Well we’re off to a good start aren’t we? My first post of the new year (first post since Oct last year if we’re counting) talking about goals for 2020 and it’s coming to you on the er… 18th February. Am I still allowed to talk about new year goals this late in? The Christmas holidays and that HNY countdown to a fresh new decade feel like a distant memory now don’t they? We’re all used to writing a full four numbers out for the year every time we record the date, have completed and swiftly forgotten about the horror of that decade challenge on Facebook and have all but adapted to the fact we’re living in the roaring twenties take two. Remember when we all thought the world was going to end at the Millennium? (ok we didn’t ALL think that but there was a large percentage of the population who were all set for either a. the world meeting a devastating end as the clocks struck midnight or b. computers taking over (or something to that effect)) That was stupid wasn’t it? Here we are 20 years later, although I guess you could argue that we are in many ways bringing our planet to a devastating end all by ourselves but that’s a whole different topic.
Anyway, yes. Here we are. The dawn of a new year, the beginning of a new decade and I’m once again pledging to get back to writing this year, starting with this very post on the ever timely, 18th February *. But the fact that this January proved to be the longest month on record (not at all factual) has in fact served me well, and if anything I was determined to write something before I blinked and it was summer again. I thought about finishing one of the half written posts from last year first; maybe publishing those pumpkin patch photos so that I have three years of traditions to look back on one day, or telling you all about our Christmas. Then I thought perhaps I’d launch straight in to one of the think-tank pieces that I’ve been mulling over in my head; from how I’m making changes to live more sustain-ably this year or an Honest Parenting post on why I’m not the Mum I thought I’d be. But in the end I knew I needed to start by looking outward, and writing something which allowed me to think about how I want to approach this year, alongside the aspects of life I’m prioritising in the next
twelve ten months (and hopefully those other post ideas will come in time). I wrote a similar goals post (aptly names 2019 goals) this time last year, and while these posts are absolutely no use whatsoever to you dear readers, or for that matter beneficial to my blog and its stats, they are somewhat therapeutic for me to write. Putting down in words my intentions for the year ahead -without me realising it at the time -really helped me to focus and action certain things last year. As a result I’ve begun this year happier, healthier and more assured, compared to where I was this time in 2019, and I’m excited for everything 2020 has to bring.
Last year I plucked out – health, happiness and hustle – as my mantra of sorts, and told myself that those would be the three areas that I concentrated on the most within that year. And it kind of worked folks! I know they’re somewhat vague, but I can tell you definitively the ways in which all three of those areas have improved a year later. I’ve never been one to opt for a word/s of the year before. I’d usually always have a few resolutions kicking around in my head, some changes I planned to make or ambitions I wanted to make happen. And there was almost always a giant to-do list, mostly made up of vague or un-inspiring things that I’d probably never get around to. But I’d never just said ‘actually, you know what? THIS is what my priority is and I’ll ignore everything else in favour of improving that one thing’. It took me until having a child to realise that actually, I can’t do it all. That it’s impossible to ACHIEVE and SUCCEED in all facets of my life at one time. So now, I live my life by cherry picking the biggest priority at any given time and (trying) to not worry about the rest, accepting that I’ll get to them in time and pick them up in whatever state I find them in when it’s their turn.
A look back on 2019
To be completely open, I didn’t start 2019 as my brightest self. I don’t want to paint a picture of being unhappy as that certainly wasn’t the case. I live a pretty lovely existence all round and I’m grateful for it every day. But there were a few parts of that existence that, a year ago, were really bringing me down. Ongoing health issues and relentless illness being the main one, parenting full time with, for the most part, little support in a city I still wasn’t sure I wanted to be in, a close second, and worrying that I’d all but abandoned my freelance business and might never find the balance to allow me to resuscitate it again, coming in at third. But I guess you could also say I started the year determined. Determined to make changes on all of those fronts.
By January 2019 I’d reached such a low point with my health that actually I really couldn’t do anything other than prioritise it. What had started off as bouts of stomach problems or the occasional flare up almost five years earlier, had developed into an almost constant cycle of prolonged and un-explained illness – stomach problems, fatigue, Un-dealt with IBS and what I now know to be un-diagnosed allergies (which was undoubtedly adding to the first two) had led to me feeling almost constantly unwell. I’d spent the entirety of that Christmas curled up in a reclining chair at my in-laws, unable to eat more than the odd rich tea biscuit and drink more than a sip of tea (which looking back is hilarious really, as now that I know I have a dairy allergy, both of those things wouldn’t have been at all helpful).
As the new year began, things became so bad that spending an entire day in bed at the weekend was not only normal, but necessary for me to function. Sometimes I’d wake up and the nausea and dizziness would be so bad that I could hardly walk down the stairs. I was constantly exhausted, but not just tired, really exhausted. That feeling when your energy levels are just at an all time low, when you feel drained and unable to manage normal tasks, was an everyday occurrence for me. Eating became incredibly problematic. We’d go out on a weekend, I’d eat something harmless at a cafe and then be doubled over in pain the next day. I began to dread eating, and even more so out of the comfort of my house. My confidence was at an all time low and I’m almost afraid to type this, but there came a point when my anxiety about getting ill while out of the house was so bad that I almost became afraid to leave the house.
It sounds incredibly dramatic I know to be describing things like that for a condition as small fry as IBS but I can’t tell you how debilitating (and terrifying) it is to have your body constantly punishing you when you have absolutely no idea why. To live in constant fear of enjoying a meal because you have no idea whether you’re going to pay for it for the following three days. To wonder whether you will live the rest of your life feeling that sh*t.
Placing health at the very top of my priorities for the year made me absolutely determined to get to the bottom of the issues, to find answers after five years of none and to make sure that how I felt almost everyday at that point, did NOT become my everyday forever more. Nothing happened overnight of course, and I’d say that most of 2019 was a series of one step forward, two steps back. I yo-yo’d between having periods of feeling great and thinking I’d cracked it, to suddenly being back to square one with no idea why. It took until the middle of the year to be taken seriously by the GP’s, I had to push for more tests and scans constantly, and put myself on the FODMAP diet in a bid to get answers in the end. But somewhere within the year, I got on top of it and found a way to manage the symptoms. As a sit here and type this now, I can tell you that I’m feeling better than I have in years and finally feel as if I can live my life like a normal human being again. I still have the odd flare up or slip up which sees me unwell from time to time but for the most part, I think I’m back on track and suddenly it all feels manageable. I might write a seperate post about all of the steps I took to get to this point and how I’m aiming to maintain it as it’s probably too much to go into here but might be helpful to anyone else suffering. Because believe me, I know how horrendous it feels when you’re in that unknown and have no idea how to make things better.
Of course, just as you get a handle on one problem, life has a tendency to throw you another doesn’t it? Just as I was starting to feel more positive about figuring out my allergies and managing my IBS, I was diagnosed with another – completely unrelated but slightly more serious – condition in the latter part of last year. I’ll maybe talk about it on here one day but for now I’m not quite ready to go into it. All I will say is that it was a huge curve-ball, in every area of my life, and having finally got to a point where I was feeling well and positive again, I plummeted both physically and mentally. It took me until the end of the year to really get my head around it, and begin to accept it. I still have a lot to understand, but for now at least I’m well and I’m trying really hard not to take that for granted anymore.
I’m starting 2020 in a very positive place though and looking back at a year ago, it’s incomparable. At times I wasn’t sure that I’d ever feel well again but I do, and better than that I feel GOOD. I never thought that simply cutting out dairy and gluten would lead to an almost complete u-turn to healthy but it has. It’s easy at times to feel like you haven’t achieved everything you set out to in a year, but sometimes you just need to remind yourself how far you’ve come. I hope I never have to go back to feeling as unwell as I did this time last year, which shows just how much has changed.
Happiness is very much nestled in between those two other words (Health and hustle) as it was so intrinsically linked to those areas in the last couple of years and most of why I felt unhappy at any given time was down to one or both of those. Getting on top of my health has had such a HUGE impact on my happiness – it sounds obvious to say, but feeling well and waking up each morning without feeling nauseous, in pain or with what became an all too familiar dread to get out of bed and start the day, has been life-changing. So life- changing in fact, that giving up cheese and chocolate has been a small price to pay!
The other thing that has really helped build my happiness over the last year is getting back to work. When 2019 approached I was in a bit of a strange place with work. I couldn’t quite call myself a stay at home Mum because I had a freelance business and any chance that I got, I worked. But at the same time I couldn’t call myself a working Mum because I was predominantly on my own with Evie 5 days a week, sometimes more, and any work I did do was sporadic. I missed being creative so badly but Evie hadn’t yet started nursery, and with my Husband in a full time job with lots of travel, most of the daily parenting was down to me. Without regular childcare in place, work was limited to the times when grandparents could come and stay or when my Husband was home to help out on the weekends. There was no regularity to it and I forever felt like I was flitting between tasks, never quite doing a good job of any of them. Now I don’t want to complain as I know that is the reality for many many people (we’re all juggling something aren’t we?), and there is no part of me that regrets having that time with Evie. Being a Mum is something I’ve always wanted and it was always my intention to be at home with any babies I had for their early years (It’s part of the reason I sought out freelance life in the first place as I wanted that flexibility). I know we made the right decision holding off on nursery for another year, but I also want to be honest and tell you that that extra year of full time stay at home parenting (while simultenously constantly worrying about the state of my business and trying, and mostly failing, to keep on top of it all) was HARD. Fulfilling in so many other ways but hard. It’s incredibly difficult being a woman in that sense as you are constantly torn in two – I wanted to work, but I also wanted to be at home with Evie everyday and be there for every moment. I didn’t want her to go to nursery or be unhappy without me, but equally I often resented the lack of time for myself and my business. I know I’ll look back in years to come and be so glad that I did take that extra year, and I wish I’d been able to just give in to it more and not worry about everything else but I couldn’t. Having planned to launch back into freelance work after a year, abruptly moving to a whole new city and unexpectedly taking another year away from work while adjusting to a new life was a lot to handle. I spent a lot of my time anxious about being left behind, about missing out on opportunities, about not being able to pick things back up. I hated not having my own money, felt guilty about not contributing to the household and leaving the burden of full time work to my Husband and NEVER felt like I was doing enough. Honestly why do we always feel like that? Like we need to always be doing more more more?
I knew that 2019 was my year to focus on rebuilding my career after two years off. I’d worked hard on a website re-design towards the end of the previous year and I was READY to go. I’d realised that actually while I LOVE being a Mum, there’s another part of me that gets so much joy from being creative and working, and that’s ok too. It’s ok to want both. With Evie turning two in the February, we decided to start her in nursery two mornings a week from March, to give me some regular, dedicated hours to work. That, alongside, the same help from Grandparents here and there that I’d had previously would hopefully allow me to kick start my freelance business again. I can’t tell you the transition was easy – a year later and we still had tears before nursery this morning – the journey to get used to this new routine has been a long one, with many ups and downs, but I knew from the get go that it was right. While it took me a LONG time to feel ok about handing a distraught Evie over to strangers twice a week, I have adored having that time to myself again, to be something other than Mum. It’s probably the only 8 hours in my week where I can enjoy complete silence while I drink a cup of tea, and my goodness that is priceless.
In many ways I was right – I did get left behind somewhat, and the same type of roles that I was doing previously weren’t there waiting for me when I returned. But it turns out it doesn’t really matter as when life moves on, you tend to move with it and I found that I was no longer interested in those roles anyway. Trial and error saw me leaving behind some of the services I used to offer (two years away from PR and social media can make it a tricky to return) in favour of newer directions that really excite me and as the year ebbed on, I found my feet. Around summer time, I also took on a Saturday job with a local company – working in a children’s role play centre – and doing so has had more of a positive impact on my life than I could have ever imagined. There was part of me that always wanted to work with children, and this job has really ignited that passion again. I didn’t realise how much I missed working alongside other people and having that camaraderie that comes with having work-mates, until I went back to it. It’s been wonderful to have a day a week where I get to just be me, to potter about using my brain and getting on with things without a toddler at my feet, where I’m surrounded by like minded parents to chat to, have work friends to laugh with and the occasional work drinks to look forward to. It’s absolutely helped with my mental health, made me less anxious and more confident, and it sure is nice to know that even when my Husband is away, there will be at least one day when I talk to someone other than a 2 year old.
It’s taken a long time, but starting 2020 I feel in a really good place with work. I’ve found my groove again, redirected my ambitions and know what I’m trying to achieve. The freelance work I’m doing excites me, I’m passionate about it, love the time I have to work and am determined to push forward with it. This year I’ve taken on another day at the children’s centre, becoming manager in the process, and so far I’m loving it. I have one day a week for my freelance endeavours plus I’m dedicating two evenings a week to writing. Come May of this year, Evie will be entitled to the free government hours at nursery which we’re hopeful will allow us to up her time there slightly and give me even more time to focus on getting where I want to be with my career. The ‘hustle’ never really stops does it? But 2020 is definitely less hustle and more maintaining the progress I’ve made. I worked hard last year to get into a good routine and I’m determined not to let that slip. Work isn’t going to be as much of a focus this year now that I’ve done the leg work, but there’s always more to learn, and I want to make sure that the work that I’m so enjoying doing keeps trickling in, even when I’m not prioritising it fully.
So there we have it. Health, Happiness and Hustle all greatly improved since this time in 2019. So what are my words/priorities for 2020 I hear absolutely no one ask?
Well, for 2020 I felt strongly that my biggest focus should be FAMILY, and everything that comes with that. From hopefully growing our own family and finding the time to focus on each other, to appreciating our wider families and not taking them for granted. Spending more time with loved ones, making the effort to chat regularly, ensuring that we’re cultivating Evie’s relationships with them (both friends and family). Supporting those closest to me, being there for those going through big life occasions this year (my Brother gets married this summer and I have two close friends expecting babies) and generally just making sure that I prioritise the thing that’s most important to my life overall.
It’s so easy to get caught up in everything else – from career goals, to financial gains to whether we have the right outfit for that social occasion – but really, all that matters is the people we love isn’t it? As much as I’m glad that I focused on myself last year (and sometimes that really is NECESSARY), now that those things are once again ticking along nicely, I feel like I have the head space to let other people in again. I want to be present with Evie as much as possible, to relax and enjoy the family time we have without always thinking about everything else that I need to do, and to make the effort to see friends and family in spite of busy schedules, tiredness/laziness, and whatever else.
We’re also very keen to grow our own little family and I’m hopeful that this might be our year. With everything going on with my health last year, we’ve had to wait a little longer than we might have liked or planned, and there’s still no certainty that we’ll be lucky enough, but it feels right to put family right up there at the forefront for 2020. After all, they say you need to put your desires and intentions out there into the universe to make them happen don’t they? So that’s what I’m doing.
I’m a stickler for order though, and because I had three words last year, and three words of alliteration too, I wanted to do the same this time around (I’ll no doubt regret that decision this time next year!). So for 2020 my three focuses are…
Family + Future + Finances
I’ve explained family, and future goes hand in hand with that. I didn’t feel like we did a whole lot of planning for the future in 2019. Not every year can be a year of great strides after all, some years are just about putting one foot in front of the other and seeing where you end up. 2019 for us, was very much that. It was about simply moving forward, keeping our heads above water, keeping on keeping on. We very much lived from one month to the next and planned as far in advance as my Husband’s work schedule would allow (which wasn’t very far). We had so many changes in terms of Evie starting nursery, me going back to work, trying to manage an ongoing cycle of childcare for when my Husband had to travel, that there wasn’t much time left to wonder whether we were going in the right direction. There’s definitely still going to be an element of that this year, because it’s hard to avoid, but for 2020 our aim is to figure out our direction and start taking those bigger strides to get there. To get better at forward planning from the big – we want to own our own house at some point in this lifetime – to the small – I’m determined to get on top of meal planning, food shopping and batch cooking this year!
There’s still a lot that is unknown, such as where we’d ultimately like to put down roots or what our jobs and careers may look like in another 5/10 years time, but it feels good to be planning for the future more realistically and making some of those pipe dream thoughts a reality. For me the big ones this year are to tackle my driving test again, look into a mortgage and pay off both our overdrafts.
But as well as our own personal future, I want to make future of the planet a key focus for us this year in a much BIGGER way than we have been up until now. Over the last couple of years we’ve definitely become more environmentally aware and have made a lot of changes to our lifestyle that I shouldn’t dismiss or forget about at all. But I KNOW there is more we can do. And as I mentioned with so much of last year just being about keeping our heads above water, I didn’t always feel in a position to take that next step from those initial, easier changes to the ones that might really rub and take longer to get used to. But I guess I’ve just reached that point now where I feel like too much has happened recently for us to bury our heads under the sand any longer. Yes we are a family living on a very modest wage and trying our best but I can’t always use that as an excuse. If we were just a little more organised about our time, money and home then we’d easily be able to do more.
When the Election went so horribly wrong in December of last year (IMO), I think that was the final push I needed. We can no longer keep waiting for higher powers to do their bit, the Conservative government have absolutely no intentions to prioritise climate change or sustainability and so that’s five years where our ‘higher power’ won’t be doing a damn thing. I simply can’t sit back and ignore it anymore, I need to do something, anything to feel a little more in control of the horror that lies ahead of us. I hope that by this time in 2021 we’ll be on route to a humble and sustainable lifestyle as a family. That we’ll be spending and consuming less and giving more. That we’ll have sorted our finances enough to be in a position to donate to some chosen charities and give to our local food banks regularly. And that we won’t miss all of the things that we thought we needed to be fulfilled.
Which leads me nicely onto my third focus for the year – finances. Now that I’m taking on more work, we have a little more money coming in and our big aim this year is to finally start adulting and taking control of our finances properly. I wouldn’t say we’re bad with money (we don’t have any debts or anything like that) but we’re not great with it either because it’s never been something either of us have taken control of. We tend to just let the money come in, spend what we need to spend without much thought and then usually have our heads in our hands come the end of the month when there’s nothing left. I’ve majorly reduced my personal spending over the last couple of years (mainly because I’ve had nothing to spend) so I’m pretty used to not buying myself too much these days. This year I’m focusing even more on not shopping the high street, wearing my wardrobe more and choosing second hand as much as I can for both me and Evie (my husband literally NEVER buys clothes). As I mentioned we have started meal planning and doing a weekly online shop as opposed to nipping to Aldi every couple of days which I’m hoping will help reduce our monthly spend. We’ve started a monthly budget to see what areas we can cut back on, and my Husband is currently on the case with switching our energy and internet providers to find a cheaper deal. We’re hoping to action a saving plan and put a little away each month, pay off our overdrafts and one credit card and if all goes well, start making tracks to apply for a mortgage, with the end goal of getting out of the rent trap and buying our first home. Not all of these things will happen in one year of course, but so far it’s pretty satisfying to be starting, and already feeling the effects only a month in. Here’s hoping we can keep it up, and come 2021 be in a much more organised place financially.
Last year was all about me, and the smaller internal aspects of life. My health, both physical and mental, my career, my own happiness. This year is about the bigger picture things – making babies, owning a home and saving the planet. No biggie then!
What about you? Any big plans for the year ahead?
* Reading this back, I have no idea why it took me the best part of two months to get this post written! Turns out only dedicating two evenings a week to writing isn’t conducive to ‘fast’ blogging. Throw in Evie getting ill, me getting ill, Husband working away and some agonisingly long bedtimes that seemed to go until midnight and here we are. This probably doesn’t bode well for my whole – get back into regular writing – pledge for 2020, but I think I’m ok with it. I’ve come to realise that I enjoy taking my time with blog posts. I know a lot of people can bash out a post in under an hour but I’m just not one of those people. It’s not that I can’t, I just don’t want to. Much like reading, I could do it faster, but I enjoy being slow with it. Devouring every page, re-reading sentences until they’ve ingrained in my mind forever, taking every word in. And that’s how I approach writing too. I like pouring over every thought that comes out of my mind and forming it into words piece by piece. Not every post I write will be a long, out-pour of thoughts and emotions but they will most likely all take time to craft. So much like my reading goal this year is two books a month, I think two posts a month is probably as good as I can ever aim for. Considering this is my first since October last year, I think if I achieve that I’ll be doing pretty well.