And several important lessons it taught me.
2020 was one of the most challenging years we’ve ever faced not only here in the UK, but worldwide. Yet, I’ve managed to find many valuable lessons and heal in more ways than ever before. While many have found this year to be brutal on their mental health, I’ve found it to be largely the opposite.
Leaving behind grief and beginning to heal.
At the beginning of 2020, I was in a dark place. My partner and I were at breaking point and my mental health was beginning to decline again. The previous year had all but broken me, and I was dragging myself into the next decade held together only by hope. In fact, things were so bad I fear that had COVID not happened, I would not only be single but quite likely dead. I was, for lack of a better word, suicidal.
Still, there was a part of me that expected 2020 to be ‘my year’. It was meant to be the year that I beat anorexia nervosa for good, would begin to travel more, and generally enjoy my life. Although my travel plans didn’t make it past my driveway, and I’m still very much in recovery, I somehow managed to find a part of myself that I’ve not seen in over sixteen years. In the face of a worldwide pandemic, I was forced to slow down and was able to find my way back to a girl (now woman) that I had been missing for the majority of my adult life.
Now, as I write this secure in 2021, I’m able to reflect on all the lessons COVID-19 has taught me.
The years leading up to 2020 were, for lack of a better term, a write-off. I’d been living with depression, anxiety, and anorexia nervosa for the majority of my adult life, and it all came to head in late 2018. During intensive recovery in the years following, I was able to rediscover my passion for creativity and not only start writing again but also illustrating.
Now I’ve been writing for over two years and have managed to secure freelance work through my personal blog. Not only that, but after rediscovering my love for drawing, I’ve opened an online store and successfully secured a job illustrating a variety of children’s books.
10 Important Lessons Learned from the pandemic.
Your health is your wealth.
Last year I was taught that I shouldn’t be embarrassed for wanting to protect my own health. This includes both mental and physical health. I’ve canceled plans, stayed indoors more, and even (begrudgingly) took six months of isolation just to protect myself and my family. The old me would have felt embarrassed and guilty, and don’t get me wrong, I did. But as time went on and it became apparent just how serious this all was, I saw it as a necessary step rather than something to be ashamed of.
But what has this taught me in the long run? It taught me that even when COVID-19 is a distant memory, it’s still important to look after your own health and wellbeing. There’s no shame in taking medication, nor is there shame in taking a day or two to cope with personal health issues. We should also be more understanding of each other and any hidden ailments others could be going through. Remember, all struggles aren’t necessarily visible.
You can do a lot more when you slow down than when you’re overworked.
I’m just as shocked as you to hear that we can actually achieve a lot more by taking the time to slow down. There is such a thing as moderation and the harder we push ourselves, the closer to burnout we get. It’s important to take time to relax, unwind and simply do nothing every once in a while. Without downtime, we run the risk of not only increased levels of stress but all the side effects that can come with it which can hinder our productivity in the long run.
When you’re off work, be off work. That includes putting down the phone or laptop and taking time to do the things you enjoy. If work is something you enjoy, find something else to fill the gap.
Appreciate the time you have with loved ones. It’s not always guaranteed.
This lesson actually came to me from a combination of both 2019 and 2020 when I lost three very important people to me within the space of 18 months. Now, more than ever before in our lives, we should be reminded of the fragility of human life. While many of us are lucky to see another day, it’s never a guarantee. When hugging becomes legal and spending time with loved ones isn’t risky, I personally can’t wait to gather with friends that I haven’t seen in well over a year. Nor can I wait to finally hug my grandmother without the fear of making her ill.
Life is about the little things.
Never mind the big houses and fancy cars, life is about the small things. It’s about the things we take for granted, the flowers we don’t stop long enough to see and even the time spent cuddling with a pet. Sometimes it’s just about that extra-long lie-in on new year’s day, with a cup of coffee and a cat for comfort. As I’ve said on numerous occasions throughout, slow down and take time to just be.
You can’t control everything, everyone, or every situation: Let it go.
I’m a type-A personality. I like to know what’s going on, when, and how I can control it. Even when my grandparents were dying I was on the phone or by their bedside asking what I could do. What more can the doctors do? Have they tried this, this, or this? Despite not being even remotely qualified, surely Grey’s Anatomy counted for something, right? Although I’m able to handle my controlling nature more, I still find myself itching to take control of things my husband isn’t doing fast enough (or at all).
If you’re like me and find yourself rising to every occasion, even the ones that aren’t meant for you; Let it go. It serves us no good to try and control the world or the people around us. If anything, it leaves us with more stress and frustration and, ultimately, an uncomfortable life.
Boundaries, boundaries, boundaries.
It’s taken me until now to not only learn what boundaries are but to learn how to implement them. I’ve watched as generational boundaries have been broken again and again in my family. As a daughter, I was expected to continue the tradition of ‘boundaries, what boundaries?’. But this year, with the help of COVID-19, I was able to begin to build boundaries not only for myself but for future generations.
It’s okay to say NO when you don’t want to do something or go somewhere. Equally, it’s okay to say YES when everyone else is saying NO. Understand? Boundaries are all about protecting ourselves, whether that be from other people, from opinions, or from events that may trigger a harmful emotional response. Although it won’t happen overnight, working to build your boundaries can start by simply saying NO, and progressing from there.
Sometimes you have to be the bigger person.
Much like boundaries, sometimes it’s up to us to be the bigger person. It’s important that we take responsibility for any wrong actions on our part, but it’s also important to step away from those who no longer serve us. Many of us struggle with saying sorry or taking accountability. It’s human nature. But it takes a mature person to admit fault, apologies, and make up or cut off a relationship.
You can make do with a lot less than you think you can.
2020 was the year of lockdowns. A year when we could no longer simply nip into town to do our shopping, or spend haphazardly. Some of us were made redundant, others were furloughed and some worked night and day to keep the world turning. No matter who you are, you have to do more with less. Less money, less freedom, less time with extended family, less food, etc. Although difficult for many, my husband and I learned that we can do more with the little food we have left. Instead of letting things go bad, we made soup and obscure dishes to keep us going. Instead of throwing things away, we started to think about what else they could be used for who else would benefit?
Healing takes longer than you think.
Healing is a journey. It’s not a destination, nor is there a timeframe on healing. It takes as long as it takes, and that might be different for every person and circumstance. Last year I took more time to heal and less time spent stressing over the little things. Although I’ve still got a ways to go, I’m able to see the distinct difference between past me and the woman I’m becoming.
I am stronger than I ever imagined.
Finally, I think I’m not alone in saying that 2020 taught me that I can withstand and overcome far more than I ever could have imagined.
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