Louise O'Neill: I'm going to look back and focus on the things I did achieve

Louise O'Neill: I'm going to look back and focus on the things I did achieve

The week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve is a strange one.

The lethargy brought on by too many turkey sandwiches and mince pies, the disorientation caused by sleeping late and staying in your pyjamas until noon.

Binging Netflix and fighting with annoying siblings over the last coffee crème in the tin of Roses, even though everyone knows that only monsters and serial killers like the coffee crèmes.

The arrested development that kicks in as soon as you return to your childhood home, reverting to a sulking teenager when your parents tell you to clean up after you, oh my god, MAM.

The tight smile when you see the boy you dated at 17 on Stephen’s Night, and an even tighter one when you bump into the man you lost your virginity to.

As the days pass and December 31 fast approaches, you can’t help but start to think about your life, to assess where you are, to wonder where you’re going.

It can be especially difficult if you don’t feel completely satisfied with your circumstance at present — if you want a relationship but you’re still single, if you didn’t get the promotion in work that you hoped you had, if you promised yourself this would be the year you’d travel, join a gym, leave your partner, have a child, start a band... and now it’s nearly the end of 2019, and you have to admit defeat.

I look at the resolutions I had for this year, what I hoped to achieve, and many of them did not come to pass.

I’d hoped to buy my first home but constantly found myself too busy to dedicate enough time to the process of house hunting and mortgage applications.

I’d wanted to try my hand at writing my first play, and as of today, I haven’t even made a start.

I had wanted to be kinder to myself and I’ve still struggled with my tendency to be critical if things fail to live up to my perfectionistic standards. (I also wanted to win the EuroMillions and become an eccentric recluse but you’ll be shocked to hear that didn’t come to pass either.)

I could look at that list and call myself a failure but I don’t think it would be helpful to do so. I know very few people who are motivated by criticism.

We all perform better in an environment where we feel supported rather than judged, and we must learn to talk to ourselves in a way that feels encouraging rather than punitive.

I’m going to look back at my 2019 and I will focus on the things I did achieve.

I didn’t write my first play but I did write and edit my fifth novel, a book I’m very proud of.

Out of nothing, came something; a world and a story and characters, and I worked as hard as I possibly could to make it a good one.

Louise O'Neill: I'm going to look back and focus on the things I did achieve

It’s been over a year since I started going to gym classes regularly and I am consistently surprised by how much stronger I feel, and how that strength tastes so much better than ‘skinny’ ever did.

I have made huge strides in my recovery, settling into a relationship with my body and food that gets more comfortable all the time.

I went on holidays, reminding myself that everyone deserves to take a break from work and I don’t need to be a martyr.

2019 began in difficult circumstances, when my grandmother fell ill in January and died a week later, and I have carried the loss of her with me every day since.

And yet still, I got up and I went to my desk; still I wrote, still I went to therapy and the gym. I became closer with my mother, making a choice to value her kindness and humour, to make new memories.

I didn’t fall apart, and I am proud of that too.

I know that most people reading this column will have been stopped in their paths by obstacles, burdens that will have felt almost impossible to shoulder — death or sickness, a job lost or a lover left.

And to you I say, well done for making it through. I hope next year will be a better one.

As we head into a brand-new decade, I’m taking some time to reflect upon what I want my 2020 to look like.

I have professional ambitions, goals I want to achieve, but more important is what I want to put out into the world.

I want to be kind to everyone I meet, remembering that they are fighting a battle I know nothing about.

I want to redefine ‘success’, because I have come to believe that if I am enjoying life and making happiness a priority, then that is a life well lived.

I have hopes for Ireland too; hopes that we can withstand the dangerous wave of right-wing populism that is sweeping the rest of Europe.

We are a crossroads in this country, and it is a crucial one.

I hope that in 2020, we will look at the marginalised people in our society — those who are homeless, travellers, immigrants, and asylum seekers — and treat them with the compassion and decency we would want to be treated with if we found ourselves in similar situations.

We are more alike than we are different.

Choose kindness, this year and always.

Louise Says...

READ: Royals by Emma Forrest.

I have been in love with Emma Forrest’s writing since her 2011 memoir, and her latest novel doesn’t disappoint.

Set in ’80s London, it tells the story of Stephen, a shy, working class boy who wants to be a fashion designer.

His life is changed when he meets the dazzling Jasmine, a troubled heiress.

It’s such a great read.

LISTEN: Up to 90.

This excellent podcast, hosted by comedians Emma Doran and Julie Jay, is like listening in as two of your funniest friends put the world to rights.

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