2020: what a year, hey?

When this year began, I remember many of us speaking about how this was going to be our year; how we thought of 2020 and we thought of clarity—clarity of vision, clarity of dreams, a fresh decade to start down a brand-new path and create the lives we wanted to live. It seems so far away when we think about it now, that bouncy optimism that accompanied the beginning of this year. In the midst of our revelry and big plans, however, we missed one important truth: clarity doesn’t always come in the form you want it to.

Looking back on how the first few months of this year played out for me, I understand now that my body may have been hinting at what was to come, even if my mind couldn’t see it yet.

I’m generally a fairly grounded person. I’ve experienced fear and anxiety, but most of the time I’ve managed to contain those feelings and keep moving forward. I was taught to do this early on in my life—as a gymnast in my youth, I became resilient and tolerant of a lot of mental discomfort. I’ve had my own struggles over the years, but each time I came out on the other side, stronger for it, with tools and knowledge to allow me to take care of myself the next time things didn’t go as I’d planned.

This year felt a little different. I didn’t really take enough time to rest over the Christmas holidays and returned to my studies after a short two-week break that felt not nearly long enough. It was like I was rushing into this new year and hadn’t had the proper chance to catch my breath.

Near the end of January, I began to notice I was experiencing some symptoms of anxiety. They were stronger than normal. I was panicking about a few things, tired a lot of the time, and calling my dad often for reassurance that I would be okay. I remember going to the bookstore one day and just feeling an overwhelming sensation in my chest, that I couldn’t breathe properly and everything was too much to handle. I bought some books, most notably one called, Feck Perfuction by designer and artist James Victoire. Books have almost always been my go-to in challenging moments, and I appreciated this one for the author’s grounded, fatherly energy and direct advice. He even managed to make me laugh a few times, and his words were a welcome anchor in the busyness of my days.

At the end of February, I was set to go on a trip to Costa Rica with two close friends. The whispers of COVID-19 were growing louder, and I feared it wasn’t safe to travel. In the end, I decided the threat was tolerable and I joined my friends for one glorious week in the sun. We came home to an airport that had signs up about the latest virus and how to protect yourself, but it still felt so far away. This couldn’t be real, could it?

Shortly after we returned, it became evident that this was, in fact, real. Very real. The notion of a global pandemic was so foreign to me, to most of us I believe, that when it was first announced by the World Health Organization it was too much for me to wrap my mind around. Five days later, everything went into lock down and I was left alone with my thoughts and too much time.

Sometimes clarity comes with a sharp purity that stings and snaps us out of any illusions we have about our current reality. Sometimes clarity hurts, and sometimes it makes us see the things we’ve been avoiding for far too long, the truths we haven’t wanted to acknowledge.

2020 has been uncomfortable, let me tell you that. The beginning of that first quarantine was such a drastic shift for me. I went from being with people nearly every day to spending all of my time physically isolated from anyone I knew. I’ve lived alone all through this pandemic, and at first it was really hard. I struggled to communicate with my friends. I struggled to sit with myself. Old wounds came up and drama ensued, and some friendships fell apart. While some things were crumbling faster than I could piece them back together again, in other places I was growing stronger than I’d ever been before.

Ultimately, with clarity comes an opportunity for healing—when we clear out the old, we are able to make space for the new. Clarity may sting, but it’s also empowering.

When I didn’t know what else to do, I started sitting still. Early on in the first lockdown, I began the practice of sitting in silence for ten to twenty every morning right after I finished eating my breakfast, and it has been magical. At first it was somewhat difficult; I didn’t necessarily enjoy listening and giving space to my thoughts, I was doing it because I knew it was good for me. I knew I would feel better if I did.

At some point during the summer, things began to shift. I was smiling more of my own accord and I was making myself laugh a lot. I began to define 2020 as the year I became my own best friend, as opposed to writing it off as the year everything fell apart. Through all the chaos and uncertainty, I found my way back home to myself and remembered the things I have always loved to do. These things anchored me to a new-found sense of purpose and surprised me with how simple or easy they could be.

My experience of 2020 has reminded me of a poem I wrote some time last year: healing is an unravelling of sorts—you pull and pull until you get back to the core of what was there all along.

This is the magic of the healing process—it’s so much simpler than we sometimes make it out to be. Clarity doesn’t always come in the form you want it to, but if we listen and take note when it does arrive, we can move forward with more ease and knowledge of how we’d like to continue on.

When things fall apart, you get to choose how you stitch them back together.

How will you move forward with all you’ve learned and grown through this year?

That is up to you.

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