My 2022

Chris Northwood
11 min readDec 30, 2022

I ended my 2021 reflections by saying I had no idea what 2022 would bring, and that seemed to be accurate. If a year ago I could look at where I am now I’d go “well I didn’t know that’s where I’d be, but it does make sense”.

It’d be too simple to say either that this has been a bad year, or a good year. It’s been a year where a lot of things happened, and that’s left me feeling a bit broken and burnt out, but not hopeless, as I’ve also really started taking control again in my life.

The first few months of the year were really dominated by political activism. I mentioned last year that a by-election was being called in Ancoats & Beswick, and long story short, we won.

Chris Northwood with her arm around Alan Good with happy smiles on their faces wearing Liberal Democrat rosettes
These are the faces of very tired people after at least 18 hours awake and on our feet all day

We weren’t supposed to win. Going from a small single-issue campaign in one part of the ward to a huge majority in 2 months is not supposed to be how the Lib Dems beat Labour, but we did, and we became the only team in the country to take a seat from Labour in a by-election in 2022. Winning presented a new challenge though, in that we now had no candidate in place for the now very soon May election. I was asked to stand and I accepted, with no other members challenging me for the selection, and we very quickly built a new campaign from scratch in only 3 months, increasing the Lib Dem vote, although sadly Labour recovered their vote to secure a narrow 98 vote victory over me.

The two back-to-back elections really did dominate the first few months of the year, and looking back I was started suffering from the early stages of burnout, although I didn’t recognise it as that at the time. We knew we had to capitalise on the near-miss and build a campaign team not in “crisis mode” as we had been, so spent time moving to a sustainable form of campaigning. Although at first that did contribute to the burnout, I’m pleased to say we now have over a dozen volunteers in the area, and almost as many again from the wider city, helping out in the campaign in Ancoats & Beswick, which has spread the load as we build towards May’s elections. We’ve also been trying to recapture the fun of campaigning as part of the burnout recovery in that part of my life, with an ultimate goal of closing that narrow 98 vote margin. We’ve been seeing great results too, we knocked on more doors than any other non-parliamentary target seat in the North West and have delivered dozens of pieces of literature, from letters to single streets or buildings, to our glossy newsletter which goes to every house which stands us in great stead.

We are short on money though. Running an election campaign costs at least £5,000 over the course of the year, and we’ve only raised about half of that so far which is presenting a real risk to the campaign as we head into the new year. If you do want to help, could you donate to the campaign with money if not time? Recurring donations are especially appreciated as it allows us to focus on campaigning rather than fundraising. I know I’ll have a few contractor friends who are reading this, if you could donate an hour of your dayrate once a month, I’d only need about 5 people to do so to cover the costs and let us really motor in Ancoats. Can you help? (Pro tip, if you’re outside IR35, you can donate directly from your limited company).

A group of people wearing Liberal Democrat rosettes holding a sign saying “Ancoats & Beswick”
My core campaign team for May at the count

In other Lib Dem news, I also stood for, and won a seat on, a new internal committee: Federal Council. This is a scrutiny committee aimed on keeping the internal workings of the party honest. I’m looking forward to it in a way, as I think I can add a lot to what we’re doing, and I’m especially keen to break any patterns of becoming bogged down in internal bureaucracy (a thing we do struggle with as a party) and keep us outcome focussed. It’s a party body with a very wide membership so achieving this will be a struggle, but I’m hoping it’ll help me improve my reputation within the party as well as build skills in these kind of environments.

Being trans in 2022 is rollercoaster isn’t it. Bigots and transphobes have a disproportionate voice in the media, and are running their propaganda machine full speed. The simple fact remains, the vast majority of people in the UK really don’t care one way or the other about trans rights, taking a “live and let live” approach to the issue, and the disproportionate voice of those who hate us really is a tiny minority.

But discovering you are trans, coming out and fully accepting yourself is such a beautiful thing and no-one will ever be able to take that away from me.

One of my favourite campaigning moments this year really cemented this “live and let live” mentality to me. I was canvassing an address and was told by the resident that we were all as bad as each other, there was no point voting, we were all liars, the usual stuff, when one of my fellow canvassers checked in on me after noticing I was stuck on the doorstep for a longer period of time than usual, he shouts “I was just telling her you’re all a waste of time”. So I did get gendered correctly!

I was, sadly, assaulted on the campaign trail this year, but it was by a Labour supporter who did so for “not being Labour” (he said as he hit me), and me being trans never became an issue (except things a liberal use of Twitter’s block function would resolve). With this incident, the police were involved and the perpetrator was given the help he needed (and I received solidarity from my opponent in the campaign which was appreciated).

The burnout also meant that I wasn’t able to contribute fully to get Trans Pride Manchester off the ground (although we did march in the Manchester Pride parade!), and in hindsight it was almost certainly inevitable that I was overstretching myself by volunteering for it. Fortunately some new people have come along and joined as directors which means I can take a step back and I feel positive that we’ll be able to make progress in our initial event this coming year.

Chris Northwood, smiling, with a trans flag on her cheek, walking down Deansgate with towers in the background and crowds onlooking with a group of others around her

But I’m trying to focus on the positives. The burnout I’ve experienced has definitely stalled my transition in a while. Certain things I used to take joy in (for example, clothes shopping, experimenting with makeup, etc) now feel more like chores and I’m working to move on from the burnout and recapture my joy again. One thing I’m particularly looking forward to is getting my hair cut and styled properly. I’ve been growing it out for 2 years now and other than a couple of “tidying” trims it’s just got longer. I’m really looking forward to getting it styled and I’ve got an appointment booked with Riot Hearts in January to do so. In the last year I also had my brows microbladed which has been great at seeing myself more. I can’t remember who, but there was one trans vlogger who said the eyebrows are like “coathangers for your face”, in that they support everything else and it’s really great how such small changes are letting me see myself more.

The difference a year make, December 2021 on the left and 2022 on the right

I did some small bits of travelling this year, continuing a habit started during the peak of the pandemic of family holidays to the Yorkshire coast in addition to my regular trip to Edinburgh for the Fringe (a place I’ll be returning to for a New Year’s Eve celebration for a change over Ian’s usual celebration!) I also had a surprise weekend in Brighton, where I was supposed to be going to the Lib Dem conference, that was cancelled due to the Queen’s death. As I had a non-refundable Airbnb, I decided to go anyway and make a weekend of it (a lot of which involved getting drunk in a Wetherspoons with several Young Liberals) and had a pretty good time.

I also had one big holiday — a Transatlanic cruise — which I’ve already blogged about so I won’t really repeat much more than that, other than it was a fantastic adventure (although does luxury and adventure really co-exist like that?) which I’d love to do more of. I’m already thinking of some Norwegian fjords…

The morning we arrived in Iceland, this was one of my favourite moments

Towards the end of this year I’ve been going through a very tough time at work, which was starting about the time I’d booked the cruise. I was hoping to use my break to catch my breath and come back recharged, but actually the first few weeks back pushed me into full burnout.

In last year’s reflections I mentioned that my role had shifted away from being technical, by which I guess I meant hands on software development to more of a mix, but I actually started to embrace that over the course of the year. I maintained a balance of being hands-on within the product and contributing to delivery, alongside more management/leadership work. However, changes to my role were accelerated, and it’s now been months since I’ve contributed (not just code, but also product leadership, or other strategic or architectural decisions) to our product.

My job has become almost entirely people management, IT and business operations type work, without being involved in the building of our product other than for fire-fighting. The suddenness of this shift and the difficulty I’ve had adapting, combined with feedback that I’ve received, has left me questioning my skills, and destroyed my confidence in my ability to lead a product development team. I’ve been doing serious amounts of self-reflection as well as working on this in therapy to try and figure out what my next career steps are. I’ve started working through the 80,000 Hours course in an attempt to assess what I need to do to help achieve what I want to through my career, although I suspect that’s more intended at people in their early rather than mid career.

The other aspect of this shift has led me to realise that my autism continues to play a significant part of my life despite me not being as aware of it in recent years. I think my autism has enabled me to be very effective in my career so far, but there are certainly downsides, and adjusting to rapid, unexpected and unexplained change is one of them. I’ve blogged about my autism/Asperger’s before (Asperger’s has fallen out of favour as a term both within the medical and autistic community, although that was the diagnosis I received), and I’m now having to revisit how that affects me and how to navigate these changes. One of the things I’ve realised is that within my product work I’d set up systems that worked very well through giving me a predictable system within which I understood how to work (based around best practices in continuous delivery and user-centric product delivery). As I’ve done more work not in the product delivery space, and where my ability to shape the nature of this work has been removed I do not have the benefit of these systems, which has significantly contributed to my burnout, especially as much of this work is also outside of my previous experience and professional competence.

There have been positives within work though. I’ve certainly learnt new non-technical skills even if it has been a bit of trial by fire, and the work I am doing is contributing to positive change and helping people who’ve experienced bullying, harassment, or sexual assault on university campuses or in more and more workplaces access support to help them. In one example, I was brought in at the last minute to chair several sessions at our annual conference and actively participating in them has left me absolutely buzzing knowing how I’m helping enable our partners tackle these problems. These moments are fleeting though, and through contrast have helped me come to a sharp realisation that, for the most part, I no longer enjoy my job.

I hope within the first few months of 2023 I can find a way of enjoying my work again in the every day, and not just at events like this, and that’s my current main focus of self-improvement.

There has been some standout good things though, with a particular highlight being a return to public speaking and attending conferences.

Along with Luce and Claire we organised a return to an in-person BarCamp Manchester, although I sadly caught Covid (for my birthday!) which meant I couldn’t attend (and I can confirm Covid absolutely sucks, it really knocked me out for quite a long time), but I did attend Camp Digital a few days before it and came away from that highly motivated.

I was also invited to speak at Manchester Tech Festival and put together a talk on something I’ve been meaning to do for a while, which is on the principles behind how I rebuilt Report and Support and supported the scaling of the startup. I came away with good feedback, and also, surprisingly, an offer for something that turned out to be a date (although in traditional sapphic style, I didn’t quite realise I was agreeing to a date at first). This is actually going quite well and continues to do so even a few months later, and I’m very happy about it…

Chris Northwood stood on a stage in front of an audience in a drained swimming pool

I also gave a talk at a Liberal Democrat training event (ALDC’s Kickstart) on the Ancoats & Beswick campaign in November. Despite the short notice on being asked to prepare it, I was very happy with what we threw together, and especially for the feedback I received later on on the talk. Several people came up to me afterwards and told me they’d found me insprising, which absolutely warmed the heart.

So in 2023, some things will happen no matter what I do. There’ll be more progress one way or another in my political career, and I hope to quickly resolve my current work challenges. I’m also trying to refind time to focus on myself and my transition and make the most of that.

One thing I’m really looking forward to in 2023 is a return to skiing. It’ll be 4 years since I last stepped into a pair of boots and clipped into some skis and that’s far too long. It’s really hard to overstate how much I love skiing, how freeing I find gliding down a mountain with rhythm and music in my ears and I’m looking forward to doing that with my family at least one more time.

I’m also working on myself in quite a deliberate way, more so than I’ve done before, and I don’t want to prejudge the end of that process other than wanting to come out stronger at the other side. I’ve started seeing a therapist (on my second attempt, after my first attempt the counselling service I approached told me my needs were “too complex” for them to help with which really hit me hard), and that’s really helped me put some structure and reflection in place too which is really helping.

So what the contents of next year’s blog post will be remains a mystery, but one I look forward to writing.



Chris Northwood

A technologist wanting to share knowledge and iterate towards a better world.