Looking back at 2021 it would be easy for me to describe it as a horrible year, indeed many horrible things happened; ending a 15 year relationship is no small thing, and having to switch to sharing your child is not any smaller. I've struggled with my mental health, and at times I've felt desperately alone and found myself parked at the side of the road crying with no one within 100 miles to run too. Yet, on reflection I think 2021 has been a year of incredible personal growth and allowed me to rediscover who I am, find strength and comfort in my friends and family, and feel closer to friends and family than I ever have before. Indeed in some cases I couldn't have got through the year without them and even though we maybe weren't as close, when I needed them they put their arms around me metaphorically speaking and helped me through it all. I conclude 2021 feeling optimistic and ready to hit the ground running in 2022, a fresh begining. I have an amazing relationship with my children, indeed I am closer than ever before with them both. I have overcome everything that has been thrown at me this year (just about), and I have learned so much about myself, about others, and about life in general. It has been a rollercoaster year but I am a better person for it and finish it in a better place.
In 2021 I found myself surrounded by people who love me, who are there for me late into the night when I need them, or at the end of a Facebook Messenger chat for hours on end because they knew I needed them, even though I probably hadn't spoken to them in months prior. When I needed them my friends who I had neglected a little over the years stepped up and made me feel valued, and cared for, and loved. They checked in on me, they rang me, they were there for me no matter how positive or negative I might have been at that moment. Friends who I had not spoken to in years, decades even, reached out to me and heard me vent, listened to my sadness, and comforted me because they saw a need and they cared. I've been overwhelmed over the past year with the support and love I have received, there were depths to many of my relationships that I never truly appreciated and perhaps took for granted and I certainly shan't do again. 2021 wasn't easy, there is no hiding that, and I have been at lows I never knew I could be, but I made it out the other side thanks to the people who love me and I will be forever grateful. Because of them I can enter 2022 feeling empowered and confident that I can accomplish anything, and I will do.
Who am I?
It isn't all plain sailing though, whilst I might be entering 2022 feeling somehwat invigorated something that I have reflected on a lot over the past weeks and months is my sense of self and my identity. For 13 years and essentially my entire adult life post university my identity has been husband and father, and a part of a large extended family. My entire purpose in life is to love and care and provide for my family and extended family. However, now I find myself in unknown territory, still a father of course but a huge chunk of who I am is no more which leaves a void and something of an existential crisis.
I found myself looking through my photo library on my phone one night unable to sleep, and thinking back to those first foreign holidays as a large extended family, big family meals, big Christmasses, the outings to local attractions, all the little bits that make up family life, it made me sad to think that they were gone. I looked back fondly on holidays to Spain, Greece, Italy and all the memories and emotions I felt at the time, where those emotions wrong? Were the past 13 years pointless? Surely, I thought to myself, those years mean nothing now, they're gone, I can never experience those things again and looking back on them is pointless, I should just forget it ever happened. I think perhaps though I am missing the point, we are not defined by what we do, the places we go, the people we are with. We aren't defined by our circumstance, because circumstances change. What defines us is the impact that those events, those circumstances, and those feelings have on us, we are a product of our lives, defined only by who we are now, and who we are now is shaped by who we once were, and what we once did and felt and experienced. My circumstances have changed, and those events and those feelings will not happen again, but they did happen once, and I did feel those feelings once. They are not invalid now just because my circumstances have changed, I still went to those places; I still experienced pistachio gelato by the Colosseum in Rome, I still experienced getting stuck on a steep hair pin bend in a hire car in Spain, I still experienced lying awake in a tent on a cliff top as we got hit by the tail end of hurricane Sandy. All those experiences have shaped me as a human being, they have taught me the value of family, shown me the lasting impact of the little things like gelato, the cumulative effect of millions of tiny experiences is what has made me the person I am today. Just because the relationships that those experiences were hinged upon are now gone, those experiences still happened, I am still the same person. I am no more or less able to experience those things that happened in the past again now than I was before, they are in the past, they happened and regardless of current circumstance the effect they had on me persists. I am a product of all of my experiences. Whatever has happened, happened and that is that, it isn't going to unhappen no matter what changes in life.
Who am I? That is what I found myself asking myself, and I can confidently tell you that I am me. I'm the same me I was before, I'm the me that has been married once, I am a loving attentive caring father to two incredible girls. I am the me that has a love for Spain and their language, and unashamedly loves an all inclusive holiday with a buffet and inclusive cocktail menu, but equally enjoys a quiet city break exploring. I have jumped off a catamaran in the Mediteranean, and eaten gelato by the Colosseum. I've got drenched in Bruge, dropped my phone off a whale watching boat in the Atlantic, and eaten doughnuts on as many English beach fronts as possible. I am me, the same me I always was, just in different circumstances, and that change in circumstance is just another experience to add to the whole of what makes me me.
So with all that said and done, and the experiences of 2021 behind me, what next? Well it's all about fresh starts for me. I'm looking forward to a fresh start in a new home with Precious and Aoife, away from the memories of the past, looking foward not backward. I cannot wait to begin adding new experiences to the sum of who I am and drawing on the lessons and experiences of 2021 to become an even better version of myself.
For some inspiration we can look at one of my favourite quotes from Walt Disney:
We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we're curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.
So on that note, I shall conclude by saying happy new year from my family to yours, I wish you every health and happiness in the year ahead.
One more thing...
I have had the support of amazing friends and family through the year, but that said I am not ashamed or embarassed to admit that at various points I have also relied on the help and support of organisations like Samaritans, SHOUT, and Menfulness. If you are able I would be delighted if you could spare a few pennies to support the work they do, but even if you can't do that please follow them on social media and share what they do so that others will learn about them should they ever need their help.