People walking along Brighton beach
Photo: Getty Images

LIFE HONESTLY

Craving calm, quiet and the status quo, on the precipice of a new year

After a whirl of change – some good, some heartbreaking – all Tanya Byrne wants in 2018 is an unbroken routine

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By Tanya Byrne on

Christmas is a strange time of year for me. It’s my birthday on the 23rd, so everything happens at once – there are a few loud days of fairy lights and sequins and then it’s over again for another year.

I find this period – the limbo between Christmas and New Year’s Eve – particularly disquieting. After weeks of rushing around, of pals and parties and presents, I should relish the stillness of it. It’s a time for recovery – so my liver and my credit card can take a break while I languish on the sofa picking through the remaining Roses and watching Parks And Recreation. But I like the idea of it more than the reality. It’s nice for a few days, but that itch of restlessness eventually returns and I am once more distracted by the pile of bills in the kitchen that I haven’t opened and the emails I haven’t replied to. And, with that, what was supposed to be a period of recovery becomes a time to reflect upon those things done and not done.

Where I am and am not and where I want to be.

I suppose it’s natural. A new year is approaching, holding all the promise of a new book, but the pressure is palpable. What have I achieved this year? What have I actually done? Am I closer or further away than I was last year? Closer or further from what? Do I even know where – and who – I want be?

It’s usually at this point that I start eating the Roses by the fistful, foil and all, with no regard for whether or not there’s a strawberry one in there because it’s the least I deserve for being so useless, but this year I will not. This year, I will be kinder to myself. For me, 2018 isn’t about change, it’s about things staying the same. That’s my only wish for the upcoming year – that things are quiet for a while.

The last couple of years have been a time of huge upheaval. My mother passed away, I came out and, three months ago, I moved out of London. My mother was in a hospice for over a year before she passed and, when she did, I was at a loss. Not just because she was no longer there (something I didn’t think was possible, she had always been there) but because after going back and forth between the hospice every day, dealing with doctors and palliative care nurses, feeding Mum and combing her hair and adjusting the curtains so the sun wasn’t in her eyes, I had nothing to do.

After she passed, my agent said that things could go back to normal, but I didn’t know what normal was any more. Nothing had felt normal since my first book was published. How could it? I was writing full-time and my life had become a series of lunch meetings and book signings. But that’s what I wanted, wasn’t it? It’s what I’d daydreamed about when I had an office job, when I waited for the 07:38 from Surbiton every morning and sat at my desk replying to a seemingly endless string of emails. No two days were the same any more. I could get up when I wanted, go to bed when I wanted, write when I wanted. I had no routine. I couldn’t even call my mother every Sunday like I used to.

The last couple of years have been a time of huge upheaval. My mother passed away, I came out and, three months ago, I moved out of London

So, there I was, stuck in this in-between, the limbo between a life I’d known so well, a life where I got the same train to work every morning and sat at the same desk, and one where, even after publishing three books, I still felt like an imposter, as though I’d blagged my way into first class and was waiting for one of the cabin crew to notice and send me back to economy.

I had no idea what normal was, so I had to redefine it. That’s what I’ve been trying to do for the last couple of years and I think I’m almost there. I have a routine now, which helps. It’s not as strict as it was when I worked a nine-to-five, but I no longer wallow for days on end, unshowered and alone in my flat, which became a sweaty stew of unwashed clothes and foil trays of cold beef chow mein once my mother passed away. I adopted a dog who doesn’t care if I was up until 4am, watching make-up tutorials on YouTube – she still needs to be walked first thing and will bark at me until I comply. It was painful at first, but it forced me to get out of bed and, once I had, I realised that it wasn’t too bad. Who knew I could accomplish so much if I got up before noon? I began to shower every day, brush my teeth, put on make-up, eat breakfast. Simple, ordinary things most people do without much effort that I’d stopped doing when immersed in the quagmire of grief. Then it wasn’t so painful. I enjoy showers again, enjoy standing beneath the steady spray of hot water, steaming the stiffness out of my bones, and I enjoy saluting the magpies I pass when I walk my dog. I even enjoy the idle chats with the other people walking their dogs who all know her name but not mine.

I’ve made it out the other side, not without some sizeable scars, but I have. Moving to Brighton has helped as well. I’ll be honest, I never thought I’d leave London. When you’re tired of London, you’re tired of life, that’s what I used to think. It’s where I was born, in a terraced house in Stratford remarkable only because of its yellow door and the fact that it was my house, on my street, in my corner of London. It’s the only place I’ve ever felt like I truly belonged. Looking back on it now, I suppose I’ve always felt stuck in the in-between. Being mixed, I spent much of my adolescence feeling not Guyanese enough or not Irish enough, but I always felt like a Londoner. I had my first cigarette on the top deck of the 104 and my first kiss on the dancefloor at Fifth Avenue. London is where I became me, so why would I leave? But as my friends settled down and had children, they began to scatter. When my brother’s girlfriend got pregnant, they moved to Redhill. Mum passed not long after and that was it – London lost its heart.

I didn’t realise how much I needed a home until I didn’t have one to go back to.

So, I left.

Most people assume it was because of Mum and they’re right, London isn’t the same without her, but it was more than that. I needed a new adventure. I needed to be knocked off course from a life I wasn’t fully living. I hoped it would refocus me and it has. For weeks, everything was blurry, but when I emerged from the fog of it, I knew with absolute clarity what I wanted: to write.

So this is my new normal:

  • Walking my dog along the beach every morning and watching her ears flap in the wind
  • Writing every day
  • Reading every night
  • Calling my brother on a Sunday

This is what makes me happy and, if I have one wish for 2018, it’s that things stay that way.

@tanyabyrne

This week, The Pool contributors are writing about The In-Between, that period between Christmas and New Year – a time of family and reflection, a time when we think about the past and look to the future

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