Goodbye 2020. Hello 2021.

Each year at about this time I write a review of my year, in the spirit of practising what I preach, of seeing the good, even in the hard times, of expressing gratitude, tacking imposter syndrome, and practising pride, which rather than being one of the seven deadly sins, is all too often missing from our lives.

This year it seems even more important than usual. 2020 has been hard, as I have said many times, everyone has lost something. Some peoples grief is of course still very raw, as they have lost loved ones. For others of us it is about missed or wasted opportunities. There is a certain tenor on social media of describing 2020 as the lost year. I think, from a mental health perspective this can be quite dangerous. Yes, many of us have had our lives curtailed and proscribed. I expected to be in Lisbon this summer presenting at the World LGBT Psychology conference, instead a walk to buy take away coffee and a brownie proved to be my summer highlight. However, if we feel an entire year has only been about that which we have not done we can drift into the darkness of feeling like we have failed. Therefore I am encouraging everyone to make a list of their own 2020 highpoints and achievements. Remember, in the midst of a global pandemic, in one of the worst afflicted countries, simply seeing in 2021 alive is itself an achievement.

Spring.

This may seem like the longest year on record. As the joke says, the current date is March 298th. Back in the spring everything felt very different. I actually had a very busy spring planned, with a worry it was too busy. In February I presented at the Academic Archers conference in Reading. Whilst at the time I discussed the safety of travelling, resolved to wash my hands frequently, and was relieved to have a lift in a private vehicle, there was very much an air of “of course it will be OK”. I can say, with 100 % honesty, that I have rarely been so pleased with a decision. Three days of fun, friendship and academic (and otherwise) conversations about The Archers would sustain me many times over the coming months. It was in February that a life’s ambition was achieved too, with the publication of Non-binary Lives; An Anthology of Intersecting Identities, which included my chapter, Triremes and Battered Pineapples. As a small child I told everyone I wanted to be an author, I was not lying! You can read my review of the book here. Spring also saw me leading GSRD training for counselling students at John Moores University in Liverpool. It was really heartening to see the interest in, and desire to be genuinely inclusive. March was also meant to see me travelling to London to help “backstage” at the Pink Therapy conference. Fortunately Dominic Davies was far more far sighted than many in government, and with a months notice we moved the entire conference online, which I think we can all be damn proud of! It has also led to me consulting on a number of different events, who would have known that being a bit of a geek who was very familiar with zoom would have been so important in 2020!

Like Dominic I did not feel we needed an epidemiologist to tell which way the wind was blowing. This may have partially been because I actually lived in Taiwan during the Sars outbreak in the 90s. In early March I started moving my practice fully online, and in anticipation of the economic upheaval which might result from any lockdown, set out payment holidays etc. I thought I was able to anticipate what might happen next. I don’t think any of us could. I decided to keep a weekly journal on the blog during lockdown, which you can read here.

Summer

The world kept on turning, days lengthened, whilst the cities were silent, my village was full of socially distanced walkers, rainbows, and delightfully painted stones, just left at random to make a stranger smile. I continued working throughout the lockdown, and many times was so aware of the privilege, and huge importance of where I lived, it provided comfort, relief, distraction and nourishment daily.

In late spring/Early summer Pink Therapy did a ground breaking series of online webinars, Kink on Pink. As well as helping behind the scenes, I was very pleased to be able to co- present on Adult babies, a much maligned and misunderstood community.

As I pondered how therapy would look in a post lockdown/pre vaccination world, I realised I would not be returning to indoor face to face working in 2020, but that walking therapy would be relatively risk free. As someone who had been doing walking therapy for a number of years, I saw that many of my colleagues were reaching the same decision, but felt daunted by taking therapy outdoors. I started delivering my online outdoor therapy training in June, and over 100 people have now attended the workshops. I will be revising them in view of the new tiers, and putting them on again in 2021. It has been very rewarding getting email after email from counsellors who have attended saying “I saw my first walking therapy client today, and it was brilliant!”

Summer normally involves whizzing around the country attending Prides for me, and of course this year that was not happening. It was great though to be involved with Northern Pride as co-chair of United With Pride, and to be able to contribute to the LGBT Northern Social Groups Pride celebrations. Community has been so important for sustaining us all through the dark times this year. I am also very proud of my Newcastle frontrunners 5 k medal – all those socially distanced walks paid off!

Autumn

Those bright days of summer feel very far away right now. Living as I do in the North East of England we very quickly went into stricter rules than the majority of the UK. I think we are all exhausted, and at times perhaps even nostalgic for the first lockdown, when everything seemed so much simpler. However Autumn still had its own highlights. The Black Lives Matter movement had made me very aware of my need as an anti oppressive practioner to both challenge and educate myself, and so I attended the Black Trauma: When it Presents in the Therapy Room conference organised by the BME voices network. It was an incredibly important day, whose learning I am still to some degree processing but which I have already, to some degree, been integrating into my work. The moving of events online has made them so much more accessible, and it is learning that must not be lost once we can meet in person again. From 800 person webinars with Mick Cooper, TASHRA trainings on Kink, to self care workshops with Meg John Barker I have been able to go to a far wider, and more diverse set of events than in previous years, something I am incredibly grateful for. I even attended an online book launch, which was definitely a first!

The second series of Pink Therapy webinars – Non-Monogamy November took place in the Autumn, and I presented on swinging, and other consensual non monogamies which aren’t centred on romantic relationships. I will be writing up my notes from the workshop this weekend, and hope to research more in this often neglected, and misunderstood area.

Lastly I was incredibly proud to receive my advanced accreditation from Pink Therapy – this means that I have been judged to have made a significant contribution to the field of GRSD therapy.

Winter

This year at times has felt like a marathon, many of us will have stumbled, wondered if we will reach the finish line. Winter for me has been about rest, recuperation, and planning for 2021. Very little in my life will change until I, and the people I care about, are vaccinated. Then all the hugs which were so missed this year will be claimed. I have to look forward to 2021 with hope, with optimism, and with a belief that even as the sun goes down, and darkness covers us, so it rises again, and light is restored.

Finally I would like to thank all those who have walked alongside me this year, metaphorically holding each other up when we stumble, you know who you are, and the last word of thanks must go to my clients, who daily astonish me with their wisdom, strength and resilience. In many ways you helped me get through 2021 as much as you claim I helped you.

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