When I think about my life as a whole, I see myself as one of those Russian nesting dolls. Each season of my life has its own unique costume, and when that time is over, it gets placed inside the stack of other selves I’ve embodied throughout the years. If this is true, what would 2020’s doll look like?
It seems that everyone has their own story of how this year has been a complete dumpster fire. I have mine too. It started with a pregnancy that didn’t last, sprinkled in some interpersonal relationship issues that rocked the first quarter of the year emotionally while I battled the grief and loss I was feeling over the miscarriage.
The pandemic hit, the world stopped, I wondered how I would make a living anymore, and Jordan and I navigated how to live in a world that was confined to the property lines of our house.
I got pregnant again, and felt the bittersweet excitement that comes with anticipation of what’s next laced with fear because of what already happened.
The world experienced political discord that has been unmatched in my lifetime. Suddenly everyone hated each other at a volume that was deafening. An already isolated world become so polarized it was suffocating.
Work got crazy good, somehow, amidst the chaos. I had opportunities that a past version of me could have only dreamed of. I received my first national credited publication. I was hired for my first national magazine editorial. I began to see hard work pay off and shot tons of images that I was really excited to create.
I got a left field diagnosis that progressively got worse with each doctors appointment. The snowball collected more mass with even greater speed until I landed in the hospital in mid November where I would stay for weeks until the way too early arrival of my daughter.
I grappled with life and death in relative isolation, and somehow by the grace of God came out on the other side, eventually with a healthy baby in tow and a mouth and staph infection as my consolation prizes.
The fourth trimester began, and with all the typical anxieties that new parents have, we tried our best to outsmart, outwit, and outwash a virus that had now taken on a more sinister and dangerous character with our preemie newborn at home and under our care.
TLDR: 2020 was me drinking from an emotional firehose.
Every time I felt like we were turning a corner, and once we figured this last bit out we’d feel more settled, more peaceful, more in control, 2020 threw another curveball that knocked me on my ass. I planned, God laughed. And the harder I tried to fit my old life into this new world, the more it stung when it failed miserably.
I planned, God laughed. And the harder I tried to fit my old life into this new world, the more it stung when it failed miserably.
During one of the few truly peaceful vignettes of 2020, I found myself on a beach reading birthing books because prior to my diagnosis I faced a very real possibility that I would not be eligible for a medicated (read: feel good numb numb drugs) birth, and I wanted to be prepared for the worst. The books I read were filled with breathing techniques, visualization strategies, and physical interventions to help deal with the pain, but as I read through each one, I wondered, “How am I going to remember all these things when I’m dealing with such pain? I need something simpler.”
Fortunately, I found it in a sidebar callout section of one of the books. It said simply this: “If you forget all of this, remember to focus on becoming limp. Pain is magnified when you try to avoid pain. Our resistance to the pain creates more pain. Stop resisting the pain and you decrease the pain.”
Our resistance to the pain creates more pain. Stop resisting the pain and you decrease the pain.
As I looked out over the crystal blue ocean and pondered this simple statement, it reminded me of floating in the water and how in order to successfully float the number one thing you must do is not do anything. You allow the water to wash under you and flow around you, and you exist with it, that’s all that is required. The moment you begin to think too much or try too hard, you sink.
When things broke down for me medically in the last quarter of the year, I received many messages from people commending me on how well I was handling everything. “You’re so positive!” they said. Anyone who knows me knows I’m no optimist, but I found my strength during that time in the notion that I literally could do nothing to change my situation. This baby and these monitors and these blood test results were completely driving the car, and I was just along for the ride. I was floating in the ocean of that hospital room. Would I choose to ride the waves with ease or flail about in search for solid ground, ultimately drowning myself?
My story is unique, but the way 2020 made me feel? I’m pretty sure many of us felt the same way. In our analytical world, one in which algorithms predict the future and tell us which way to go, the narrative of 2020 simply didn’t fit. The harder we pushed, the more it fell apart.
But what I found for myself in that hospital room, what I saw playing out with my strong-willed entrepreneur clients, and what I hope became true for you as well is this: we are all more resilient than we ever gave ourselves credit for. When our backs are against the wall, we find new creative ways to find joy, fulfillment, and connection in the world.
In my case at the hospital, I photographed my cafeteria meals as if they were Michelin star restaurant cuisine, I Facetimed with friends, and I slowly unplugged the part of my brain that had convinced me I was ever in control of any of this anyway. I got up each and every day and chose to float until one day it was over and the pain and loneliness and fear in that season became a chapter in the story of my past rather than my present.
I wish I had a more hopeful message for myself and for you as we start a new year, but hope is fickle thing. Our modern day interpretation of hope seems to infer that things will ultimately work out the way we want them to. We hope for what we want until we get it. Perhaps a more realistic outlook for the road ahead is one of resolve: an intention or purpose.
An intention has no right or wrong answer, just a general direction to point.
An intention sets us up for possibility rather than disappointment.
An intention provides flexibility in a world we can’t possibly control.
This is the first New Year’s Eve in a long time that I don’t have a list of goals for myself, simply because I don’t know where I’m going anymore. I have a baby. We have a pandemic. There is a lot of economic uncertainty as we start to wade out of this crisis. After all the emotional whiplash of 2020, it seems almost naive to desire anything anymore.
But I have intentions, I have some ideas about where I’d like to go from here. So I’ll take a cue from a past version of myself, one that lived in the hospital in the fall of 2020 for a few weeks, each day I’ll get up, brush my teeth, stretch my restless legs, look at what the day presents to me and brick by brick, hour by hour, do the best I can with what’s in front of me. One step at a time.