All the joy I found in a dark year
And how to show up for yourself in 2021
It’s 2021, and I’m back on my bullshit. I spent New Year’s Eve driving to Mammoth Mountain with my sister, then fell asleep sober on the couch shortly after I watched Andy Cohen tell Anderson Cooper he should try acid then absolutely blast Mayor de Blasio on national television. The next day I started Whole30 and spent several hours completing my Year Compass (a workbook to look back on your year and set your intentions for the next one) and doing my 2021 tarot pull. I know what I want this year to look like. What it will look like is another matter entirely, but I’m prepared for that, too. Or so I’d like to think.
2020 was a big year of loss and healing for me. I got laid off, moved away from my home of nine years, and lost most of the societal indicators of my identity (no job, no home, who am I honey?). And yet, if 2020 was the last year of my life, I would feel at peace with that. I’m happy with how I lived it.
When I did my Year Compass at the start of 2020, I wrote, “This year doesn’t feel like it will be about work or ambition.” Ha! I wanted to discover “what it’s like to be alone, and find joy in that.” I chose Joy for my word of the year. And in a very dark year, I found so much joy. I held my friends and family close, and got quality time with them I never would have if the world hadn’t turned inward. Fully untethered, I felt empowered by freedom. I chose to take a solo road trip around the United States, and I spent three months driving through Oregon, Washington, Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, Nevada and Arizona. I camped and hiked alone and showed myself I can do anything. I witnessed miraculous beauty at every turn. I walked with bison! I met people, very happy people, who showed me other ways of living I’d never even considered. I kissed people who helped me resurrect important parts of myself. Of 2020, I wrote, “The biggest lesson I learned was letting go makes space for beautiful surprises.”
All of that was wonderful. But my most important gain of 2020 was radical self-compassion. I spent the last six months of 2019 buried in grief and depression, and the first six months of 2020 trying to find my way back to the joyful person I used to be. All year long, I focused on being kind to myself and lifting myself up. I meditated and journaled and took care of my mental and physical health. I refused to hurt my own feelings, and that meant walking away from toxic situations and people. But more than anything, I worked on how I talked to myself.
Thoughts and feelings aren’t facts, but we often treat them as if they are. I first started thinking about the concept of training your mind after hearing Mo Gawdat on the How to Fail podcast. (I’ve listened to this episode several times, and it is well worth your time.) I knew that learning how to recognize my thoughts and correct them could make lasting positive change on the rest of my life. So when a negative thought popped up out of nowhere, I talked back. “Your friends don’t like you,” my brain said. I’d stop and actually take time to think or even say outloud, “Jillian, you know that’s not true. You have several friendships that have lasted decades. Look at the texts you’ve received from friends today alone. You are loved.” When incessant painful memories popped up that had no place in my present, I told myself, every time, “You lived that pain once, and you don’t need to live it again. I do not choose to suffer. I choose to live right now, and be grateful for everything I do have.”
Something happened recently that made it crystal clear how much my hard mental work has paid off. I’ve had a painful recurring dream for a long time now. After I’d wake up in distress, I’d often journal myself a love letter. I’d remind myself that the dream wasn’t real and wasn’t worth negative emotions; I’d look at my subconscious’s message and address it head on; I’d bring myself back to reality.
A few weeks ago, the dream returned. Only this time, within the dream, I journaled! I wrote a gentle love letter to myself, self-soothing. When I awoke, I couldn’t believe it. I had driven self-compassion so deep into my subconscious that my slumbering mind was now protecting me of its own volition. This was my greatest achievement of 2020.
In 2021’s Year Compass I wrote, “This year will be special to me because I will chart a new path for myself, and that is exciting and welcome.” My word for the year is Transform. I’m ready.
Tools for an intentional 2021
I listed these last year here.
The four-square model from The Myth of the Nice Girl by Fran Hauser: Align your priorities with how you actually spend your time.
Powered By Tofu’s Annual Goal Setting Template
Get Bullish’s Design Your 2021
Jen Doll's suggestion to make a list of everything you've been doing right and want to keep doing
Is there a year-in-review or goal-setting tool you use that you find particularly helpful? Share in the comments!
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