When I was sitting in my office in the hot tropics with ants literally crawling on my feet in February of 2013, I started having a panic attack. It wasn't my first within the four moldy walls that surrounded my tiny space that had about twice the amount of furniture crammed into it than it should have had.

Me, in my office.

Also, when I was looking for a picture of me in my office, I found this one. I don't know.

The panic attacks were the result of a lot of different things happening all at once. I was feeling lonely. I was stressed out about my future and whether or not I was going to be able to find a job 10 months from then when my contract in Palau would be up and I would need to find a new place to go. I was feeling exceptionally trapped on a tiny island far, far away from any semblance of civilization.

The panic attack wasn't a surprise. For about five months already I had a constant unrelenting tension in my shoulders and neck. A sinking feeling in my chest. For some time I literally felt like I couldn't quite catch my breath.

It's strange. Writing those words just now has actually brought on some of those same feelings. That period was so intense that sometimes when I think about it, I emotionally get pulled back into it momentarily.

During that time a woman I'll call "Nan" sent me a super bizarre email, brutally criticizing me for not sharing every single aspect of my entire life on Stranger, calling me dishonest, and then (strangely) threatening me that she would never read Stranger again. She regularly leaves angry comments still, but I don't post them because CENSORSHIP.

Nan's email bothered me when I received it. It was weird to me that some grandma (yes, GRANDMA) would think it a good use of time to shoot off a message to try to hurt someone she's never met and who has done absolutely nothing to hurt her.

I remember thinking then that if Nan knew what I was going through, she wouldn't have gone out of her way to try to wound me. But I actually didn't know whether that was true. If she was the kind of person who would be willing to send that email or leave the kinds of comments she leaves in the first place, maybe she is incapable of empathy. Or maybe she is hurting badly from a failed marriage or an abusive past or, anything at all, and whatever trauma she has experienced has put her in such a bad place that lashing out repeatedly at an internet Stranger for over half a decade somehow feels like a comfort.

If that's the case, I am truly sorry, Nan. I hold no animosity for you. I hope the very best for you.

I digress.

During that time, the littlest things, like that email, could really make me feel small and hopeless.

But as I sat in my office on that February day, breathing through my panic attack, I decided that I needed to change because I couldn't keep living the way I was.

You've heard the rest of this story before.

I decided that I was going to make 2013 The Year of Attitude. I was going to work hard on trying to have a positive attitude about any of my circumstances.

This was slow-going and difficult. But it literally changed my life. It brought me peace. I made my internet presence more healthy. I remember specifically that it helped me better deal with that email from Nan, and some other less-than-great interactions with internet people. It made me a better friend. It made me better in a lot of ways.

With that success, I started picking a new theme for each year.

2014: The Year of Honesty

2015: The Year of Standing Up For Myself

2016: The Year of Productivity

2017: The Year of Creativity

Each year has been unique, and each has been really really good for me.

Most recently, throughout 2017, I put a lot more time and effort into working on creative projects. I started a live storytelling show, a longtime dream of mine. I invested more into Strangerville and I'm super proud of the content and quality of the program over the last year. I read more. I learned to knit. I learned to bake. Sort of.

It was really good for me.

And so, with a lot of thought, I have come up with my theme for 2018.

I have noticed that as I get deeper into my career, and as my roots grow deeper in my home and community, it has become much easier for me to settle into routines.

I promised myself years ago that I would never become a person for whom years blend together and for whom time is measured by paychecks instead of events and personal growth.

And so, in an effort to stave off the impending monotony, I have decided that 2018 is going to be The Year of New.

I want to spend a year reminding myself to try new things. To step out of my comfort zone. To explore new interests.

I want to make 2018 the year that I finally try things I've always wanted to try, but haven't dared to, or haven't been willing to put the effort into.

I want to be willing to go places or participate in activities for which my natural inclination is to not participate because the activity is unfamiliar.

When 2018 ends, I want to be able to say about myself that I have become more spontaneous and adventurous. More free-spirited and more exciting.

Looking forward to spending this great year with all of you.

How about you guys? What will 2018 be for you?

~It Just Gets Stranger