It's a new year. An idea was suggested at the last Sunday Assembly that there would be a facebook group on which people would post pictures each day of things for which they are grateful. I've signed up and started posting early. Celebrating our gratitude and the gratitude of others is a good idea. And in the spirit of that, here's a blog post filled with some of the things for which I am grateful.
2015 was unexpectedly hard for me, perhaps the hardest I've ever had. That is saying a lot given what's happened in previous years - not least 2013 and 2014 in which I came to terms with my gender, my precious faith fell apart, my dad's health deteriorated rapidly and my mum died of cancer. In 2015 my mental health has been worse than it has been for a very long time and there have been some awful times. Awful times. Many tears. Near despair. Meltdowns. Shutdowns. Sometimes very publicly. I am currently on four different waiting lists relating to different aspects of my mental health. But today I don't want to focus on the bad parts of the year because there has been so much good.
So. Some positives. There are many to choose from. These are just a few.
The process of reading and learning and of examining my entire life has been wild. It affects pretty much every aspect of how I see my life and of how I should seek to be living it in the future. And through the year I've found excellent people to read online and then met great people. That led in August to Autscape, a four day gathering/conference for autistic people. Such a wonderful time. My name badge from Autscape hangs by my bed.
Autism will affect the rest of my life. The hopes for this year include learning a lot more about it, seeking some training in how to help and educate others, to be involved with a network in Newcastle for support, advocacy, campaigning and education and to go back to university and study autism in an academic context. The hopes for the rest of my life are to live it more fully, as someone who can be wonderfully autistic rather than thinking she is a dysfunctional neurotypical. There will probably be many surprises.
I could write much about autism and my life, and I'm sure much will be written this year.
My faith has seen highs and lows and most of the time I don't particularly believe in a creator God-being. But church is still a home and the people there have stuck by me through everything - even the time where my mental health was such that I pulled out of leading worship half way through a service in which I was helping lead worship. I haven't been able to go back to that role or any other role. I am grateful for what Northern Lights MCC has been in my life for the last two and a half years.
Friends I didn't know a year ago.
The autistic friend who helped me accept that I might be autistic after all and helped me get to the point at which I had to face myself. She also got me to read the first of a series of books that I mention later. And I am grateful for her company, which is always relaxing because there is open encouragement to be who we are and to accept each other in all our perfect imperfections.
The wonderful Christian friend I met at an atheist gathering. She is so accepting and has encouraged me consistently to be myself, that it's okay to be me, and has encouraged me to explore creativity. And she tells me how I've helped her which is great to know.
The wonderful witch friend I met at a day singing Christian songs. Her company is relaxing and I just know whatever happens time with her won't be predictable. Case in point: The day I went for a walk in the country with her and ended up leading a pagan funeral for someone's dog.
The wonderful people who are a part of Autism In Mind, a charity based in Sunderland that does so much excellent work for autistic people and in campaigning and education.
Two of the Blue Babes. Wonderful people I met at Autscape. We started a little group to talk (and mainly text) and we've been in contact since. I hope to see them both before Autscape if I can. The cat pictured belongs to one of the Babes.
And last, but most definitely not least, the other member of the Blue Babes. Another wonderful person. We have become very close and she is massively precious to me. I am extremely thankful that we met and that we have become what we have become. I guess I may be writing more about us through the course of this year. There have been quite a few surprises in the last year but she is the biggest surprise I've had and I am grateful to be surprised in this way. We love each other so much and are both incredibly thankful that we have each other and can share what we share.
This is Portal. She made Portal for me. Portal is named partly because we can't be together much but can be connected by a Portal. Portal is also named after the Archbishop of Canterbury.
Hearts. To represent us. Together. We love.
One of us is blue. The other is purple.
Just a few positives. I could talk of my home, my wife, my child, the way people were understanding when my mental health stopped me doing things that I could really have done with doing. I could talk of Shape Note singing and the joy of that terrible noise! I could talk of living in Newcastle which is a place that's been so good to me. I could talk of playing in the sunshine in the water fountains of the Olympic Park when visiting one of the Blue Babes.
I could talk of encountering Broadacre House, of being able to help with the work for refugees - if only for a brief period of good mental health, of the mindfulness groups I've been to there. And there will be a Broadacre post sometime - with some of the photos I took wandering round the place a few months ago. I reckon there will be more unexpected Broadacre things in my life this year. Here's a collaborative picture a few of us made in a session during the Peace Conference there in September.
I could talk of drinking tea in Tea Sutra. There was a lot of tea drinking in 2015.
I could talk of the joy of having a concessionary bus pass. The joy of being able to get to the coast easily, not having to buy a ticket, and seeing sights like this.
I could talk of the way I endlessly find new music to enjoy. Of how much I like my noise cancelling headphones. I could talk about how 2015 was the year in which I made my first steps into playing with art and how it looks like that will develop this year. Art is freedom. The future can be freedom too. This is my first art attempt - made for a friend's birthday.
I could talk of spirituality and the exploration in the last year. Or of the free meditation group, Soul Food Spaces, that I have been introduced to in the autumn. I could talk about an incredible series of children's books, Skulduggery Pleasant. (If you haven't read those books, read those books) And of the first post-Skulduggery book by Derek Landy and how fun the signing evening was when we got him to sign two full sets of his books.
I could talk about how my hormone treatment as a transgender woman is progressing well. I could talk of how I was able to see a friend again who I hadn't seen since 1988. I could talk about the fact I've taken more photographs in the last four months than perhaps in the previous forty-four years. I could talk about how we replaced our very collapsed sofa with a lovely, comfy three piece suite, which cost us £25 plus delivery.
I could talk of so many things. That's not an exhaustive list.
Yes, 2015 has been one of the most difficult of my life. But there is so much good. And today I choose to focus on all that is good. And a year that starts out surprisingly very different to how the last one began. There are a lot more challenges.
But I firmly believe that the future will be better than the past.