Looking back at 2020 and my word for 2021
2020 was a very odd year all around. To put it mildly!
I had chosen Consistency as my word for the year, and I intended to put solid effort into building habits and working towards being where I wanted to be health-wise before my milestone birthday at the end of 2020. That didn’t really happen. Derailments occurred and habits came and went as stress levels ebbed and flowed. I didn’t get to where I wanted to be, but I did make a little progress, so cannot claim complete failure! And so, consistency will continue to be my word for this year, with more baby steps towards my personal overhaul. Not that that will ever finish — if we are not growing and changing as we age, we’re doing it wrong.
The year started on a high with a trip to Hong Kong to spend eight days with my husband, having not seen him for the six months after we got married. We sat on the balcony and watched the boats zap back and forth in Victoria Harbour, sipped cognac and let the time apart fall away. Aaaahhhh. How I miss travelling! The virus was hovering in the background like an ominous shadow, but lock downs and border closures were rare, and the pandemic was not yet labelled as such. Our timing was brilliant for once, which is rare in military marriages! That feels like a lifetime ago now.
Shortly after I got home, borders started to snap shut, flights were cancelled, and the pandemic kicked into high gear. I started working from home a couple of weeks later in the middle of March, and by the end of July I had word that my husband’s retirement from the Royal Marines was in train. He was coming home for good! By the end of October and after a lot of stress he found a seat on an international flight and then endured hotel quarantine. I took a month off work to help us settle back into life together and re-learn how to be house mates again. Such a time of joy and excitement, and definitely the highlight of 2020!
Overwhelm and hormonal hurricanes
For the most part this year though, I felt I just needed to put my head down and swim under the waves of this storm we are all in. I haven’t drawn or painted much, I haven’t been able to go out to my monthly urban sketchers group meet-up and drawing my little home and backyard got old fast. It seems that when the pandemic hit, I just needed to hunker down. Weird realisation, but it is what it is. I had to preserve my energy to be able to look after myself. It turns out maintaining equilibrium takes a fair amount of effort. Why did I think that it would be otherwise?
I have also noticed lately that I have zero patience for the positivity culture BS that I see online. I know they mean well, but it irritates me. I know that I can choose how I respond to things, but the rah rah of the positivity people feels like a man is telling me to smile constantly. I feel angry and irrationally contrary when I see the posts. They do have a point in some respects, acting “as if” can bring us around to “what is”, but it has been a long time since I subscribed to the pretence of white picket fences and presenting a perfect façade to the world. Perhaps it is simply me railing against being told what to do? Being in the thick of reverse puberty doesn’t help. I can feel my hormones diminishing and making me less than pleasant to be around at times. I hate everyone and everything most of the time at the moment, but I hide it well. Ha! I don’t suppose I can be on the ball all the time, can I? I don’t want to seem ungrateful. I love my life and think I am coping ok with this debacle overall. I just don’t like being told what to do, especially to smile and be happy and chirpy when I am feeling anything but.
I am mentally and emotionally worn out but adjusting…on a weekly basis. Just like everyone else. The constant shifting sands of lockdowns and restrictions and ways to interact becomes a constant spectre in the back of our minds. Energy management has become my focus as I have learned to juggle everything that is going on in the world with the pandemic, new working arrangements, big projects at work, and insane corrupt authoritarian politics taking over here and in many countries around the place. It all adds up. Public writing and art have been the casualties, but I have been plodding away on my book, with the last chapter unfolding as my husband and I navigate the waters of transitioning from military to civilian life.
Sensory deprivation and time perception
I had the words sensory deprivation come to me when I was on my rowing machine one day when I was thinking about what the year was like. I have struggled to be creative at all this year. I realised that I probably haven’t been creative as such because much of my sensory inputs have been cut off. I don’t leave the house if I can help it, so I am not seeing new things, I am not hearing snippets of peoples’ conversations, I am not seeing, hearing, feeling or smelling new things. The inputs that usually spark a thought or inspire creation are missing. I have seen many people in the same situation that have been super creative and sketching and documenting what is happening within their homes etc. But I haven’t been able to do that. I have been working from home, so haven’t really had a lot of time for sitting and sketching or painting. I wasn’t furloughed, for which I am grateful, but that also means that I didn’t have the extra free time that these super creative people did that I was comparing myself to. I was drawn to knitting when the weather was cool…but that is more a meditation than an art at times, I think.
We are already six weeks into 2021 and it feels like we’ve been here for months. In other respects, it’s like time has stood still. The things that happened early last year feel simultaneously a lifetime ago and just yesterday. I been locked away for months and months because of my risk profile, and December felt like it was still March. The sensory deprivation has not just messed with my creativity, it has messed with how I perceive time. The passage of time has been warped. So very strange.
I have done a lot of work to develop my resilience over the last several years and the thing I have learned is that every situation that puts pressure on us and causes us stress requires us to develop resilience. And that very different situation requires a subtly different kind of resilience. The strategies I learned for one situation don’t always translate to the next one that comes up. Even within the same pandemic we have all had to develop new strategies for being resilient as the ground shifts under us. Being resilient is about being flexible and self-aware. Being resilient as a family means being flexible and considerate of your family members. Being resilient as a work colleague means being flexible and thoughtful of your co-workers’ situations as well as the needs of the business you work for and the customers you serve.
This year has been a lot. And the chronic nature of the stress that simmers and remains in our bodies even if we are not aware of it can make it difficult to focus and stay on track over the long term. Self-talk and the stories we tell ourselves in our quiet moments become super important.
I have felt guilty for letting things get me down from time to time. I know I have things so much easier than others, but I am reminded of this quote that has been circulating quite a lot in recent months:
“We are not all in the same boat. We are all in the same storm. Some are on super-yachts. Some have just the one oar.” Damian Barr
We are all going through something unusual, stressful and complex. We are each grieving the loss of our old normal lives. Our own experiences and feelings are valid, we just need to remember to be kind and accepting of the experiences of others too. Same storm, different boat.
Consistency has been by watchword for the last couple of years, and will be again, and what I have learned is that consistency needs to be flexible to a degree so that it does not break completely. I learned that one the hard way early in the year. Flexible consistency equals resilience.
So, what did I manage to do in 2020?
- I worked on creating new habits, changing how I see myself and how I relate to food and exercise.
- I worked at building the foundation and the environment that lets me develop the habits that will get me where I want to go.
- I had some fails and didn’t get to where I wanted to, but this year has been nuts in so many ways, so I don’t really care. Practising self-compassion has let me be resilient and get back on track easily.
- I got to the end of the year in one piece.
What will consistency look like in 2021?
- I have started forcing the issue with my creative practice, taking a leaf out of Austin Kleon’s book and fiddling with collage when I have nothing to say/draw/paint. It takes the pressure off needing to create something in a particular way. Create for the sake of the process of creating rather than wanting to make something beautiful or polished. I need to be proactive in my creative practice so that when I am freed again, I don’t have to start from scratch! Perhaps I will take Koosje Koone’s lead and draw the little bits and pieces around the house as a project. I need to get my mojo back. Being creative brings me joy, which is something we can all do with a little more of. You can check out how I have kicked this year off at my art blog.
- More work on my book project about what it’s like to be married to a Royal Marine. The process has been slower than I thought it might be, but I want to do it right, and the last chapter is still unfolding. The first crappy draft is almost done and it’s time to sit back and assess the structure before I start in on editing and rewriting. My goal is to have it finished by the end of the year, and to do this I need to schedule more writing time each week.
- Continued focus on becoming strong and healthy, with daily exercise and prepped meals banked in the freezer so that it is easy to stay on track. The foundation has been set; this year is for building on that.
A question I have for myself now:
I have, out of necessity this year, become more of a hermit, and I wonder if I will be able to reverse that when/if the pandemic is ever controlled? I know that a strong social network is important for longevity and mental health, but can I broaden my circle again after becoming so comfortable in my little bubble with husband and kids? I am enjoying the quiet and relative solitude, but at what cost?