Updated: Jan 23
This time of year tends to provoke a spell of reflection in many of us, New Year tends to be portrayed as a 'new start' for many to make changes, focus on values, and get what we want out of life. So, being inspired by other therapists, I wanted to put my reflections of this year into a blog post, cause my goodness has it been a year!! And, maybe this will turn into my own blog post tradition, as a way to take stock of what I've done, what I've learned through my clients and my own life, and as a way to then look forward to the next year.
Where to even start with work?? I feel like I haven't stopped this year but it's been all good things.
My practice is settled and at a good place for me and my health, it feels like I have found my groove and I absolutely love working with my clients and feel so privileged and humbled they have chosen me to support them in their struggles, vulnerabilities, and their growth. I cherish all that my clients learn from therapy and about themselves, as well as what they teach me about myself. This work is forever on going - as my supervisor said, "it's called therapy practice, because we are always practicing, there is no perfect end in the work" - and it's so true, there is so much I am learning about myself and with each client, I become a better therapist, more in tune with them, myself, and the lived experiences.
In Private Practice, there is this concept of finding your 'niche' in order to find the 'right' clients - I state that mine is working within exploring your identity and how that relates to your internal self or the external world - but honestly the more I move forward the more I feel like my niche is just me being me and connecting with the individual in front of me.
The most enlightening discovery within my practice this year has been that it's okay to be myself within the therapy room. I am allowed to be a human, not just a therapist
This year did see the restart and ending of my work with The Mix as a volunteer counsellor. This work has been so very fulfilling and I was saddened to have to end this chapter of my career, but this was a decision based in my own wellbeing and having to put my health first. I cannot thank the team at The Mix enough for how supportive and just plain wonderful they were in supporting me both whilst working with them and with the process of leaving.
Alongside my practice, I have been working with GriefChat, which is a web based chat service for those bereaved. My experience has been nothing other than intense, in the best and the most emotional of ways; there isn't anything more sobering that holding a space for someone bereaved and the pain that can come with loss; whether that's through losing a pet who was a true member of the family, having lost someone to suicide, being bereaved unexpectedly, or losing someone as a slow process with terminal illness. This work has made me reflect so much on my own life, what's important to me, who's in my life, and how I want to be, but also as a more existential contemplation around life in general and what it can mean to be alive! Talking about death in our society isn't something that is comfortable or done often enough, and it can leave us completely lost when we do then experience grief, but please reach out to those around you or services like GriefChat to get the support you deserve.
The end of this year has brought on a number of projects that I was not expecting; I have started working on a Private Practice Start up Guide, fuelled by my own experience and the information I have offered to my peers and colleagues in the past. I am hopeful that this guide will offer a way of subsidising my low cost sessions further so I can offer more sessions to those in need of long-term low cost support.
I also have another couple of opportunities coming up that will engage other parts of working that I miss from my Student Support work I used to do, as well as challenging me in different ways too. I am excited to be able to have work for all areas of my life that are important to me so I have some high hopes for 2023 and how this will look for my working life - however I do have to keep myself in check as my health isn't always something that can keep up with my ambition! Speaking of health.....
Our health is made up of many components, which can be quite complex to summarise in a reflection, so I have broke this section down to be purely my physical health and how I've coped this year in the face of it all - there is then a section further down about Wellbeing.
As you may know, I do have multiple chronic illnesses, so my health is something I have to make space and time for in line with the energy I have (check out Spoon Theory if you haven't already - it's a great analogy for looking at chronic illness & mental health conditions and what is manageable in the day to day). I am still at a stand still with my treatment plan with my fibro, and after 17 years I am finally getting a laparoscopy to explore endometriosis too. I am hopeful that 2023 will bring more resources forward to me to get my health feeling like something that can run in the background rather than being so dominant in the foreground of my life! Check out my post on what fibro has taught me if you'd like to understand more on the impact it can have.
My takeaway with my health this year has been to take each day as it comes, I am only able to control so much and so I've had to work on getting comfortable with not being in control all the time as well as pacing. I am only human and I can only do so much.
Friendships & Relationships
This year has been especially tough on friendships and relationships. For many, the world started opening up from COVID and lockdown, however there were still a lot of us who haven't been able to get back into the wider world as easily.
Friendships & relationships have been a constant theme in my client work this year, as well as a theme within my own personal development. I have lost some meaningful friendships this year, and this really does have an impact on our wellbeing, in a similar vein to a romantic break up. From having my own space to reflect on this, I have been able to notice how special my other friendships are and what they mean to me; I have been able to see just how willing others are to be in my life despite my health bringing in some obstacles and that I am loved regardless of this.
Many of my relationships have been purely online in the last few years, which has also brought the reflection around - What is a connection to me? What is a friendship? What is it that I need?
I think these reflections are important for many of us who may be questioning the last few years and how it's had an impact on connections. I have found such safety in online communities that I haven't always felt in person with some people; I do think that online connections shouldn't be underestimated into the power & impact they can have, both positively and negatively.
I have learned a lot about myself, my insecurities, my dependencies, and my expectations through this year because of losing friends and through strengthening other connections. This has led me to, not only finding other people who accept me for all of who I am, but also allowed me to accept those parts of myself too in a way I haven't before.
Connections can be difficult but so worth it. Whether they're platonic or romantic, they need work, they have boundaries, and they all have an impact on our wellbeing. We talk a lot about communication in romantic relationships and family dynamics, but communication is just as important for friendships too.
As you can imagine, what I have mentioned above has taken a toll on my overall wellbeing, and my emotional wellbeing in particular. This year has felt so utterly exhausting and draining in amongst all the positive events I have experienced which has led to overwhelm. The importance of pacing myself and being compassionate towards myself has had to take priority this year, as well as bringing in some new outlets of expression and using my support network.
Again, this has also been a similar experience within my areas of work; near enough everyone has been feeling run down, burnt out, struggling, and overwhelmed because of the expectations that we should be thriving now the 'world has opened back up', but life really is so much more complex than that and it takes time to process, adjust, and move forward from a chain of worldwide events that have felt like they have removed certainty and stability. At times, my work has felt like giving such a small space of safety to people in such a big, dark, and brutal world - there's a feeling of only being able to do so much to hold this safe space for internal reflection, growth, and processing, when the world outside of that space is feeling like it's crushing down on us all - it is very reminiscent of Sanah Asan's article in The Guardian.
Now whilst what I've written may make it sound like I've given up, I haven't, if anything seeing and experiencing all of this makes me more determined to continue in this work and more determined to help myself within it all too. If my work is being able to offer an hour a week to someone to feel safe just for that hour, then that is amazing to be able to offer that! The work I do within broader client work and then in bereavement, can be so draining, frustrating, tiring, and overwhelming - but- it is also so humbling to hear peoples stories and be trusted with them, it's amazing to see people get through the other side of what their experiencing and start to thrive, it's heart-warming to see people grow and learn to accept themselves, there's something so thrilling, satisfying, and joyous about knowing that someone is still willing to work on themselves and want better for themselves despite all that has been thrown their way in life! So, whilst my work, the world, and my own struggles in life can be difficult, there is still so much in life to find positivity in and that's what has got me through this year.
The main takeaways from this year:
Life won't slow down for us, so we have to slow ourselves down - PACING
This year has been difficult, but we don't need to make things more difficult for ourselves on top of it all. Self compassion is a powerful tool and you are allowed to ask for help from your support network and/or professionals.
There is only so much you can control, so try focusing on what you can do rather than what you can't.
Taking a step back to breathe and reflect before you react & respond, is still the best advice I have ever been given!
Hopes for 2023:
To have more answers around my health and more of a treatment plan to help make the day to day feel more manageable as well as my working life to be more consistent.
To be present in the wonderful opportunities I have been given and try to enjoy them.
To maintain my level of working - to continue trying to pace myself within my work and my personal life.
To take opportunities to rest, regroup, and revitalise to be the best version of myself within my life.
Tools for reflecting
Connect with your body to try and recognise emotions being held in your body
Write a letter to your future self about your year and what you hope for yourself
Sit down with a pen and paper, take some deep breathes to relax and slow your mind, then start freewriting for a set amount of time with the intention of reflecting on the year.
Gratitude - if you're struggling to remember what's happened this year, you can try thinking of something's that you are grateful for as topics and then how you'd like to carry this gratitude over into the New Year.
You might want to be more creative and write a poem, song, or draw what comes to mind for you when you think of the year.
Going forward into 2023:
Start a memories jar - you can colour code your memories to be different themes or emotions, but this can help you see your year in grounded perspective rather than purely negative or purely positive. The idea is to write down whenever something happens that you want to make note of and add it to the jar, then at the end of the year you can look back on what's happened. If you do tend to only remember negative events, I normally suggest this as a happiness jar - so this is also a useful tool to use in helping you reflect and bring your perspective back to grounded reality.
Some people have done creative ways of documenting their year which might be in a journal with mood tracking or writing a word to sum up your day, some have done a year in sewing/cross stitch/drawing etc.
You might want to focus on some affirmations for yourself for the next year. A simple way of doing this is with mirror writing, i.e. write your affirmation directly onto your mirror or on a post it note so that you can see it every day.