What was the best year of your life? The full calendar year, 365 days, January 1st to December 31st, that you would classify as your best?
I did what I do best and asked this to my Instagram followers, over half of the answers were 2022.
For me, it’s easy. 2021. Hands down. January to May I completed my first semester of college. It was fun, new, and exciting. June came and I moved to Yellowstone, which, to this day, is still probably two of the best months of my life. And then from August to December I spent the weekdays at home with my family all near, and weekends traveling to anywhere I pleased. I would joke that most people waited until concerts came to them, but I would follow the concerts. I had the best friends and I was really, truly, happy.
I feel like it’s a cliche, and maybe even sometimes a standard, that each year is better than the previous. “It just keeps getting better” or “Best one yet” are captions I see on at least 10 posts for every end of year photo dump. But sometimes, I think a lot of the time, it is impossible for that to be the case.
2021 was inevitably going to be hard to top, but I thought 2022 might do it. It fell a stroke short.
2022 was a year of lots of tears and lots of laughs. A year of lots of trips, concerts, friends, and joy. It was also a year of a lot of learning and growth.
My first journal entry of 2022 was on January 3rd, it was a seventeen point checklist of everything I had to complete before I left for Utah the next morning. At this point last year I had never stepped foot in Utah, or Idaho, Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Oklahoma or Kansas, for that matter. I knocked 7 new states off my map leaving me at 42/50 completed and only eight left to go.
Although, I can’t measure a year based on states visited, miles traveled, concerts attended, hours hiked, or the number of Instagram polls I posted.
My next entry came on January 9th, I had been in Zion for 3 days. “This is kind of how Yellowstone started too, alone time in our room before we met our best friends”. Oh, how young and naive. Few friends were to be made, many tears had yet to be shed, and a lot of uncomfortable growth was yet to come.
January me spent a lot of time journaling in my Ponderosa room, hammocking in the freezing snow, giggling “too loud” (apparently), and wondering why I had made this choice to uproot everything that I had going for me.
My October self would absolutely kill to go back to that time. It was mid-semester and the speed of life had picked up, and with that, my anxiety. There were many nights I would sob on my bathroom floor because I was so anxious I felt like elephants were stepping on my sternum.
It made sense to me that I was depressed in Utah, my therapist even told me that I was having “boredom depression” (I’m still unsure if this is a clinical term, she was kind of sketchy and ended up ghosting me, but nonetheless the idea was correct). I was depressed because I felt like I had nothing to do; no purpose other than to hangout with Jules and to feed the handful of customers that walked through the doorway of our haphazard restaurant. I didn’t have many friends around, it was the dead of winter, hikes weren’t accessible, and we didn’t have a car to go anywhere. Ghost-therapist told me, “it makes sense to be depressed when you don’t have a lot going for you”.
But it was harder to grasp at school. I was keeping busy, I had friends, but I just couldn’t seem to be 100% there and 100% happy.
I was hit with a hard realization in November when I flew out to visit Jules, a friend of hers was mind-blown that someone had voluntarily chosen to move to West Virginia. He simply asked me, “what do you do for fun out there”, I laughed and replied “drink with my friends”.
He probably doesn’t remember that conversation, or me for that matter, but it stuck with me. I had no passions here. I didn’t adventure, or make music, or lead some cool research project, or have a job, or go on hikes. The only fun to be had here was going out, and even that gets old after a week or two. Even though I wouldn’t consider myself bored, my boredom depression still lingered. I didn’t feel like I was in a place where I could reach my full potential.
The transfer application was sent.
The end of February 2022 our spirits began to pick up, we spent a weekend away from the Pondy, followed by Jules getting her car and then we were home-free. And by that I mean we would work four hours a day, and then we had Southern Utah at our fingertips. We hiked the Narrows, Angel’s Landing, and every other hike on the Zion visitor guide. We went to Bryce Canyon, canyoneering down slot canyons, and made a trip down to Arizona to camp in Sedona, see Peach Pit, and bake in the sun at a Cubs spring training game.
Although, I may be looking back on this time with rose colored glasses. I know that I was depressed while I was there, but when I think about it now, I can’t imagine why. I actually recently messaged Jules and said that March was underrated, probably the best month of 2022.
When you’re living in a depression it feels like something you can never come out of. Like you will never feel the joy in wanting to go out and do things, and like you will never be yourself again. But it’s true what they say I guess, it will get better. When the mundaneness diminished, the days where I couldn’t get myself out of bed seemed to fade as well. Instead, I would wake up at 7am, map out a plan for the day and wake Jules up to tell her to get ready; we needed to leave in the next 30 minutes to hike 10 miles.
I thought that my sadness was fueled from the fact that I had no social interaction, but the fact was that even when it was just me and Jules against the world, being able to go out and do anything we wanted was what put me into a better mindset. We would often say “I would rather do things by myself or with one person who actually enjoys my company than 10 people who couldn’t care less about me”.
It was less about the people than I thought. More about finding happiness within myself, controlling what I was able to, rather than focusing on what I didn’t have or what was out of reach. It is all what you make of it.
But, this tactic felt inaccessible to me when I returned back to school. The transition began smoother than I thought, I kept myself busy and was adjusting. That smooth transition quickly crumbled any time I had a second to think, I would immediately begin to cry. I don’t think it was ever about school in general, I actually love school. Call me a nerd but I love to go to class and learn new things. I knew I wanted to get my degree, but I just felt like I had outgrown it here.
I felt (and still often feel) that there isn’t a lot for me to make of it here. I’ve never felt so stuck. Not even when I spent the days in my 4x4 dorm room drawing on make-shift easel paper and drinking red wine that had been shipped over 2,000 miles to us out of a pot because we couldn’t leave the Ponderosa property.
April wrapped up our stint in Southern Utah, capped off by a week-long camping road trip to four national parks. Then, I got on a plane and flew back to Chicago for a month before starting a job in Idaho. I wrote in my journal on April 14th, “It feels surreal, unreal maybe, I don’t know the word, that I’m on a flight home from Zion right now. 4 months of my life packed up into 2 bags. All the dark days and fun times are gone like my sweatpants I had to throw away so my checked bag would fit the weight limit.” The sweatpants and the memories were both gone physically, but would always be on my mind. (they were awesome sweatpants guys ok)
I spent the time at home with family and friends and processed the past four months. I had learned a lot about the world, Mormonism, and myself. I thought about things I was grateful for: putting myself out of my comfort zone, learning to make the most of what I had, nights spent watching Caamp concerts on my computer with Jules, the hikes I had done, the parts of the country I had seen that a lot of people might never have the chance to.
The comfort that my now-thrown-away sweatpants had provided me throughout the time there, was the comfort these memories were providing me now. In fact, I had not thrown away everything in my life by deciding to skip out on school and move half-way across the country, I had gained a lot. It takes time and grieving to get past the fact that things didn’t turn out how you anticipated and maybe wanted, but sometimes what you anticipated and wanted isn’t what you needed and what you end up with is what you need.
Exactly a month after landing in Chicago, I went right back to O’hare and was off to Idaho.
May, June, July, and August were spent in the Sawtooth Valley as a server’s assistant on Redfish Lake. I have few complaints about these months, aside from some personal events. I was surrounded by unbridled beauty. The days were long, and the nights even longer, in the best way. It was the closest I had felt to my 2021 self. I was able to find joy in the little things, explore, and do what I wanted. There were lake days, long hikes, street dances, and too many ice cream cones and hard ciders.
One of the only things I found dampening my summer was the impending plan of returning to school in the fall. We were playing We’re Not Really Strangers (PLEASE HIRE ME) one night and Jules drew a card that said “What advice do you think I need to hear right now?” I told her that going back to school wasn’t going to erase all the personal growth she had done in the past year. In my journal the next day I wrote, “I think I really need to listen to my own advice I gave Jules last night”.
I think it’s true, being back at school can’t erase who I’ve become, but there are times where I just feel like a completely different person. The other night I saw a photo of myself from Summer 2021 and thought to myself “Who is this girl? She is so awesome and happy. I really miss her”. Her worries included what the EDR was serving for lunch, if the sous chef would make her sweep AND mop the floors after her shift that night, and what flight she was going to book next. Oh, to have those problems now.
But those problems felt real at the moment (and I’m sure there were some more pressing ones), and same with the ones while living in Utah, and the ones I’m currently having in West Virginia. Trying to find myself in a place that I don’t feel like myself is one of the biggest challenges I’ve had to date. And I’m sure in the future I’ll look back and say that I wish I was just struggling like Winter 2022. But that doesn’t make them any less real now.
I’m growing and I’m learning, every day, every month and every year. I’m not losing the growth I had, just growing in more ways, and different ways.
I don’t think every year can be the best year of your life. You don’t have to continuously say that each year topped the last. And maybe sometimes they do, and that’s great too. But, some years you can have many lovely days, and many hard days, many laughs, and many tears, many trips and many nights at home, many friends and many solo rides. At the end of the day, it’s just another year.
2021 me that I want to meet again :')