(From my recent newsletter. I don’t publish much here anymore, so sign up for my newsletter and never miss a post).

Well, that was quite a year, wasn’t it?

And it seems 2020’s specter is going to be hanging around for quite a while, at least halfway into 2021. Poor little newborn 2021 doesn’t even have a chance—how do you follow an act like the year 2020?

On social media and in various articles people have been saying they couldn’t wait for 2020 to be over so we could move on, to forget about it, and wipe it from our memory.

I agree with moving on, but I don’t agree with wiping 2020 from our collective memory. 

The year 2020 has been momentous for most of humanity. The virus year has brought us to our knees, frustrated and saddened us, scared us, and put many of us into depression. Some of us became sick because of it; some of us lost loved ones. And most of us feel like we’re one airborne spittle collision away from infection.

While I hesitate to cite the silver lining platitude that’s oh-so-overused, there are profound lessons to be learned from the year 2020. That is, if we can step back and drop the anger, fear, and sorrow long enough to see what those lessons are.

Key things from 2020 that I’ve learned (or re-learned):

Mental Health is Variable

Mental health is not something you have, and then it’s forever unassailable. It can wax and wane like anything in life does. If the past year hasn’t brought home the message that mental health should not be stigmatized, then I don’t know anything. Everyone struggles, except perhaps a privileged few.

We all dance along a continuum of mental wellbeing to not-so-wellbeing.

Although we’ve become somewhat accustomed to pandemic life and most days feel relatively okay; it has taken a toll on our minds.

Like you, I’m fine most of the time—even finding joyful moments—but wow, on the days that my mind is not so right, telling me that this is how life will be forever and ever amen, can put me in a spiral that lasts for a while. The loneliness, sense of hopelessness, and the exhausting preparations needed to do even the simpliest things like a damn grocery store run, grate on me.

My troubles are relatively small for the most part, but making comparisons does nothing to dig one’s self out of the dark hole once the descent begins.

It’s time to accept that we need to cut one another some slack, because we never know who’s struggling more than they usually do and the pandemic only amplifies this.

Go Gentle; Productivity is a Lie

Related to the mental wellbeing issue during a pandemic is the zeal to get things done.

The admonitions and helpful articles that urge us to learn another language (ha! I’m trying), take up indoor hockey in your basement, or become an architect with all your spare time, only adds to the pressure that we are not enough as we are. And now that we have all this extra time, something many of us longed for pre-COVID-19, why aren’t we productive?

Because productivity as lifestyle is a lie and keeps up trapped in a mindset that doing, achieving, and progressing (what is that, anyway?) is the only way to live. That rest and time to think, or walk in nature, or to read a book—or to just do nothing is the domain of the worthless.

When our worth is tied up in what we do for a living, or otherwise (fitness, social life, etc.), we set ourselves up for deep disappointment.

Many of us lost jobs or clients, physical connection to people we love, and activities that allowed us to be in contact with one another. The consequences of the pandemic may continue for a long time to come. So, who are we, who am I, without my work? 

This time away from life as it was before the virus has given me the permission to accept and move to my own slow pace. I can hustle when I need to, I just don’t want to.

I moved to Portugal, in part, to no longer run around like a crazy person, ticking off items on the to-do list in the hope of making it to the finish line—but where is that line? Does the task on the list ever get completed?

She was good at completing tasks is not what I want on my metaphorical headstone.

Don’t Celebrate Normal

I don’t want life to go back to normal, or this new normal that people talk about. The normal life we were living was unsustainable. We cannot continue to harvest finite resources from the earth each year to feed our insatiable appetites for fossil fuels, meat, and ever-larger houses—plus all the future landfill treasures needed to fill them.

COVID-19 pulled the emergency brake as we were speeding down the highway with the accelerator to the floor.

Small measures will not fix the problems we face. We can’t work toward 2050 or even 2030—we don’t have that kind of time. We may not be able to clean up our mess, but if we aren’t cognizant of how everything we do and everything we’ve done has scarred this planet, our communities, and individuals, then there will be no hope.

Bezos and Musk profited (got richer!) From this crisis, did you?

It took a pandemic to pull us up short and force us to look around. I don’t want whatever normal is or was, I want a compassionate world that’s safe, equitable, and inclusive without taking more from this generous planet than she can sustain.

Can we strive for enough for all, rather than overconsumption and riches for a few? Tell me, what’s your dream?

I hope that 2021 brings you and loved ones peace and a feeling of ease in the world. I know yesterday’s insurgency at the U.S. Capitol leave many of us feeling saddened, afraid, and hopeless.

All we can do is our best, with one foot in front of the other, remembering to reach out to others—sharing kind words with friends is vital to the collective wellbeing and a step in the direction toward a more compassionate world. I wish for this for all of us in 2021 and beyond.


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