In early January 2019, I was doing what I do every year - reviewing my achievements of the past 12 months and setting my goals for the year to come. Like countless others who go through the same process, this felt like an essential step to becoming the person I felt I was destined to be.
I wanted to achieve and keep achieving so that I could keep up with my peers who endlessly chronicled their wins on social media. I felt that if I did not constantly achieve, then I would fall behind and, soon, I would become no one. So I continued to chase the high of ticking boxes in the hopes of holding back obscurity, and when those boxes were ticked I simply added more.
The years leading up to 2019 had been difficult for me. I had left my life in Australia behind to start a new one in London, had been called back home unexpectedly by the sudden death of my brother, and ended up staying because of the unbearable sadness of my family. I had repeatedly failed to find work in my field and was picking up scraps wherever I could to keep afloat. In short, I was forced to completely reevaluate my life and start again from scratch.
Fast forward to early 2019 and things were looking good for me. I had almost finished a university degree and was working a job I loved. I had finally found direction for my future and I pursued it with renewed vigour - I was making steps towards achieving my dreams. What I expected was a year filled with small wins that would lead me further down my chosen path. What I wasn't expecting was to have to reevaluate my life again so quickly after the last time.
"This January, I will not be setting my resolutions for 2020."
The year started out much the same as the previous year, but I soon started to notice that something was not quite right. I developed flu-like symptoms. My neck glands felt constantly swollen and I kept developing migraines with increased severity. Physical exertion suddenly became too much for me and any attempt to exercise left me bedridden with a fever the following day.
After many tests, my doctor told me that I had developed chronic fatigue syndrome.
It’s a terrifying experience, being told that you have a life altering illness that has no possible treatment and no cure.
However, I am luckier than many in my position as I have an incredibly supportive partner who is able to support us both financially, but the loss of my financial independence, my potential career, and my hopes for the future left me feeling unmoored. My list of goals was backlogged and filled with dreams that could now never be ticked. My future was, once again, uncertain.
I spent many months alternating between lying on my bed and my couch, staring into space, and crying myself into a state of extreme depression because I could no longer do the things that I associated with my identity. I didn’t know who I was supposed to be any more and I looked on in bitterness and despair as those around me continued to achieve their dreams.
"By getting sick, my body was telling me to stop and to focus on making myself well, both in mind and body."
But, very slowly, I started to find hope. By getting sick, my body was telling me to stop and to focus on making myself well, both in mind and body. It was time to stop looking out at the world, and time to start looking within.
I started noticing little things, like how much happier my dog was now that he had a constant napping buddy, or how I could have a deep conversation with my partner without being distracted by social media. I started cooking more, watching more movies, reading more books, and spending more time with friends and family. I’ve started to celebrate the little wins, like being able to do physical activity for twenty minutes straight, being able to reorganise my cupboards, or remembering to meditate every day for a week. I still have days when I feel hopeless and when I feel like a failed human being, but those days seem less all consuming, and more like a pattern I need to recognise and move on from.
This illness is hard and it is consuming, but it has also made me realise that, too often, I have let the small, happy moments in my life be drowned out by distractions fuelled by anxiety and fear. I am learning to recognise these moments whenever they appear and hold onto them like small beacons of hope. I’m not sure what my future holds or if I will ever recover, but it’s dawning on me that my achievements don’t define me.
So, this January, I will not be setting my resolutions for 2020. I don’t need lists and ticked boxes in my life to make me a better person. Everything I need is already inside me, I just need to give it a voice. I have one goal for 2020, just one - to listen to what my body needs and respond. In this way, I am slowly starting to learn how to be a better person in the moment, rather than in the future and to value the things that I do have, while I have them.
Chloe Cooper is a freelance writer. You can follow Chloe on Twitter @chloeecooper.