I’m sure I’m not alone when I say that 2020 has been the weirdest, craziest, scariest, most existentially-challenging, emotionally-draining year of my life.
A lot of bad things have happened and, at times, whilst caught in a Matrix-style existential mindset, I’ve become convinced that I’ve probably been living in an unpublished Lemony Snicket novel without being aware of it.
The whole year has felt like an extension of that strange period between Christmas and New Year when you lose all track of time and end up eating an excessive amount of chocolate whilst engaging in a nostalgic Julie Andrews movie marathon because you’ve forgotten your purpose in life, there’s nothing else to do and at least Julie seems happy about things.
It takes one crazy year to mess with both the foundations of society and the concept time itself and it’s a bit weird to think that it’s coming to an end, almost like stepping out of some surreal alternate reality.
Months, weeks and days have melded into one another and become one long unstructured mass of time and, looking back, it’s hard to believe that I’ve achieved anything or done anything significant.
As a result, I thought it would be useful to write a post to remind myself that I have done some things this year, aside from of sitting on a sofa in my oldest tattiest hoody, staring into the existential abyss whilst stoically making my way through a family size bag of Doritos.
LIST OF 2020 ACHIEVEMENTS SOME THINGS I’VE DONE
- Survived 365 surreal, weird, stressful 2020 days.
2. Watched several of Boris Johnson’s ‘addressing the nation’ speeches and only considered punching the TV once or twice (exhibiting considerable emotional control).
3. Recovered from a spiraling Amazon addiction after realising that buying loads of things to help with stress (candles, incense sticks, meditation journals etc.) was only making me more stressed about the state of the high street and also the state of my bank account.
4. Managed to keep in touch with most of my friends, despite being confronted with my own face on Zoom more than I would have liked.
5. Didn’t shave my legs for the entirety of Lockdown 1.0.
6. Didn’t wear a bra for the entirety of Lockdown 1.0.
7. Briefly considered wearing a bra when going to the supermarket…
8. … and then didn’t (I’m sure that’s feminism or something… and by ‘something’ I mean extreme laziness).
9. Became closer to nature by taking lots of relaxing walks in the park.
10. Became closer to my dogs by taking several distinctly less relaxing walks in the park.
11. Ran out of perfume and avoided buying more from Amazon by discovering a cheaper alternative.
12. Learnt to juggle (3 balls, not general life responsibilities)
13. Shaved my brother’s head and briefly considered becoming a barber. #RethinkReskillReboot
14. Resisted a sudden impulsive urge to shave my own head whilst bored and looking for something to do.
15. Briefly tried to eat more healthily to counter an increased amount of sedentary sofa time but then decided that it was a difficult time and I deserved to treat myself.
16. Did yoga like 10 times and only broke one item of furniture in the process.
17. Discovered a brand new way of burning calories.
18. Discovered a new comeback that has proved useful for whenever I get yelled at by groups of youths in the street.
19. Got bored and built a really tall tower out of used toilet rolls.
20. Took up mindfulness and meditation and stuck with it even though my body seemed intent on conspiring against me.
21. Survived several mental breakdowns.
23. Had more time to write and draw (it may have been an awful year but at least I’ve got a few decent cartoons out of it!)
All in all, I may have entered 2020 with a fresh rush of energy and a resolve to strive to become the best version of myself that I possibly could be. And I may now be ending it by dragging a significantly less impressive version of myself towards the finish line.
But, all things considered, I reckon that is the biggest achievement I could have hoped for.
In 2016, I spent six months working on an outdoor education camp in Canada.
In the Spring season, the site was often rented out by various groups of people who wanted to use the camp’s natural beauty as the backdrop for their events.
As a result, in May, I found myself working on a weekend Yoga Retreat full of people who had found their chackras and could bend their bodies into a variety of complex positions.
At one point, I remember talking to a man who informed me that setting time aside time to connect with his inner self had enabled him to gain control of his mind and banish negativity from his life – or, as he put it, to ‘tell all that sadness and self-doubt crap to piss off’.
The man in question had dreadlocks and was wearing a ‘Live, Breath, Yoga’ singlet so I decided that he was probably a reliable source of wisdom.
I’ve never really been the kind of person who particularly likes spending time with myself but, like most people, I’ve had significantly more free time in 2020 and I thought that it might be useful to spend some of that time attempting to improve my connection with my inner spiritual world.
So I started meditating in April, full-on expecting to have some sort of transcendent experience where I would suddenly feel at one with myself and the universe.
However, my first few meditation sessions were quite underwhelming – as far as I was aware, nothing happened.
I felt slightly disheartened – I had actively attempted to get in touch with my inner self and it seemed I had been put on hold.
This feeling wasn’t helped by the fact that the meditation music I was listening to sounded a lot like the sort of music that often plays when you’re put on hold in what I can only imagine is a vain attempt to make you less likely to get stressed and swear down the phone.
Despite this, I decided to push onwards with meditation, reasoning to myself that nothing worthwhile is ever easy and that the transcendent joy of being at one with my inner self would be worth it in the end.
I guess I assumed that my inner self would be this wise oracle who, once found, would help me transcend above the concerns and stresses of everyday life into a state of zen-like peace.
A few weeks into lockdown, I started to become aware of a part of myself that I hadn’t noticed before.
I was initially excited and intrigued, thinking that I had finally got in contact with my inner self.
However, if I had, she was in no way the peaceful oracle-like being I was expecting her to be.
In fact, if anything my inner self more closely resembled a moody teenager who wholeheartedly resented living under my roof and, needless to say, wasn’t as sold on the concept of working towards meditative enlightenment as I was.
Although my spiritual awakening wasn’t going as smoothly as I had hoped, I kept trying to get in touch with my inner self, thinking that eventually she would open up to me.
However, the more I tried to connect with her, the more I irritated she became.
I had dragged her out of my subconscious against her will and she was NOT happy with it.
As lockdown dragged on and I spent more and more time with my inner self, our relationship started to feel quite tense and I noticed that I was reacting to setbacks in an emotionally dramatic way.
Anything, from receiving a job rejection to dropping a piece of toast butter side down, would make me irrationally upset.
I felt like I starting to lose control over my inner self.
It is strange and unsettling to feel like you are being bossed around by a grumpy teenage version of yourself but I tried my best to be mindful about the whole situation.
I decided that I would sit quietly with my inner self and try and have a calm, logical conversation about how she was feeling.
It soon became apparent that maintaining any form of calm logical dialogue with my inner self was going to be a near impossibility.
Instead, I thought that I would try strengthening my connection with her by engaging in a variety of relaxing hobbies.
Unfortunately, she didn’t seem as committed to the activities as I was.
Dragging my inner self through a series of mindfulness activities made me feel inauthentic and, as a result, my ability to reach a state of meditative calmness was compromised.
Eventually, I decided to leave my inner self to her own devices and instead tried to focus on everyday practicalities.
I thought that if I tried to get on with my life in the way that I had before, she would eventually calm down and my mental state would return to normal
However, as soon as I tried to concentrate on anything, she seemed to experience an inexplicable urge to hang out with me, distracting me from whatever I was doing with a seemingly endless stream of irrelevant and anxiety provoking information.
All things considered, spending more time with my inner self this year hasn’t been the easiest thing in the world.
Just as spend you can only spend so much time in another person’s company before you start to get on each others nerves, spending too much time with yourself can cause things to become a bit tense.
Being a human is complex, confusing and not always comfortable, especially this year and, for me, things became a bit easier when I stopped trying so hard to force my inner self to behave and communicate with me in the zen-like way I expected her to.
Maybe being in touch with your inner self isn’t about achieving a state of eternal chackric calm; maybe it is more about accepting your inner self exactly as they turn up, no matter how annoying they may be.
When I was younger, I used to have a very vivid imagination and spent a lot of time immersing myself in fictional worlds.
When I watched films like Lord of the Rings, I always identified with the main protagonists – I thought I’d be brave and courageous like Arogorn or Legolas or loyal and determined like Sam.
I guess I assumed that when a great crisis came along that threatened the entire world, I would grow up to be one of the heroes at the centre of the action, facing the threat head on.
However, as I’ve progressed into adulthood, I’ve come to realise that the person that I perceive myself to be doesn’t always match up with the person who I actually am in reality.
For a while now, I’ve had a sneaking suspicion that I might actually be one of life’s generic background characters and, if anything, the coronavirus pandemic has served to confirm this.
Nowadays, I’ve drastically lowered my expectations.
If I were a character in Lord of the Rings, I wouldn’t be Frodo or SamWise Gamgee – I reckon I’d be one of the bog-standard Hobbits that sat on my arse in the Shire whilst shit went down, progressively making my way through multiple meals a day with no real idea of what was going on.
This is a more accurate representation of how I’ve spent my days in this time of national crisis.
Sitting at home with my thoughts is challenging in its own way.
Whilst I may be feeling powerless to change external circumstances, at the beginning of April I decided I could still adopt the mindset of a hero and work on myself so that I would exit lockdown feeling more physically and mentally robust than when I entered it.
My childhood protagonist complex kicked in again and I had visions of myself effortlessly holding my body in strenuous yoga positions like Luke Skywalker in ‘The Empire Strikes Back’.
However, if you’ve read my previous blog post, you will know that my attempts transform myself into a zen yogic goddess weren’t particularly successful…
As the days and weeks have melded into one long strange expanse of time, my self-disapline has run off with my sanity, leaving me with a physical and mental state that more closely resemble Jabba the Hutt and that weird crazed rat creature that hangs out with him.
I have a tendency to be quite an anxious person.
I think it’s impossible not to experience some form of anxiety in our interconnected modern world world.
Advances in technology have meant that we are exposed to more electronic stimuli than ever before (eg. emails, online news articles and social media notifications) and it is difficult for our brains to process all this information without becoming overwhelmed.
Humans have highly active imaginations.
On one hand, this is great because it enables us to think creatively, visualise solutions to problems and progress as a species.
Unfortunately, my imagination doesn’t seem to want produce ground-breaking scientific discoveries or beautiful works of art and instead spends a significant amount of its time blowing tiny insignificant things out vastly of proportion.
In the past, I have tried to retrain my brain to think in a healthier, more positive way.
However, I have found that forcing myself to believe that things are fine doesn’t give me space to fully acknowledge and process any negative emotions that I may be experiencing.
As a result, I usually end up desperately trying to maintain a serene and dignified outer image, despite the fact that I am feeling distinctly less fine that I was previously.
All in all, the best way to deal with anxiety is to take time to understand how it works what triggers it so that it is easier to live alongside it as opposed to pretending that it isn’t there.
It is also important to surround yourself with people who can provide you with emotional support and, more importantly, a ready supply of comfort food.
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