The year 2020 was one of pain, loss, confusion, frustration and isolation. It didn’t matter who you were, where you lived, what your age was -- everyone was affected by this pandemic.
We would hang out of windows in New York City and clap at 7:00 p.m. for our brave essential workers, spend numerous hours binge-watching “The Office” while consuming junk food and trying the latest dance trends on TikTok. We heard time and again from politicians, friends and family members that “we are all in this together.” For most people, quarantine was a time of experimentation, picking up a new hobby or baking bread from scratch; but for others, like myself, it was a time of sadness, confusion, hopelessness and depression. It was a time of toxic Instagram posts with quotes such as, “If 2020 didn’t bring out the hustle in you, then you never had it,” or “If you didn’t learn a new skill or try something different, then you wasted your time in quarantine.” Needless to say, it certainly did not feel like we were all in this together.
Needless to say, it certainly did not feel like we were all in this together.
Pre-pandemic, every week of my life was jam packed with college classes, student-teaching full-time, working part-time, taking salsa lessons and trying to fit in quality time with my family. I thrived on being busy and doing a million things at once. More often than not, I would stretch myself so thin to the point I would get sick. I have been asked so many times in my life why I choose to fill my plate so much, and I never had a solid answer -- until the pandemic, when everything in my world came to a screeching halt.
My college closed in March; I lost my job in April; I got accepted into graduate school celebrated my 23rd birthday on Zoom in May; I graduated college via a prerecorded “ceremony” on YouTube a week later; I received an emergency teaching license in August; I got approved for unemployment in June; I started graduate school in September; and I was diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) in October, all while constantly worrying about myself or family members possibly contracting COVID-19. The huge academic milestones I worked so hard for felt unimportant given the inability to traditionally celebrate with ceremonies or with family. I felt stupid for feeling hurt over the events and opportunities I missed in comparison to the turmoil happening throughout the world.
I cried a couple of times a week and expressed my feelings a few times to family members who tried to be comforting but didn’t really know how. And so their comforting words were invalidating. I was constantly reminded by family members that I was not the only one who lost things. I watched classmates get teaching jobs and felt like I should have been doing more than I was, which was staying home to protect myself and my family from contracting COVID-19. And so I was grieving the loss of my graduation and inability to celebrate it with my family, as well as the loss of myself as I tried to figure out who I was without the things that kept me busy. I felt stupid for grieving the loss of those things, and felt as if my 23-year-old self should have been moving forward, not remaining stagnant. Little did I know, I deserved more credit than I gave myself, because I was surviving. I was learning to be OK.
I was coping with academic and social losses that seemed unimportant to those around me, especially in the context of what was going on in the world. But those losses were important to me because of how hard I worked to get to that point in my life despite the bumps along the way. I dreamed of walking across the stage and receiving my diploma, and setting up my classroom for my first teaching job. And although I will get to have those moments eventually, everything being taken away at once was a lot to handle.
Also during this time, unhealed trauma crept out and thrived on my sense of confusion, hopelessness and depression. I did not feel like myself, and I questioned who I was without all of the things that made me busy enough to ignore thinking about the unhealed parts of myself. Eventually, the days went fast, and the nights lasted forever with every possible thought consuming my brain.
I did not feel like myself, and I questioned who I was without all of the things that made me busy enough to ignore thinking about the unhealed parts of myself.
One night, I went to bed earlier than usual and started to cry into my pillow. It was then that I figured out why I chose to fill my plate so much; it is easier to be preoccupied than to face the parts of you that feel broken and the people or situations that broke you. Not to mention the fear and anxiety of navigating the pandemic and the constant worry about what each day would bring. The weight and pressure I put on myself was far too much for me to handle alone. I needed help unraveling the thoughts that consumed my mind that I was never forced to face until my distractions were taken away from me. And so, the next morning I sought free therapy from my college.
Through therapy, I learned five important lessons that changed my outlook on my situation and future situations I might encounter:
Depression is nothing to be ashamed of.
Just because others invalidate your thoughts and feelings, it does not make them any less valid or important.
You can try to run away from your thoughts and feelings, but you can’t hide from them.
Healing is not linear.
There are no such things as “missed opportunities” during a global pandemic!!!
The four months of therapy changed me completely, and I feel empowered to continue my healing journey. I don’t feel ashamed talking about my bad mental health days, and I want to empower others to take the first steps toward healing when they are ready.
While sorting out the “broken” parts of me, I became anew, comparable to Japanese Kintsugi. Kintsugi is the Japanese art of repairing broken or cracked pottery with gold, symbolizing the beauty of embracing flaws or imperfections. As I heal the parts of me that are broken with gold (knowledge, self-awareness, confidence and hope), I am more beautiful than before; and you will be too! It took me completely falling apart to find the beautiful parts of myself, to have the courage to face my trauma, begin my healing journey and form a better relationship with myself and those around me.
As I reflect on 2020, I cannot believe the woman I was in comparison to the woman I am becoming. Both versions of myself have different compositions. The woman of the past wasn’t aware of her inner strength and ability to overcome obstacles. The present woman who emerged from the darkness laughs in the face of obstacles with a newly found self-confidence and awareness that her thoughts and feelings matter. Last year was the year of loss, but it was also the year of healing and growth. I am a work in progress, and the best is yet to come.