2021: Picking up the pieces

We did it.

We made it through 2020.

It wasn’t pretty. It certainly wasn’t fun. Some of us never thought we’d make it to the end of the year that aged us four decades.

And yet here we are.

January 1, 2021.

I usually feel excited for this time of year that hearkens a sense of starting anew, ushering in a clean slate and unlimited possibilities for the year ahead. I’ve been looking forward to both leaving 2020 at the door and kicking it to the curb – because there are not enough cheesy clichés to describe how I feel about bidding this past year adieu. Goodbye to the complete and utter disaster that was 2020; hello to the fresh and squeaky-clean start that is 2021!

But this year, I don’t feel excited. In fact, I don’t feel anything. I feel…numb. I look at 2021 and the possibilities ahead, and I feel nothing.

With a frozen heart and a foggy mind, I sit with that realization, with the seeming loss of magic of the new year. Has 2020 really hardened me that much? Have I really become that cynical, losing all hope in my future, in a matter of months? What has 2020 done to me?

I sit in the numbness; depression starts to take over. At least I’m feeling something when I’m depressed, although of all the emotional states I could experience, that one’s probably my least favorite. I walk around carrying an anvil square in the middle of my chest that seems to squeeze out of me any desire to do absolutely anything, while playing the meanest, nastiest inner critic tape it can find on loop.

Do something, you idiot. Get off your lazy ass and DO. SOMETHING.

Well…at least I know I’m still capable of emoting.

So, in order to turn the inner critic volume dial down from a 9 to an 8.4, I force myself out of bed, get dressed, and get out my computer – all while carrying my anvil and listening to my own mind berate myself (slightly more quietly) ad nauseum.

And I start to write, for the first time in months.

… … …

This year has been brutal in many ways; I can’t feel excited about 2021 because I’m still processing the pain, disappointment, and frustration from the events that transpired in 2020.

2020 may be over, but the new year doesn’t magically fix all that was – and is – still broken.

It doesn’t give me back my sense of adult independence that was lost when I moved home, and it doesn’t magically move me out on my own.

It doesn’t drop a job in my lap to help me pay for my impending student loans or provide a means for supporting my journey back to New York.

It doesn’t make my business succeed or close the long-distance gap in my dating life or put me back into the theatre community and industry.

It doesn’t put my dreams back together.

And as I reflect on the events of 2020 and where they have put me today, on January 1, 2021, I realize that I do feel something – I feel a lot of things, actually.

I feel angry with how my life has gone this year. I feel absolutely furious that my chance to move to New York this year was not only ripped away from me, but it was slammed onto the ground and shattered into a thousand pieces right before my eyes.

I feel disappointed with the efforts I have put into my blog and my polish business; I have spent hundreds of hours on both this year, only to see my blog peter out from my slow drainage of inspiration and my business stall in sales and growth from my seeming inability to grow it.

I feel hopeless about this new year. When I think back to New Year’s 2020, I was so excited. I was about to leave San Francisco, the city that had become so toxic and caused me so much pain, to move across the country to the city I had dreamed of living in since I was 10: New York. This year, knowing how my excitement and my dreams couldn’t salvage my move to NYC from the damaging circumstances beyond my control, I feel skeptical and wary of even letting myself feel excited for this new year: after all, what’s the point?

I feel anxiety because I know that all of the things I listed above that the new year doesn’t magically ‘fix’ for me are all things I need to work on myself – and I put pressure on myself to make them happen. If I’m not where I want to be, then my brain whispers to me that it’s my own fault because I’m not doing enough.

I feel frustrated because the attempts I have made to get a job, stay connected to NYC, or generally change my circumstances in my life, don’t seem to have made any difference. I’m still stuck at home, spinning my wheels and going nowhere, with no idea when things will start moving in my life again.

I feel exhausted by my efforts to stay positive and grateful for life despite the circumstances. I’ve run out of steam. Nothing I have done has changed anything, and the depression cycles have steadily gotten closer and closer together in time. I sob myself to sleep at least once a week because I have no energy to try to think positively and gratefully, and to tell myself that things will eventually get better.

I feel ashamed of myself for my inability to make my life what I want it to be, to see the positives of this year, and even for simply feeling the way that I do. I thought all the therapy and healing I had done over the past four years had helped me learn how to better process my emotions and feel more confident in myself as a highly sensitive person. Instead, I still feel embarrassed of the emotions I feel, too ashamed to be vulnerable and ask for what I need, and generally believe that I’m just crazy.

And then I feel guilty that I feel all of these feelings despite that 2020 wasn’t a complete disaster. I adopted Olive, my very first cat and the light of my life. I got to (safely) see almost everyone in my immediate extended family this year. I met someone really great and actually feel excited and hopeful about dating for the first time in my adult life. And, of course, the countless other little victories I encountered here and there over the course of the year. I experienced some really great things this year that I absolutely feel grateful for – why can’t that just be enough?

And I won’t even get started on the socio-political state of our country right now – that’s an entire series of posts in and of itself. But the weight of injustice and pain and oppression sinks into my heart, and has its own impact on my own personal emotional health, as well as the collective.

I don’t feel nothing.

I feel it all.

… … …

But despite the overwhelming emotions that compound into deep grief for the overall events that transpired over the past year, it is only by sitting with and acknowledging that I hold those emotions in my mind, heart, and body, that I can find that glimmer of hope and excitement that I had thought I lost.

There is so much I cannot control in this life and this world, but I can at least start to hold a little hope that the powers that be might bless me this year. I can find the motivation to do small things – put in one job application, write one blog post, schedule one meeting – to help keep me moving and creative, even if just one of those small things is all I have the capacity to do that day. I can let myself off the hook and just breathe, even if only for a moment.

But here’s the thing about hope: if I rely solely on hope to get me through, I never get to actually live in the present because the thread pulling me through my life is focused on the future.

The present has been painful for me this year – there’s no disputing that, and I do hold out hope that the future will change – but I need to ground myself again and find a way to live in the present, regardless of what those present circumstances look like.

I need to breathe more; I need to be more creative again; I need to continue sitting with my emotions so I can continue to hold onto joy in the present moment, even when it doesn’t look the way I want it to.

And the common denominator in both finding hope that motivates me to keep working towards the future that I want, and in accepting and living joyfully in the present moment, is naming, processing, and honoring my emotions in response to my inner and outer world.

So, this year, in 2021, I’m using this blog to help me do just that.

I started this blog without a clear purpose, other than a calling to write and the sense that a blog would be the perfect way to fulfill that calling. But I struggled for months to clarify that purpose, and ultimately let it fall by the wayside as 2020 claimed more and more of my energy, motivation, and inspiration.

With the fresh start that the new year brings, I’ve decided to return to my blog not as something for readers, but as something for me. As a sort of public diary, for lack of a better term. This is a space for me to process and explore my feelings through writing, and I will be holding myself accountable to publishing one post per week for the entirety of 2021.

We all have feelings all the time – I often picture my body as simply a vessel for the emotional waves that crash through whenever they feel like it – and rather than ignoring those emotional waves or pretending I can ‘control’ them, I am choosing to explore them and write about them. You might not find this at all interesting or useful to you; that’s totally fine. You don’t have to read it.

But I am choosing to publish these posts knowing that they might help someone (maybe even you!) feel validated in the emotions you’re experiencing, feel less alone in your experience, and perhaps even feel hopeful in navigating the ever-changing circumstances of your own life.

I have no idea how this next year is going to go, but I do know that I can consistently explore my own feelings in response to that unknown and to the surprises that pop up along the road of life. Every week will likely be different in topic and story, but that’s how life is! And however you choose to deal with the emotions that are par for the course of human existence, it is my hope that in using this blog to help heal myself from the year that was 2020, that it might help you, too.

So, if you’re in this with me, strap on those seatbelts and get ready for a wild ride.

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Cover photo credit: Rithika Gopalakrishnan on Unsplash