21 things that got me through 2021

Saying goodbye to the year in my journal and discovering my bubble writing hasn’t improved since I was a child.

It’s the last day of 2021 and what a long year it has been! Thanks for the memories ’21, but you won’t be missed.

There was a lot of shit this year, on a personal level and a societal level and obviously a global level, but there was a lot of good that got me through it. Originally this post had close to 80 things, but I decided to distil it down to fit inside 21 sections.

So here’s my Top 21 things (in no particular order) that got me through Plague Year Two…

1. Restarting the blog and getting comfortable with sharing my work again.

After starting a new blog in 2020, I quickly abandoned it shortly after the first lockdown began. Blogging through our descent into a deeper circle of Hell felt silly at the time. But this year I finally committed to blogging again — and I am so glad I did!

Posts I particularly enjoyed writing this year:

This was the year I also started sharing my poetry online again. Piggybacking on the Escapril challenge when the fancy took me was the motivation I needed to return to poetry after a long hiatus. I might try taking that challenge more seriously in 2022, just as I’m going to attempt to write poetry every day.

2. Woodland Coffee Shop and Brentwood Beigels.

Woodland has been a haven for me since I moved back to Brentwood back in 2019. Their lattes, whether hot or iced, are consistently perfect, and their selection of pastries and cakes are unrivalled. I can never resist their heavenly red velvet cake. Best of all are the staff who work there, all of whom are super lovely people. They supported me through my unemployment and let me write Instagram captions for them, too.

Brentwood Beigels is run by another bunch of lovely people. They got me through my working days with great coffee, delicious bagels and sweet treats.

3. Family quizzes and takeaway nights.

The lockdown that started the year certainly felt more “down” than “locked” and I’m fortunate that I didn’t have to spend it alone. Bound to the house by necessary restrictions to protect vulnerable people and the NHS wasn’t without its dramas. But weekly family quizzes and takeaway nights made a difficult year more joyous.

4. Garden activity.

There’s not a single plant in my back garden, not even grass. But this year my parents decided to turn our stony garden into a paradise for the local squirrels. These lucky rodents get a near-daily supply of nuts to feast on, and still they’ll press their little palms to our back door like they’re begging for more.

We’re also a popular spot for jays, jackdaws and doves. Sadly, this also meant we witnessed a sparrowhawk chow down on one unfortunate dove, who then left the remains for my mum to clean up.

We also get near-nightly visits from the badgers who live on the other side of our fence. And we have a lot of their activity recorded on camera!

A montage of footage captured and shared by my mum, featuring squirrels, jays, jackdaws, doves and badgers.

5. New experiences!

Despite seeing more of the same four walls than I’d like, this was a year where I still got to experience many new things.

  • A close friend of mine gave me my first tarot reading, a much more fun and interesting experience than I had anticipated.
  • Two friends of mine wrote a new script and received funding to film it. I was invited to the table-reading to help them out, which was great fun. I’d forgotten how much I enjoyed reading aloud and working with actors.
  • Learnt how to cut up an avocado as well as make sandwiches I’d probably never eat.
  • Travelled on the Victoria line for the first time to get to Pimlico to meet my friend from Bulgaria and eat in a pub I’d never been to.
  • Discovered the meticulous joy of flatplanning a magazine.
  • Sat out on a patio in Cornwall beneath the evening summer sun with a book and an ice-cold cider.

6. Holidaying up north and down south.

In May, the family and I ventured to Cumbria and visited several places: The Rheged Centre in Penrith — where I purchased Austin Kleon’s Steal Like an Artist. Puzzling Place: World of Illusion — the only place where I get to be taller than my lanky brother. Derwentwater in Keswick, which I then briefly wrote about for a feature in Amazing Destinations several months later. The Lakeland Motor Museum, which prompted my dad to give me a brief history lesson on cars. Cockermouth. And the Lake District Wildlife Park.

Then in July, during a goddamn heatwave, the family and I went to Cornwall. The heat kept us mostly indoors this time around. However, we did wander around the pretty little seaside town of Bude. We also visited Clovelly, a harbour town on a steep cobblestoned hill. My favourite visit, despite a lengthy and difficult walk, was Tintagel Castle — the views from the top were incredible. (Unfortunately, my photography skills were not.)

7. Writing wins!

Instagram slide announcing the first place prize goes to "Dreaming in Permafrost" by John Stammers.

June was a turning point for me. I won the Green Shoots Writing Competition — run by the Essex Book Festival — with one flash-fiction. Then I had another flash-fic accepted for an anthology edited by MA Publishing students in London. Finding people who enjoy my writing, whilst also having no idea who I am, brought some renewed confidence in my abilities.

Winning the Green Shoots competition also meant I got to have a productive one-to-one chat with a literary agent. I also gave writing a novel a shot, which was both fun and educational.

(Related: Ten lessons I’ve learnt so far from starting to write a novel.)

8. Journaling every day.

Starting a Bullet Journal completely transformed my year and has undoubtedly made me more productive. The daily admin of updating my BuJo was also great for my mental health and taking stock of my days. It helped to add some much-needed structure, too.

My daily BuJo habit was also a precursor to keeping a daily diary, which I started in early October and have kept up with since. Journaling every day has been a transformative experience for me and something I look forward to every single day.

9. Leaving the house and enjoying the thrills of the outside world.

Before 2020, I was never an outdoorsy person. I was always someone who would’ve been content to stay home and sit in a chair all day reading or writing or gaming. That all changed with COVID.

An incomplete list of what going outside led to:

  • Long walks, especially long walks listening to podcasts or the seemingly infinite catalogue of Big Finish’s Doctor Who audios.
  • A socially distanced reunion with my dear friend Ellie in Colchester’s Castle Park.
  • Five friends and I gathering on the Shenfield Common to reminisce about old times over cans of beer. It was just like we were teenagers again.
  • My good friend Bekka and I getting an education in art history as we took a leisurely stroll through the Tate Modern.
  • Two friends and I getting chased around Kelvedon Hatch’s Secret Nuclear Bunker for Halloween.
  • And the Van Gogh Immersive Experience was a highlight from November.
Bekka and I at the Tate Modern
The centre four pages: a group of us apply our own colour to some Van Gogh classic portraits

10. Celebrating the achievements of those I love.

My biggest achievement in 2020 was playing a pivotal role in my two closest friends getting together. This year they celebrated one year as a couple, something to be celebrated any year but is extra special considering the challenges of starting a new relationship in corona times.

In a year when despair comes so easy, hope can be found in celebrating the wins of those you love. And despite 2021’s relentless bleakness, there was plenty of light around me:

  • Three friends who’d moved in together finally got to throw a much-belated housewarming party.
  • One friend was able to leave a job they hated and return to a team they love to work in.
  • My longest friend Sean got an enviable promotion.
  • My friend Bekka returned to stand-up and nailed every one of her sets.
  • So many of my peers graduated with grades they could be proud of.
  • Witnessed friends from afar start jobs that have brought them joy.
  • Several friends started new relationships or got out of unhappy ones.
  • One friend finally bought their first car.
  • Two different couples I’m fortunate to call friends bought houses this year. Both couples got to celebrate Christmas in their new homes. One of them is also documenting the DIY journey of their large shed, which I’m excited to see.

11. Finding employment.

The front cover of the magazine I contributed to: Amazing Destinations (Winter 2021)

After a much-extended period of unemployment thanks to mental illness and a global pandemic, I managed to land a six-month contract and get some invaluable copywriting experience. The best part was writing for a specialist travel magazine and finishing my contract with a professional portfolio I could be proud of.

12. Newsletters.

This was the year I finally enjoyed spending time in my inbox. I subscribed to numerous email newsletters this year, and here are my favourites:

I also started my own newsletter. By year’s end, I will have sent out five issues. And in 2022, I’ll be sending them out twice a month!

  1. August: Birthday blues and red flag books
  2. September: Write lists
  3. October: The Terrorgraph
  4. November: Naming places and this melancholy of mine
  5. December: My favourite books of 2021

13. All the incredible TV, films and YouTube I watched.

There were so many incredible TV shows I enjoyed watching: Finishing my first watch of The Legend of Korra. Re-watching Avatar: The Last Airbender for the second time in 12 months. Concluding my re-watch of the entire revival series of Doctor WhoThe Dragon PrinceThe Haunting of Hill House. WandaVision. Lucifer. Shadow & Bone. Solar Opposites. Altered Carbon. Marvel’s What If. Loki. Ghosts. The Mandalorian. Locke & Key. Close to Me. The Valhalla Murders. The Witcher. Squid Game.

I don’t watch enough movies, but there were some enjoyable ones that I did watch this year: Finally getting around to Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verseSpirited Away — my first Studio Ghibli film. The Truman Show. Re-watching Labyrinth for the first time since I was a kid. Finding a new love for Blue Sky Studios’ Robots. Re-watching Lilo & Stitch — a strong contender for my favourite Disney film. A Quiet Place: Part II. Tenet. Black Widow. Knives Out — the best movie I watched this year. Crying at Logan again. The Suicide Squad. Shang-Chi: Legend of the Ten Rings. Free Guy. Discovering the Blair Witch Project was much better on a second viewing. Dune. Eternals. Promising Young Woman. Home Alone.

And I couldn’t have gotten through the year without my favourite content creators on YouTube: Aamon AnimationsPhilosophy TubeRazbutenGlidusDAVISStubagfulJay ExciJacob GellerLazy MasqueradeBedBananasShaunInnuendo StudiosSchaffrillas ProductionscaptainmidnighthbomberguyHow to ADHDJames JaniJenny NicholsonJoséNexpoShaelinWrites.

14. Berserk

The 1997 adaptation of Berserk deserves its own section on this list. Before Berserk, I hadn’t had much interest in looking into anime. I guess I assumed it wasn’t for me. But I’ve had a growing appreciation for the art of animation, and Berserk came highly recommended by a friend. And I’m glad I gave the show a chance.

This anime has lived in my head all year. I watched it twice because once wasn’t enough! The finale is one of the evilest things I’ve witnessed in a TV show. The soundtrack also impressed me. And it’s thanks to Berserk that I gave some other animes a try that I also absolutely adored.

If not for Berserk, I may not have discovered Violet Evergarden — another show I had to watch twice this year. This is a show that had me weeping almost every episode. The soundtrack is also great for long writing sessions and makes me really want to write letters of my own.

It’s also thanks to Berserk that I watched the laugh-out-loud One-Punch Man. It also led me to watch what has been described as the loneliest animeNeon Genesis: Evangelion. And the movie The End of Evangelion had a similar effect on me as the finale of Berserk.

Just some of my favourite books I read this year.

15. Great books!

I read 45 books this year and started a 46th on Christmas Day. Out of all those books, there was not one I’d call a bad read.

(See: My favourite books of 2021.)

16. Volunteering at Brentwood Theatre.

The Brentwood Theatre community is lovely, and without them I might never have got into the festive spirit. As an usher, I sat through four performances of their Christmas show and each was jollier than the last. One song is still stuck in my head. And I was included in their Secret Santa at the last minute, which was a heart-warming surprise.

17. Red Dead Redemption 2 & The Sims 4

Two video games that had a profoundly positive effect on my mental health and reminded me why I once loved gaming more than anything else.

Back in lockdown, when all felt hopeless, I created a Sim version of me who got to lead a life I so wished to lead myself. But rather than feeling lost or lamenting my own circumstances, my simulated family helped me to hope and imagine a better future.

Whilst Red Dead Redemption 2 got me through some of my lowest points over the past few months. The game kept me feeling when I didn’t want to feel anything. The world and story have kept me obsessed. RDR2 has quickly become my favourite game of all time. The soundtrack is bloody good, too.

Sim John with his Sim Wife and Sim Newborn Daughter

18. The Left

Including Double Down NewsNovara MediaOwen Jones, lefty shitposters on Twitter, the TRASHFUTURE podcast, having difficult conversations with friends and family, cathartic rantings, memes, and my Tribune subscription. Lefties with more confident and louder voices than my own truly help me to stay sane when the world is full of insanity. And every day I feel better informed about myself and the world around me.

Also, an added bonus to becoming more politically literate is understanding Lowkey’s Soundtrack to the Struggle much better than my younger immature and ignorant self ever could.

19. Video calls

Potentially one of the few plus sides of unemployment was not having to spend every day on Zoom like everyone else. Thus, the fatigue of endless video calls still hasn’t set in for me. They’re no replacement for in-person interactions, but I’m very grateful that we live in a time where this technology allows us to keep in touch with friends, whether they be several towns away or countries apart. And thanks to Discord, pub nights were replaced with Jackbox games and rounds of Codenames.

But a special shoutout to a consistent highlight of my year: weekly calls with my friend Ellie. We always have plenty of things to talk and laugh about, we hold each other accountable for the goals we commit to, and she’s always got the advice/wisdom I need to hear.

20. The little things.

  • Impromptu coffee catch-ups.
  • Conversing with strangers at the coffee shop and making new friends.
  • Discovering an old message from a friend in a notebook she gifted me.
  • Finding an old poem my mum wrote for me on a post-it note back in 2012.
  • Listening to the Doctor Who audio “The Chimes of Midnight” on Christmas Eve.
  • Bumping into friendly faces when you least expect it.
  • Dogs in the office.
  • Working from home.
  • Discovering a new favourite pen.
  • Drawing badly but having fun anyway.
  • People sharing my work.
  • People complimenting me on my work.
  • Overhearing children invent games and ask questions.

21. Getting vaccinated!

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Happy New Year to you and your loved ones! See you in 2022!