I opened my Twitter account on December 23, 2018, exactly one year and one day ago. We were back in Ohio visiting family, but my husband got the flu and we had to cancel many of our Christmas plans. So I sat at my parents’ kitchen table, created a logo on Canva, whipped up a website, and started the process of becoming “Valarie Ward: Mental Health Writer.”

December-2018-Valarie never conceived of being able to wean off my meds this year, of having a consistent sleep schedule, of working on my disordered eating. I hoped for a dog, but could never have imagined having one as wonderful, gorgeous, and perfect as June. 

And I didn’t plan to be successful.

I had been reading freelance writing blogs from superstars like Jorden Roper and Jon Morrow, and I knew one of the keys to making money in this industry was to have a profitable niche. And mental health… well, isn’t.

My actual plan was to be a grant writer. I had just missed a certification class (I found out on December 12 that it had started December 9!), but was planning to take it when it came back in April. I knew I wanted to be a grant writer for mental health non-profits, as mental health has been a lifelong passion from growing up talking about my family history of mental illness to supporting my friends’ mental health. And I thought, if I could get a few articles penned, being a “mental health writer” would transition pretty well into being a “mental health grant writer.”

If I made a few bucks from it, that would be a happy bonus.

I never imagined that by the end of the year I’d be making enough as a mental health writer to give my husband and I a comfortable living. I never imagined I’d have over 3,000 Twitter followers, or the amazing engagement you’ve all given me. I never imagined I’d have a tweet with 17,000 faves (is that “viral”? I don’t know the rules). 

But more importantly… I never planned on making friends doing it.

I’d tried the whole online friendship thing several times before. It didn’t work out, for the same reason why people tell you making friends online is impossible: you can pretend to be whoever you want to be. 

I was never myself around those friends. Most of them didn’t share my personal beliefs at all–and that can be OK, except I wouldn’t tell them mine. I’d just keep quiet and let them keep up their libertarian rants. It wasn’t healthy, and if you’ve been following me long enough, you know that keeping quiet about my opinions just isn’t who I am. (Particularly against libertarians.)

But in mental health Twitter, I found that not only could I be myself… you all encouraged it. The more open and honest about my struggles I was, the more you supported me, and affirmed that I wasn’t alone in this. And I’ve made actual friends–the kind that I can text about personal problems, or who ask me how I am and don’t expect an easy answer. The kind that I’m working hard for because I so want to save up a little bit of money to come meet you one day.

No, digital life isn’t real life. It can be fake–like the Instagram version where we all just show the best version of ourselves. Or it can be better–vulnerable in a way that’s hard to do when you look someone in the eyes. 

My Twitter friends are better. You’re the best friends I’ve ever had–open, accessible, and wonderful. I love each of you.

And I’ve learned a lot this year.

  • I’ve been broken-hearted to learn how many of you are also struggling to access therapy.
  • I learned that failure is not a death sentence. I “failed” in a pretty major way back in May and had to drop all my clients for a month. I thought for sure that my reputation and career were ruined and I wouldn’t be able to find clients again.
    It didn’t happen that way. Each time I’ve “failed”, it hasn’t caused lasting damage. I’m just hoping I remember it the next time I fail–because I will, and that’s OK.
  • I learned that cancel culture isn’t real, and this is both a sobering and encouraging thought. There are people who deserve to be cancelled–some of them in very high positions of government. But they’re not, and I don’t think I’m capable of doing half the damage they ever would. 
  • I’ve learned to stop judging my body–to accept that my chronic illnesses may keep me fat forever, and that it’s OK. I’ve learned to embrace fat as a neutral word. My youngest cat is fat, and I don’t love him any less for it.
  • I said the words “I love you” to myself for the first time in as long as I can remember. And I meant them. 
  • And I did learn to be a grant writer! I went through the certification course and am working with a couple of nonprofits to hopefully get a portfolio going.

2020 is going to be a great year. I say that every year, but never with so much confidence in myself and my capabilities as I have right now.

Will I keep being a freelance writer? Will I expand into content management and digital marketing? Will I transition into grant writing? Will I decide this life plan is terrible and my true calling has been to be a pediatric neurosurgeon and buy a Hawaiian island like I planned to when I was ten?

I’m fairly certain the last one is a no, but beyond that, I don’t know. I have some big dreams and goals (no, buying an island is not one of them anymore), and I’ll keep working on them–but I don’t know where I’ll be next year.

But I’m excited to find out, and all the more excited to have you all along with me for the ride.

Merry Christmas, or whatever it is you celebrate. Here’s to an amazing 2019, and the better things to come. <3