Unless one or more of my loved ones drop dead in the next 48 hours, I can say with certainty that 2020 was my best year in more than a decade. I published three books of poetry and a short story, wrote fiction every evening, created a complete tarot deck, and relaunched my Etsy shop. I also took my first ambulance ride in January after a nasty fall, and then contracted a two month long illness after a weekend in Seattle in late February. Since said illness, I need 11 hours of sleep a night to function properly, have memory problems, and when I eventually emerge from quarantine I expect to be crowd-shy and stranger than ever. My mental health has never been better.
On paper, 2018 and 2019 looked like they were great years for me. I published books, I visited with family in Switzerland, I walked Camino de Santiago, went to Hawaii and on the JoCo Cruise and then to Hawaii again. I made new friends and hosted parties and went on road trips. I was also at my most dangerously depressed and anxious, both from family emergencies, climate emergencies, and the culmination of years of self-loathing. 2018 and 2019 were not my years, mostly because I was already living in a 2020 reality, fearful for my family, myself, and the world.
On top of that, I felt alone in this reality, knowing that my fears were a mixture of madness and inconvenient truths. I sobbed my way through the summer of 2018, the first year of truly terrible air quality for my region. As the majority acted like everything was fine, my partner acquired asthma from wildfire smoke and another friend with lung troubles had to fly across the country to escape. Caught between my own mental illness and being gaslit by corporations and politicians, I felt like I have often felt: alone at the end of the world.
The truth of the matter is, I’ve been living with the end of the world since my teens. I’m sure there are plenty of other millennials that can say the same. Though born in the fortunate, water-rich Pacific Northwest, I’ve had the apocalypse on my mind more than most Bible-Belt preachers. Chemically anxious and raised on caution, science, and science fiction, I was constantly barraged by World Oceans Assessment Reports, climate change events, and speculation about what the next pandemic would look like.
Speculative fiction teaches us to think about different worlds. It asks what if a thousand times over, sometimes with happy endings, often with dire consequences. We can learn, through fantasy and science fiction, to reach for far better worlds. We can also learn to expect worse ones. The creativity with which my reading and my anxiety outlines possible Armageddons is certainly part of the reason why 2020 hasn’t hit me as hard as it has some, but it’s not the whole truth. Speculative fiction and science literacy taught me to expect changes to the world — sometimes positive, sometimes disastrous, but always unnerving. They didn’t teach me how to handle them. For that, I needed therapy.
My crowning achievement of 2020 is not self-harming even once. I quite literally do not know the last year I could say that about, partially because for much of my life I did not consider my type of self-harm — hitting my head — to count. As far as teenage and early twenties me was concerned, I was just relieving stress in a somewhat whimsical way. Though I understood the seriousness my problem for the past few years, I did not manage to quit until my most extreme incident in 2019, in which I gave myself a small concussion during a crisis.
At that point I’d already been in therapy and on an SSRI for months, but circumstances and years of habit conspired to make me give myself a brain injury. Albeit, a small brain injury, but still an injury to my favorite internal organ. I won’t call it a wake-up call, as I was already fully aware of my poor mental health, but it was a moment of truth. Instead of just going to therapy and taking my meds, I started to take the situations I put myself in seriously. I enforced boundaries and changed my schedule as much as I could to stop my self-harm triggers from building up. I got kinder with myself even when I don’t believe I deserve it. When 2020 hit, I was prepared in every way that truly mattered.
I cried this year. A lot. Honestly, about the normal amount for me, but in more concentrated doses, especially when I was sick. I had some barn-burner fights with family members about proper quarantine safety. I yelled and raged and sang and screamed and punched pillows and felt very, very scared, and I didn’t hurt myself once.
I saw a post going around by someone like me, talking sheepishly about how 2020 isn’t even their worst year to date, and I felt a little less alone. I’ve felt almost embarrassed by how okay I’ve been. I know I’m lucky, and privileged, and my anxiety whispers that my luck can’t hold forever. My privileged section of the world hasn’t quite caught up to my off-med nightmares, but there are plenty of ultra-rich people raring to make my worst dreams come true. I expect I’ll have worse years than this one, and worse years even than 2019. The future is a big, scary place where a lot can go wrong and a lot can go right. I’ve known that since I picked up my first sci-fi novel. Now I’m learning how to experience it all.
If 2020 has been your worst year, or one of the worst, if you feel off track and hit over the head by depression and stress like you’ve never expected, if you’ve done nothing but cry, nothing but mourn, nothing but feel like a failure for reacting badly to events you can’t control, I’m here to tell you that’s okay. I’m so proud of you for surviving this year. I’m also furious on behalf of the people who didn’t. I’m mourning them and I’m not going to stop anytime soon. We all deserved better than this. We all deserve a future that’s not completely terrifying, where we have agency and hope and community. No matter how this year went for you, no matter how you reacted to events beyond your control, you deserve to heal from this trauma. While you’re healing, you will learn from it, and you’ll be more prepared for the next time the future comes knocking with a big old stew of fucked-up. Keep learning, keep healing, and keep working toward a far better world.
Happy New Year.