How 2016 Taught Me It Does Get Better
Here are ten things that helped Kaja overcome the struggles of mental health, exam stress, adulthood pressures and more in 2016.
We’re coming to the end of the year and I realised, with a certain level of surprise, that 2016 was probably the greatest year of my life. This didn’t mean it was perfect, or I didn’t have to struggle through parts of it, but there are things I learned that made it the best. Whilst the world was on a rollercoaster ride which wouldn’t stop plummeting, I was finally seeing that life does get better.
So here are the 10 things that helped me through this year which I hope help you too.
1. Realising It Gets Better
Before diving into 2016 I just wanted to share where I came from to show how things have improved.
As a teenager, I was an optimist. I had depression, anxiety, but I still had hope. And something that made my hope stronger was ‘It Gets Better’ stories, reading about these people’s amazing journeys and seeing that although their life was a disaster, it doesn’t always have to be. I never thought I’d be writing one myself. But this is the first time I can look back and say that life got better.
Between the ages of 14-16 I was struggling with my mental health, coming to terms with my sexuality, experiencing friendship drama, hating school, and not seeing a future for myself. I had to walk an hour to school every day and that was an hour of forcing myself not to go back home. When I went to sixth form college, it wasn’t much better. I now had near-to-no friends, my grades had gone from As to Es, my anxiety and depression hadn’t improved at all, and the future still looked bleak. I was starting to lose hope that things would improve.
Then 2016 happened.
For the first time I have a future, I have goals, I feel I’m in a good place. I have ways to cope with my mental health, I’m comfortable enough with my sexuality to write articles around it, I enjoy what I do, and instead of wishing my life away I’m wishing for more of it. So this is the most powerful thing I learned, that it does get better, and the ways in which you can help it get better are listed below.
I felt that was important to start with, as this realisation was like a sigh of relief and a confirmation of hope. It does get better.
2. Face Your Fears
I’ve faced some huge fears this year. The first time was in February when I went to Iceland. For the previous five years, I’d been longing to go to Iceland to see my paternal family, but I hadn’t because I was terrified of it going wrong, and seeing people who I had cause to be worried about seeing. The month leading up to it, I was a wreck. I couldn’t concentrate on anything in the afternoons because by then I would be besides myself with anxiety. Then I went to Iceland… and I had the time of my life. I went for four days, now I want to go back for a month.
Then, in the summer, I stayed overnight at Stonehenge on the solstice. I hadn’t realised I’d be facing a fear this time, I thought I would just be basking in the stones and listening to a handful of druids worship the earth. I hadn’t realised I’d be walking into a festival where everyone was hammered or high, with the stone-circle containing a crush of people. I don’t like crowds. I had a panic-attack and begged my stepdad to come and get me, but I’m glad he didn’t.
I was with my mum and we had a very amusing time. With hippies hoola-hooping above our heads as we tried to sleep, and riding a tiny coach four times because we couldn’t make up our minds on whether to stay or go, it is something I can laugh about now.
Facing your fears is important so they don’t stop you from living your life. You can prove to yourself just how brilliant the world can be, and that the monster under your bed is actually just your favourite jumper that you lost. Face your fears. It’s worth it.
3. Overcoming Anxiety
Facing your fears leads straight into this one, as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy teaches you not to avoid situations in which you are anxious. Avoiding them confirms in your head that something could have gone wrong and that there’s still something to be afraid of, whereas if you go and do them you’ll see it’s all fine and that your anxiety is tricking you.
I’ve suffered from anxiety for as long as I can remember and was incredulous that it would get better. I had tried counselling, lower intensity CBT, mindfulness, and I was on my last straw. This summer, my anxiety had gotten to a point where I couldn’t go into town because I was so afraid, and I barely left my house.
So higher-intensity CBT was my last hope. My anxiety isn’t gone. But now I can manage it, and understand it better. I’m not letting it get in the way of my life, and that is more than I could have asked for. So don’t give up hope, there are things you can do to improve your mental health.
4. Good Grades Aren’t Everything
I feel it’s important I mention this as your teachers, or parents, or friends might be telling you something different. But in August I learned that grades do not matter. Schools put more pressure on you than they should to get good grades, when really education is about the skills you learn and both realising and testing your passions. I didn’t leave sixth form with As and I couldn’t care less, because instead I left it with a clearer idea of what I want to do with my life and that I really like creative writing.
5. Go For Your Dream
This autumn I went for a true dream; working at Rife Magazine. I was passionate about it as hell and I put my all in. I spent weeks on my application form and preparing for interviews. Yet, I almost didn’t go to the interview. I didn’t think I’d do as well as I wanted to, and spent a day crying beforehand because I was prepared for disappointment. I spent the hours after it sitting in a dull fear. And then my dream was realised, I was hired, and I am so glad that I went for it.
So I’ve learned to always go for your dream, and that if you’re passionate about it and try your best, then it can be realised. I want to publish my book, and although that also seems challenging and uncertain, I am still going for it, because you really never know.
6. Plan Your Creative Passion
This year is the first time I’ve managed to write a whole novel. I’ve started writing novels before, probably dozens of times, and I wondered why this was the first time I actually finished one. I realised it was because I had a plan.
I never planned my books before. I was like, pfft who needs plans, I am a CREATIVE GENIUS and the MUSES WILL WHISPER IN MY EARS AS I GO…. Nope. That meant I always got halfway through and didn’t know how to continue, so my book would become a few journals, which lay beneath my bed, never making it into my dreams.
Have a plan. There’s no shame in it. You don’t have to sit down and make some kind of formal blue-print or anything. In January, I just spent a week or so thinking about it in my free-time; characters, themes, plot, how I wanted it to end and how to get there. I talked to friends about it and they really helped in connecting the dots. Plus, it’s alright if your plan changes too, it’s entirely flexible and just there for when the muses aren’t whispering into your ears.
7. Ask For Help
This year wouldn’t have been so good if it weren’t for Off The Record, Oasis Talk, Liz my secondary school learning mentor, my English teachers, my mum, my stepdad, my grandparents, and my Rife mentor – all these people, over the years, have helped me get to where I am now. I couldn’t be here if I hadn’t asked for help.
8. Have Pride
Adulthood will try and put you in a box. You go through your teen years thinking you must get a job, have a successful heterosexual relationship, be comfortable with the gender you were given, be able to stand enormous pressures without cracking, look like a supermodel, and win the Olympics if you can. This is entirely unrealistic and you need to have pride for who you are, even though you’re not square shaped.
9. Put Yourself Out There
I HATE imposing myself on people. If I want to have lunch with someone, but they don’t ask me to, then I will eat alone in the corner and feel sad. When I go to a friend’s house I’d rather die of thirst than ask for a drink. But this year I learned that you have to put yourself out there: your views, your thoughts, and literally yourself.
Sixth form was made better in 2016 because I went out on a limb and hung out with a new friend, and her friends. For someone with social anxiety (I basically have every type of anxiety), this was like stripping-off naked in Cabot Circus and singing karaoke. But I’m grateful I did because after that I didn’t sit and eat lunch alone every day, and I felt good.
The same applies to work. When I do say anything or interact with others, I still feel terrible inside, but I’m getting better at it. Practice makes perfect. I’m getting to know people, I’m getting heard, and comparing that to the three months of my gap year where I sat inside and talked solely to my cat, this is much better.
10. Uncertainty Isn’t Terrible
Yeah, I know, I was surprised too. I’m someone who loves to know exactly what’s going to happen, with anything, so I can mentally prepare myself. But this year has been the most uncertain time of my life, and that has been a blessing. I’ve learnt to accept that uncertainty, and to know that things generally seem to work out OK. I’m going into 2017 with so much uncertainty, not knowing what I’ll do after my internship, whether I’ll go to university or not, if I’ll end up getting my book published, or what my long-term future will look like. But as always, I have hope. And I feel this year, and these ten things, have prepared me for anything.
2017, bring it on.
If you have been struggling with mental health why not try Art Therapy at Inspiration Works.
If you’d like to try doing something positive in Bristol in the new year then have a look at the Rife Guide’s Jobs and Opportunities page.
How has 2016 been for you? Tell us your thoughts about 2016 in the comments below. Or on Twitter.