A year ago the Olympics pulled into town, and shorty afterwards, I ruined my life.
After watching Jess Ennis win gold at the Olympic Stadium, I was overwhelmed by how envious I was of someone who was my age and achieving things. I felt I wasn’t really getting anywhere or doing anything to be proud of. I should have been happy with myself– I had a great job, great living situation, and thought I had a great life—but I couldn’t feel any of it and was overwhelmed by how constantly stressed and miserable I was. I thought running would help but after three weeks of hardcore running, I fractured my foot. What followed was one of the worst periods in my life. I lost my ‘dream job,’ nearly lost my home life, and spent months stuck in bed in pain.
It’s been a long and winding road to recovery, and at the time, I thought I had lost it all. I’m now learning that, in fact, losing it all was the best thing that ever happened to me. I’ve learned a lot, grown a lot, and become a better version of who I’d like to be.
Here’s some of the best things I learned this year.
People care about you
No matter how bleak you may think it is out there, everyone has people who when you need them, will fight your corner so fiercely for you. I was surprised by the amount of friends who made sure to text, call, and drag me out of the house to make sure I wasn’t sat around dwelling. One brave friend came round, cleaned my house, and made meals for me. I feel so much gratitude for these incredible people, but also know that I will spend the rest of my life trying to repay that gratitude to them and I believe it will make our friendships even stronger.
You have to know who you are
I let my job define me as a person and also completely control my calendar. I stopped making plans with friends as I was canceling things too often when I’d suddenly have to trek off to Leeds or Worcester. It got to the point where I’d rather outright say no than risk saying yes and having to cancel later. There’s a massive chunk of life on my colour coded calendar where there are no social activities. That’s no way to live.
Since re-evaluating and taking four months off, I’ve realized that I had no idea who I was or what I wanted to spend time doing. I had time to do whatever I wanted; but no idea what I wanted to do. I remembered what I liked to do at 21, but did 27 year old Emily still have the same hobbies and interests? It took a long time to remember what things I used to enjoy, and see what I had lost. Artistically, it was a challenge as I realized it had been years since I had been doing what I wanted to do- and as a result I had no idea what kind of artist I was. I’m now devoting time to booking (and going to!) activities and spending as much time as I can sketching things I’m interested in, and re-discovering what makes me tick.
Surround yourself with people who challenge you
By putting myself out there a bit more this year, I’ve been pleasantly surprised to find people in my life who positively push me to do more and achieve more. I’m enjoying exercise challenges, museum visits, suggestions of events I’ve never gone to before (immersive theatre being a particular new favourite) and have upgraded the reading list drastically and started discussing books again. I’ve recently had a friend set me a design challenge (for no reason other than she wanted to set me a task she knew I’d enjoy!) Having people push me in a good way is motivating, and it’s also harder to back out of something you find difficult or challenging when others are involved in it. Of course, I say this now, but let’s see how I feel closer to the start of the Survival of the Fittest endurance race I’m doing this November.
Find a way to do what you love
You will spend 40 hours a week at your job. Yes, you should love what you are doing, but it’s not always feasible to have your dream job for every step of your career. For that reason, it’s so important to find a way to make time for what you love. Devote two evenings a week to yoga classes, block off a couple of hours to go look at trains on Sundays. Ask yourself what in your life can you cut out that doesn’t give you the satisfaction that your passions give you? Cut down on it, and give what you can to what you love. You’ll always feel better for it. I thought I’d be way too tired to swim 3km a week while working, but the truth is it gives me more energy than ever before.
Don’t waste your time or your abilities.
During this time off I realized how much of my time I was wasting on things that weren’t productive – particularly celebrity gossip websites, my big weakness. I probably spent 20-30 min per day looking at shitty websites, so I cut that out straight away and instead set myself the challenge of spending that time on my blog instead. This is something tangible that I can look at, and see the months of work in it.
Since starting my humble little blog it’s had 5,000+ hits and it’s given me a great platform to actually start properly writing, which I now do for a football website and a theatre review website.
I only wish I had done it sooner. So whatever you want to do and achieve, get started! You have to start somewhere. No you won’t do it next year, or tomorrow, or next month. Start now. Whether it’s a blog, a screenplay, an exercise goal- you don’t even have to tell anyone you are doing it (although we all know if it’s not on Facebook it doesn’t count, right) but you absolutely have to do it. No matter how hard it is to start, you have to get a move on. It’s the worst feeling to want to do something but be physically or mentally unable to do it. Do not wait until you are in that position to regret never giving something a try. Do it now. (But like do positive stuff, this message doesn’t apply to heroin or anything.)
Don’t be afraid to ask for help
This was the hardest thing I had to learn this year. I am by nature fiercely independent. I feel as if I constantly have something to prove, and as such am not allowed to ever show that I can’t do something or that I need help. It’s taken me a year of relying on people to give me seats on the tube, and actually having to ask for help that I’ve realized it’s often harder to ask for help than not to- but that there’s no shame in it.
Asking for help mentally was always the last resort to me, but when I ran out of options and it became necessary, it wasn’t difficult at all. I was re-diagnosed with depression, got referred for counseling, and started on medication (something I always tried to avoid.) If I had realized how good asking for and getting help could be, I’d have done it years ago. I’m not embarrassed about it- and why should I be? If you have an ear infection and take antibiotics it’s not embarrassing, so why should needing medication for your mind be any different? There is no shame in wanting to be happy and healthy. Mentally, I’m not all rainbows and unicorns- but I’m stable again, and I know I can build on that stability to build up a happy life again.
A year ago I thought I had everything, and in hindsight, I was so miserable. I’ve now got a job that works with my life, my home life is strong again, and I’m enjoying myself tremendously. I’ve worked incredibly hard this year to enjoy things again, and I believe I earn every good day I have. I don’t like me a year ago; but I’m getting happy with myself again now, which would never have happened without “ruining” my life.
A year ago I watched Jess Ennis run over the finish line at the Olympic Stadium and I envied her. Today, nearly one year later, I ran in the National Anniversary Run, and ran over the very same finish line in the very same stadium- and you know what? I don’t envy her anymore. I’m good here.