16 Lessons 2016 Taught Me
Oh what a year 2016 was. For a good number of folks, 2016 was tough. Tough might even be a huge understatement .. and we’re glad it’s over! Some things I am grateful for are the life lessons that I learned throughout the course of this past year. 2016 stretched me, mostly mentally and spiritually, but I'm better for it.
Therapy is life-changing.
By far, the best decision I made for myself in 2016 was to FINALLY start therapy. After years of wanting and needing to, but putting it off because of fear, I’m so happy that I did. My therapist is great, and I recommend her like I would a great hair stylist or nail tech. I’m pretty sure I get on people’s nerves with how much I suggest therapy. Friend: You know I’m just not feeling it today. Me: Ooh girl, you should talk to someone about that! I have a great therapist, here let me give you her card! Hahaha Seriously, the benefits of therapy for me can and will be a post all on its own. I debunked the common myths that added to my fear of therapy here.
Depression will not always be apart of my life.
Those who know me personally know I’m quite dramatic and can sometimes be quite pessimistic (I’ve gotten MUCH better). The earliest I can remember struggling with depression was when I was 12 years old. That’s 12 years of the exhausting cycle of depression that WAS my life. Don't get me wrong, I wasn't CHOOSING to continue to be depressed, but I had accepted that I'd always struggle with it. I would be fine for a couple of days, weeks, or months and then BAM. I really thought that it was something that I would have to deal with for the rest of my life because it was just apart of my life for so long. But after starting therapy and really honing in on self-care, I am happy to say depression WON’T always be a part of my life and although I am not 100% I am MUCH better than I was a year ago.
People are not mind-readers.
In 2016 I had to learn to use my words and tell people what I needed/wanted from them. A good friend of mine asked me “what are your expectations of me in our friendship?” and I was completely caught off guard. I really didn’t know how to answer and I hate awkward conversations so I just said: “umm just be a good friend.” She didn't let that fly. “What does being a good friend look like to you?” We sat there in silence as I tried to think how I should answer this question because I really didn’t know how to. Long after I left her home I was still stuck on the question because it made me realize that people truly aren’t mind-readers and we have to speak up in our relationships when it comes to our wants and needs. We can’t assume that people automatically know how we're feeling no matter how well they know us or how close we are.
The importance of love languages in friendships.
This ties into the last lesson as well. Knowing the love language of the people you spend the most time with is crucial. We can’t assume that everyone in our lives perceives love the same way. There were a few times this year where I had to realize someone wasn’t “receiving” my love because my perception of love was different from theirs. My love languages are Acts of Service and Words of Affirmation. For someone whose love language is Physical Touch, me telling them I appreciate them doesn’t hold as much weight as me giving them a hug when needed, or holding their hand while comforting them. I dove more into what love languages are and how to use them in relationships here.
Forgiveness REALLY is for you.
I’m sure we’ve all heard, or said, the phrase “Forgiveness isn’t for them, it’s for you.” This year taught me that that isn’t just a cliche statement thrown around. I posted a long post on my personal Facebook about someone who wronged me years ago popping back up as if we were cool and things were good. I quickly realized that this got to me so much because I had not TRULY forgiven her. Yeah, I said I did because it was years ago, and I didn’t want to drive myself crazy thinking about it, but I honestly hadn’t. If I had, I wouldn’t have spent the next week recalling memories that I would’ve rather kept in the back of my mind and really just being thrown off by it. Had I HONESTLY forgiven her, I’m pretty certain that encounter wouldn’t have gotten to me like it did.
Setting unrealistic goals and expectations for yourself does more harm than good.
This too was a hard lesson that my therapist had to teach me. I had so much I THOUGHT I wanted and needed to accomplish that I was setting unrealistic goals for myself and then beating myself up when I didn’t accomplish them. I had to do a 180 from living to accomplish things to actually living out of intent. Yes, it’s just fine to set goals for myself, but I had to learn to set goals for who I am right now and not who I’m trying to be because I’m not there yet. A part two of this lesson I had to learn was to not make changes to myself based on things I’m dreading. The easiest way my therapist made me understand this was by saying “Don’t put the ladder together DURING the fire, don’t wait to practice in crisis mode.”
The stages of grief aren’t linear.
The biggest blow of this year hands down was losing my grandmother. I love all my friends and family but my grandmother was the most important person in my life. Losing her was a pain that I had never experienced and as “prepared” as I was, I wasn’t. If I wasn’t in therapy this was definitely something that would’ve broken me. My therapist explained to me that everyone’s grieving process isn't the same and that the stages aren’t linear. This was the first time I had ever lost someone this close to me and I really didn’t know how to grieve. I honestly thought the stages were some sort of timeline that went in order from Denial to Acceptance and that I’d eventually get to accepting it and move on. But, a couple months passed and I went from Acceptance to being Angry all over again, or from Bargaining back to Denial. I was reassured that there’s no timeline to grief and the stages can happen multiple times and sometimes simultaneously. I’d also make a suggestion to add “Annoyance” as a stage. There were times I couldn’t explain how I was feeling other than to say I was annoyed.
Sometimes love isn’t enough.
I was actually dreading writing this one but in the spirit of remaining transparent I’ll write it and keep it brief. This was the second biggest blow of this year. Ending my relationship with my best friend and the man I thought I would eventually marry was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do. Long story short, sometimes love isn’t enough. As much as that sucks to realize, it just isn’t.
My support system is better than yours, don’t debate me.
This one I can keep short and sweet. My friends and family showed up and showed out for me this year. From losing my grandmother to starting my blog, to my breakup, etc. I’m forever grateful.
It is okay to seek help, in all facets of life. My independence is not threatened by this.
Man. This is a lesson I thought I had already learned until this year really made me swallow my pride and truly accept help. October especially was a really bad month mentally and emotionally and I was in the house literally all month. At one point I had to ask people to come and sit with me because I couldn’t be alone with my thoughts or feelings any longer. I pride myself on being a pretty independent person and stubbornly hate to admit when I need others. 2016 slapped that right out of me.
My transparency aids in the healing of others.
I ran away from the idea of starting my blog for a LONG time before I actually took the steps to start. I’m so glad I did because the outpour of love, support, and encouragement I’ve gotten thus far is beyond amazing. The private messages that I’ve gotten telling me I’ve changed a life, or motivated someone to finally go to therapy or to open up about their mental illness, and so on and so forth make it all worth it. Some days I’m like “okay this is too much, I don’t need to put this out there”. Then I’m reminded of the one person, or twenty people, who need to know they aren’t alone and I continue.
More often than not, I’m in my own way.
Yet another tough one. I had to come to this realization a lot this year. “Get out of your own way Ashleigh. Nobody is holding you back but YOU. You haven’t done this or that because of YOU. You didn’t get that opportunity because of YOU. Get your sh*t together.”
My relationship with Christ is mine.
In 2015 I made the tough decision to stop attending church. Honestly too many things within the body of the church as a whole wasn’t sitting well with me.This unsettling feeling was affecting my relationship with Christ. Growing up in the church, being a PK, and having an entire family full of preachers, made attending church a big part of my existence. It still takes people close to me by surprise sometimes when I nonchalantly say I no longer attend church, and some immediately began to question my salvation or throw the word at me as IF this was an overnight decision. It took a conversation with one of my best friends to realize that my relationship with Christ doesn’t have to look like everyone else’s. I don’t know when or if I’ll join another church but when that time comes it will be the decision of myself and God.
Remember what makes your heart smile, and do those things often.
I wrote about what a heartsmile list is and where it came from here. I constantly have to remind myself (with the help of my therapist) to continually do things that make my heart smile. Having an off day? Check that heartsmile list. Bored? Check that heartsmile list. Exhausted from life? *whispers* Heartsmile list. Each session I have with my therapist she starts with “So what have you done for yourself lately?”
Happiness isn’t a destination.
A good friend of mine blogged about the pursuit of happiness and in the post was a quote that really stuck with me. “The pursuit of happiness is the source of all unhappiness”. Trying to focus on "getting to happy" was the main reason why I often was not. Happiness isn’t a final destination but a state of being. I can honestly say I am my happiest when I’m not focussing on “getting to happy”. I'm happiest when I'm actually actively doing things that make me happy.
I’m never going to feel like I have my sh*t together, and that’s okay.
Another honest moment with myself. I’m the laziest most ambitious person ever. I’m also an overachiever and SUPER hard on myself. I'll probably never feel like I have it all together and that is just fine. I don't have to have it all together. It keeps me striving to be a better version of myself, while still enjoying the present. Remembering to celebrate my accomplishments along the way.
This post ended up being longer than I intended. Overall I am forever grateful for the crazy year that was 2016 and the lessons it taught me. Can’t wait to see what 2017 in store.