I haven’t written anything in a while. There was little time to write, and always something that kept me from siting down and taking the time. But now I feel like, as 2016 has been an amazing year full of positive and negative experiences and many changes as well as  several sometimes challenging first times. Writing this  recap of 2016 helped me to see the bigger picture and put things into perspective.

The idea to create a complementing video formed after I got reminded that years time ago I made slideshows of childhood pictures for a friend. I remembered how I enjoyed making those, and putting together this video with some favorite moments as memory triggers added to my writing. The process of writing and creating this video is for myself, but the content is actually for you, all you wonderful people who make my life so much more richer and colorful, for whose presence I am grateful, and to whom I want to give back with a small insight into my journey the last year.

I’ll just put the video here, enjoy watching 🙂

 

 

Please be aware that the rest of this post will be quite a long read. You can stop right now, but if you would like some more personal insights, please read on.

So, after you maybe watched all these moments of my year 2016 I wonder what you think about my life… my guess is you might think I am a lucky, happy person living a sunny life. Maybe you feel happy for me, or a tiny little bit envious. And to be honest, my life is great, I’m loving it and I know I am a very lucky person. But it is also not just as it looks in the pictures. When you read on you might get an idea why.

Putting so much personal information out here is a challenge, I’ve never tried to be that open. I’m rather introverted and keep things to myself. Time to be raw :p this is scary, a little bit of soul stripping, but I’ll do it. Just to see what it resonates. And to show there is often more than one can see on the outside, from all the pretty pictures and projections of our lives to the people around us. This applies to every person whom I had the chance to get to know a bit better… so be mindful when looking at other people and their lives, things might be very different than you think. And besides, every person has 99 problems 😉

What do I appreciate most in 2016?

2016 is a year when I am appreciating the people in my life ever more. My mother’s Parkinson’s got worse, and my father is struck with an  ongoing depression for years now. Seeing and helping them cope with their lives and disabilities, seeing their example of being strong and trying and fighting each in their own way makes me believe in perseverance, that challenges create growth, and that one can find something positive in any situation.

I also appreciate my wonderful sisters for their emotional support and for always welcoming me, just being people with whom I feel at home. I had several bad stretches in 2016 and I would never have made it through like I did without them, all the shared moments that help me root down. And there are my niece and nephew, who make me see the amazingness of children growing up and learning and exploring the world. I am also grateful for my long time friend and partner Nils – I could not wish for a truer friend.

And then there are my friends here in Berlin, and my close dancing friends and acquaintances. I have met so many wonderful people in 2016, it is so hard to believe. And I love that for the first time in my life I feel I am somewhat integrated, that I can give to all these people, contribute to their lives, and that there is a small net that can support me when things get tough. And I started slowly to learn to trust that net instead of always trying on my own.

And what about travelling?

Travelling in 2016 helped expand my horizon quite a bit. I was fortunate that – next to the West Coast Swing events I traveled to – I could go travel in Iran for 3 weeks, spend a weekend to Riga, and go for a week to Nice and the Cote’d Azure.
Especially the long trip in Iran left a very strong impression on me. I rarely have felt such a huge discrepancy between the way a country is portrayed by the media from the outside and the experiences with the actual people living there. I met some of the kindest and most open and curious people there.

And while Iran was exciting and challenging on many levels, spending the week in Nice was a relaxed experience. I had no expectations about it and found it such a great place to be – sea, sun, mountains, great roads for cycling, good food and wine, beautiful landscape… a place that is good for the soul in many ways.

So far sounds great – now what was so tough in 2016?

There were several things that didn’t go well for me in 2016. So far I haven’t reached my goal to figure out how to continue doing event photography at West Coast Swing events while not making any money with. I love doing the work, but it is taking up too much of my time, time I would need to earn money to support myself. I guess in the long run I will reduce shooting WCS events. But thank you everyone, who bought a picture or two off my website, and the event directors who are financially supportive of me. This is a challenge, both trying to make a business out of it and thinking about not doing it anymore.

Work wise, 2016 was a mixed bag. I quit my job to the end of the year over being unhappy of being underpaid, overworked, with little chance for development, little perceived appreciation and my requests for changes not honored by my workplace in over a year. All of these were structural issues, not personal, that’s why it was actually quite hard to quit. On the day I handed in my notice I felt like ending a relationship. I love working with my colleagues, and I loved the culture and parts of my job there, but I could not get myself to continue under said conditions. And I did not have the energy to make it work. Well, and the mixed bag because now I’m starting out as a self employed User Experience consultant, and the next year will show how well that will turn out 🙂 I’m happy I can do this, I had always wanted and always thought I couldn’t do that. And now I’m accompanying my first client on a big project, and it is exciting and I actually feel more involved and caring about my work than before.

The toughest in 2016 was that my health and well being were not really on my side. 2016 started with severe anemia from heavy blood loss and a small surgery that kept me immobile for three weeks at the start of 2016. Around summer I got visited by a heavy episode of depression, experiencing strong dissociation and reliving trauma. November my immune system needed three weeks to fight a virus infection, and in December I got sick with atypical pneumonia which went on for 6 weeks until I finally figured out what might be wrong. Being sick and not able to use my body, to move and be outside is really hard for me, but it slowly teaches me to look better after myself and take some rest.

The worst part out of that was the depression and dissociation episode, which lasted about 3 months from June until mid August. This was not the first time in my life, I’ve been constantly fighting depression over the last years. Experiencing being cut off from myself, the world and everything in it was just extremely scary. There was simply nothing in life I could feel anything about – I could as well just not be there. Not in a suicidal sense, as I know from the past that this requires some feelings to be present. I got through that by soldiering on, in a kind of mechanical way forcing myself to continue going to work, going dancing, doing all the things I do. It was very exhausting, but I made it. A turning point was that by chance I came across a book by Bessel van der Kolk on trauma research, which helped me put a lot of my troubles into a bigger picture called Developmental Trauma Disorder (here is another good summary what Developmental Traum Disorder actually is  – seeing as this has such a high incidence, it is highly likely that you know someone who has troubles like this, and it is good to understand it to be better able to help that person.) The book provided me with insights, with more courage to continue, and with new perspectives on healing. So, even thought these three months were straining, I am grateful for it – I learned that I can get through something like that, who is supporting me there. Also I understood the root and bigger picture of my problems, so now I can focus on working on them. I have come to realize that the body can heal the mind, and vice versa, and that listening and taking goof care of both is important. Also, as a result I plan to create an option for myself to move away from Berlin for a while to a place closer to the mountains, which always help to ground me.

What I also take from all the things that did not go well is that with the right kind of mindset, I can deal with many things that Life throws at me. I am coming to believe that negative experiences and events provide important information to navigating in life. So I am more and more embracing these and using them for myself as a chance to learn and grow. I might do as well, since I have no say about these things happening anyway. (And I am seriously glad that I am coming to this point – I’ve wasted so much time of my life trapping myself in negative feelings instead of finding ways to use them).

After all that, what went well?

Letting 2016 pass by my mind, I am happy to say there were several successes and things I am proud of. I did a great job on some big and challenging projects in my work as UX researcher and consultant. Also, I made progress in being a better photographer. There were many first time things here, I got out of  my comfort zone a lot – my first weddings, my first corporate image shooting, my first studio lighting experiment.

Another success for me is supporting Evi with starting a West Coast Swing Class in Berlin. On the marketing side, creating a website, visual design and marketing concept for it. Also helping organize a WCS exchange for Berlin and the flashmob was a first time as well and so rewarding. Not to mention giving my first dance lessons – haven’t been as nervous in quite a while.

I also started to patiently train to improve my dancing little bit by little bit. Part of it is systematically challenging myself to get rid of many of the negative ideas about myself to gain more confidence. I am still scared of seeing myself on a video – I know some people say I look really awful when I dance. Note to all dancers: please, even when you’re bitching (and that’s normal and ok), don’t say that something like that about a person. It does not help them, and nobody moves in a weird way on purpose, but rather because they do not know (or cannot do it) different. I know I’m not technically a good dancer, look goofy and have some challenges in motor coordination and perception of my body in space. So I’m working on these areas slowly – and at least I know several people who enjoy dancing with me :). And it is so rewarding to see a smiling face at the end of a dance because my partner and me had a good time together.

A personally important success was tackling re-conciliating myself with a special person, someone with whom I had shared an intense and intimate connection. This was special for me since as  a result from dissociation and many layers of protection I rarely can feel truly connected with another person. Unfortunately it turned out that connection was not symmetric, that I was too much struggling with my emotional stability to carry and nurture that relationship, and that four years ago this person trashed our relationship as he got bored (trashing a big part of my confidence as a person with that). It took me three years to recover from that blow, seeing how little he had valued me and us together. Probably you have some similar experiences – the human dilemma, the closer you let another person get to you, the more they can hurt you in the end. But finally I managed to take the negative energy out of those memories and keep my emotional balance. That was one tough and long fight, but so far I won it for myself. It taught me to be more careful about people who are not appreciating me as a person. Also, that in order to take good care of myself I need to address and come clean with past hurts, and that I can do that for myself even if it seems impossible or if the other person is not cooperating. Forgiving myself and forgiving the other for our actions, as we were both limited by our current selves at that time. Otherwise I am the one stuck with all the poison and hurt, while the other is already way past this.

In addition to all these things that went well there were so many first time moments, doing things I was scared of, challenging myself and my limits, awesome moments of friendship and support and positive feedback. All of this slowly help me getting closer to other people again, bridging that gap, so I can be more rooted inside myself and emotionally available. I have no words how grateful I am for that, as finally I feel I am arriving in this life, instead of being somewhere on the outside looking in.

The bottom line?

Wow, you made it here – that is a long way to go. Does it change the way you look at the recap video a little? Thing is, is I am not just happy and positive and my life is not sunny by itself, but rather because I’m working on it – constantly picking up the thread, trying to make things better, using things that go wrong to see how to tackle them, appreciate what I can learn from them and challenge myself to find something positive in them. So, I hope this helps remind you that when you are looking at someones life from the outside, you can trust that every person has their share of effort, of fears, of negative moments. I hope this inspires compassion and interest to look a little beneath the surface, if you have the capacity.

And now, I’m very curious what 2017 will bring 🙂 I’m looking forward to take all the good and bad, all the successes and failures, all the obstacles that help me change and transform. And I am happy for all the lessons I learned last year, the most important: that being curious, perceptive and interested in other people can be trained and is very rewarding. Keeping an open, interested mindset. Listening and asking questions instead of talking. Getting to know their point of view without judging or prejudices. Showing them appreciation.