Reflecting on 2021

How to tell the story of 2021?

I spent New Years reflecting with friends on our highlights and low points of 2021, so that feels like a good place to start.

My lows are obvious, I think. Winter lockdown, the ongoing pandemic, the downward spiral of Tory policies against people seeking protection and human rights, the climate crisis, the loss of so many lives at our border. It was a year of growing and unavoidable existential threat.

But I definitely had highlights too, and I am proud of these.

It was a year of figuring myself out, of change, of the pressure piling up on me and threatening to overwhelm me, yet I found my way through and am stronger now than ever.

I started a new role at work which has opened up new doors, enabled new conversations and interesting experiences, and despite the context I work in becoming tougher by the day I am enjoying being able to work proactively and positively. I also stepped down from Refugee Info Bus and have watched it go from strength to strength in new hands.

I found the words for my identity, embraced my queerness and fluidity, found new facets to my sexuality, enjoyed the conversations which came with these realisations, the books I read and the words I have written about this.

I enjoyed plenty of fun weekends away, nights out, catch ups with friends and family as lockdown eased, appreciating being busy again.

And I started playing rugby with Glasgow Raptors, which I am loving so much. It has given me fitness, a whole crew of new friends, a safe space to explore myself, and for a few hours each week I don’t have to think about anything other than catching a ball and getting better at tackling. It’s been exactly what I’ve needed.

I am grateful to not have lost anyone I love to the pandemic, as so many have, and that Covid did not hit me hard when it finally caught me.

So, how to tell the story of 2021?

In the media trainings I run at work I ask participants to draw three circles. In one circle, they write the stories they would only share with their closest confidants, whoever that may be. In another, they write the stories they would share with their friends and family more readily. In the final, smallest circle, they write the stories they would want to share in an interview with the media.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how to tell the story of 2021 and what I would want to share about my experiences from the year – a long year with so many pieces which don’t quite fit.

Is it in the anxiety of lockdown? The long dark days and nights, the Netflix binges, the daily walks along the canal. The burn-out and exhaustion. Trying to stay rooted.

Is it in the work? The hope and change brought by a new job, the endless Zoom meetings, the churning out of words. Do I work from my bedroom or sleep in my office? Nearly two years of this.

Is it in the context we work in? The crisis in Afghanistan, the Borders Bill criminalising people seeking safety, the removal of citizenship without warning. 80 million people displaced and counting. Children drowning in the Channel.

Is it in the roar of the crowd at Kenmure Street? Community resistance against dawn raids, the people exerting their power, the sandwiches and teas handed out by local businesses. These are our neighbours, let them go. These are our neighbours, set them free.

Is it in COP26? The takeover of a city, the fruitless talks, the thousands of police. The simultaneous overwhelm and underwhelm. Hundreds of thousands marching through the streets.

Is it in the vaccine? The human achievement of a vaccine found so quickly, the chaos of its roll-out across the world, the anti-vaxxer movement spreading fear. People having more issues with vaccine passports than actual fascist policies. Queueing for our boosters with hope.

Is it in the attacks on queer identities? The hostility and brutality towards trans people, the endless headlines stoking fear, the loss of lives to violence and suicide. The rooms full of queer joy and revolt, against a backdrop of hate. The dancing round and round and round.

Is it in the words I’ve read? The raw grief of Alok Vaid-Menon, the new perspectives gained in Braiding Sweetgrass, the hardships faced by Shuggie Bain. Words which open doors. Words to lose and find myself in.

Is it in the words I’ve written? The journals filled with words as they flow from me, the words written for work, the words found to describe a period of change. The words I feel comfortable sharing. The words I can’t not share.

Is it in the words I haven’t written? The words I share with my family and friends, the words I share in therapy, the words that haven’t formed yet. The words that the English language can’t communicate. The boundaries set.

Is it in the words shared? The late-night conversations, the long walks on the beach, the dinners and brunches and coffees. The new perspectives and problems halved. Moving forward, together.

Is it in the intrusive words? The words which shouted across my brain unwanted, the racing heart, the additional fear this caused. The words that are just thoughts. The thoughts that do not define me.

Is it in my words at all? One in six billion yelling out before it’s too late, the endless wheel of time, life going on. The biggest year of my life. The inconsequentiality in the grand scheme of things.

Is it, ultimately, in the little moments? The splashing in the sea, the cups of coffee, the sun on my face. The laughter and hugs. The hands clasped, arms held, kisses on the cheek.

2021 was a big year, in so many ways. And I have no doubt that 2022 will bring its challenges, some unforeseeable and others that have been warned against for years, and I hope for more wins and plenty of fun moments too. I am in a far stronger place to face everything than I was 12 months ago, by miles. Ultimately, my story of 2021 is one of finding pride, and I will carry that into whatever 2022 throws at us.

Happy new year. X

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