Please excuse the crass, but this needs to be said.
Ever since December started, we’ve all been bombarded with “a year in review”, “the positive things of 2020”, “let’s focus on the bright side” or even “how 2020 was in fact the best year of our lives” posts online. While December is always the time for looking back and reviewing the things that have happened to us over the year, this year the fake positive hype is on steroids and it’s gotten so toxic it’s choking. So, here’s my rather more honest and hopefully more helpful goodbye to 2020.
2020 was a shit year.
There, I’ve said it and it needs to be said. There’s no point in denying it or pretending that reality didn’t explode in our faces or that things will magically go back to normal on January 1st 2021. They won’t. Denial is not healthy and acceptance and making peace with life as it happens is the only way to move forward.
2020 was a shit year for humanity and I refuse to pretend otherwise. It feels like a betrayal of the person I am after this year, as if nothing had happened and no life lessons had been learned; a betrayal of everyone who had died and of everyone who lost their relatives, jobs and were generally uprooted from their normal lives and thrown into the chaos of the new reality. My family, friends and I managed to navigate through this year mostly unscathed in all the ways that count, but so many others did not.
Was it the worst year ever?
Not by far, of course. Apparently historians agree that 536 AD was in fact the worst year in know history, when a volcanic eruption shrouded most of Europe, Asia and the Middle East in permanent darkness for 2 years, resulting in colder temperatures, famine and even an outbreak of the bubonic plague. So no, 2020 doesn’t measure up at all, but does that mean that we should stop whining and that our collective pandemic trauma is in any way invalid or irrelevant? Because it is a trauma and no matter how good your mental health held up, we all went through it.
Just because there are always worse things in comparison, it doesn’t meant that we aren’t allowed to feel bad when bad things happen. Whether it’s a paper cut or the death of a loved one, these things hurt. In different ways and some of them more than others, but we should normalise experiencing and expressing the whole range of our emotions, not just the positive ones. That’s why I have such an issue with all these “look at the 2020 silver lining”, “change your perspective and see it in a positive light”, “it could’ve been worse so stop feeling bad” posts and paroles online (and in person), because they try to invalidate the bad and bury it under the comfortable blanket of forgetfulness and denial. STOP.
It’s OK to feel sad, unhappy, stressed, scared, worried, disturbed and all the rest of the negative emotions.
It’s OK to grieve for what we considered our normal lives and to be upset by trivial things, such as not being able to go out dancing or travelling, even when other people are going through worse. It’s also OK to not be as affected and to be happy and grateful it wasn’t worse, but the main point is that we should all acknowledge, understand and process our feelings so that we can accept this year and move on, not bury them in fake holiday cheer and toxic positivity.
Not being OK all the time doesn’t straight away mean you need psychotherapy or medication. We need to normalise bad days, stress, anxiety, worrying, tiredness and above all, honesty. If you can’t handle someone telling you that no, they aren’t in fact having the best day of their life or feeling fine, then you shouldn’t ask how they’re doing. Why is it polite to pretend everything is great? I’m not saying dump your life story on a random person, but saying I’m tired, sick or going through something should be acceptable without awkwardness or the obligation to help if you don’t want or aren’t able to help the person who isn’t feeling their best.
Life is a roller coaster of emotions and without the bad we wouldn’t know the good. People like to say that you don’t know what you’ve got until you lose it and we all tend to disregard the joy of simple things and take them for granted. No year is ever composed just of the good or the bad, there’s always both, so we should normalise talking about the bad parts of the year in December too, particularly in a year like 2020. We should take the time to sift through the negative feelings, learn the lessons, let them go and celebrate the good with a clean slate. Why don’t we do that instead of setting unrealistic expectations for the following year and hyping ourselves about how “next year is going to be all better” so much that we end up disappointed and need to search for the toxic silver lining again? Life is a roller coaster, but there’s no need to make it worse by smearing inflated false hopes on unprocessed misery.
Much like in any other year, we’ve seen the worst and the best in people.
Apparently some people equate wearing a piece of cloth in front of their faces to help slow down the spread of a virus with elimination of their personal freedom. Apparently a lot of people don’t understand or even believe in science and think vaccines contain microchips. Apparently the greed of politicians and rich people all over the world knows no bounds and they’re not above exploiting a pandemic to feed their lust for power. Also, apparently humans turn on each other when threatened and some people still don’t believe people of other races and religion deserve equal rights. Yes, that’s shit, but let me ask you – what else is new?
We know this and we see it every day, it just hurts a little bit more when there’s a global crisis and we’re all raw from stress and insecurity. So, instead of pretending these things didn’t happen or burying them under the positives, let’s acknowledge them, feel them and turn the hurt into motivation for change. Start with yourself: wash your hands, wear a mask if needed, make the effort to educate yourself from reliable sources, shop local, vote, examine your prejudice and unconscious bias and above all, force yourself to be kind to your fellow humans even when you’d rather judge or comment instead.
We’ve seen doctors, nurses, teachers, public workers, whole companies and everyone else go above and beyond to help the people in need and try to mend the wrongs that came in the wake of the pandemic. Health and social workers in particular have worked harder than anyone, sacrificing their time, personal lives and health to care for the sick and help them survive. Yes, it’s their job, but you can choose to walk away from your job and they didn’t, so their efforts and strength should not be taken for granted. All of the good and positive stories of 2020 are essentially small acts based on kindness and compassion and we should all actively practice more of that.
So long 2020, do let the door smack you in the butt on the way out.
The coronavirus pandemic permanently changed the way we live, travel, work, learn and think about our health. It has shown us that our healthcare systems are fragile houses of cards, that kids don’t learn best online, that human connections shouldn’t be taken for granted and that most meetings really could’ve been emails. It has forced us to implement behavioural changes with lightning speed, but it has also forced us to stop, slow down and reconsider. No matter how much we might want it to, the old normal no longer exists and we’ll have to adapt to some of the changes becoming permanent. We’ve dumped hundreds of tons of plastic personal protective equipment into the oceans and nature, but we’ve also seen the immediate environmental impact of slowing down the economy and that it is in fact possible to do so (it unfortunately won’t have long-term effects on the climate change problem though). We’ve also seen how dependent we are on fictional economy numbers and how flawed the system really is, so whether we’ll go back to an approximation of the old normal or move forward in a smarter way is ultimately up to us.
All in all, 2020 was a shit year. Of course good things happened and they always do. I was happy, I laughed, I started and finished new projects, I made progress in my PhD, read new books, wrote, cooked new stuff, cuddled up to my boyfriend every night and met new awesome people, but I also cried, got sick a lot, had Covid-19 (possibly twice), felt stressed out, got cabin fever from all the lockdowns and a whiplash from our government’s fast changing restrictions and went through the trauma of quick world changes like everyone else. So why would I ever want to deny that or cover it up with fake positives and silver lining? The bad stuff is just as valid (if not as welcome) as the good stuff, so let’s talk about it! Acknowledge it, share it, process it for as long as you need to, but ultimately move on and don’t hide in denial town.
According to Spotify, this is the song that got me through everything this year and it’s definitely appropriate, so come give it a listen here. Hug your loved ones, drink some tea or mulled wine and have a happy New Year! And if you think this post is unduly pessimistic, let me ask you this – what could be more positive than trusting in our ability to move on from a bad experience?
We’re nothing if not resilient and there’s infinite hope in that.
P.S.: If 2020 was by any chance your best year ever, that’s great and I’m happy for you. However, this year it’s more important than ever to acknowledge that not everyone had a good year and have a bit of empathy when you post about it online. “No pain, no gain” mentality can wait.