Though it certainly didn't start the way it's ending, 2017 has been a particularly lonely year for me. A big part of that has been self-inflicted. As it turns out, isolation is an extraordinary mechanism of self-defence, and one that I relied on quite substantially to get myself through some critical circumstances this year. Goodness knows there was enough of them. I didn't choose to be alone because I was looking for any pity, and I didn't do it to inflict pain on others. I made the choices I did because for the first time in my life, I began to recognize the value of fighting for myself, and fighting to make myself the centre of my own attention. I needed "me" this year; more than ever, I needed to be strong for my own sake.
I wrote last January that 2017 would be about "making room" and clearing space, about opening my eyes and my heart to opportunities, and about cleaning out the old and unfulfilling. I told myself that big changes take courage, and I know now that sometimes we have to do things that we don't particularly want to do. I didn't want to hurt the people around me when I shut down or when I ran away, but there's no denying that I did. Here's the hard truth: I needed to make room. I needed the space. I needed to be able to open my eyes (even if it was while underwater) to start seeing the solutions, choices and opportunities that would get me from a place so unhealthy and miserable to somewhere - anywhere - else.
I have learned a remarkable amount this year, and I've learned about so many things - geography and geology, American history, my car, highways and maps, love, family, pain and heartbreak, resilience, and most importantly about myself. I've learned about pace and how at the end of any day, it's about putting one foot in front of the other. Even if you are slow or scared or you have no idea what direction you're going in... you've got to keep moving. One step in any direction is all it takes. I've spent a lot of time stuck, feeling trapped and restless. I've been a victim. But it has been no one's fault except my own; by my own choices and my own ignorance.
A friend asked me recently: do you like the person you are now more than the one you were 365 days ago? Without hesitation I responded "yes, a lot!" I've made a lot of tough choices that I didn't particularly like making this year, but everything we do in life - good or bad - makes us who we are today. I can't be the person I am today without the equal weighting of hard or easy, good or bad, happy or painful choices that I've made throughout my life. Whatever the choices have been, I know now that I have significantly reduced my anxiety level, I have achieved goals and dreams I didn't think were possible, I have done wonders nourishing both my soul and my body, and I have set out with renewed priorities and expectations for myself going forward.
To those I've lost - I haven't been a great friend through the last few years anyway. The constant stress and anxiety was limiting my emotional capacity to be there for, support and sympathize with the ones I love. I had spread myself so thin, trying to give 100% to every single person in my life, even if they didn't need or want it, and in some toxic situations, even when they didn't deserve it. I'm hopeful that one day I will discover the energy to re-build some of the relationships I've lost, but it's going to take some time for me to adjust to my new priorities of self-care and development. All I can do for now is hope that they understand that. The truth is, I want the best for them too, and I wasn't giving them that when I wasn't at my best.
So, 2017, you were a gem; a true diamond in the rough. I'm going to look back on you as a wildly transformative year. You took me through the lowest of lows and the highest of highs, you showed me things I never imagined I would see, you taught me about losing and gaining life, about treasuring time and value over materials or wealth, and most importantly you shone some light on what I am capable of when I really throw myself into achieving dreams. Anything is possible if you really want it badly enough.
In this past year I: quit my career job (rather reluctantly), drove between Alberta and British Columbia four times, moved out of a house I had lived in for over seven years, started this blog and was interviewed in a podcast, wrote for both She Explores (twice) and the Calgary Heritage Roasting Company (not once or twice but three times), have been interviewed to be featured in a book about women in the outdoors, attended the Calgary Folk Music Festival as a patron instead of a volunteer for the first time in over a decade, celebrated my birthday deep in the forest, cried LOTS, read 23 books, hiked my first true summit, slept in my car for two months across the western United States and Canada while visiting 17 new National Parks, lost a grandfather but also welcomed my cousin and her husband's new baby girl into the world, celebrated my four year mountain anniversary, suffered some mega heartbreak and learned to love myself, had the very best day of my life fly fishing the Elk River with my dad, saw one of my best long time high school friends get married, ran through tulip fields at sunrise, lost 17 pounds and ran 30 consecutive minutes for the first time in my life (which was a huge deal considering my pathetic lungs), hiked/explored FIVE caves and through two rivers, saw the ocean, had an emotional meltdown in the Utah desert, spent countless nights marvelling over the Milky Way or extraordinary electrical storms, tanned, pretended to own a dog for almost a whole month, and spent a few incredible nights chasing the aurora borealis.
When you really stop to acknowledge how much you've accomplished in a single year, it feels so overwhelming!
2018 + Beyond
Now that I've spent a painful 2017 lightening my load, making room, taking stock and refining my priorities, I think 2018 is going to be all about moving. It's going to be about taking those steps - in any direction - towards something (anything) even if I don't know what it is or if it will work, or if it will be what I hope. And I've got to say, I already feel light as a feather, ready to blow in any direction!
I think I'm going to make a lot of mistakes in 2018. I think I'm going to say "no" to a lot of things, even if it means saying "yes" first and being wrong. And, I might end up going (or being) some places that I don't like. But I am finally willing to risk those things in order to grow, and to take a chance on finding something new and wonderful. I will be opening doors, making choices that uncover new opportunities, and embracing the change that I made so much room for in 2017. This year, I'll be taking chances on me.
So what does 2018 have in-store for me? I'm so glad you asked!
1. My Parks Canada pass is valid until mid-June. I'd like to spend a good chunk of my spring (weather dependant, of course) getting out and adventuring in the back country of Banff, Kootenay, Revelstoke, and Waterton Lakes National Park. Weekend trips galore! (Except that my "weekends" now tend to land in the middle of the week, which I think is even better.) Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park by way of Banff National Park is high up on that list.
2. My American National Parks pass is valid until the beginning of August, so I would like to spend some time down in Glacier National Park again, or plan a bigger trip out west to North Cascades National Park (or even as far as Olympic National Park) in July.
3. I'm working on a trip to Ireland, likely for spring 2018, but I'm not 100% sure on dates or locations yet. I still have some research to do, and might need to do a little sweet talking with my employer to make sure things will work out. I'd like to take three to four weeks to explore the rugged castle-specked coastline of Ireland and Northern Ireland, possibly by way of London.
4. I've been promoted! I haven't found my way back to a desk in the design industry yet (though I'm sure at some point I will) but I am doing something I enjoy, for a company I respect. As I've said, I'm looking to open doors and uncover opportunities, and this is a great way to gain experience that I may not have otherwise gleaned from my position in the interior design and architecture industry.
5. No matter what, I am going to keep writing. Whether anyone is reading or not, writing became such a valuable tool for me in 2017. I don't know what form this will take over the course of 2018 but I have some lofty goals about being published in a specific and dear periodical, and if I learned anything in 2017 it's that I CAN do it if I want it bad enough.
6. I'm about 90% sure I'm going to move. As every summer comes to a close, I start to panic. Every fall I get anxious about spending another winter in the bitter Albertan cold. I have some ideas on where I'd like to go, and it might not take clear shape until 2019, but it's going to happen and I'm going to figure out an exit strategy from all of this cold!
7. I am a fairly shy, calculated individual. I'd argue that it stems from an adolescence of strict perfectionism. I have spent a lot of years learning how to let go, but I've never let go of as much as I did in 2017. In the latter half, I learned a lot about truly relaxing, going with the flow, planning on the spot, and letting adventure happen to me. I like this trend a lot. In 2018, I am going to be brave.
8. I am learning the extraordinary importance of self-care, and I intend to pursue my new self-care practices in 2018. Lots of gym time, even more outdoor time, lots of forgiving and nourishing, and always always always listening. The rest? It doesn't matter. My instincts have been remarkable in the last 6-8 months, and I know I can count on them.
Happy new year to everyone! I hope you're feeling as inspired (or more, if it's possible) as I am!!
Photos are my own. Please do not reproduce without my written permission.
First: Utah BLM land self-portrait 2017 | Second: Collage 2017 | Third: Collage 2017