2019 was a difficult year for me. I suffered from more stress than I can ever remember, even compared to the nonstop work pace I set for myself in 2018. For the first time in my life, I had to deal with stress ulcers. My mental health flagged, especially in October; some days, I did nothing but lie in bed. I struggled with sleep, my body ached more, and I learned I have laryngopharyngeal reflux, which explains the prolonged coughing that plagues me after every cold.
However, 2019 was also one of the happiest years I’ve had in quite some time. I turned 30 years old, a milestone year, one that I have been excited about for some time. I started rock climbing and fell in love with it. But most importantly, I said “yes” to marrying the love of my life. The planning for our spring wedding is well underway, the cause of as much as excitement as stress these past few months.
My main goal this past year was to learn how to take care of myself. “Self-care” may be an overused term these days, but it does describe my attempts to slow down, be kinder to myself, and ease myself off the precipice labeled “Perfectionism.” I know I work too hard at times. I know I can work to the point of self-destruction. Learning that rest is productive, too, was a valuable lesson — one among many.
Other such lessons were:
- Sleep more, stress less. If there is no other lesson I bring with me into 2020, it is this one. I wake up at 4:00 AM every weekday to work, a choice I make willingly, so if I have to be in bed by 7:00 PM the previous day just to get the sleep my body needs, I must do it. Yet I live in a society that operates a few hours behind me, so I struggle with this constantly. I need to become accustomed to letting go of the world sooner than I want to and going to sleep.
- Do fun things for fun, not achievement. Goals can be good; they can push us and challenge us. But when my need to achieve eclipses the enjoyment of doing something simply because it’s fun, I lose my way. Reading 30 books this past year was a challenge, but I found myself reading books for the sake of crossing them off a list, not for the sake of reading. Similarly, with rock climbing, I found myself going to the gym at times because I felt like I had to go, not because I wanted to have fun climbing walls.
- It’s okay to change with the seasons. I am high-energy in the summer, eager to go out, try new things, have fun, and accomplish goals. But I am low-energy in the winter, when every day is a mental struggle against the cold and the dark. I love the summer because it makes me feel invincible, and I want to feel that way all year long. But I can’t. It’s just not how I am. And I have to make peace with that.
Now, I am not a fan of New Year’s Resolutions. I don’t like waiting for a new year to introduce a change to my life or habits; I like starting immediately, no matter what month or season it is. But there is something significant to the end of a cycle and the beginning of the next one. I gave myself a year to learn self-care, and now it is time to build on the lessons and patterns of the past 12 months so that they can mean something.
With the upcoming wedding, my main goal for 2020 will be to minimize stress. This will involve:
- Focusing on fewer tasks at any given time. I tend to make huge lists of tasks every day, because I want to do everything. But I can’t do everything every day, or even every week. I recently read Destination Simple by Brooke McAlary, where she recommends planning only three “one-off” tasks every day — so, not “daily life” chores like washing dishes and picking up groceries, but phone calls, appointments, projects, and so on. This will help keep my stress level low and give me time to relax.
- Blocking out 2-3 days each week for rest and recuperation. I can’t cram something into my evenings after 8 hours of work every day. It’s not possible. I already go rock climbing twice a week, so 2-3 rest days leaves 2-3 days for other appointments and engagements. This arrangement will depend entirely on whatever weekend plans I have, so it’s meant to be flexible.
- Communicating my needs. I tend to take on every responsibility, then grin and bear it when I begin struggling under their combined weight. When my mental health suffers, I usually keep this fact to myself. I simply do not wish to burden my loved ones with my problems. But they care about me and will help me out, as best they can. I have to learn to lean on them.
- Going to therapy. I have scheduled my first appointment with a therapist for Thursday afternoon. I don’t know if she will be the most suitable therapist for me, but if she isn’t, I am determined to meet with enough of them until I find one that is. I’ve spent 30 years holding myself together; for the most part, I have fared better than most. But I can only do so much for myself. And if 2019 taught me anything, I cannot do it alone forever.
As for smaller goals:
- Read 12 books. This low effort, achievable goal will give me room to read for pleasure more than achievement. I’ll also have more time for other hobbies, like video games and knitting.
- Knit a shawl. For my first shawl, I want to make something I can wear inside my home when I’m cold. Then I won’t have to drag a cumbersome blanket everywhere.
- Sew a petticoat. I want to learn to sew in general, and this will be my first project. I already have everything I need to begin, so I feel like I could be a little more ambitious. However, I don’t want to put pressure on myself to make more than one item this year, especially since I will be hand sewing it. Quality, not quantity, is an important aspect of learning something for the first time.
- Beat 10 video games. I didn’t beat 10 games last year, only 6. But maybe I can succeed this year!