Every year I write a post where I review my year. It is a form of journaling exercise. I realised several years ago that I write deeper stuff if I plan to share it. The exercise has several purposes for me: to give me a deep reflective experience, to give me a chance to review and celebrate my achievements (because I tend to focus only on what I’m not doing otherwise), and finally, to share experiences and stories in the hope that it might resonate, and help my readers feel supported, gain insight and support growth. I also feel that sharing tough stuff can help others feel less lonely. I know that many of us, myself included, have a tendency to believe that others have got their shit together and that we are the only ones struggling, but this is simply not true.
This is a long and tough read. You might want to make yourself a hot drink and set aside 10 minutes to read and digest it.
2022 has been a year of extreme challenges and painful growth for me.
I’m really glad this year is over. It’s been a year of immense transformation and growth but it’s been hard. Really hard. As psychologist Naomi Holdt explained:
“No one I know began this year on a full tank. Given the vicious onslaught of the previous two years (let’s just call it what it was) most of us dragged ourselves across the finish line of 2021… frazzled, spent, running on aged adrenaline fumes…We crawled into 2022 still carrying shock, trauma, grief, heaviness, disbelief… The memories of a surreal existence…” (read the whole post here).
The biggest theme for me in 2022 was having to adapt to a constant level of change and challenges and struggle to adapt and balance my needs, the needs of my family, and my work. All year long, I felt that I was dancing with chaos.
I’m going to share about what’s been happening in my family first because that has been the most prominent thing for the year.
The last couple of years were extra hard for my family, because my youngest child suffered from increasingly severe anxiety and mental health challenges. In February 2022, my youngest was diagnosed with ASD (Austism Spectrum Disorder). I felt both relieved and upset when I heard the clinical psychologist give the diagnosis. Relieved because school had been treating us like we were making a big deal out of nothing. I did wonder at first whether spending so much money on a private diagnosis would be worth it, but as I discovered, you only get taken seriously once your experiences are ratified by a health professional.
After the diagnosis, we started the epic fight with the education and health systems in order to get the support we needed. This fight has made my doula fights with maternity care feel like a Disney movie in comparison. The school not only did nothing to help, but also threatened us with fines for non attendance. As we felt powerless through lack of specialist knowledge, we hired a private SEND practitioner, Laura, to support us. I call her a SEND doula. Thanks to her intervention (very similar to doula support in terms of reminding people of their rights and quoting the law at the system) from March onwards, the school paid for private tutors to provide education at home.
Supported by Laura, we started the process of applying for an EHCP. An EHCP, also known as Education, Health and Care plan, is a legal document which describes a child or young person’s special educational needs, the support they need, and the outcomes they would like to achieve. This document is supposed to get the local authority (LA) to pay for specialist support or provision. As the government has been underfunding education as well as healthcare for many years, the LA simply doesn’t have enough money to support all the SEND children in the area, the local authority does everything they can to make parents fail their EHCP application, or to downplay the issues. We started writing the application in March, submitted it in August, and got our first draft application early December. I spent over 30h (including 5h in meetings with my SEND advocate), to make sure all deliberate mistakes and omissions in the document had been corrected.
I have a PhD, I am lucky to be able to afford the support of a private advocate. I am also self-employed and therefore able to take the time off to focus on getting this done. I have the support of a husband who is employed and has a salary. Yet I still found this process extremely challenging and difficult. It was like being buried in paperwork, as well as learning to navigate something you know nothing about. I am so angry when I think about what it must feel like for less privileged parents.
My advocate tells me that we may have to take the LA to tribunal. A recent article shows that the LA decision was only upheld in 3.7% of tribunal cases, which means that it was found in over 96% of them that the LA had acted unlawfully. But tribunals take time (many months), and LA saves money this way by not having to pay for what a SEN child needs to attend education whilst they wait for the appeal.
The fight is nowhere near finished, but at least I managed to get this mammoth task done, and this meant that I could rest during the holiday season, ready to taking the fight back on in January (I’ve now just finished reviewing the second draft, and expecting the final document any day).
Alongside this process, I visited many specialist schools, and after a lot of heartache, thankfully found an amazing small school that feels perfect. We were able to access it because I had put us on the waiting list a year before. As you can imagine all of these schools are massively over subscribed. After visits and try-out sessions, this school offered us a place, pending government funding. This is for a child who started to be unable to function in mainstream secondary school in early 2021. This is how long it has taken, and this isn’t finished yet. The place isn’t until next September.
Now the battle is to get the funding, as this school isn’t cheap (22k a year). At first I thought this sum was mind blowing and that there was no way we’d get it funding. However, whilst researching other specialist schools locally, I realised that some of them cost as much as 66k per year!
As well as battling the education, things got bad enough for my child’s mental health to finally get a CAMH referral, something we had been asking for 2 years. The hardest part when things got really bad was discovering that we had nowhere else to go, as even private psychiatrists who charge eye watering amounts of money, had weeks or months long waiting lists. Despite the referral being successful, we waited for so long for it to be actioned, that I had to write several strongly worded complaints to get the support we needed.
Since September we have been under the care of 3 different CAMH teams. There has been an average of 4 to 5 medical appointments every week. Managing this, alongside the private tutors, the paperwork, the constant chasing and complaints, has felt more than a full time job.
The enormous amount of time and energy I put behind this, however, is paying off, and things are improving slowly and I am cautiously hopeful.
We also got a puppy in February in February 2022, as part of a process to support my child’s wellbeing, as she reacts very positively to animals. She had been begging for a dog for years, but it wasn’t possible with the unpredictable nature of being on-call. I hadn’t realised how much hard work raising a puppy would be. It is quite similar to having a new baby, and I blogged about it here. Whilst the dog added a lot of joy to our lives, it also added a lot of stress which made an already challenging family life harder. The dog is now 1 and a lot calmer and easier to manage, and he is proving to provide a lot of calming and grounding presence, as well as joy for the whole family.
I feel that the theme for the entire year was teaching me to become comfortable with the unpredictable.
My own challenges
It’s perhaps no surprise that I have found this year extremely tough. For most of the year, I struggled with a sense of overwhelm, where even the simplest tasks felt insurmountable. By the Autumn my mental health was in tatters. To top it all up, in November we all got very ill with the dreaded virus, and I ended up having to care for my family whilst being very unwell myself. It really brought home the idea that it’s not just postpartum women who struggle in the absence of community support, it’s all of us.
Hitting rock bottom meant that one can only go up. It was then that I realised that I needed the kind of help that the NHS simply couldn’t offer (all my GP offered was antidepressants, and they really didn’t agree with me), I started taking matters into my own hands.
The things I’m grateful for
At some point in 2022 amidst the challenges I started saying that my child was my guru. If you have ever read the book The Conscious Parent by Dr Shefali Tsabary, you’ll know all about the amazing stories about how our children challenge our beliefs and make us grow. It was because of my child’s ASD diagnosis that I discovered that I have ADHD (more on that later), then that my other child has it too, as well as likely being ASD, (and I’m also certain that my husband is ASD too). It has meant another fight to try and get myself and my son diagnosed (I am doing it through the right to choose route, which is supposed to be quicker than the two year NHS waiting list). My child’s ASD diagnosis ignited a discovery journey on understanding neurodivergence, and meeting people I never knew existed. The knowledge acquired supporting my daughter meant that I knew who to approach to help my son, and what to ask for from the onset. Thankfully, my son’s school has been a lot more supportive and immediately put some support in place for him without having to wait for the diagnosis.
Mostly, the way I see it, my daughter’s ASD has been a gift. After I discovered my ADHD, I read a lot, talked to people, and joined groups, as well as trying various supplements and medication. I am very grateful for discovering this side of myself, because it means that I have been able to understand myself better, and become kinder to myself. I used to beat myself up about not doing enough and procrastinating, but now I understand a lot more about how my brain works and why certain tasks are harder to do for me than for neurotypicals. Many of you have told me they found my sharing helpful so I plan to share more about my ADHD journey.
I hit an all time low in October, and after trying and hating antidepressants, I started microdosing with a plant medicine. Within a week I started to feel hope, and at times some tiny moments of joy again.
In the Autumn, I started working with The Aspie Coach, who specialises in supporting neurodivergent families, and I have found working with her both supportive and transformative. It means that not only am I kinder to myself, but also able to understand a lot more about the dynamics in my family, and manage things better.
I embarked on a course called Doodle your Emotions, and I loved this so much I am now enrolled on the year long course. You may have seen my doodles on social media. They work better for me than journaling. I find the drawing process both fun and healing, therefore it makes doing it pleasurable and fun, as well as giving me a unique chance to look at what’s going on in my head. It makes me feel like I am my own therapist. I have also realised that I can use it to draw people’s energy, combining my Reiki and energy work training with art. I may be offering a handful of sessions to try out a new process where I draw your energy as you bring something that is bothering you to the table.
Here are some doodle showing the main emotions I felt in 2022
My husband and I had two family constellations sessions. Family constellation is something that a therapist uses in order to gain insight and information into a client’s family history, dynamics, and possible dysfunctional patterns. I have worked with this modality since 2019 and found it mind-blowingly powerful. After the second session, combined with the doodling work, the plant medicine, and bringing what was unearthed to my coach, I finally felt that the very heavy burden I had been carrying all year was put down, and the relief was immense.
Here are some doodles representing my feelings then
Finally, this year is also the first time in my life where I am in a community of people who do not shy away from you when you go through hard times. It is also the first community where how much I give is really seen and returned in spades. In the autumn my friends organised a healing intervention for me, giving me the rebozo wrapping ritual I had taught them and I felt incredibly loved and supported. It was a defining moment for me, learning to receive (and realise how difficult this had been until now for me). I talk about this in my blog post ADHD and the kindness boomerang.
When I was ill at the end of the year, I reached out to those friends for help. It felt vulnerable to do this, but I couldn’t leave the house and didn’t even have enough energy cook, and my kids and husband were in bed. This brought home a new dimension to understanding the message in my book, Why Postnatal Recovery Matters, where I explain that asking for help in the postpartum isn’t a weakness. My friends were just amazing. One took my dog for a week, another delivered me homemade soup and stew, and many friends offered similar help. It really warmed my heart in a dark time.
In 2022 despite the challenges I kept my weekly practises of shamanic drumming at dawn in the woods, wild swimming, and 5 rhythm dancing. Whilst I wasn’t always feeling it, these kept me grounded amidst the chaos.
This hasn’t been a mild year workwise either, because there have been so many changes, and fluctuations, and I have struggled to be comfortable with that. And, as you can imagine after reading the above, most of my time and energy have been directed towards my family.
In April I attended my last birth as a doula after 10 years working in this role. The decision to stop this work was mostly driven by an inner knowing that I was no longer meant to do this, and that until I stopped I wouldn’t be able to fulfil my new calling. My new calling is to help people lead from the heart instead of the mind, and look out for new offerings from me as this unfolds. Other factors impacted the decision to leave : the pandemic had made this demanding job even harder, the level of fight required to support women in a broken system was harming me, and the difficult circumstances in my family made the demands of being on-call too stressful. I wrote a long blog post about why I decided to leave doulaing behind.
After I stopped working as a doula, rather than feeling relieved, I felt a lack of direction and a sense of loss. I entered what I called the blank slate stage, or the void, and I shared several blog posts about how I felt throughout the year. I felt like Indiana Jones in the Quest for the Holy Grail, having to take a leap of faith and step over the void for the bridge to appear. Thankfully, having been there before, I was able to recognise the process for what it was. This doesn’t mean that it wasn’t uncomfortable, but at least it gave me a sense of acceptance.
Despite all this, amazingly I still managed to keep my business afloat. Apart from towards the end of November when the illness combined with the EHCP review process meant that I had to drop the ball completely. Until I wrote stuff down, in my mind 2022 felt that I had not done much work wise. Yet I achieved the following:
- I earned a similar amount of money as the previous tax year
- I launched 3 new online courses, bringing the number of courses I offer to 5. I now have over 500 students from 10 different countries, and the feedback is amazing.
- Held 5 free webinars, attended by around 100 people or more each
- I published 40 blog posts and over 200 posts on social media.
- I was interviewed for several podcasts and instagram lives, asked to train NHS midwives, and invited to lead sessions in other people’s courses
- My book was published in German.
- One of my videos on Youtube had 13k views.
A lot of this success was due to having worked with authentic marketing coach George Kao and learn to create something that feels both true and sustainable.
Before 2020 my main source of income was face to face workshops, which I loved but it meant a lot of energy, travelling, and time away from home and my family. My 52 year old self craves a quieter life. Creating online courses not only means that I can do what I love the most, which is sharing empowering knowledge with others, it offers transformation to professionals and the families they serve, and most importantly it means that it frees up my time to create more content, articles, and courses to share.
In 2022 my biggest business lesson was discovering that I do not have to hustle or work every hour of the day to earn a living. As an ADHD person I tend to focus only on what I’m not doing and beat myself up constantly about this. Writing achievement lists is something I need to do to counter that. I write a Ta-Da list at the end of each week to help reset my mind. Even before writing the list above I kind of felt that I hadn’t done much in 2022.
2022 was a year of intense discomfort and tremendous personal growth for me. But is growth ever comfortable? As a wise mentor once told me, if it was comfortable, you would stay where you are.
I like to choose a word for the year. If you’d like to have your own word of the year for 2023, I love healer Rebecca Wright’s Word of the year guided journey.
My word for the year in 2022 was opening. This year I’ve chosen a word for the year which is a quality that I’d like to embody. In a session with my coach in December 2022 I had a sense that I had been having a tight ball of control where my heart is. Releasing it gave me a felt sense of what it feels like to be expansive and limitless. I want to embody this feeling and state of being in 2023, so my word for this year is Expansion.