2015. You were a hard year.
Half of me hates New Years. It all seems so silly – getting worked up for a day just like any other, making resolutions you probably won’t keep, and acting like just because the year is changing, everything will somehow be different. Historically, New Years Eve has always been a shitty disappointment to me. For the last two years, my headaches have been so bad I’ve been relegated to the couch at my parents house. In college, I somehow always ended up alone and pissed off. I’ve come to begrudge NYE.
The other half of me is aching for change. 2015 was a really hard year for us. We both experienced serious physical and mental health issues, and our relationship was tested as a result. There was a lot of fighting, crying, making up, and holding each other, wondering if things would ever improve. I absolutely feel stronger for everything we went through, and haven’t loved Andrew more than I do now, but damn, this was a messy, exhausting year for our personal life.
Everything was compounded by my first year of “real,” full time work. Previously, we both juggled many part time gigs, and thus had similar lifestyles. Starting a full time job was a huge adjustment. I was already planning to retire early before this year, but holy crap – one year of full time work and I’m already thinking it’s time to run for the hills. What a struggle. On one hand, I do enjoy my work, have the blessing of getting to be outside, and … money. On the other hand, my hatred for working continues to grow. I hate getting up every morning, I hate the politics, and I hate dedicating 40-50 hours of my week to something that isn’t making the kind of impact I long for. All I can think about is running away and buying our dream land, saying screw it to financial independence, and finding some way to scrape by, living the life we actually want. Reading books like this and this do nothing to abate that urge.
When I tell people 2015 has been one of the hardest years of my life, they are shocked. “But you got promoted, twice!” First of all, my job doesn’t define me or bring any meaning to my life whatsoever. Second, with more responsibility comes a hell of a lot more stress, especially when you are one of the few individuals in your department that actually gives a shit, and is working your ass off carrying the rest of the lazy, jaded, typical “government employees.” I’m starting to wonder if the 15% raise was even worth it. I still come home from work in tears from time to time. I’ve realized, I’m just not mentally strong enough to deal with the stresses of a job like others can. It wears me down. It breaks me.
On top of all of that, I think about how far our little homestead has come this year. In December of last year, I created this blog to chronicle the lifestyle change I hoped was coming. In January, we started making some of our own personal hygiene and home products. In February, we planned our spring garden. In March, we put my crazy plans to the test and built a mildly elaborate, albeit wacky container garden. In April, we started harvesting and I learned how to dry and can food. In May, I began experimenting with all natural beauty products, blending tea, and getting rid of processed food once and for all. In June, we picked tomatoes out the wazoo and I began vermicomposting. In July, I began biking to work (which, combined with lower gas prices saved me almost $1000 this year! More on that next week). In August, we started homebrewing. In September, Andrew made soft cheese for the first time and I started canning all our Christmas gifts. In October, the last of the summer crops were harvested and put up, and our bins filled with hardy greens and Brussels sprouts. In November, the hunt for the new Barefoot Home was on, and I spent every free minute reading and researching how we are going to find the perfect little urban homestead. And in December, I put the homemade back in Christmas, making all our gifts and decorations by hand.
I’m so grateful for everything I learned and accomplished this year. I’m only dipping my toes in the deep pool of self-sufficiency, but I’m already addicted to how it feels. One of my best qualities is my drive – I work hard, and I’m motivated by results. Even though my drive lead to an amazing lifestyle shift this year for us, in the end I’m worried I did more damage than good. You see, I don’t know when to stop. I don’t know when too much is too much. And this year, I simply put way too much on my plate, and I exhausted myself in a way I’ve never felt before.
I have the problems of thinking everything must be done immediately, and then putting “everything” before my own health and sanity. There were too many nights I stayed up too late because I was fiddling around making detergent or shampoo. There were too many days I spent meticulously washing and drying herbs instead of spending time with Andrew. I’d rather blog than get a good night’s sleep, and I often compromised relaxation for recipe testing or homesteading research. I feel like in all the hours I spent at home, I barely ever sat down. Reading for pleasure, watching TV and movies, and listening to music were non-existent activities – I scoffed at the idea of “wasting time” like that. I spent hours in the kitchen listening to personal finance and homesteading podcasts, haphazardly taking notes while I scrambled about, putting up bulk food and cooking three things at once. Every night I went to bed with an aching back and fried brain. Sleep hardly counted as rest – it was more of an inconvenient activity that punctuated my “real life,” just like going to work. The minute I was off the clock or awake the frenzy to “live right” began.
I tried to take care of myself through meditation and yoga. Yoga is probably the one thing that held me together this year. Unfortunately, these activities too became part of the march – they weren’t so much personal time as they were things I had to do to preserve my idea of the right way to live. So often I would be on my mat or sitting alone in my room, while Andrew sulked around downstairs, wondering why I couldn’t make time for him.
I knew that things were getting out of control. Everything culminated last Monday, which was to be my last day in Athens for the year, before I made the drive north to be with my family. I had planned to spend this day with Andrew, celebrating Christmas together and simply enjoying each other’s company before we parted ways for a week. It started innocently enough. I woke up and practiced yoga, then decided I wanted to tidy up the house so that when we returned home after the new year, I wouldn’t have to stress about cleaning. I wanted to wipe down all the cabinets, just the exterior to get rid of grease. That turned into pulling everything out of them to wipe down and reorganize the interiors. Before I knew it, I was pulling everything out of the fridge and freezer to wash the shelves and drawers. Then I was on my knees scrubbing the floor by hand with homemade cleaner. I spent so much time in the kitchen, I decided the rest of the house ought to get the same treatment. So I vacuumed, dusted, scrubbed, and laundered until my back hurt so badly I had to lay down flat. I meditated like that for half an hour or so, and when everything was all said and done it was 9 PM and I desperately needed to start packing my car for my trip.
All the while Andrew sat their, waiting for me to be free. He tried to help but I rebuffed him – I wanted to do it all myself so I knew it was done right. Eventually I had a mental breakdown and screamed at him, telling him he had no idea all the work I put in to keep our home running. It was awful. There I was at 9 PM, having spent the entire day with my head down, thoughts a blur, work work work. I realized that all I had wanted was to spend time with him, and I did everything but that. I couldn’t stop crying. He’s so wonderful for holding me and reassuring me, always there supporting me even when I’m acting crazy. He calmed me down so we could open our gifts and have our little Christmas, but sadly that was just a break from my day, one thing on my to-do list that once complete meant I had to move on to the next thing.
As I laid in bed at 1 AM, trying to grab four hours of sleep before I drove 10 hours north alone, I couldn’t believe myself. It hit me like a ton of bricks. I do too much. What’s the point of all the productivity if you have no time to enjoy it? I had to ask myself, was having a clean house more important to me than my partner? Of course I answered no, but my actions that day said otherwise.
Having this realization was so huge for me. It’s time for change. 2016, you are going to be the year of ME. I am going to nurture myself in a real way, not in a task master way. I am going to listen to myself and ask myself every day, what do you want out of this day? And I’m going to get it, even if it means the house is dirty or the garden is weedy.
This year is also going to be time to reconnect with my family and friends. I never call my mom anymore. I can’t sit still when we have friends over – I’m always in the kitchen cleaning up, or organizing something while everyone else sits around laughing and chatting. And worst of all, I’ve let my relationship, the most important thing in my life, fall to the wayside. It makes me cry to write this down.
I want to believe in the hokey new years resolutions. I don’t expect things to change overnight, but I do think I can make the transition from 2015 to 2016 powerfully symbolic if I want it to be. Here’s to a 2016 full of love: self love and love for others.