A distant thunderstorm looming over a quiet ocean

New Year’s thoughts 2020

It’s that time of year when people are taking stock – of the year (and decade) that has been, and of their goals for the year (and decade) to come.

I am singularly bad at both of these.

It’s hard enough for my butterfly brain to retain enough detail and sense of time for me to confidently tell you what I did yesterday, let alone in the last year. And I’ve come to mistrust personal goals, because when I’m excited by a shiny new hobby or technique I set myself dozens of them and then achieve few to none as my interest wanes or moves on.

Often I let the turning of the new year go by without even trying. But this year, for whatever reason, it feels important. So here goes: three significant events from 2019, and three aspirations for 2020.

What are three significant things that happened to me in 2019?

1. I was diagnosed with ADHD.

Even though it already feels like something that happened years ago, I actually only received my diagnosis in May. This new information has revolutionised my understanding of myself – how my brain works, why I struggle with the things I do as well as why I excel at some other things other people seem to find difficult. It’s also connected me with an amazing online community of fellow ADHD brains whose struggles and strategies, as well as giving me all kinds of useful insights, can make me feel less alone in this.

2. I achieved a new personal best for number of stories accepted for publication – three in one year.

I had to go back through my emails to determine this one. When acceptances are so few and far between, it’s easy to forget that I’ve had any at all.

Three stories published in a year may not sound like much, but it’s important to remember that the only person it’s worth comparing my achievements with is me – and compared to past me, in 2019 I was on fire. Good job, writer me.

3. I got a job working in conservation in New Zealand.

A little over a two years ago, I stopped said goodbye to a long-term conservation role for reasons that included being unable to cope with my undiagnosed brain weasels in a professional setting, and being burned out by the constant battle that is working to help our environment. I quit with very little idea of what would come next, and even less of whether I would ever want to return to the field I had devoted the last ten years to.

In September, I applied for and was offered a short-term role with the Department of Conservation in New Zealand – a decent but manageable amount physical work, a very pleasing amount of public education work, a delightful amount of independence to set my own hours, and a reasonable but not paralysing level of responsibility.

There’s still a lot I don’t know – whether this short-term role will lead to anything more permanent, whether I will come out the other end still wanting to pursue something more permanent (particularly if it would mean moving permanently to another country and leaving family and friends behind), whether I have a good enough handle on my anxiety and ADHD brain now that I don’t have to worry about their impact on my work or my enjoyment of working.

But it feels good to be back in the field, and that will do for now.

What are three aspirations I hold for 2020?

Calling them aspirations instead of goals feels more manageable somehow – these are things I want to try, not specific set points I want to reach.

1. To publish short, regular blog posts.

It’s become blindingly obvious that my current approach to blogging isn’t working for me anymore. I still think blogging is valuable for me – not just as a way to reach readers and potential readers, but as a way to keep myself in touch with the wider world and to contribute to conversations about writing, about ADHD and mental health, about asexuality. Still, now that the initial shine has worn off, I need to find a way to make blogging work for me that doesn’t rely on New Shiny Thing Energy to power it.

So here’s what I’m going to try: starting this week, I want to write a blog post a week (minimum), talking about something I’ve been thinking about in the worlds of writing, ADHD/mental health, or asexuality (plus the odd Cool New Thing I Learned), comprising no less than 100 words.

Minimum 100 words. That’s it.

I want to let go of the gut need to turn every post into an essay, a neatly structured beginning, middle and end that presents a case for this or that idea. It’s too closely related to the perfectionism that drives me to choose the exact right word every time, even if it takes me an hour to find it. Finding the exact right structure and wording is important for my fiction. It shouldn’t rule over my every attempt to write anything.

I might still write some essay-like posts, if the mood strikes me. But I need to let go of thinking of these things as prerequisite to publishing anything here. Because as long as I do, I’m going to continue to not publish very much at all.

2. To research and then take the next step in managing my ADHD brain.

I wish I could be more concrete about this one. I have two options that seem like really good potential next steps, but so far I’m struggling to choose between them.

Option one is to find another psychiatrist, an ADHD specialist, and see about trying different medication that isn’t going to require me to come off my anxiety meds. Option two is to find a good ADHD coach who I can work with to find more good, non-medication ways to manage my brain.

On a gut-feeling level, both of these have a lot of appeal, though neither is without risk of failure. Both are also expensive enough that for now this is definitely a case of either-or.

For the last few months, that’s as far as I’ve gotten on making a decision – with other big life stuff occupying my time and my planning brain, I haven’t had the spoons left over to think more deeply about the question.

So in the new year I want to take the time to actually research both options, weigh them up properly, and make a decision – and then follow through on it.

3. To be curious, open, and kind to myself as I step into the unknown.

I got really hung up on this last one. It’s the main reason this is a week-after-new-year’s post.

The big challenge ahead of me this year is that after I finish this NZ role in late April, I will once again have no set path. I wanted to give myself a goal that related to choosing where I want to take my life from here.

And that’s where I got stuck.

Do I want to make a push to get more work like this, even if that means potentially uprooting my and Ben’s existing lives? It’s honestly too soon to say. And if I decide I’d rather go back to working a part-time, low-pressure job, how do I make sure I’m earning enough to actually support myself and stop whittling away at my savings like I have been for the last year? Will we buy a house this year and, if we do, how will that affect my options?

Right now I not only don’t have answers, I feel like I don’t even know where to begin.

So instead, for 2020 I want to acknowledge that it’s OK to be scared by the unknown. The decisions I make this year, although far from final, are likely to affect the direction my life takes over the next decade and beyond – this is genuinely big life stuff, and it’s entirely reasonable to feel overwhelmed considering it.

But I don’t need to decide today, or tomorrow, and I don’t need to decide alone. I can (and should) talk to Ben, and to my trusted friends, and maybe to a counsellor or ADHD coach. I can take my time figuring out what I really want right now, and what Ben wants, and how to make those things fit together.

And I can try to take it easy on myself while I figure all this out.

Happy New Year, readers, and best of luck with the next decade of unknowns.

Image by Johannes Plenio from Pixabay
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