I think we can all agree that 2020 was the year nobody planned for.

Things started off well enough, but the whole world had to make a hard shift. Quickly. We are all still reeling in our own ways. As part of my healing process, I figured that it was time for me to reflect.

Life was much different fourteen months ago.

At the end of January 2020, several of my family members and I got sick. It kind of felt like the flu, which was weird because I had gotten a flu shot the previous October. Still, it was the worse flu I’d ever had. I was feverish but I couldn’t get warm. My body ached constantly, and I couldn’t get comfortable when I tried to rest. I spent several days in a delirious stupor as my body fought against the infection. My husband worried when I stopped eating without being prompted to do so. Thankfully, he had the presence of mind to make sure I stayed hydrated. I couldn’t have done it myself.

I went to my doctor and I didn’t have the flu, pneumonia, bronchitis, sinus infection or any of the normal ailments. There were rumors floating around about this mysterious illness that was taking the world by storm, but testing wasn’t available for it at the time. After a week, I was healthy enough to return to work. I carried on; business as usual.

Internally, I was beyond burnt out. I was just going through the motions of life. I was just moving without thinking, pushed forward by a sense of obligation. I had to go to work to take care of my family. I had to make sure my son got to school every day. I had to make it to choir practice after work. I had to serve as the church clerk. I had to fulfill every request that was asked of me and I had to do it without complaint.

Does this feel familiar?

I believe that if the world hadn’t been forced to shut down, my body would have. I feel confident that I was just days away from a serious psychotic episode or total collapse. I felt hollow; devoid of anything apart of a strong sense of obligation and guilt. But what could I do? Things had to get done.

Schools shut down and I had to stay home. Church closed its doors and shifted to digital services. I didn’t have to spend hours in the car every day anymore. I didn’t have to leave my house if I didn’t choose to. In fact, it was suggested that I shouldn’t leave my house at all.  Without the constant pull of outside factors, I could stop and rest.

I could breathe.

It was that point that my life started changing. Being out of work for a while was good because I could draw unemployment. Oddly enough, I made more on unemployment than I did going to work every day. There’s a statement to be made about the working poor here but I’ll save that for another day.

The extra income allowed me to really begin saving. I’d been living paycheck to paycheck for my whole adult life. Working extra jobs just provided enough to catch up on bills with, never anything extra. At this point, I never believed I would never have enough left over to save, but the increased income made it possible. For the first time, I wasn’t stressed about money.

That, alone, did wonders for my mental health. One never realizes how debilitating stress can be until it’s gone. I started sleeping better. I wanted to leave the house, despite having nowhere to go. The front yard was good enough for me. I cared about myself a little more than I had in the past. Yoga began to take up some of the vast amount of free time I had acquired.

As time passed, the weather got warmer. I had the time to devote to gardening. I discovered how calming and relaxing digging in the dirt was. I rediscovered my love of sitting in the rain.  I remembered how excited I would get when seedlings would start poking about the ground. The pride I felt when my plants started producing fruit was outstanding. Having that time for myself was more rewarding than working ever had been.

Having more time allowed me to crochet more too. It’s a skill I learned from my mother that had taken a backseat as my life got busier.  Creating things with yarn was gratifying as well. Sometimes, I made things to wear and sometimes I just crocheted in circles. It gave me something to focus on while the world seemed to be on fire. It was a greatly needed distraction from chaos and doom scrolling.

The Summer of 2020 was one of the most pleasant of my adult life.

Things began to get complicated once school resumed in the fall. We were teaching virtually from home and no one was sure what that was supposed to look like. The stress of delivering instruction in addition to troubleshooting technical problems on my end as well as for the students was destroying the peace of mind that I had cultivated with my garden all summer.  It was challenging but I knew how to put my nose to the grindstone and push through. Once again, for the benefit of others.

Seasons changed and the weather got colder. My plans died and returned to hibernation. I no longer had a reason to play in the dirt. I think that hit me harder than I anticipated. I can remember tearing up as I harvested the last of my viable tomatoes. I knew what the coming winter could mean for me.

Seasonal depression always came out to dance with my normal, everyday depression in winter. The resurgence was timely every year. I could count on my internal turmoil as surely as I could count on the days getting shorter.

Illness was already a constant specter during the pandemic and the eminent threat of returning to in person school was raising my blood pressure. COVID-19 piled on top of the common colds and flus that went along with going to classrooms created an unhealthy fixation in my mind that haunted me all winter. I stopped sleeping and I couldn’t think straight. My schoolwork began to suffer, and I started spiraling.

Eventually, the return date was determined, and I couldn’t avoid returning to society anymore. My social anxiety peaked, and I earned a new diagnosis. Social anxiety had joined the fray. The Wellburtin that I had been on for the past few years had stopped working months ago. With my fresh, new anxiety, the thought of going back to work in person driving me up the wall. To return to work and life, I needed to change my medications. This additional transition of new and unpleasant side effects made the return to “normalcy” that much worse for me.

This pandemic had been terrible for all of us in so many ways. Grief, loss, transition, and the inability to cope with these feeling made the fear of the unknown awful. I was not immune from these feelings and there were many dark and unsure days. At the same time, there were plenty of positives that I could focus on.

My therapist and I joked about the pandemic being exactly what I needed. It’s weird to think about but it’s accurate. I have trouble telling people what I need. There was no way I was letting anyone know how bad off I was. I had to maintain that image of having my life sorted out. I still can’t tell you exactly why I have this problem. These were feelings that I had been trying to work through for years in therapy, but life took the hard part away for me. It was freeing.

The return to society has made me re-evaluate my priorities. I no longer agree to things blindly. I’m still working up to saying no to things that do not serve me, but I’m getting better. The meds are helping and I’m not as anxious about being with people again. Seasons are changing and I’m making time for my garden again this year. I’m doing things for me and no one else. Growing season is back again.