I like to enjoy a lot of “end of year” recaps in the popular press. Sometimes, it is fun and frivolous, like sports bloopers. Sometimes, it is more fascinating, like the top ten moments in astronomy.
Recently, I was reading an end-of-year wrap-up, pre-2022 transition piece by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. Separate from the stacks of fiction writing that she has done over the years, she has been a consistent voice in the wilderness blogging about the business of writing. I don’t always agree with her interpretations of the motives and psychology of other players in the business, her lines are often drawn a little straighter or solid than I would draw them in my limited experience in that field, but I always enjoy reading her take on things.
But as I read one of her wrap-ups, my thought was not about the writing business, but a phrase she used. That 2021 was better than 2020. And I had to pause. Was it?
Was 2021 actually better than 2020? I hadn’t given it any thought, not really. On an objective basis, there’s certainly the obvious. 2020 gave us the pandemic, 2021 gave us the vaccine. It must, therefore, be better, right? Yet the phrase stuck with me.
2020 was tough, of course
2020 was a tough year, no doubt. For myself and my family, we hunkered down. We were no longer at work or school, we switched to Work-From-Home (WFH) and virtual school, and watched as the world turned into a giant dumpster fire. Over time, we all started to become well-versed in amateur epidemiology discussions. And I was convinced, utterly convinced early on, that the conversation would soon turn.
We started off playing Six Degrees of Separation from Keven Bacon, learning about friends of friends of friends of relatives in other countries who were affected. We followed open posts on social media of people asking for thoughts and prayers for a loved one who started with a cough, went into the hospital, was eventually on a ventilator, seemed to get better, was being weaned off, had relapses, was talking about coming back home and a long recovery, and then, silence for a day or two while their world collapsed around them to say that no, that person would not be coming home again after all. Ever.
And I was convinced that as the disease progressed, and we saw the type of outcomes that Greece had seen, where a one-page obituary page in a newspaper had grown to a dozen-plus pages in two months just trying to keep up with notices, that the 6 Degrees would become 1 Degree of separation. But it didn’t.
A highly-social, healthy young minstrel of a cousin was presumptive-positive, but recovered. A friend in another region became sick, one of only 5 people in their entire jurisdiction to have COVID, and recovered.
When a friend contacted us to say another friend’s spouse had died, we thought it was some sort of cruel mistake. It couldn’t be our friend Jeremy. He wasn’t even sick. It must be some other Jeremy. Except it wasn’t COVID, just random health things that claimed a friend.
And the year continued. Lockdown became normal. My family and I became hermits, keeping ourselves safe. And we knew almost nobody who died from COVID, or even diagnosed, let alone hospitalized.
Isolation was bad, the world was a dumpster fire, but it was relatively quiet within our bubble. No chaos, outside of toilet paper hoarding. We tried to help out where we could from our health-safe bubbles, even just simple things like trying to order from different restaurants just to spread the love. Extra contributions for charity. More volunteering, albeit virtually.
We inhaled sharply in March, and we slowly exhaled for the next 8 months.
2021 was a different beast
At the start of the year, my life sucked. Not “we’re all dying” sucked, which is a different level of perspective, but I had a stupid irritating leg infection. A wound tied to diabetes, weight, extra fluid, and a host of other basic poor-health things, all started by scraping my leg one night in the dark on the side of a plastic laundry basket.
The damn thing wouldn’t heal. January, February and March, even a bit of April were all about appointments, wound care, and being accidentally flayed when strips of tape were removed during one cleaning.
I did a mental health check-in on myself with medical professionals in April. I was definitely feeling the strain of everything with work, lack of a personal life, isolation, concern for others, etc. I wasn’t feeling like I was going to hurt myself or anything, but it raised an interesting question.
Is it self-harm if you are not actively trying to defend yourself either? At one point, when my leg was driving me crazy, and I’d just had enough of dealing with all this crap and wanted a solution, I was in the ER and thinking about what options they would offer me. And I realized something scary.
If they had told me that the solution was to amputate below the knee, I felt like I would have said, “Can we do it today? Is this an out-patient thing?”
Not, “Are you crazy? Let’s get a few extra opinions before we make a drastic discussion like that!”.
No, instead, it was more like, “Okay, I’m parked in the regular parking area, is my car okay there while we go ahead with a life-altering decision. I’ll tell Andrea and Jacob about it later.”
I was out of energy. I didn’t have anything left in my reserves, never mind the main tank. I just wanted a solution.
I rebounded. But I wouldn’t say May-August were hotbeds of happiness. As I found my way through the months, I was feeling a certain degree of malaise, ennui, a feeling I couldn’t quite put into words. Until the NY Times did it for me with their article about “languishing”.
My reaction was not simply, “Yes, that’s accurate” so much as “F***, yes, that’s EXACTLY what I’m trying to articulate. Get out of my head!”.
For Thanksgiving, Andrea and Jacob were ready to reconnect with extended family. I definitely was not. I feel somewhat adrift, to be honest.
Just after Thanksgiving, Jacob came back with a cold. I had one by the end of the week, either a variant of his or just on my own, doesn’t matter which. It went away, and came back a week later. Jacob’s was strong enough, tied to school attendance, for us to get him a COVID test, which was negative. I got better, didn’t bother being tested. It was just a cold. But every cough, ache and sniffle was “Umm, does THAT mean something?”.
I had started working out in September, and I was feeling better physically, on track for some goals, until I got sick. Since then, I have felt like crap more days than not. I’ve been altering dosage times for some medicine I take, which has improved my sleeping overall, but I’m not back into workouts yet. January 1st, either way, I’ll be back full-throttle, but I’m not there yet. Getting closer. But not yet.
November should have been a huge high for me. National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), or “national novel-writing-in-a-month”, depending on your perspective was on deck, with the official goal to write 50K words. I had hoped to hit 70K for my HR Guide, but I had to “settle” for 50,925 in 30 days. I did NOT write every day, a mixture of energy levels, interest, competing obligations, and well, feeling like crap.
On the volunteering front, back in June, I gave up a huge project that I had dropped the ball on, as I was just not able to finish. Someone else took it over and it died with them too, so not just me. Others have pitched in, no success. Doesn’t matter that they didn’t do it either, for me it only matters that I said I would do something that I didn’t / couldn’t deliver.
I was approached in the fall to take on another assignment, something that would have been a good challenge for me, and something I had thought about doing. I said no. I just don’t feel like I can commit to a regular gig right now in my personal life. Too much “obligation”, not enough “flexibility”, I guess.
I completed half of another project, another half to go. Another project is 90% done, and I had hoped to be finished by now, but we agreed to some small updates that I’ll do by April, and then be done entirely. A separate but related commitment should have lasted two years, but I withdrew after one.
I tell myself that it is so I can focus on other things, but the reality is that in those contexts, I don’t want people relying on me. By the end of March, all of my commitments will be complete.
For work, I don’t have the same concerns. At work, I’m willing to take on MORE responsibility, within a defined timeline of my day i.e., I’m functional during the day. I can’t commit to other things at night when I’m not.
Contrast and compare
If this was an exam, and they said to contrast and compare the two years, I would say 2020 was “bad but uneventful for COVID impacts”. After the first “thud”, we waited for the second shoe to fall and it didn’t.
For 2021, I would say I felt a lot of frustration (January to March), a bit of hope with vaccines (April to June), continued languishing (July to September), and physically like crap (October to now).
I don’t feel like 2021 was better. I am still struggling with re-engaging with the world in person. I went for a simple dinner out the other night at a Swiss Chalet, and I was a bit uncomfortable with the number of people in the restaurant, including a bunch of young unvaccinated kids. I’m double-vaxxed, the kids were nowhere near us, and yet I was getting a heebie-jeebie feeling. Andrea and Jacob were fine.
I’m not ready for a return to normal, even though I’ll be signing up for a 3x / booster soon.
I’m angry with the world. I’m less tolerant. I have no extra energy to waste on the stupid. I enjoyed a skit too much, by ventriloquist Jeff Dunham with his old-man puppet Walter as a pseudo-Walmart greeter…”Hi, Welcome to Walmart. Get your sh** and go home!”.
But I also find that I am much more emotionally vulnerable/available right now. Lines in shows that are a bit sad, or the death of a character, are enough to have me crying a blue streak. I read a few articles today with strong emotional stories from the last year, and they can wipe me out in a few lines. Too many of them and it’s time for a nap.
My back and ribs are giving me more trouble than usual, and I feel immobilized with inaction on a bunch of chores I need to finish before the new year. I feel like our house is starting to look like a scene from Hoarders, I have boxes of stuff that need to be put away, but there are about 22 dominoes between me and success on the first box.
Getting there, but it sure has been slow.
I’m not saying there aren’t bright spots, there surely are. I’m just saying I don’t know that the rollercoaster of 2021 was better than the “waiting to exhale” feeling of 2020, at least not for me.
And if I think about it too long, my eyes water. I need to focus on solutions more in 2022. Getting by right now isn’t working.