2021: The Worst… I Mean, the Best Year of My Life

by Brenna Holeman
This image was taken by Sunny S-H Photography

I’ve been meaning to write this year in review for three months now. And as the calendar is just about to flip over to April, I figured I should actually sit down to write it. And it’s quite fitting that I am writing this on my baby’s due date; I’m in bed, Dottie curled up beside me, as my nerves and excitement aren’t allowing me to sleep.

I so often feel so self-indulgent writing these kinds of posts; more and more, all of my personal blog posts feel self-indulgent. Blog posts about things to do in Tirana or the definition of lovebombing feel somewhat helpful and evergreen. But a blog post about a year of my life? I have to admit that I feel strange writing these kinds of posts now, when I feel that there are so many other things in the world that need our attention and deserve our focus.

To make this even MORE self-indulgent, I’m admitting that this blog post is just for me. Because I need to write it, and I know that, one day, I’ll need to go back and read it. I need to remember how I feel in this exact moment, and what has led me to get here.

So, please excuse the extreme naval-gazing that is about to follow. You have been warned.

In past yearly reviews, it made sense to break everything down by month. Another time, I wrote about the good, the bad, and the ugly. Last year, I wrote about the three words that defined my life: privilege, sadness, and love.

But 2021 had absolutely no rhyme or reason. It took everything I thought I knew and flipped it upside down. There is no theme, no way of breaking it down and making it make sense.

And if you had asked me what I thought of 2021 in August, September, October, or most of November and December, I would have answered that it was the worst year of my life.

And I won’t lie: 2022 hasn’t been a walk in the park so far, either. But despite all of that hardship, all of that pain, all of those tears… I wouldn’t trade any of it in. It’s taken me this long to realize just how important what happened in 2021 has been in my life, and what a completely different person I am today because of it.

OK. Where to begin?

It’s difficult for me to even remember what happened in the first half of 2021. Everything that took place before July 27th feels like a blur to me. I know I went to a yurt in rural Manitoba for a few days. I had a staycation in Winnipeg for a night. I have vague memories of going out with friends and family. There must have been laughter and fun.

What I know for sure is that the decision was made to try for a baby. And on July 27th, I learned I was pregnant. On July 28th, I learned I would most likely be a single mom. Within six weeks, I was indeed left on my own.

I talked about this a bit in my post announcing my pregnancy, on what happened over those days. How I was immediately thrown into the deepest of deep ends but, somehow, knew I was going to protect and love my little boy with everything I had. Being dumped while pregnant is a situation I wouldn’t wish upon anyone; the pain and confusion I felt is incomparable to any emotion I’ve ever known. I have no photos from that time. No good memories of the early weeks and months of my pregnancy. It’s almost as if it is a black hole, as if my brain is protecting me from remembering the details because they’re just too traumatic to think about.

What I definitely didn’t know then was just how hard I’d have to work to get through it. How much sorrow and sadness and darkness would come, especially in the months of August, September, and October, and then again in January and February.

But to be honest, I don’t want to dwell on that. What was said and done in those months will always stay with me, always be a part of me. But what I want to write about now, what I want to remember when I read this next year, or five years from now, or twenty years from now, is that I persevered. What I want my baby boy to one day read is just how strong his mom was, and how everything she did from July 27th onward was for him.

So yes, 2021 could very easily go down as the worst year of my life. There were times that I simply couldn’t see how I’d ever smile again, how I’d ever feel joy. And even when I tried to focus on how fortunate I was in so many other ways – I was pregnant with a beautiful baby boy, I had my family and friends all around me, I was finally finding work again, I was healthy (at least in body) – I just couldn’t see beyond the sadness.

And, alongside being on my own to deal with the pregnancy emotionally, physically, and financially, I also had a major home renovation happening, the beginning of a new business, and a global pandemic to deal with. Because life is never crazy enough, right?

2022 brought even more madness. The renovations were amped up to such a level that I had to move out of my home; thankfully I had a beautiful place to stay, as my dad and his wife were in Arizona for a while, and I lived in their house for two months. But not being able to clean, organize, or decorate my home before the baby arrived, not to mention the everyday stresses of renovations and wondering if they’d even be finished before I gave birth, led to many, many tears and worries. All I wanted was my own bath, my own bed.

I also started a new website called Road Trip Manitoba with my dear friends Dalene and Pete Heck. And while it was unbelievably exciting to finally create a website about my beloved home province of Manitoba, trying to get all of the writing done while dealing with everything was extremely overwhelming. My mind simply didn’t work, and there were months I could barely type a cohesive sentence. Losing my job in 2020 meant that I needed to find a new way of earning money, and I have faith that Road Trip Manitoba will one day be a lucrative endeavour, but trying to build it during the hardest months of my life was… a lot.

Finally, with Omicron taking over Manitoba in late 2021/early 2022, I was completely isolated for about six weeks. I didn’t see a soul (other than my contractor, hah). Having to deal with all of this without the presence of my family and friends was devastating, but I needed to stay safe for my baby. Thankfully I had a lot of FaceTime calls, but it wasn’t quite the same, and I was so upset that nobody was around to feel the baby kicking or share in the joy of my pregnancy in person.

So you’re probably still wondering… how the hell was 2021 one of the best years of your life?

Of course I couldn’t see it at the time. Of course I had no idea how I’d feel by April of 2022. Of course I had no way of knowing just how strong humans can be, just how much stress they can go through and survive.

Because survive I did, even though it felt insurmountable at times. There were so many days I couldn’t leave the house because I had burst blood vessels in my eyes and cheeks from crying so much. There were days I did leave the house and cry in public, trying to hide my tears with a mask and a baseball hat in some random grocery store. I was once at IKEA and saw a man helping his pregnant parter and I nearly collapsed in the aisle from sorrow.

And oh God, could I have used a foot rub. Could I have used someone to help me get off of the couch, or put on my socks, or carry groceries, or vacuum. Could I have used a hug.

But I survived.

And eventually, little by little, I started to thrive.

And by now, on the cusp of meeting my little boy, I know exactly why I had to go through all of that on my own. I needed to become the person I’ve always wanted to be.

Don’t get me wrong. I have loved my life. I have had a life filled with infinite privilege and beauty, one where I’ve been able to travel the world, meet thousands of incredible people, and have my dream career. But there was always part of me that… didn’t quite like who I was. I don’t know how to describe it, other than I just didn’t always feel like the person I wanted to be.

I didn’t like how insecure I could be. I hated how anxious relationships made me. I despised the fact that I so often stayed with men who treated me like absolute shit. I hated that I felt desperate to impress people, even people I didn’t like… especially people I didn’t like. I stayed in so many relationships well past their expiry date, so desperate to be loved that I never stopped to think if I even wanted to be with the person, or if I liked who I was when I was with them. I struggled with not always feeling like I had control of my feelings, and that I could be immature or, even worse, pretend to be someone I’m not. As my therapist and I have often talked about, I often let my “cool girl” take over, and I’d act like I didn’t care when – spoiler – I cared very, very much. I’d hide my vulnerability with those who I should have been showing it to all along. (Funnily enough, I always feel like I can be vulnerable and open online, but I struggle with it in person).

But going through everything over the past nine months, it’s almost as if my personality got a reset. I knew I needed to be the best version of myself for my baby. And so I got to work.

I read a lot of books on relationships, confidence, and strength. I journaled. I cried when I needed to cry, even in the grocery store. I talked to my friends and family every day (bless them for listening to the same things again and again). And I had a ton of sessions with my amazing therapist who blew my mind nearly every week. It was slow going, and it was a lot of work, but it was worth it.

And as I lay here in bed, my baby boy hiccuping in my belly, I can honestly say that I like who I am. That I’m a completely different woman than I was last summer. That I am more confident, more self-assured, and more vulnerable than I ever have been. That I can look back at times in my life, see what I endured, see how I acted, and it seems like another human being all together.

My business is flourishing. I’m getting more and more freelance work again. My home renovations are complete, and they are more incredible than I could have ever imagined, so I now have the house of my dreams (and my insane nesting instincts cleaned, organized, and unpacked the house for two weeks of 14+ hour days. RIP my feet and back). My parents and their partners are both in town again, so I am surrounded by family.

I still cry sometimes, but it’s often out of happiness. I’ll be talking to my baby boy, telling him about all of the adventures I’ll take him on – safaris and beaches and road trips – and he’ll give me a little poke. I’ll play him our favourite songs, and he’ll dance and kick. I’ll hold my belly tight and tell him how much I love him already, and he’ll press his bum up near my belly button so I can give him little pats.

He is everything. He is worth every single tear, every single moment that needed to happen to get me to this point, to get me to be the very best mom I can be to him, strong and capable and ready.

I saw something recently on Instagram that quoted a poem by Mark Nepo. “The flower doesn’t dream of the bee. It blossoms and the bee comes.”

And as fucking cliched as it all is, I feel like I’ve finally blossomed. That I am here, fully present, fully whole. That the life that is about to begin for me and for my child is so full of love and adventure and happiness. My new life, my baby boy – my bee, as it were – they are here.

2021 was so difficult I think I will look back at it and wonder how I managed to get through it. But as hard as it was, I am so amazingly thankful for it. I told my therapist about a time last August when, even though I wasn’t alone in the house, I felt more alone than I ever had. I was on the bathroom floor, crying. I couldn’t imagine being a single mom, of going through all of this on my own. I was gripped by fear, panic, desperation, sorrow.

“What would you say to her?” my therapist asked. “If you could go back and kneel beside her, what would you tell her?”

I’d tell her that yes, this is going to be hard, harder than you can even imagine. I’d tell her that, although you can’t see it now, it is all going to lead to a place of peace, of happiness, of love. I’d tell her that it’s all going to be OK. It’s going to be better than OK.

I’d tell her – as she lay there crying, wondering how life could ever be radiant or happy or carefree again – that it’s going to be the best damn thing that ever happened to you in your entire life.

So here’s to 2022. Here’s to this new life with my baby. Here’s to blossoming, to surviving, to thriving.

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Jillian March 31, 2022 - 11:27 pm

You are an amazing woman and an amazing inspiration. You and your baby are going to have a fantastic life together xx

Brenna Holeman April 7, 2022 - 2:54 pm

Thank you so much, Jillian, that means so much to me xx

Roxanne April 1, 2022 - 8:26 am

This was so inspiring to read! It’s wonderful to see you blossom and feel so empowered! Wishing you an easy labor!

Brenna Holeman April 7, 2022 - 3:02 pm

Aw, thank you so much, Roxanne! I’m feeling really good these days 😀

Jenny April 1, 2022 - 8:53 am

“But what I want to write about now, what I want to remember when I read this next year, or five years from now, or twenty years from now, is that I persevered.”

I don’t know you personally Brenna, but I’m so glad you feel this way. I’ve had a similarly tough past couple of years, and have also reached this other side. It’s not that everything is suddenly ok, but realising the strength of human resilience is a beautiful discovery, and gives a kind of solace.

I wish you a smooth birth and a wonderful life filled with love and light with your baby boy.

Brenna Holeman April 7, 2022 - 3:34 pm

Thank you so much for these beautiful words, Jenny. You’re so right. It takes a long time, and it’s not that everything is magically ok, but knowing that we have the ability to be strong and get through the darkest times is an amazing feeling. Wishing you lots of happiness and love right back! Thanks again for making me smile 🙂

Jensen Bloom April 1, 2022 - 9:37 am

I love the raw honesty. That’s what we need. I identify with many of the feelings you wrote about, although I’m not a mom yet.

And all you need to be a good mom? Yourself.

But do let me note too it’s so crappy that you have to do this alone. People can be disappointing. But you really do got this.

Brenna Holeman April 7, 2022 - 3:33 pm

Thank you so much for your comment, Jensen. I agree, I think the only thing I truly need is to trust myself that I’m doing the right thing 🙂 I’m so grateful for your support, and although people can disappoint, I’m definitely choosing to focus on all of the positives in my life (of which there are so many). Thanks again 🙂

Patty April 1, 2022 - 10:06 am

Loved reading your blog and your inspiration; you go mama!

Brenna Holeman April 7, 2022 - 3:02 pm

Aw, thank you so much, Patty! 🙂

Patty April 1, 2022 - 10:10 am

Thank-you for your wonderfully written blog that shares your intimate journey; made me laugh and cry. You are a super strong woman and your son is so very lucky to have you. You go girl! Can’t wait to see your special little man that will forever change your life.

Brenna Holeman April 7, 2022 - 3:25 pm

I am so grateful for all of your support and these kind words… they will undoubtedly keep me going even on the sleepless nights with baby! Thank you very much for taking the time to comment, Patty 😀

Melissa April 1, 2022 - 12:16 pm

Dear Brenna,
Always following your adventures from afar. You inspired me when I was a teenager about to start college and during the 8 following years as I made my way around the world, living in different countries and creating my own adventures. There will always be a special place in my heart for you, and I am sending a tremendous amount of love to you and baby Sunshine.
Thank you, and enjoy the ride! <3

Brenna Holeman April 7, 2022 - 3:31 pm

Oh wow, that is so amazing, Melissa. Thank you so much for telling me that!! I am so grateful that you have continued to follow along even though my journey is a very different one than eight years ago. I can’t tell you what your support means to me 🙂

Travelling pixie April 1, 2022 - 1:29 pm

Its cheesy, but these fatboy slim lyrics summarise my thoughts on this post:

‘We’ve come a long, long way together
Through the hard times and the good
I have to celebrate you, baby
I have to praise you like I should’

Brenna, youre going to be a kickass mum! 😎 I cant wait to read all about your motherhood adventures xx

Brenna Holeman April 7, 2022 - 3:30 pm

Yes! I love it! I feel like those lyrics definitely fit. Thank you so much for all of your support over the years, every single comment like this one gives me such a boost, and I’m grateful for them all. You’re the best.

Travelling pixie April 9, 2022 - 4:25 pm

Thinking of you Brenna. Hope baby sunshine has arrived safely and youre bith doing well xxx

Bea April 1, 2022 - 4:49 pm

Dear Brenna, I love your personal and honest tone so much, and this really makes you one of a kind in the blogging world. Speaking so openly about hardships and insecurities and all the phases of emotions and challenges you went through – it might seem like speaking about yourself, but reading it didn’t feel like that to me at all. My life story is very different than yours, but I can still relate to the feelings and struggles you write about, and they make me reflect on my own life.

I hope 2022 will be an even better year for you, holding your baby in your hand and creating the life you’ve dreamed for yourselves. And surely, there’ll be lots of challenges, but you’re so strong. Wish you all the best!

Brenna Holeman April 7, 2022 - 3:29 pm

Aw, thank you so much for this amazing comment, Bea. I am so thankful for all of your continued support over the years… I can’t tell you how much it has helped me! I am so honoured that you continue to read and follow along, and that you take the time to write to me. Thank you for everything xo

Candice Walsh April 1, 2022 - 10:17 pm

So proud of you, my dear. You are one hell of a a strong woman and you will, without a doubt, be an incredible mother.

Brenna Holeman April 7, 2022 - 3:28 pm

Thank you so much, Candice, that means so much to me. I hope that we run into each other again soon somewhere in this wide world! Or maybe just in Canada 😉

Heather Turnbull April 2, 2022 - 10:45 pm

Beautiful ‘story beautiful Boy I wish u nothing but the Best .. your maturity and ‘trials will get u thru Anything thank heavens for therapists !! It ‘saved my life also years ago
This blog is the Best I love the bump photos I’m sure ur helping inspire So many people

Brenna Holeman April 7, 2022 - 3:27 pm

Aw, thank you so much, Heather! And yes, let’s hear it for the amazing therapists around the world. Thank you for all of your kind words here 🙂

Sydney April 4, 2022 - 6:42 am

Cried through this entire post. You are an absolute inspiration and are going to be an amazing Mom. Can’t wait to follow along through all the joy lil Sunshine brings!

Brenna Holeman April 7, 2022 - 3:27 pm

Oh Sydney, thank you so much. I always look forward to your comments because I know you’re always going to give me such a boost. I can’t tell you how thankful I am for your support!

Sophie April 5, 2022 - 9:56 am

Hey Brenna,
Just joining the other comments to tell you that you brought tears to my eyes. These past years were ROUGH and you are beautiful (also that red dress, MAMA). You got this!

Brenna Holeman April 7, 2022 - 3:26 pm

Aw, thank you so much, Sophie. I agree – ROUGH is the word and I think so many of us struggled with a lot over the past two years of a collective trauma around the world. But thank you for all of your kind words, I am so grateful for them 😀

ANUKRATI DOSI April 6, 2022 - 2:48 am

You are such an inspiration, Brenna. Your baby boy is gonna be so proud of his mother. I cannot wait for your next post, hopefully a welcome post dedicated to your little munchkin.

Brenna Holeman April 7, 2022 - 3:25 pm

Aw, thank you so much, Anukrati! The next post might just have to be that 😉

Trae Lanti April 14, 2022 - 12:01 am

I’m new to “This Battered Suitcase” but just wanted to say that you write unbelievably well. Just wow! So articulate but also your personality just completely comes through. You definitely are very skilled and talented when it comes to writing and expressing yourself and your thoughts and experiences. There’s a lot of hurt in your post, which is completely understandable. My mother had a very similar experience with my father, and she’s been harbouring a grudge against him for it for 35 years, and its made her a very bitter and sad person. It’s definitely an experience that can possibly leave a negative imprint on someone. But you sound like you have a very good viewpoint on the whole situation and doing your best to thrive. I wish you and your baby boy a wonderful life together!

Alex April 15, 2022 - 10:27 pm

Thank you for your raw and honest words, Brenna. Wishing you so much joy and strength as you enter this new phase. Someone said to me, life before kids was easier but life after kids is better <3 All the best to you and baby!

Rachelle April 20, 2022 - 12:54 am

Thanks for providing some inspiration when I was in a dark place.

Amy April 23, 2022 - 11:02 pm

Brenna, I hope you and your baby boy are having a wonderful, magical time together. Wishing you all the best 💜

Victoria June 3, 2022 - 11:03 pm

Just now getting around to reading this, better late than never! Little Sunshine is so lucky to have you as a mom!

Rahul kumar July 28, 2022 - 10:12 pm

Nice I have read lot of articles and said this is what I am looking for. What an informative information you have written, I like the way you express. Your will be a great mom, I love to share it with my friends.

Jennifer M. Bell February 9, 2023 - 4:44 am

The pandemic has forced many people to slow down and take a step back from their busy lives. This has provided an opportunity for self-reflection and introspection, leading to personal growth and self-discovery.


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