By Sharon Taylor
Personally, I hated 2020. Everything about it either made me sad, angry, anxious, frightened or depressed. When moments of joy and happiness happened during this long and lonely year, they were fleeting and ephemeral.
A lot of people died from covid, a stroke, heart attack, cancer, accident and, arguably the worst thief of all – suicide. Celebrities, front line workers, friends, colleagues, family. I became fixated and not in a good way.
“Death is a sniper. It strikes people you love, people you like, people you know - it's everywhere. You could be next. But then you turn out not to be. But then again, you could be.” – Nora Ephron
I needed more context, other opinions. I wanted to get personal. I asked for input online. The response was gripping and cannot be contained here. The stories told in those emails personalized the sadness of missing friends, family, births, deaths, and marriages as well as the frustrating stories of dealing with at-home children, ageing parents, and the regular march of life during very these very irregular times. There were, of course, gratitude for mercies both big and small.
While the responses do not constitute any kind of proper research, they certainly humanize in very specific ways, the way the past year has played out for a lot of folks
From my inbox, a number of people report slowly realizing over the last 10 months that problems at home seem to magnify as isolation continues. Fighting the occasional bout of depression is harder, as is finding reasons not to drink, smoke or whatever other vice happens to be yours. Who’s to know, after all?
I was moved by examples of people with mental and physical limitations and how 2020 was a way for the general public to experience what living a restricted life feels like.
For those that live with addicts and abusers, we can be assured that all the nasty things that happen behind closed doors have increased in volume.
People are also admitting to being really sad. Having to work hard at just staying level. Good air in, bad air out. Everyone is worried, everyone feels sucker-punched. Some people are angry and lash out in a scattershot of blame. All in all, things are not going well.
Everyone does hope that after this is over life will be better, so there’s that. In the next article, I might wrangle some opinions on just how.
The emails were from those who continue to work (mostly remotely) and those who lost their jobs and livelihood. From those who live alone, (now very, very alone) and those who were lucky enough (trapped) to spend more time with family.
Those who accomplished things improved themselves, read (or wrote) books, created (or listened to) podcasts, made (or found) new music. Travelled.
Those who have not. Some paralyzed by fear, ground down to the nub with worry, numbed to the quietness of their four walls.
As anyone who has ever lost their job is aware, the time until the next job comes along is never relaxing. It’s never the kind of solitude that’s pregnant with creativity and happiness. When you don’t know what’s next, it’s really, really difficult to find the present anything but just short of unbearable. Such is the fate of most of the unemployed right now, and really, I suppose, for many of us. We have been thrown such a curveball that magnifies just how unpredictable and unwritten life is now.
But this piece is a look back. With thanks to everyone who contributed their thoughts, all of which informed this article, I’m am going to excerpt just a few points of view.
When you see …. it’s a new person/email.
……. I found that getting together with friends and family became so much more poignant because now normal is so rare. In my one ongoing intimate relationship, it expanded to include a third member as a way of - I believe - firstly combating loneliness and boredom and secondly a way to celebrate and share that connection in a larger way. I know I wanted to feel more alive to combat the opposite feeling of slowly dying - If I'm not putting too sharp a point on it.
……. Late into the fall, I found the day to day life had become so barren of novelty and experience and activity that even the humdrum stopped humming and drumming. Things weren't working as they should. I discovered I could do my job from anywhere so I took off. I can safely say it isn't a panacea and I am still struggling with a lack of interpersonal richness, exacerbated because now I can't even communicate well with the fruit vendors. But at least I am getting some vitamin D, I am swimming and biking and hiking and benefitting from looking at the world through a different lens.
…. Creating some routine in my day-to-day life has not only helped me to be calm but I have (now) found some new creative inspiration taking root. I don't plan much beyond a day at a time and it feels far less demanding to live this way now than the way I used to, making countless lists of things I wanted to accomplish and then feeling stressed when I couldn't get them all done. Now I'm more in tune with how I'm feeling, first, and then I set small goals or specific things I want to do each day.
…. And yet, here we are 9 months later... all four family members diagnosed with covid. More proof we’ve distanced ourselves properly? We don’t have one close contact to report. I’ve stopped watching the news because I don’t want to hear the latest ‘findings. The latest number of ‘deaths. I don’t want to hear any of this because I feel so much guilt for letting this happen to my family. Not even sure how we got it... but it’s my job to protect... logical not realistic... but it’s what I feel nonetheless. I pray 40 years from now there’s not some weird after-effect my kids have to deal with. My gut says there won’t be. My anxiety says otherwise.
….2020, a year when tonnes of racists and conspiracy theorists outed themselves fearlessly and the world did pretty much nothing with it.
……For most of my adult life, I’ve joked that if I could have one superpower or magical gadget, I would like to have a pause button that would allow me to put life on hold while I caught up on sleep or work, or just got my shit together in general. Then along came 2020.
You know what?
Unpopular opinion alert: It’s been great.
I have felt guilty every time I’ve thought that, particularly in the beginning when the only socially acceptable thing was to shake one’s head mournfully while declaring that “we’re all in this together.” I got sent home to work. Three of my kids were still living with me at the time, and they were all laid off within days of one another. And life got so simple, so fast. I knew where my kids were at all times. My commute became the thirty seconds it took me to move from my bedroom to my computer. I had no nagging thoughts about the dental cleaning I should book or the person I was supposed to make a coffee date with. No resentment about having to give up a precious weekend evening to have dinner with relatives. No more making small talk with people in the washroom at work. That’s such a big one, it bears saying twice.
NO MORE FUCKING SMALL TALK.
Immediately, I felt my days get longer. When you work steps away from your dishwasher and oven and washer/dryer set, the efficiency is absolutely intoxicating. I was able to work with fierce concentration and efficiency because the constant distractions were gone. And since I was no longer spending an hour and a half in traffic every day, I started going for walks. A walk in the morning, another at noon, and a third when I shut off my computer. I was doing eight kilometres a day without making any real effort; without having to 'find the time' or 'fit it in.' I started losing weight. Thanks to having, for the first time in my life, an actual healthy work-life balance.
Another thing I felt from the very beginning was a stark awareness of both my incredible privilege and lack thereof (because privilege is a relative concept, no?). At first, I would think of people quarantined in homes that were much less comfortable (or much less harmonious) than mine. I thought a lot about homelessness, too… and vowed that I would not ever complain about being 'stuck' in my nice house. When everyone was making huge supply runs to the grocery store to ensure that they could wipe their butts in comfort for however long this lasted. No one in the media ever mentioned that stockpiling was the exclusive privilege of people who drove cars to get their supplies.
I never saw anyone boarding a bus with a $500 Costco order in a wheelie cart.
And it dawned on me that one of the perks of having a modest life is that there’s not too much that anyone can take away from you. My status in terms of luxurious vacations, season tickets to anything, or even regular dining out remained pretty much unchanged.
What did change was the number of social obligations I had. And – again – what sweet goddamn relief. Large social gatherings are my personal version of hell and, yet, there are some I feel obligated to say “yes” to. But after several months of never having to face a large group of people with clammy hands and uncomfortable shoes, and luxuriating in that sweet freedom – I’ve decided to no longer put myself in those situations.
So, I’ve had a nice, quiet retreat. A real chance to think about my life and what I want to do with the rest of it. My kids are grown and, within three weeks, I will only have my youngest daughter living at home with me. I no longer am required to keep up appearances, or standards, for anyone. And 2020 has made me realize that so much of what we value is unimportant in the long run. So much of what we call security is really stuff that can be taken away from us in a minute. I used to feel a pale kind of shame over not having achieved a serious career or significant financial stability. Now – I’m honestly fine with it. This year has given me the time and perspective that I needed in order to understand what I genuinely want for my life. And – in that charming way that life-threatening situations have – it’s given me the courage and motivation to let go of everything else.
And that, my friends, is a wrap. Suck it, 2020, your ratings are awful. 2021, you have your work cut out for you.
I hope your holidays and warm and safe and free of excessive anxiety. It’s been a year, hasn’t it?
Sharon Taylor – a career in broadcasting and creative life. Now rocking a fierce mask game. Reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.