“Well, now I’m DEFINITELY not doing a 10 year reflection” said the rebel inside me when it saw lots of 10 year photos and 2019 successes and achievements flying about on social media. “If everyone else is doing it then I’m not” it huffed! The reflector in me dropped its head coz really I wanted to, and of course, it was inevitable it would because I absolutely cannot help myself.
So once my rebel side had done its feet stamping for a bit, I eventually began my 10 year contemplation on a longish car journey. Very quickly I found myself sat with tears in my eyes.
“This last decade was the one where I lost myself” I told my husband ‘“and I’m not sure that I’ve fully found myself yet”. My wet eyes filled more and I staved off a full on tear off.
“No babes, you unravelled yourself”, he replied “You are the most you that you have ever been, and you know it”. My god, I love him! Because as much as I don’t always like to admit when he is right, he absolutely was right with this one. And he also knew that putting it back on me to acknowledge what I did already know to be true would stave off the potential sorry fest that might otherwise happen beside him. Darn, he’s good......
Looking back on the last 10 years, they did feel messy, disorganised, a bit all over the place and sporadic. Whilst I’d definitely done some amazing things, I felt so aware of the times when I really had no idea what the fuck I was doing or where the fuck I was going. So many times that I sat with my head in my hands not knowing how to move forward, where to go or what to do. Far too many times that I heard myself say to friends, my hubby or a therapist ‘I don’t know who I am anymore and I don’t know what I want for my life”. As someone programmed for vision, focus, forward motion and direction, that felt like being lost in the wilderness. It felt disorientating and often my only map and compass was knowing what I didn’t want to do, and who I didn’t want to be.
There’s a quote by Paulo Coelho that says “maybe the journey isn’t so much about becoming anything. Maybe it’s about un-becoming everything that isn’t really true so that you can be who you were meant to be in the first place’.
Well, that’s a process that sounds a bit challenging and maybe also a bit messy and disorientating too. Maybe it’s synonymous with being in your 40s, that you lose the trappings of everything that you think people have wanted you to be, and you truly become yourself. Is that mid-life crisis?? Maybe it just so happens to be what and when I needed to do. Whatever, I think I’m going to name my 2010’s as ‘The Great Unravel Years’!
I came into them fit as hell, in training for Ironman Austria on the back of a decade of being immersed in competitive sport. I’d not long finished a year long training in rehab pilates, and was delighted to be working with some of the most reputable physios in Scotland. My diary was filled to the brim with clients and I was a coach for the triathlonScotland performance squad. I was driven, on the go constantly, and if i didn’t have a goal then I didn’t know what to do with myself. I was doing a little bit of yoga here and there and I was hell bent on ‘achieving’ the pilates repertoire as soon as possible.
It’s fair to say that I entered the 2010’s feeling pretty darn good about where I was in life. I knew where i was going and I was hellbent on getting there. I without doubt realise now that I felt I had a point to prove to the world. The chase was on for the next success and the next achievement.
Ironically, I can’t now remember half the goals I set myself back in 2010 and I have no actual idea if I achieved many, or even any, of them. What I gained instead in a decade of getting older were things that I could never have planned for. I learned to feel, not just do. I learned the beauty of stillness. I learned to savour the sweetness of the tiny moments. The decade actually taught me about life, my relationships with the world, with others and with myself. I am not leaving the decade a different person, I’m leaving it as a wiser, more whole version of my true self. The high achiever unravelled and the artistic intuitive gradually stepped forward.
There are some real defining moments of the decade when I look back. Let’s call them the big ‘smack me in the face’ moments of change:
Crossing the finish at that Ironman and thinking ‘was that it, that wasn’t difficult’ and realising that I’d already undertaken the biggest challenge I’d ever take on - battling my mental health issues and getting out the other end alive. I got a ruddy big tattoo on my back a few months later as my own medal of achievement.
I know I am enough
Going home one day to tell my husband that I’d lost what I thought was the secure work I had and that I essentially had to start up again from scratch and hope that I could do it. He was full time uni, I was pretty much the sole earner. 1 month later I set up my own studio in the west end of Edinburgh and my diary quickly filled again.
I know I am resourceful.
Learning to snowboard. I’d always said I didn’t want to. In truth I was too scared. Laughing and laughing as I fell time over again and again and got back up and threw myself once more down the slippy slopes both feet tied into a board - WTAF!!! Oh the bruises!!!
I know I am determined.
Sitting on the side of Cairngorm mountain breaking my heart with my husband sitting beside me. I cried for such a long time, hard and heart breaking. When I thought I was stopped I went again. It just had to come out. Years and years of holding myself together and being scared of losing control.
I know I can lose control and still be loved.
My first panic attack. Lying on the floor of the kitchen not knowing how I could face the next minute never mind the next hour, day or week.
I know that feelings pass.
My last panic attack this year and bursting into laughter half way through it, laughing at myself and knowing I probably wouldn’t have these attacks anymore.
I know I am safe.
Kayaking underneath a waterfall in Doubtful Sound, New Zealand. Looking up at the water, seeing the sunlight through the water and feeling complete and utter serenity.
I know peace.
Standing up at an event and telling 40 people about the moment I almost died because of my past mental health problems. Feeling the shame leave me forever as people listened, cried, and held the space for me.
I know I am supported.
Losing 2 brother-in-laws and wondering what life is actually about.
I feel sad.
Standing up at my first lecture at Edinburgh University, beside my now dear friend, quaking in my boots as I taught over 100 Sports science undergraduates about eating disorders.
I am passionate.
Walking barefoot in the sand at Clachtoll in Sutherlandshire, never wanting to leave, feeling close to my father, his mother, my ancestors footsteps. Feeling it in the air and knowing it like a salmon knows where it must go back to.
I know home.
And then there are many many profound little moments over 10 years: as yoga, pilates and talking therapy soaked into my bones and enlightened me, as I spent time with friends and family and was really present with them, as I let myself relax, as I let myself love, as I laughed, cried, cringed with embarrassment, got myself frustrated, gave myself a shake, gave myself a break, learnt compassion (for others and for myself). 10 years of going through every emoji possible. 10 years of unravelling, 10 years of growth.
The Great Unravel Years taught me not to direct my compass to the externally driven path, but to direct it within, to listen and to feel my way forward. It’s no wonder I felt lost - I was learning to use a new tool and to harness a new skill. Feeling lost was all part of that lesson.
So I’m going forward into this next decade with no goals as such. I’m not pitching a 10 year plan, or making decisions about where I want to be this time in 2030 (shhhh, I said that year quietly). Instead, I’m setting some direction and I’m going forward with hopes and dreams. I hope to enjoy good health and happiness. I hope to travel to places I want to see. I hope to finish the qualifications that I’m doing as a psychotherapist. I hope to do good in this world. I hope to take a few more risks when I need to. I dream of a more peaceful world. I dream of creating a new treatment method for eating disorder recovery, I dream of seeing the cherry blossom in Japan and the northern lights. These name just a few.
And what I hope for you in whatever the decade ahead has in store, is that you experience life in its whole tapestry of colours and textures, but mostly that you appreciate yourself and all that you are.
Here’s to our human-ness in all its bloody marvellous messy glory.
Happy new year everyone.
CT <3 xx
I am Caroline Toshack. Movement is my passion, my mirror, my creative source and outlet. I am a teacher, educator, writer and coach.