2020 was a terrible year for the world. So much death, unemployment, isolation and suffering all around.
Except, I was exceptionally fortunate.
What happened in my household in 2020 was almost exactly what I needed to rebuild myself from within.
Not to say I would have wished that on myself, but the crisis is the crucible of character and I feel like I came out of it sharper, stronger and with an inner core which keeps me burning even now. Because of that steel in my heart, I could tackle what came next in 2021 with some level of serenity. 2021 was the year where all the losses, death and destruction happened in my family. But we're getting ahead of ourselves right now - stick to 2020.
I'm usually equipped to deal with large scale emergencies, but completely lost at an ordinary life. I've had friends comment that between that sort of hyperfocus flow states and drinking coffee to calm down & sleep, I might have ADHD or something. But the label doesn't matter as much as what I experience on a day to day life. I have to plan everything as much as I can to cope with my focus snagging on the wrong things - the modern world I live in is very cooperative of my needs. If I need to drive out for dinner, I'll look up the location in Google street view, even if I'm looking for a friend's house or look at satellite views of Lake Merrit before deciding where to park around it. If I have to go to Lowes, I can lookup every item in the list, note down the aisle numbers and plan a walk around the building to "get in, get out" fast. I'll happily break down my recipe into a shopping list, rearrange my shopping list to match the aisle order (hate it, hate it when they reshuffle it). I've got all the traffic light orders in my little end of town memorized, even the ones which switch during rush hours. Everything follows patterns or if it is new, it can be looked up easily. Everything can be planned to minute detail, so that when I'm doing it I can just go through the motions without having to actually think consciously.
I exercise this part of my brain every time I get a complex problem to debug - the patterns jump out at me without seeing the code in detail. Anyway, I digress.
And because I'm hyperfocussed but only occasionally when my brain does fall into a pattern, I need to really push it as far as I can go. I would get more done in a night of flow-state than stopping at midnight or 2 AM. Sleep is only needed because you have to drive tomorrow to work. Productivity wasn't on tap, but like a flood that washes everything else away in your life - I don't hate my commute, I just hate what it does to my mind the night before. My choices are sleep now, lose the focus or do the work, but be tired all day the next day.
Did I mention I was looking forward to a new baby in July 2020? Talk about an emergency in the making - I could probably drive to the delivery room with my eyes closed and probably did do that in my mind everytime I heard an "Ow" from under the blankets.
So, suddenly I had no social interactions to worry about being "off" in public - if you know me, I start mashing my eyes and pulling tangles out of my hair as my internal agitation starts boiling over. My grocery trip efficiency was an excellent idea, extreme emergency planning was a rational activity to go into. My kid was right there with me all day, I could genuinely play with him - truly free play instead of something directed. I could cook all the meals. Started going for runs just before lunch, but with the instant pot already on a timer to be ready when I come back. Started sleeping longer in the night, because I wasn't coming home tired - I was still working, but had saved a 9 PM to midnight slot to actually do some work if I needed to. I was no longer sitting at a desk from 4 PM to 8 PM to finish something, because the kid needed attention. The days where I pushed him to burn through his energies in the afternoon were fun, but it also made bedtime a breeze. My night also ended with dragging myself into bed, complain about the 77F room half-heartedly and sleep quickly. If I wanted to watch something I didn't have to do it at night before sleep (like I used to), tomorrow afternoon was wide open.
In lockdown, every day was the same from the outside, nothing could change easily - at least, nothing came in from the outside to disrupt the repetition. There were birthday parties, but it was on Zoom - I could jump out of it on a moment's notice, no waiting for the awkward goodbyes to leave. There were strangers on Zoom, but nobody was having private conversations of "so, what do you do?" - the birthday would be on-topic. My phone would ring, but picking it up was a choice, I could if I had the space to talk. And everyone wanted to talk, including me, but not just every day. Good days had good phone calls, good food, sunshine and my brain stop firing alarms.
There were bad days too, all the wildfires in California, the smoke filled days without sun sucked. But those days came after my brain had left this constant state of panic about "what's happening next?", which messes with the planning side of my brain.
I could cope. And my brain had stopping exploding the current trends into a fractal of complex probabilities of the future.
The kid came in an unexpected way, but we got some help from family already in the US. My immigration situation got sorted at the same time. Started feeling connected to the place I live in a way which made it feel like home, not some cave I take refuge in every night.
Right now it is Dec 2021, but my brain has (so far) been permanently changed by 2020. There are still challenges and struggles, but there's serenity in the moment.
In a very roundabout way, 2020 was the best year for my mental health since I was a teenager.
I hope all of you get the peace you are looking for, but without needing a global catastrophe to set the dominoes falling.--
“Our anxiety does not come from thinking about the future, but from wanting to control it.”
-- Kahlil Gibran