Its been a while since I felt the urge to write. This year as been brutal. An exercise in survival and self discovery aimed to test my physical and mental capacities to the very limits. Now I have time to reflect I am pleased to say, I survived…in fact I am so incredibly proud to have thrived.

I’m ending the year in much better shape mentally than at the beginning (physically I am in worse shape than ever before but I forgive myself, and know what needs to be done when the time is right).

I have created a purpose in life for myself. ‘Style By Jess’ uses every skill I possess to give a direction to my life and is self governing. Working as a hairdresser has been the most difficult job I have ever had, physically it is hard, and mentally in the beginning it required a level of self confidence that some days, I just didn’t possess. Seven months on and I can finally start to see the difference, the returning customers who despite the odd cut ear have returned ‘because I like you’. My hands no longer shake so much, and the rising anxiety at the start of every day is dissolving. I am gaining valuable experience every day making the job easier to perform, instincts are starting to take over rather than regurgitated formulas and learnt information. I have also created a ’boutique’ of hats for sale which have sold, and which keeps me creative during the quiet days.

My proudest achievement this year has been the creation of Toby’s Chair. Being able to give haircuts to Mind clients for free has allowed me to continue to be involved with mental health education. It has also coincided with overcoming some major personal historical hurdles. The launch of the project was set for the 15th anniversary of my brother’s suicide in October and allowed me to share a very difficult day with loved ones and feel supported as I made the decision to let go of the grief. It marked an important turning point for me and has allowed me to look forward to the future. The evening was made all the more incredible, by the impromptu speech my eldest son made, in front of a crowded room on the importance of men expressing their emotions. If ever a parent had the feeling of smugness in their parenting, it was then.

This Christmas I wobbled a little on Christmas Eve, so much to do and feeling the pressure of being an exhausted single parent, ultimately the keeper of my children’s memories. I felt inadequate and sorry for myself, but soon realised my children are understanding of me and have lived with me all their lives. They know the pressure I feel and now meet me with their lowered expectations and declarations of ‘this is the best Christmas ever’ when presented with a chocolate orange…and a brisk early morning walk. For the first time in 24 years my ex husband and I didn’t share a Christmas dinner together, the threads of our connected lives now live through our children and we make our own separate ways in the world. It was difficult but necessary to make the break. I am happy in the knowledge that my children now get to spend holiday time with others that love them, the responsibility is shared.

All of the above would not have been possible without one thing in my life.

Unconditional love.

This year more than ever in my life I have started to feel a sense of belonging. An understanding from those around me that I am ok to be me. Being me has included having a massive panic attack and collapsing in the school playground surrounded by people and the feeling that I was crushed suffocating from claustrophobia and responsibility. I was immediately surrounded by friends who held me, talked me through breathing and ultimately made me feel ok to have made a giant tit of myself. After that experience they carried on as normal, checked I was ok but acted as though it wasn’t odd or strange behavior, they just understood. Being me, has meant suffering suicidal thoughts, sometimes being very withdrawn, depressed and anti social but I have not been allowed to become isolated, I have been cared for through the worst of times, listened to and gently coaxed back into the world. My children have been protected and cared for. Being me used to mean never really liking myself, being afraid to be alone, desperate to be liked and understood but I now feel a change.

Being me now means accepting that I am made up of all my experiences. I have been shaped and molded by grief, loneliness, rejection and pain but I am also the product of so much love, triumph, creative achievement and ultimately by the connections I have made with the people in my life. Knowing that I can be me without the people I love judging me, with holding love or rejecting me has made me so unbelievably strong. The difference within me now is recognising who is worthy of my time, no longer feeling apologetic in the presence of people with their own insecurities. I can see those that struggle with themselves and how they push that difficulty on top others. I have so much time for those that can admit to their flaws but no longer have time for those that blame others. I now feel a peace deep inside that has never been there before, where the black hole used to reside there is a light starting to shine, sparks of real joy and memories that make me smile. The past recedes and there is only love going forward in a community, with friends that feels like home.

I end this year with a much stronger identity, knowing where I belong, where I am heading and feeling proud that I had the strength to recognise that I needed to make changes.

Through adversity to the stars we shape our lives in the way we choose, do we dwell in insecurity and doubt or strive and fight for real happiness with forgiveness, acceptance and love for ourselves.