A few years ago, my friend and I were leaving school and walking to the bus stop – we were having one of our daily post-school debriefs. I walked that walk twice a day, every day, for two years. The walk is ultimately one long road between the school and the bus stop, a long road down which I have had many a conversation with many different people…
Questions Without Answers
Each month, Olivia Scher chooses a personal question to ask herself, discussing her ideas, thoughts and feelings about life and the world around us. In exploring a range of topics she dares herself to be brutally honest in the pursuit of insight acquired through questions without answers.
A few years ago, my friend and I were leaving school and walking to the bus stop – we were having one of our daily post-school debriefs. I walked that walk twice a day, every day, for two years. The walk is ultimately one long road between the school and the bus stop, a long road down which I have had many a conversation with many different people. However, on this occasion by the time we reached the bus stop, I had had one of the most memorable conversations of my life. She asked me how I was, so I told her how I was feeling. I was feeling really bad, I was not in a good place at this time of my life, and she suggested to me that maybe I was depressed. And I was. And I knew I was, but I hadn’t chosen to use that word yet. She said to me ‘I don’t know about you, but I like labels.’
I like labels.
I don’t think I had ever thought about labels in a positive light before that conversation. Many times, I had heard many people dismiss the act of labelling things as being restrictive, as it often can be. However, in that moment, suddenly and clearly, I could see the power in pointing at something and calling it out for what it is. Simply labelling it. To this day, I too like labels. I like to give something a name, describe something for what it is – so I can look at it properly. Some labels I do not like, some I love. By no means are they perfect, but the act of labelling something remains important for me.
There is no one label for this year, that’s for sure. For myself, this year has been important, boring, quiet, empty, emotional, empowering, regretful, funny – much like every other year. But of course, there are some very special things about this year that stick out. We’ve been stuck in time. Many things that I want to do in my life have been put on hold indefinitely, and I have no idea when I will get the chance to have them back. It’s frustrating. And sometimes, it’s okay. My power to do what I want has been stripped back, but my power to label something, to locate it and reflect on what it is to me – this remains secure. And somehow, right now, that’s one of the most important things I can hold on to, the act of using language to describe the world around me. I love language. I love to talk. I love to listen. I am a good listener – this is a label that is often applied to me. And when I was listening to my friend that day when we walked from our school to the bus stop, as much I personally needed a label for what I was going through, when I truly listened to her, what I heard is that she was inviting me to be comfortable with the truth. Whatever it was, positive or negative, challenging or easy, this was my invitation. Since then I have consciously tried to extend the same invitation to everyone in my life. But most importantly, I have extended that invitation to myself. I’m becoming increasingly okay with the truth, and I’m also okay with not being okay with the truth – if that is the truth. And my truth this year is uniquely my own, as is yours, as is everyone else’s.
Of course, many people up and down the country have a long and legitimate list of reasons to declare 2020 as one of the worst years of their lives, one of the worst years in recent history, one of the worst years globally, indisputably.
For me, perhaps surprisingly, this has been one of the best years of my life, despite the pandemic. Not because I have done lots of new things, or gone on great holidays, or got every decision right, but because I have become more myself. At the end of this year, I am where I am supposed to be. And that’s not been true for every year of my life, and I’m okay with that, but this year it is true. And as we approach a new year, as much as I am celebrating the fact that this has been a good year for me, I’m also celebrating the fact that I have the power to describe it in a way that is true. Without description, without language – both the best moments and the worst moments of my life would be much poorer. And whilst this may not have been a year where I have done as much as I thought I might, I have said a lot, and my life is so much richer as a result.
I’ve found that through describing my world and declaring my personal truths, I have been empowered during a time when so many of us have felt powerless. And each year that passes I am learning how to use the power of words to shape my emotions, to frame my experience, to bring order out from chaos… to shape the chaos.
If I can walk into the next year knowing, then I can start finding what I’m looking for. And that is where I want to be at the end of any year, whichever label I choose to give it.
The year I had that conversation with my friend was one of the worst years of my life – if not, the worst. She gave me permission to say that out loud, and invited me to speak my truth, and I hadn’t even known this was what I needed. I can label that year as the worst year because it’s useful to me and ultimately it helped me to move on and let the year go. And I can’t fully let something go if I have never fully held on to it. And to fully hold onto something you need to fully know what it is. Through describing it I know what that year was for me, just as I know what this year has been. And despite the fact that life back then was pretty much normal – unlike this year – I am comfortable with just how bad that year was.
But I wonder, how much worse might it have been had I not been able to say it out loud?
(To an old friend, thank you)
Header image via Unsplash