Reflections on last year

After washing off 2018 in the ice-cold water of the Nieuwjaarsduik, it feels so distant now that it’s hard to remember just how tough last year was. In all, 2018 was a heinous year in terms of my professional development and mental wellbeing, yet it was bookended by two very different trips that reminded me what it feels like to be truly passionate about what I do. In February, I volunteered with Random Acts in Nicaragua, and in late November I was sent to San Francisco to work on copy for Alexa. There, for the first time in months, I felt truly valued and challenged as a professional, I was growing every day and I was desperate to learn more. This end to the year has almost – almost – made all the shit that came before it worthwhile, but it’s important not to forget how very low the lows of 2018 were. I’ve never been made to feel so worthless while so readily accepting it.

Thanks to structural changes and a meaningless role, I teetered on the edge of burnout for months, lost all confidence in my skills and potential, had no idea what I was good at or why anyone would have anything good to say about me. I didn’t get any help with it, watched as two teammates burned out in front of me, and chose to avoid facing it directly by ignoring my senior role and throwing myself into basic copywriting tasks and Random Acts volunteer work until I was too busy to think. Even so, I was crying in the office, constantly on edge, struggling to quiet my mind and relax, having trouble sleeping, didn’t want to do new things or get out of my routine. I felt lost and disconnected, guilty at my lack of Dutch language skills, and panicked at the thought of losing my Spanish. I considered moving back to Barcelona but wasn’t even in the right headspace to handle interviews for jobs there. Eventually I had to leave Random Acts because I was mentally exhausted after months of stress.

What saved me was kindness. My existing friendships were strained by everyone’s own stresses and issues – managing to be supportive when a teammate first described how great it was to be on sick leave taking time for herself is probably my biggest achievement as a human being in the whole year – but in some cases emerged stronger, while two new friends turned things around at moments when I needed it most. In June, someone from my department reached out asking if there was anything he could do to help me out, and it kick-started a friendship that has let me laugh, learn, grow and share my most secret self. Then in September, working with a new stakeholder who inspired me led me to reach out to him at a time when (unknown to me) he needed it most.

I also managed to make my own happiness, with a month of daily acts of kindness for AMOK, followed by over a month of sharing everyday joys. Some days it was a struggle to think of a single good thing, others were overflowing with Oranges, but the experience was overwhelmingly positive. I learned to recognise “signs” (a fluffy dog on the tram after a terrible day), connected with new people and reconnected with old friends, talked Rumi and Mary Oliver and the meaning of life, and generally reawakened my love of life and improved my overall wellbeing.

Overall, it is 2019 and I am OK.