hard at this, as you’ll know if you’ve been following my blog recently, but I just don’t know whether self-help will be enough. Therapy is complicated when you’re so ill, not to mention expensive, but we’ll see.
The bottom line is that if my health never improves, even if it gets worse, I want to feel like my life is worth something, both to me and to other people. I’ll get back to you on that in another ten years!
How has your decade been?