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No. 28 | The year of feeling absolutely inadequate
In 2022, everything I had taken on just felt bigger than me.
By the end of 2022, I was ready to call it a shit year.
While everyone I knew was donning ugly Christmas sweaters or glitzy party gear for an unprecedented onslaught of holiday festivities (the first Christmas without the plague! Let’s do it all because we can!), serenely penning thoughtful year-end reflections, or declaring self-imposed periods of “intentional” rest and “conscious” self-care, I spent most of December in bed, literally sick and tired.
“It usually takes about two to three weeks to recover. You’ll want to clear your agenda for the first week,” my doctor said, prescribing antibiotics for a nasty flu turned acute respiratory infection. (In Holland, you need to be death’s door before they even consider antibiotics.) “By the second week you can maybe start to think about incorporating some gentle activity.”
“But I’ve already been lying in bed for a week!” I wailed, cursing my weak, asthmatic, thrice-Covid struck lungs for betraying me.
I didn’t want to end the year trapped in my bedroom. I didn’t want to repeatedly reschedule and cancel my third anniversary with my boyfriend, to miss out on a trip to Antwerp and Brussels with my sister (who was back in Europe for the first time since the pandemic), or to feel only exhaustion, lethargy, and an anemic, half-hearted joy at Christmastime.
Physically debilitated and emotionally depleted, I didn’t want to Unravel My Year or Find My Word. I had none of the mental clarity or will to dig deep for words of wisdom to dispense on Instagram or Substack.
Fuck 2022, I thought. I’m done with this shitshow.
Eventually, I recovered—enough to celebrate my 15th wedding anniversary with my husband and escape to Morocco for eight glorious days, and enough to look back on 2022.
Now, I take it back—sort of. 2022 wasn’t all bad. Then again, I don’t like labels like good or bad, which leave out all the richness of nuance.
So, the facts. Among other things, 2022 was the year I…
finished the first and second draft of my memoir
traveled solo to Lagos, Portugal
traveled to Paris, Antwerp, Split, Lago di Garda and Marrakesh with my family
went on my first naturist holiday in the south of France
returned to the Philippines for the first time after the pandemic
went to more live gigs than raves (Patti Smith! Bon Iver! Alicia Keys!)
spoke on a sex and intimacy panel as a relationship expert (!)
caught and recovered from Covid… for the second and third time
fell completely out of love with TV, and completely in love with reading
attended my first ever multi-day music festival
went on my first proper holiday with my boyfriend to Malta (twice!)
met my boyfriend’s mother
was absolutely debilitated by jealousy for the first time in my life
discovered deep abandonment wounds (and began the work of healing them)
resolved childhood trauma through EMDR
really, truly grieved my father’s death for the first time in 35 years
When I talk to people about 2022, I get the sense that it was a hard year.
Many of us found ourselves assessing the scope of our losses, both visible and invisible, individual and collective, after the pandemic. We struggled to find the grace and wisdom to fully understand those changes, and the time and space to grieve those losses, as the world picked up its relentless pace and demanded us to return to “normal” along with it.
For some, the pandemic left a landscape of grief and loss; for others, a haze of uncertainty and searching; for others, a fertile ground from which new, unknown selves have only begun to emerge.
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Zora Neale Thurston writes: There are years that ask questions, and there are years that answer them.
This year was definitely a year of questioning. Amidst the joys of familiar freedoms recovered and the peaks of new pleasures discovered, I found myself thinking back to pre-pandemic life, that was now supposed to be “normal” life again. I wondered: How did I—how did we—ever live like that?
How was I always out three, four or even five nights a week? How did we manage when my husband commuted to Rotterdam for work daily, one and a half hour each way? How did I spread my energy among so indiscriminately, among so many random people? How had I been so tired all the time, but not know it? How did I thrive on so little rest? How can I ever go back to all of that now? Should I even have to?
I found myself thinking a lot about capacity—my ability to generate, replenish and sustain attention, intention and energy.
More than once, I asked myself: How much capacity do I have for the handful of people in my life whom I am committed to supporting—my husband, child, boyfriend and best friend? What happens when one of them needs more?
There were times when I realized my mother and sister, who live far away and typically don’t form part of my day-to-day commitments, needed me too. That prompted me to wonder: Do I have emergency capacity for them, if and when they do need me? How do I make sure I can come up with enough for them? How do I make sure I have enough capacity for myself and my needs, too?
As my life and the lives of those I love expanded again, I felt pulled in a dozen different directions.
It was easier to be present in all my relationships to a degree that satisfied everyone (myself included) when nothing much was going on in all our lives. It was easier to be a wife, mother, girlfriend and writer when we were all just at home.
When my husband was sucked back into the office full-time, in full force—with multiple business trips and team offsites—I was left with more of the domestic load than we’d gotten used to when he worked from home.
When my boyfriend was called away to new adventures and opportunities, it stung that I couldn’t be by his side, his partner in crime, for all of them. The reality of being a wife and mother dating a single, childless man hit me hard then.
As my daughter enters her preteen years, the drip-feed of subtle changes in her make me feel that if I just blink, if I take my attention off her for a beat too long, I’ll miss out on some new way that she needs me—that I’ll fail her in some way.
Finally, I wondered: where was I in all this? Who was I? And who did I want to be?
If I’m being completely honest, 2022 was a year of feeling absolutely inadequate at everything.
Supporting both my partners through difficult periods. Navigating jealousy. Being polyamorous (is there such a thing, though, as being good at being polyamorous? Like being good at being straight or gay or queer?). Finishing my second draft. Shifting from the deeply personal work of memoir writing to commercial copywriting to book marketing, which feels like learning a whole new language. Reading. Exercising. Spending enough time in nature.
I felt inadequate at the things I used to enjoy—dating, partying, socializing in big groups, with lots of random strangers. I even felt inadequate as a newsletter writer.
Everything I’d taken on, from my writing to my relationships, just felt bigger than me. But how else will I grow, if I don’t take on bigger things? Maybe I just have to accept that for this little while, I will feel rattle around and feel small in the container of my choices. I have to trust that my roots will grow to fill this pot, and make me strong.
I don’t have a fix for any of this; I don’t want to feel that I am something to be fixed. I only have questions. I hope 2023 will deliver the answers.
In the past couple of weeks I’ve focused on slowing down and gathering strength. Deciding on what’s important to me and recommitting to it. Learning to take care of myself and satisfy my own needs independently.
I don’t have resolutions, goals or plans for the new year. I’m taking it one step at a time, keeping my eyes on what’s right in front of me. Instead, I throw my windows and doors open to surprises as well as sadness, delights as well as disappointments. I choose to believe I have the capacity for all of it.
If you have any reflections for 2022 or have mapped out your path for 2023, do share it here. I always love to see what other people are up to.
Or you could just tell me:
Was 2022 a year that asked questions, or a year that answered them?
What was the most important question, or the clearest answer?
Also, if there’s anything you would like to read more (or less) of from me this year, I’m happy to hear it.
Here in Amsterdam, it is an unseasonably warm January. I know that means the planet is screwed, but I can still be grateful for this mild winter and that distant brightness which lasts a touch longer each day. I need these small gentle mercies; I hope you find yours, too.