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As relieved as so many of us were to close out the dumpster fire of a year that was 2016, most of us in the United States—and everyone around the world impacted by American foreign policy—also probably looked toward 2017 with trepidation. Whose lives would be destroyed by the monster just elected to office? Which communities already living on the edge of precarity would be thrown into the abyss? Would the world be annihilated by nuclear war? How quickly will the earth hurtle toward irreversible apocalyptic climate change while those who profit from it lie through their teeth, profaning the very air and water and soil that give them life?
In times like these, if you’re anything like me, having ordinary personal goals and a commitment to self-care can seem frivolous, if not outright ludicrous, in the face of such threats. To quote animated gifs everywhere: what a time to be alive.
But if we want to make this life worth living, if we’re committed to fighting for our right not only to exist but to thrive, to bloom gloriously in the gardens of our labor and dreams, we have to figure out some way to go on. Some way to take stock of where we are, to do some accounting, some reflection.
I did just that, formulating a year in review of the strategies I adopted that have become proof of my resiliency this year. I encourage everyone to create such a list, and to think about how you might incorporate any strategies that resonated into your own lives as we move into 2018.
I turned inwards.
I’m a witch, and much of what that means for me is self-development: becoming the best version of myself while living a life of maximized potential as I figure out my relationship to the universe. I’m also an avid fan of the tarot, and toward the end of 2016 I gave myself a reading for the upcoming year. This included drawing a card that would represent the theme for my inner spiritual journey in 2017: the Hermit.
The Hermit card is all about turning inwards. It’s about withdrawing from the outside world in certain ways in order to hone your inner voice, your intuition, and your spiritual journey. It’s about striving for achievement, but recognizing you can’t reach those achievements without carefully understanding what you most want to be achieving in the first place.
So throughout this year I’ve spent copious amounts of time alone, something that is both a privilege—after all, I don’t have any (human) children distractions, and I’ve had a flexible and mostly solitary work environment—and also sometimes isolating. But spending as much time with myself as possible, and doing the attendant inner work of journaling, reflecting on long walks, consulting the tarot, breathing deeply, getting enough sleep, and giving myself time and space to just be, has been crucial for both healing from career burnout and listening to what I actually want out of my life.
You don’t necessarily need extended amounts of time to do this, though; even taking ten minutes a day to really hone in on your deepest desires, yearnings, and frustrations can work wonders for re-aligning your goals with your higher purpose and figuring out an action plan for how to start achieving them.
I looked outwards to the resistance of so many groups of people.
Having spoken of the benefits of turning inwards, it’s also easy to get caught up in your own anxiety and depression and isolation, forgetting that so many people are dealing with similarly compromised mental health. In addition to the various forms of oppression that marginalized communities have been subjected to for hundreds of years, the stress of the election has been so palpable that psychologists are even creating recommendations for how to deal with the collective surge in stress they’ve been witnessing in their clients.
However, we can’t forget that 2017 has been a year of powerful and undeniable protest, community-building, and bravery on behalf of the numerous populations under attack by the current regime. From the mass protests in multiple cities immediately after the election, to the Women’s March, and the airport protests, and the courageous DACA sit-ins, and the #TakeAKnee movement, and the #MeToo movement that went on to become TIME’s 2017 Person of the Year — I could go on and on. 2017 has been grueling and terrifying, but for every human rights violation there has been the vocal and awe-inspiring pushback of tens of thousands, even millions. Already we’re see some tangible wins, like the record-breaking numbers of Democratic women running for office, and Black women saving the state of Alabama from electing a suspected pedophile to the Senate.
We could do even better. But that’s what 2018 is for.
I said goodbye to a career path that wasn’t serving me.
This one was huge. I used to be a gender studies professor, and I had trained my entire adult life to enter into that profession. I hard-scrabbled it through college as a first-gen graduate and then went immediately into a Ph.D program during the aftermath of the 2008 economic crisis. I published scholarship in top journals, presented research at conferences, completed requirements ahead of schedule, and taught at some of the most prestigious colleges and universities in America on temporary contracts.
But in many ways I was also miserable, and that misery only increased over time. Constantly having to apply for jobs against 500 other candidates, switching institutions, being underpaid with massive student loan debt, having my self-worth chipped away at, and stressing about where I’d be expected to move in order to secure long-term employment—Alabama? Nebraska? Some other place that reminded me way too much of the ruby-red state I spent my whole adolescence working hard to escape?
In 2017 I completed a multi-year process of transforming how I thought about myself and the purpose of a career. For me, it was about resurrecting my self-worth to realize that I’m worth more than being treated as a disposable worker. It was important and healthy to embrace the parts of myself that weren’t solely tied to my identity as belonging to a specific career path. In many ways I rediscovered the world and learned about the numerous ways that a person can make a difference through their career, and also outside their career. I allowed myself to question the ways that obsessing over our identities as productive workers is rooted in systems of capitalist exploitation of our time and bodies.
And above all, I sank into a love affair with all the things I couldn’t bear to give up for my old career path: living in an East Coast city. Proximity to the sea. A chance at rebuilding my emotional and physical health, the latter of which had seen a steep decline in the past year to the point of being immunocompromised due to stress.
No job is worth that kind of pressure, and we are worth so much more than our jobs.
I got in touch with my anger.
As I took stock of my emotions in the past year, I realized with a little jolt of surprise that I wasn’t only in despair and fear and anxiety about some of the struggles I faced—I was also deeply angry. Resentful at certain people and situations that had impacted my life. Jealous of those around me who were able to grow up in financial abundance. Filled with rage not only about the grinding injustice of it all but also at what I had been deprived of growing up.
And I realized that because of the emotional caretaking I’ve consistently provided for others as an empathic femme my whole life, there often wasn’t enough room for me to prioritize my own emotions. To take care of myself and honor my intuition and negative reactions to toxic environments without having to smooth it all over to appease someone else.
Once I realized this, I went into shadow self exploration mode. I allowed myself to feel that anger without getting caught up in spirals of shame and guilt for the first time. I worked to be compassionate with myself and reminded myself that I deserve just as much gentle understanding and support as I give to my friends. And through this process, the anger has transformed into self-love, improved boundaries, and healing.
I developed strategies for dealing with negative energy.
I identify as an empath. I don’t usually advertise this fact because I still worry people are going to think I sound ridiculous. But I am constantly flooded with the energy of other people, in particular their negative energy. I often struggle not to be rendered immobilized by all the pain and suffering in the world.
If you at all relate to this, you know first-hand how draining and depressing moving through our all-too-imperfect world can be. This is why I was ecstatic to participate in a recent workshop on intuition that drew many curious empaths and provided concrete advice on how to regulate our coexistence with negative energy. Staying hydrated, for example, is one way to boost our health and flush out the toxins, both nutritional and energetic, constantly circulating through our bodies. Energetic grounding exercises are also helpful, where we can visualize our energy as various cords that are connected to different people, environments, and problems. Before bed, we can visualize those energetic cords returning back to our bodies, detaching themselves from what they’ve been consumed with during the day.
Get into the practice of identifying where negative energy is coming from. Is it coming from within you, or does it actually belong to someone else? Has someone else blasted you with their own baggage? Where in your body do you feel this negativity? With mindfulness, we can work to move this energy out of our bodies and even shield ourselves from it.
I balanced my health with taking to the streets.
My 30th birthday was the same day as the Women’s March. At the time, I was still operating within the mindset that I needed to give my all to the struggle whenever I was physically able, and that anything else was a cop-out that enabled the oppression of those more marginalized than me. So even though I was battling a physical illness at the time and my partner wouldn’t be able to join me, I agonized over whether I should spend money I barely had to travel from my home in Boston down to D.C., the heart of the march.
This mindset completely ignored my actual health needs at the time, both physical and emotional. With the feedback of my partner and my therapist, I finally allowed myself to internalize the truth that if we give away all our energy to activism even in the face of burnout, we will be less able to effect social change in the long run. I ended up making the compromise of attending the march in Boston and taking some time to celebrate my birthday too.
It’s like what the flight attendant tells you on an airplane: in the event of trouble, you have to be able to put your own oxygen mask on before you help others.
I worked to be more intentional about gratitude.
Gratitude can be really hard when you’re constantly surrounded by stress in your everyday life, the 24/7 news cycle, and the intersections between the two. But precisely because of this, I made an effort in November to take back the idea of “thanksgiving” from genocidal colonialist contexts and instead celebrate everyday moments of joy, no matter how small.
What is something that made you smile today? Or something that brought comfort, joy, or an easing of your suffering? I made a point of posting mine on Facebook. Something hilarious my partner said. The delicious takeout I ordered when I was too stressed to figure out something to make. An incredible snuggle with my puppy. Danica Roem’s victory against the anti-LGBTQ politician she replaced in Virginia. You get the idea.
If we can remember those things that get us through, those things that bring us light in the darkness, it makes all the difference.
I nourished my soul through friend reunions.
Given that I spent this year in total hermit mode, the times I was able to reconnect with old and dear friends were extra special and meaningful for me. Many of my friends are far-flung all over the country, and it’s rare that we’re able to (re)connect in person. But there’s nothing like meeting up with an old friend again and finding that you’re able to pick up right where you left off.
When you find those precious few people who are “your” people, who really get you, don’t forget to turn to them in times of hardship as well as celebration. 2017 was made sweeter for me by being able to share emotional ups and downs and reactions to the latest headlines with my friends.
More Radical Reads: New Year, Same You: Anti-Resolution Edition: Falling in Love With Yourself
I kept being my badass self in a society that doesn’t value many of my values or parts of my identity.
American society upholds many forms of corruption and greed as virtues, such as the myths of individualism and the American dream, while slandering as “communism” values that teach the uplifting of the least among us. I live in a nation where an avowed sexual predator is president and where the vice president is someone who probably thinks I should be subjected to “conversion therapy” to “treat” my queerness. I watch daily as the police slaughter Black and brown people, while ICE continues to rip apart and deport families, and poor and working-class people are subjected to Congressional character assassination while our basic resources are plundered, all so that those with the most can buy a fifth vacation home.
There have been so many times this year that I wished I could escape to another country. But I also know that when it comes to being myself and living my life on my own terms, there is strength in numbers. Even if America rests on structures of white supremacy, settler colonialism, capitalism, misogyny, xenophobia, homophobia, transphobia, femmephobia, ableism, and Christian supremacy, its people are far more diverse, proving that America isn’t only comprised of those with the most power — it’s Black, it’s brown, it’s queer, it’s trans, it’s religiously diverse, and it’s only going to become more so.
Because we’re here, we’re growing, and we’re not going back to the 1950s without a helluva fight.
More Radical Reads: New Year, Same You: Anti-Resolution Edition: The Only Weight to Lose is Body Shame
I kept dreaming and scheming.
There are still so many dreams that I have for my life. Still so many goals I want to achieve, places I want to travel, forms of abundance and security I’m yearning to manifest and experience. Often this year, these dreams have felt frustratingly far away. But I’ve kept plugging along, and already I’ve achieved some of the goals I set out to accomplish.
Keeping our dreams alive is key to flourishing in 2018. Envisioning the lives we deserve and the world as it should be, and then doing all we can to make it so, are ways of resisting oppression. Despite it all, I’m confident that when we dream and plan and work and love together, we can move mountains. Here’s to a new year for the history books, one that bends toward justice.
[Featured Image: A person is wearing a paper purple hat. They have brown hair and their mouth is pursed. Behind them is a blurry Christmas tree. Source: Pete]
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