What I Learned from 2020 is...
“While this year has taught me a lot -especially about giving into grief- I’m ready to set my sights on the positive emotions.” 12/31/20
Uncertainty. Fear. Loss. Emptiness. No matter what we experienced in 2020, I’m assuming that it falls into one -or more- of these categories. Even just reading these words immediately causes an emotional reaction and brings back the deep, dark feelings I felt that year. But it wasn’t just me, and I know I could’ve been affected even more severely. So what gives me the right to complain or write about it?
Unfortunately it seems like none of us can. There were no real winners or losers, most of us just lost. Since no one’s experience of the year can be compared, we’ve given up discussing it. Instead of sharing our experiences of pain or grief, we just want to move past them. And I don’t blame those who do. It was hard enough to live through, why hold onto and remember it?
But a beautiful thing happens when we connect through our communal suffering. We find a common connection -a crumb of compassion- for our fellow humans.
In the early weeks and months of the COVID crisis it seemed like every day I’d wake up to dozens of new poems, songs, or hopeful quotes of optimism. The internet was flooded with constructive spins of the situation trying to provide a positive perspective. Enjoy this time with loved ones, appreciate what we have, remember what’s truly important in life.
While there was still uncertainty, people came “together apart”. Yet when the reality of the crisis set in, so did the fear. Gratitude turned to grief and hope turned to hate. It was sad to see how quickly we went from optimism to criticism. But I was right there with them.
“I wish I could just take a break from my mind. I’m tired of the rollercoaster of emotions I put myself through every time I have a negative thought or feeling.” 10/15/20
I had just come from living in limbo and was finally ready to find some stable ground. So when COVID hit, my still spinning life was shook up all over again. Throughout the year, every time something changed or was taken away from me I went through a rollercoaster of emotions.
"I’ve been in a constant state of fluctuation for over a year now. I’m so worried that my life will never start -or the next phase. I’m afraid I’ll be stuck in this place of feeling anxious, overwhelmed, and empty.” 9/15/20
I took it personally. It felt like a sign from the universe that I wasn’t meant to live abroad, chase my dreams, or feel happiness. Everything I had come to Sweden to experience had been taken away from me before I had a chance to enjoy it.
“Maybe I don’t feel anything anymore because if I did it would be too much - I’d feel it all.” 7/22/20
This was not the plan. I never imagined I would be prohibited from seeing my family. Never thought I’d have to say goodbye to all three of my childhood pets -within 3 months of each other- over the phone. I didn’t think I’d already feel forced into choosing between my old and new life. But this was my new reality, and I refused to accept it. I became numb.
“I’ve become disconnected because I’ve been almost forcing myself into a mindset of optimism and positivity that I just don’t feel. I don’t even feel sad anymore. As I write this I just feel empty inside.” 6/30/20
I fluctuated between forced happiness and guilty sadness which left me feeling nothing at all. Whenever I felt down I made myself remember the positives, or realize that it could always be worse. I was constantly comparing my situation to the worst-case scenario of someone I didn’t even know and telling myself to feel “lucky”.
At least my family’s healthy, at least I have my memories of my pets, at least we can afford rent and food. At least things will go back to normal some day. “At least” became the bargaining tool I used to dig myself out of depression.
But by the time I lost my best fur-friend in December -and on the day I was supposed to fly home- nothing could ease my pain. I finally let myself feel. And I felt everything. I gave into the grief that I’d been suppressing all year and doing so released me.
By losing control I gained control. Confronting my pain, loss, and anger gave me the power and freedom I needed to actually put things into perspective. I was finally honoring where I was and all I’d been through. I experienced the essence of catharsis, and it truly healed me. It was my emotional wake-up call. Deep down I believe it’s the wake-up call that the world needs -the real lesson of the COVID crisis.
For me, the best thing to come out of 2020 was the irony of, “Hindsight is 20/20.” It’s a saying that’s been around for ages, but it cemented a whole new meaning in 2020.
I was never really a fan of the phrase before because it felt like an excuse. People use it as a way to rationalize why something didn’t turn out as planned. If only we knew then what we know now. Yet I understood the underlying logic -what they were really saying. If we could see into the future and know the roadblocks, we could prevent failure from happening. Then everything would always go as planned!
But the hinderance of hindsight is that it must come after the event. So what’s the point of even having retroactive knowledge? Usually it’s because the newly gained knowledge can give us insight if we encounter a similar situation again. With this improved understanding, I began to see the purpose behind hindsight. It wasn’t to fix or make up for our past mistakes, but so that we can prevent future ones. And save others from missteps along the way. Thus our hindsight becomes foresight.
So when COVID struck, the true meaning of the phrase became clear. Some might think that it’s just a coincidence or there’s no deeper meaning. But to me it felt like the universe was giving us a large slap on the face and saying, “How obvious can I be?”. Hindsight is 2020.
While 20/20 may refer to clear, perfect vision, it adds to the irony of what we all experienced in 2020. It was anything from clear or perfect. It was a mess of emotions tossing us around and throwing our lives out of whack. In essence, it was complete uncertainty and shattered expectations. But by peering through our pain we can already gain insight -foresight. Why wait to look on back on this time and see how it’s impacted us? We can use 2020 as hindsight now.
Once I realized that I could use my pain proactively, I saw that the world can do the same. Instead of waiting to see how 2020 changed us, we can choose to use the year to transform us. It’s tempting to suppress or run away from the painful experiences and memories, but a warrior can’t be brave without a battle. We must choose to confront the darkness in our lives so that it doesn’t overpower us.
For too long I allowed my dark feelings to dominate, mainly because I didn’t acknowledge them. As long as they stayed locked in my mind’s dungeon they couldn’t hurt me. But they clearly did. Being in denial doesn’t destroy the pain or depression, it only lets them seep in deeper. The longer darkness stays sealed inside, the more time it has to do damage.
So when I finally confronted my 2020 darkness after 9 months, I didn’t just unlock its cage. I had to force it out and then befriend it. The process of freeing myself was really the process of protecting my power. Of keeping my emotions under an attentive eye so that they couldn’t steal the keys to the castle in my heart.
There was no need to banish the “bad”, I just needed to welcome it and finally give it a space to be felt and heard. If we can all confront our emotional baggage from 2020, then there’s a chance that we can communicate and confide in one another about our experience of it.
No matter what we went through, we all lost something. Jobs, loved ones, celebrations, milestones, our “normal” way of life, time. We were all forced into the same situation: how to deal with change that’s out of our control. While society may slowly be returning to normal, we shouldn’t let ourselves forget all that we lost or were forced to give up.
The wheels of the world want to start spinning again, but we can’t let them wash over us and diminish our pain. If we allow the experiences of 2020 to be extinguished, then we’ve given away our power. Instead we should come together and commiserate with one another!
While it might not feel rational or beneficial in the moment, imagine how it would feel to finally be able to talk about everything you’ve held inside. And possibly with someone who went through a similar situation.
No one will ever know everything that we’ve been through and all that we feel, but we can connect with people who understand. People who’ve worn similar shoes and have stood where we stand. We’ll still see the world in a different way, but we can unite over our shared experiences and hopefully find some solace in that.
“I can sense what an imperative time of change this is and all of the potential for positivity and community.” 5/4/20
Finding people who share similar life experiences is essential in overcoming our sense of separation -especially after a crisis such as 2020. So by suppressing or skipping past our painful moments, we aren’t allowing for a deeper level of connection and understanding.
This is what 2020 has given us. A chance to grow together as a world community and use our shared sorrow for a bigger purpose. But if we wait too long this chance for connection will turn into hindsight. It’ll be something that we’ll look back on in 5, 10, or 50 years and realize we missed out on.
I think we had it right when the crisis started. Our immediate instinct was to find the silver lining and see the possibilities that the restrictions could open for us. We reconnected with loved ones, we appreciated our alone time, and we no longer took our freedoms for granted.
These realizations were lost along the way. But by remembering our loss and reconnecting with others, we can return to that mindset. Let’s not wait for hindsight to be 2020. Instead, let’s utilize the lessons we’ve learned now and use it as foresight for our future.
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