I’m writing this a little more than a week before I’m planning on posting this, but I feel like I’m finally ready to start talking about what this year has meant to me, to all of us. It absolutely has not been a banner year, but that doesn’t mean some good things haven’t happened along the way.
Now, I’m not planning on going month through month here, but there are some categories of things I want to talk about and I think they will kind of play out chronologically.
Is it possible to talk about 2020 without the literal most impactful thing to happen this year? As far as I know, I have not had it. I remember back in February and March going, “What’s this…coronavirus thing, and why did they name it after a beer?” Oh, silly, naïve me. How far we’ve come.
Back in March, I started keeping a journal of COVID and news events as they happened as well as my local case numbers and death totals. I wanted to track the information and see how it changed. When I started writing it, my school had just shut down. Lockdowns were in place. No toilet paper or meat to be found anywhere. I didn’t leave my house for 2 weeks. When I finally did that first time, I nearly cried while driving because it was at a speed faster than I could walk. (I legit felt like one of those people who time travel to the future and are like, “What is this…you call it a car? Is it safe to be going…30 miles per hour? That seems pretty fast.”) All of that, plus the reactions of politicians, general news stories, and my personal news made it into the journal. I have not read through it at all in the last 10 months. I’m saving that for when the pandemic is over.
And to some extents, I haven’t been mad about the restrictions put in place. I like wearing masks around. It helps my social anxiety, now that I don’t have to constantly keep a smile plastered on my face or pretend I don’t see someone I don’t want to talk to while out. But I did realize a few weeks ago that I think I’m now developing a form of agoraphobia when I saw hundreds of students flood into the hallway after Thanksgiving break. So that’s not exactly fun, but it’s not extreme or anything. I think it’s really just an exaggeration of my normal feeling of not wanting to be around super large crowds. It faded somewhat over the following days as I got used to being around people again.
I’m thrilled there’s a vaccine now and I will be getting it when I’m allowed to. If it helps us get back to whatever “normal” looks like now, I’ll do it.
My Love Life–and Understanding Myself
To preface this, I have a strong connection to the song “For Good” from the musical Wicked. There’s a verse in it that says, “I’ve heard it said that people come into our lives for a reason, bringing something we must learn and we are lead to those who help us most to grow if we let them and we help them in return. Well I don’t know if I believe that’s true, but I know I’m who I am today because I knew you.” That has never been more true to me.
In very early January of this year, I started dating a guy I’ll call Drew* for this. He was significantly older than me (7…7 years. Don’t get gross). We had a lot in common and we had the kind of chemistry where when we first met, we clicked immediately. I’d never felt that before, the way you could be so comfortable around someone you’d just met. But it we were in for some rough spots. COVID, obviously, for one thing. We’d only been dating 2 months when everything shut down. Now we couldn’t go anywhere or really do anything except sit on the couch and watch movies and make dinner. It was a struggle.
But our relationship hit some rocks right from the beginning as well. I had a hard time with the age gap, with relating to him and how we were in different places in our lives. I mean, I’m still in my 20s and he was in his mid-30s. It bothered me. And I’m also incredibly busy in January through March with show choir stuff. My weekends were taken up with competitions and rehearsals. I didn’t have time–or the energy–to go on dates even when we could.
We ended up hitting a really rough patch in late June and early July where it became incredibly clear that we had different values on things like family and what we wanted out of life. We tried to get through it for a while, but we called it quits fairly mutually in August.
While it wasn’t a successful relationship, looking back I can say that I grew a lot as a person in that time. I have frequently struggled with feeling insecure or inadequate. I felt like I was bothering everyone around me all the time just with my presence, especially if I made my voice heard and it was an unpopular opinion. I was lonely and in a bad place.
And that’s where Drew and his maturity really helped me. In those months, I frequently aired to him my darkest thoughts, my darkest secrets–and he talked me through them. He questioned and prodded and waited patiently for me to answer. And slowly, I healed. I gained confidence. I started singing in front of people, something I haven’t done in 10 years without feeling like I’m about to collapse in a jumble of nerves. I found my self-worth. I started truly believing that what I had to say and that my feelings were worthwhile and that people should listen to me.
At the time, I didn’t necessarily see this growth, but I have seen it a lot in the last month and I knew it’s because of Drew and how much time I spent with him. For example, I usually feel like I’m indebted to the people who are my friends for…being my friends. Like they’re doing me a favor. And one friend in particular, when I write out her Christmas card every year, it almost sounds like I’m apologizing for being me and thanking her for spending time with me. It was sad. But this year, I saw it as more equal. We relied on each other and we genuinely enjoy each other’s company–and that finally sunk in.
So if there’s one thing the pandemic has been good for, it’s that I’ve finally matured a bit more and feel more comfortable in who I am, whether someone else likes it or not. I can’t be mad at it for finally making me feel happy in a way I haven’t felt in a long time.
With the holidays here, it’s been dawning on me a bit how the values I’ve placed on family have changed a little too. I haven’t seen most of my extended family since this summer, before mask mandates were a thing and while people were still a little loose in their interpretation of “social distancing”. (I still see my immediate family every 2-3 weeks.)
Do I miss my family? Yes. But also…no. And it feels weird to say that.
Growing up, I saw my extended family all the time. Aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, we all got together multiple times a year. And growing up, that was awesome. I had playmates. I had people to talk to who basically had to love me because I was family. (See the self-worth comments above.) But as we’ve gotten older, those relationships have become more strained. Differences in ideology and religion, life changes, and more have made it more difficult. Like, nearly every cousin my age is married with kids and all they want to talk about are their babies and their spouses. I have neither and cannot contribute to a conversation about what to do when the kid has a diaper rash. I inevitably left every get-together feeling inadequate that I had no one to share life with the way they did. (Not to mention the fact that there was always one person who asked if I was still single and if not, how serious it was. They were totally trying to plan out when I might be getting married.)
I’ve gotten to the point where I’ve actually blocked a couple of family members on Facebook for constantly posting things about how the pandemic isn’t real, we need to put on our big kid pants and deal with it because it’s like the flu, etc. And like, I’m not mad that I don’t have to hear them spit this during this holiday season.
But I’m also seeing the importance of family too. I have gone over to visit my parents multiple times just to sit and talk for hours just because. This year, one of my grandma’s developed cancer that was supposed to be terminal but now seems to have completely disappeared with chemo. (We now have to wait and see if it’s actually entirely gone, but…it’s a promising start.) I have another grandma who is developing dementia and we’re watching that decline happen. It’s hard, but with both of them it’s allowing me to spend time with them while they’re still here.
Look, we all know 2020 has been a dumpster fire that we’re going to patently ignore moving forward, but I hope we remember the lessons. What–and who–was important when society shut down. What we learned about ourselves. Like I learned how to make bread from scratch and the joy I found in doing that. That’s something I didn’t have the confidence to do before–I was sure I was going to screw it up and so I just didn’t do it. And you know what? I did screw up that first batch, but the second made really tasty cinnamon rolls.
We have lived I think about 20 years in 2020 alone, so hopefully we come out of this wiser for it. Take the lessons and let’s make 2021 the better for it.