It has become a tradition of mine to have a theme for the year; a word or phrase that speaks of my intention for the new chapter. It is not a resolution but a word that captures what I hope will be an undercurrent of my actions throughout the year. Still, I think this past year was my first ‘successful’ realization of a ‘thematic year’. Not because I ‘achieved a lot’ but because it was the most intentional I have been with a theme. See when I declared 2023 my Year of Self-Love, I outlined how I would take steps to finally love the body I’m in, to truly love myself. E.g.
1- Loving myself by doing things the self loves e.g taking swimming lessons.
2- Loving self by investing in mental health treatments more than ever.
3- Loving self by giving away all the clothes that no longer fit and getting new clothes that do.
4- Loving self by gifting myself the way I gift others, by asking for help and delegating what t I cannot do.
5- Loving self by getting to know the one who made me – God – and drawing myself worth from Him etc.
The above are just a few ways I intentionally sought to live out the theme I declared, and to an extent, the year of self-love worked. I became better at the swimming I loved doing- even swan in the deep end for the first time, I entered a New Covenant with Yahweh last year, I bought myself a brand new phone for the first time last year, I even dared to remove the enlargement of my Boudoir shoot photo it’s in my bedroom but at least no longer hidden…
Yet some things remain the same. At the junctures of my year of self-love, I hated myself as ever before or more than ever before. As much as I was proud of loving myself enough to openly ask for help, I still hated that I needed to keep asking for help.
Another way my thematic practice was different this past year lies in the fact that this was the first year that I assessed the theme. I intentionally looked back at what I had been doing towards that theme and whether I could see changes or not. And perhaps because I did that reflection, I could appreciate that working on self-love as someone who struggles with that area cannot be limited to a year or any timeframe for that matter. The greatest success of the year of self-love therefore was coming to accept that this struggle might be never-ending; it took 30 years to internalize the reasons and ways I dishonor myself, and it won’t be healed in a year, no matter how much I do differently.
It is also as a result of the above reflection that I can go into making a theme for this year more intentionally than ever. As we usher in a New Year and I declare a new theme for 2024, I am aware that the old theme has not been “done and dusted”. My declaration of this year as “my Year of No” is, in fact, an extension of last year’s theme of Year of Self-love.
How so? This year, with this theme, I am declaring an intention to love myself better and more by doing less so I can heal. One thing that has come through clearly in the past years has been how burn-out, depression and years of pent-up issues all came ahead to break me between 2020 and 2022. However, I kept thinking I could just push through it, and try harder. So I have shamed myself for not being as I was before; as committed to goals, as disciplined, as attractive as talented etc. But shaming does nothing but fuel the depressive episodes.
I think what finally got me to think differently was trying on the idea of a Year of No; when I first considered it everything in my being protested. Do I deserve a year of NO when the last 2-3 years have been my most unproductive? Shouldn’t I be trying to achieve goals, and check off to-do list items that have been languishing on my Google Keep for ages? But then I saw this quote: “You’ve been beating up yourself for years and it hasn’t worked, try giving yourself grace and see what happens”.
As I have nothing to lose at this point, I think I’ll try the reverse psychology. I’m permitting myself to fail at doing and being it all. In fact, you can’t fail at what you were never meant to do: so this year I want to try having as little to nothing on the to-do list to shame myself for ‘failing’ at. I give myself permission to do nothing but hibernate. I want to rediscover reading for fun.
What does a Year of No entail you might wonder? Well, in 2017, when I declared my Year of Yes, I said yes to every opportunity that came my way. I said yes to trying over and over again. I stopped limiting myself to what I wanted (e.g a distance learning PhD) and said yes to whatever I was offered. That was the season for that. This season is different and I must acknowledge that even if I don’t like it.
So in this season, I’ll say more no’s or respond with not now, maybe later. I will avoid taking up any additional tasks; no more signing up for things and then asking God for the strength to do them. No more asking for more strength when the body has made it clear it wants to rest. This article gives a great idea of what declaring A Year of No may entail for others…
This might sound counterintuitive. And I admit it reeks of privilege. Yet, I am willing to live out this privilege with gratitude. I have found I must question the desire to do more when focus on what I am doing and ignore how my body and spirit feel.
I believe, and I am praying that by pausing in this season to do nothing but the bare minimum and rely on God I can return refreshed to do better later.