I did 87 photoshoots, I delivered over 27k photos, I did 61 funding applications, I organised 528 workshops, I went back to college, I began a new career, I wrote a course. I got locked down, I sat down, I used the time to think about what I want, I mapped a plan. I went up Blackpool Tower, I gambled on 2p machines. I left my house about twice a week - and that was too much for me. I tripped over my own feet, my stutter got worse, and my lips went blue. I tried to read books (I didn't), I tried to walk to the end of the road (I couldn’t), I got blue lighted to hospital for a suspected heart attack (it wasn’t - it was still covid), I wanted to re-join my dance classes (I shouldn’t).
I got over my fear of podcasts. I learnt the greatest life hack in the world: ask if they will be recording the zoom meeting and then listen to the recording at double speed. You’re welcome. I posted 178 stuffed chameleons to people around the world because I found a box of them and frankly the world needs more daftness.
I received exceptional care at the hands of the NHS time and time and time again, and I do not begrudge them for not being able to “fix” me or for dealing with the resources they have. I got told I was too fat. Too fat for my age, too fat for machines, too fat for insurance, too fat for my age. I notice how other people use a noun as a pejorative and I am no longer hurt by it, just occasionally enraged by the injustice of belittling someone for the genes and the way they store energy on their bones. But not always. Sometimes I cried because I could not fit in a chair or move my structure in a way which I used to. And I felt shame, because these rolls of flesh denote me as less than by so many for so many reasons. And it’s only me. I mean, it is not only me, but it’s only me: one person with a few inches outside societal acceptability just doing my best to get on and live in the world. There is a bit more of me that’s all. I won’t be around forever, surely it can’t harm people that much that my skin suit is seen as an imposition. But it is. And I am frequently reminded so, vocally, and structurally by others. And mostly it’s ok. But it’s not ok. And we need to do better. I have rallied against the idea that BMI is science and how size and health are not synonymous. I have articles, should you wish to research or rebel.
I realised I am more fat than I have ever been a d more comfortable in my skin than I have ever been. And that has taken some work - some work I think it is worth sharing. I began coaching people on body image and confidence and was finally sure enough of myself and the work I have done on myself to begin formulating ways to use things which have worked for me to ways to support others. I started to notice that one of the things people say to me most is "I don't know how you fit it all in." and yet I rarely feel overwhelmed - and it has not always felt like that. So, I thought I would share some of the strategy and time management tricks I have learnt and use. So, I wrote a whole course for the new year of how to centre this stuff with your new year's resolutions. You can see more at www.SelfCarechool.co.uk if you would like to.
I finally realised I was not just taking pictures; I was actually a photographer now. A word which still feels unfamiliar and full of surprise when I hear it fall out of my mouth when I tell people what I do, like a delighted unexpected old friend. A career I never dared dream. And definitely never thought I would be skilled enough for. But I realised when I am with someone, I have the ability of making them feel like the most important person in the world, and so of course what I capture is full of the love and respect and joy I see in others - I am literally clicking a button and capturing what I see in people all the time.
I visited Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe's husband and could not talk I was so close to tears. I watched Little Amal walk through London and cried freely.
I swam in the sea, for the first time on my birthday. I hung out with acrobats and kittens, I tried to grow vegetables. I took all of my rage and frustration at the world out on slugs. I got really, really angry at slugs. I took a train through the Scottish Highlands and had my breath taken away in a good way for the first time since COVID.
I realised I could no longer do the things used to be able to do and I had to speak up and say I had to stop and it was a crushing, hard relieving moment. I began to contemplate the possibility that I may never get better.
I helped get a bunch of kids get away from their screens and into the park for cartwheels and skipping. I made a bunch of my mates get up at sunrise and meet me by some elephants and it was one of the highlights of my year.
I wrote blogs and articles and was interviewed for podcasts and tried to lace compassion and gratitude into my inability to breathe, that I could not always stand, that I frequently find myself trotting about on all fours and get dressed lying on my back as I no long have to energy to bend over, I furniture walk around my flat, a space I love, but now rarely leave, apart from to hospital, which I visit at least once fortnight, but often more, I slept for 3 hours a night for over a year, my eyesight deteriorated, my hair fell out, my nails snapped, the bone pain shot through me like a hammer every night, I vibrated like an aftershock and I listened to people tell me it was all made up, and that it was a terrible inconvenience to put a piece of cloth over their face. My world grew small, and I worked on expanding my mind and heart instead of playing into the them and us.
I hugged my Dad.
I thought of my Nan a lot and realised that a lot of old age must feel like being trapped in an instrument which no longer operates the way it used to; whilst you watch the world living the life you used to partake in.
I longed to travel. I miss Nepal. I crave Agonda. One day I sat on a bus just to stare out of the window and see people out of the window moving about in bodies which worked, having fun and living their lives.
I hid Easter eggs.
I won an award as an artist (an artist!), I had my work published and sold my photographs to go on people's on walls. I took an afternoon to walk through a field of frozen water because the crunch helped soothe my soul. I had my heart smashed and my world blown apart and managed to carefully collect all the debris, examine each piece and had the courage to build back something stronger. I had the courage to ask for help and I leaned into my friends, and I was held - in a time of social distancing I was so very held.
I lost 13 friends, with each of the loses compounding each lava layer of grief, I became an expert at the way grief can punch the wind out of you when you are already fighting for air.
I managed to go to one funeral.
My resting heart rate hit 178, my oxygen dropped to 67%, I lost my words and fell asleep mid-sentence and got vaccinated. Twice. And some of these things stopped. But some did not. And still, none of this was a s bad as the bed I slept in at Pontins in Camber Sands. With all my buddhist love and compassion, I am still struggling to find anything good to say about that bed.
I learnt more about myself by loving a man who opens his heart and challenges himself and helps me to be my best self.
I completed a course on accountability and inclusivity for boudoir photography and I taught a course on setting boundaries in and out of work. I created a safe space in my dream studio and invited others to share in the glory of the most exquisite space to grow self-confidence in.
I did a photoshoots or myself, just like I encourage you lot to do, and learnt a lot about how I do not want to treat people. I organised days of photoshoots at domestic violence shelters, to offer confidence and reflect beauty back to the Survivors. I had someone approach me for a shoot because she wanted to see her true self again following the murder of her son. I had someone I love trusted me to capture their mastectomy. I got asked to do my first non-binary and trans pregnancy shoots and was so honoured that folk trusted me not to lean back onto gender stereotypes. I had someone ask me to take their portrait to show life was possible after nine miscarriages. I knew for certain I was doing the work of my soul and am in the right place. And that in doing so, I create a last legacy of the possibility of a moment of physical freedom for others.
I spent a lot of time back in the big top and was serenaded on my arrival by Luke and Revel Pucks and it made me cry like I was coming home.
I drove for the first time on my own and I have not yet managed to cease being terrified, but I tried, and I practiced. I walked in fields of sunflowers. I cycled to castles. I lay in the sunshine when my energy defeated me and wrote my soul out. I gambled 2ps away. I watched a friend launch her book with a few of my photos in. I made passive aggressive T-Shirts and inspiring notebooks. I watched my nieces fall in love with circus. I missed Autumn because I could not walk. I visited my Nan and realised she was not there anymore. I got lost in the woodlands I know best in the world. I saw two of the people I love and respect most in the world get married. I made it home. I made it.
I used to love the idea of writing a diary, but never loved the regime of writing one, and as camera phones evolved, by photos became my living diary. I started writing these year end summaries some years ago as a mix of record for myself and explanation to my mates for the stuff I may not have told them or mentioned or was processing. Now I look forward to seeing my own journey through 12 months, and as my brain functions fall away from me with long covid, it seems even more important for me to archive the memories for myself. But I share it with others now as it is my friends and community around me that colour the story in - the rest of it is just outlines; it is the people who make the whole thing come alive. I have chosen not to name many names as I fear missing people out, but I hope you may find yourself in some of these memories.
And to my future self reading back over this, I guess I would mark this as the year where I truly understood the power of following my heart and building upon my passions. That no matter what I have faced physically this year, I knew I needed to get up one more time than I fell down as the people I work with deserve me to succeed. That in a time of crisis I have managed to create a space of solace and joy for folk who need it most, and that our collective healing will always be more important than any self-sabotage I could invent. This year I learnt to fight for my self and my needs as an intrinsic part of the collective picture, and not as an inconvenience or a distraction. This year I learnt that if you can find ways to chat back to your brain, you are on to a winner. And I feel like the winner.
2021 - I feel like I won.