2017 in Review

by Gurpreet Sihat

To say that this year has been an emotional rollercoaster is an understatement. I struggled through a difficult New Year, welcoming in 2017 while I was consumed by panic attacks, tears and fake smiles. I’d even been diagnosed mentally ill, not that I accepted help when it was offered. The months that followed were stressful and emotionally crippling, but, despite that, I tried hard to keep hold of the positive, to practice gratitude, and make good on the promise I had made to myself at the end of 2016: that this year would be better.

Right away I threw myself into work, taking on a number of new clients while still working on my own novels. Weekends no longer existed, especially as I was working eleven hour days, but I started taking out some ‘me’ time once a week in the shape of Odeon visits. I took up jigsaw puzzles to peel myself away from my darkest thoughts. In fact, there were only two times in those first few months that I actually went a whole day without a single negative thought cloud following me around: one was my sister taking me to see The Phantom of the Opera at Her Majesty’s Theatre, something I had been longing to do for over twenty years, and the other was my date with John Wick: Chapter 2 on Valentine’s Day. It’s those small things that silence your mind, I’ve discovered this year.

The winds of change started blowing in March. At first, they were for the worst – clients cheated me out of money, friends and family were lost. But eventually the darkness was blown away and I started having better days. I discovered Maya Angelou and came up with the idea for the Letters from the Heart project. My nephew Nikhil, who was barely a year at the time and who refused to go to anyone that wasn’t his parents, decided he was okay with me babysitting him. I reconnected with old friends. And then, in April, I went to Amsterdam.

Amsterdam changed not just my year but my life.

I wasn’t just stepping out of my comfort zone, I was leaping out of it and across the channel. It was my first holiday, not just outside of Canada, but without my family. I was meeting someone I had only spoken to online, staying at her house, exploring the capital of the Netherlands where I didn’t even realise Dutch was spoken! I was making new friends, exploring a world of art and architecture I had only dreamed about, and creating memories that weren’t made inside the four walls of my house.

When I came back, I realised that the only person that was holding me back, was me. I was scared to let go of toxic relationships and irrational fears and it was because of that that I was finding myself darkening a little more every day. I decided to do something about it.

In the span of the next four months, I had:

  • passed my Advanced Diploma in Photography;
  • finished the Aaron Sorkin Masterclass in Screenwriting;
  • signed up for a Diploma in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy to better understand what was going through my head (modules of which I was passing at 100% every time);
  • dumped the clients that were ripping me off to make way for better working relationships;
  • started selling my photographs online;
  • worked another Edinburgh International Film Festival;
  • gone out to countless parties that didn’t end until the early hours of the morning, something I never used to do;
  • discovered Ranbir Kapoor (which, considering I’m not a huge fan of Bollywood, really is a big thing);
  • holidayed in Canada; and
  • finished a novel and planned another.

September struck.

Technology all around me was breaking down so I was stuck having to replace it all: a new iMac, a new Macbook Pro, a new iPad. But instead of being scared about where the money was going to come from, I found myself feeling grateful. I was grateful for the deals I got on them, for the amount of work I would be able to do on them (especially on the move), for the sheer beauty of their designs – wasn’t I lucky!

More gratitude followed, easier this time to find than it had been at the start of the year.

  • I started writing my second novel, set in Amsterdam, finishing it in a little over a month;
  • I joined a writer’s group with some of the most incredible women I’ve had the chance to meet;
  • The friend that I had stayed with in Amsterdam came to London and we tackled our fear of heights together, going up the London Eye and the Shard, as well as taking a River Cruise around London;
  • I finished another children’s book;
  • I joined Blackwell Liverpool’s team of book reviewers;
  • I took a day trip to Brighton to welcome in a friend’s 30th year;
  • I won NaNoWriMo despite having tissue damage in my right eye;

I surrounded myself by art, architecture and history. I surrounded myself by friends that challenged me and raised me to new heights. I surrounded myself by inspiration in the form of people and theatre and the small everyday acts of strangers.

I also lost a friend. I hadn’t seen him in almost eight years, but the news of his death hit me hard. I recalled how he would nudge me with his arm, shoot me a smile and tell me to cheer up, that things would start looking up, whenever I was having a bad day. It was something I hadn’t thought about in far too long and it’s sad to know that it was his passing that brought it back to memory. But now, it’s something I hold on to. Now I see his smiling face and I hear his words and I am reminded that I stand on the edge of another, better day.

When I started this review, I told my sister, as I went through my journal and my diary for 2017, how difficult I was finding walking down this path again. Her reply? “You got through it, and that’s what matters.”

I got through it.

And I’m leaving 2017 better than I found it.

What more could I ask for?

2017-05-29 18.03.42

Gratitude has become an incredibly important part of my life. I’d like to thank so many people for jumping aboard this rollercoaster, but there are far too many to name all of them. Instead, I express gratitude to the following people this year (hopefully everyone knows which blanket ‘thanks’ they fall under):

First to those that keep London, Amsterdam and Canada’s culture alive. The arts have been a huge influence on me this year and it wouldn’t have been possible without all the people who find them, display them, look after them… You are all indispensable!

Next to the BFI and all the wonderful guests that they have given me the honour of being in a room with. Gurinder Chadha, Maggie Smith, Christopher Nolan, Jake Gyllenhall, Aaron Sorkin, Michael Roskäm, Cate Blanchett and Ian McEwan to name but a few.

To everyone at the Edinburgh International Film Festival 2017 and to all my wonderful friends in Edinburgh, you’re always such a joy to be around. I can’t wait to come back next year.

 My writing buddies, you all know who you are! You’ve inspired me, challenged me and helped me through a lot this year. I hope I’ve helped you even a fraction of what you’ve helped me.

For Darya, Kiran and Jasmeet… there are no words I can use to express the depth of gratitude for the three of you this year.

And lastly, to the Sihats. I don’t need to expand on that. You know it. Just know that I know too.

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