A Matter of Perspective

by Gurpreet Sihat

Conversation with a friend yesterday turned quickly to how terrible a year 2018 has been. 

For me, January began with the ‘perfect week’. I was working reasonable hours, unplugging from technology in the evenings to spend time with friends and family, and even managed to take one day off for a ‘Sunday Reads’ day. Then news of a death in my immediate family arrived and life began to slowly go downhill. Drama after drama, argument after argument, medical issue after medical issue, disappointment after disappointment, panic attack after panic attack, relapse after relapse. Not even EastEnders was so sickeningly entertaining. And, to top it all off, it felt like a never-ending year! 

But, as I created my end of year photo collage, I realised just how much beauty and laughter and happiness had been in this year too. The majority of which had been undeservedly overshadowed by all the bad. 

This year has seen me go from a ghost-writer to a copywriter to a social media manager, a job that fell into my lap and took off so quickly I didn’t realise it was happening. Six months in to my new career and I’ve clients I adore working with, who add a few extra rays of sunshine into my week and understand when personal issues need to take priority.

Not one, not two, but three novels have been completed this year! The Screenwriter, The Teacher and The Tempmay have been put on the back seat after it was finished at the start of the year, but Primordials had two drafts written and its sequel, Seraphina, was drafted last month. I may not be happy about the pacing in the novels, nor the ending to Seraphina, but they’re written, and next year I get to move on to Preordained, the final part of the series, and do one giant edit of the entire trilogy. How exciting! 

All that soap-opera-esque drama also proved useful. I began to write for Fearless Femme this year. For the first time in my life, I was writing about my life and the things that I’ve been through – good and bad – and how they’ve affected my mental health. Not only has it been helping me heal, it’s also introduced me to some incredible women who I can relate to. Women I now consider friends and inspirations.

On a personal front, I reconnected with friends and family. Some of these reunions were difficult – relationships that had once seemed unsalvageable because of the circumstances in which they were broken – and others were nerve-wracking but exciting – people I hadn’t seen in fifteen years simply because life took us in different directions. There were even new relationships formed with people from my parents’ past – long lost friends and family that I had never met but now can’t quite imagine life without – and the gift of a ring. My grandfather’s ring, which had been sitting in a box for forty-five years. The grandfather neither me nor my sisters ever had the privilege of meeting, but always hold in our hearts.

I also chose to become an organ donor this year. Registering had been something I wanted to do for a long time, but this year felt right. A single organ donor can save up to eight people. A single tissue donor can save up to fifty. Without donors, so many of the people I cherish wouldn’t be with me today. I would be alone on this rollercoaster. So, if I can pass that along when I’m gone, then that would be a life well spent, I think. 

This year, my oldest friend came with me to my very first concert: Farhan Akhtar, Live in London! She doesn’t understand Hindi and it definitely wasn’t her kind of scene, but she came with me because she didn’t want me to miss out. She wanted to see that dimple appear in my cheek when I genuinely smile and the awe and excitement fill my eyes. That, alone, was enough to make it to this post, but my first concert also happened to be the first time I’ve ever experienced racism. Racism from people who looked exactly like me. Who had the same coloured skin. Whose great-grandparents were born in the same country. But they were racist because I was English, and not Indian. It immediately made me think of the Black Panther premiere at the start of the year. A woman asked me where my parents were from and I replied, ‘Kenya and Tanzania’. I didn’t have the same coloured skin as her, I didn’t have the same clothes or accent or understanding of Bantu languages, but she hugged me and said I was one of them. This year, then, also brought me closer to my African heritage and made me proud to call myself African. It made me feel as though I belonged.

My holiday to Belgium was also this year. A week travelling through Antwerp, Brussels, Bruges and Ghent. I sat in cathedrals, listening to choirs, praying to deities, and lighting candles. I walked through snow covered streets, eating new food and, drinking new drinks. I listened to the stories people had to tell, learned new languages, and experienced a new way of life. Most of all, I learned more about myself. I still don’t entirely know what I want from life other than to be happy, but I learned what and who were important to me, how to say ‘no’ to the people and things that weren’t, and how to say ‘yes’ to new adventures however scary they may be.

Then there was the culture this year was filled with. The theatre trips to see Les Misérables on stage for the first time, Phantom of the Opera for the second time and even The Old Vic’s production of A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness. There was the art I was surrounded by: Michelangelo’s David and Madonna of Bruges, Rodin’s The Kiss and Burghers of Calais, Dali and Banksy, Magritte and Raphael. I went to exhibitions galore, from The History of Magic at the British Library to the London Nights photography exhibition at the Museum of London to Females First at BAFTA. I went on a tour of Holyrood Palace and Shakespeare’s Globe. I explored the Ruins of St. Andrews and went across the Tower Bridge walkway. I visited Charles Dickens’ home and the Imperial War Museum. I even climbed to the summit of Arthur’s Seat (and considering I’m both scared of heights and have a breathing issue that made my lungs burn as I climbed, that’s definitely AH-MAY-ZING!). 

To top it off, I had the opportunity to listen to and meet some inspiring people from actors to writers to activists: Jane Fonda, Andy Serkis, Carey Mulligan, Celia Imrie, Ian McKellen, Orlando Bloom, Martin Freeman, Graham Norton, Natalie Dormer, Richard Madden, Ryan Coogler, Keeley Hawes, Blake Livery, Anna Kendrick, Maggie Gyllenhaal, David Hare, Derek Jacobi, Helen Mirren, Hugh Grant, Jennifer Saunders, Tracey Ullman, Taika Waititi, Dolph Lundgren, Michael B. Jordan, Tessa Thompson… the list goes on for miles!

And, in the middle of it all, was my inner circle. The people that were there through all the ups and downs. That did excited jigs with me when something good happened, that handed me a box of tissues and a coffee when something bad happened, that didn’t walk away when I relapsed over and over. It wasn’t just my family that filled that role for me, as they have done my entire life, it was the incredible friends I have in my life. Those lionesses that I’m honoured to call my pride.

So, yes, this year was speckled with grief and anger and hatred, but it was also drowning in love and laughter and a happiness that is indescribable. So, to all the people who made this year what it was, whether your influence was negative or profoundly beautiful, I thank you. 2018 would not have been the same without you. Now, I walk into 2019 with a smile on my face and hope in my heart. Because, at the end of the day, it’s all a matter of perspective.

Dedicated to my Pride: Hannah, Darya, Krishna and Devon.

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