Recently someone asked me to come up with a word — just one — for what 2020 was like for me. Talk about a challenge: a single word? I thought for a minute and said “Frozen,” but that wasn’t right. I found myself making a vague pushing-inward gesture with my hands as though I was collapsing a box. “Reduced. Muffled. Uh … diminished.”

I couldn’t really come up with the right term for It was overwhelming and I disappeared myself to escape. I was there but I wasn’t.

You have, I am sure, heard the saying about the pandemic that we are all in the same storm, but in different boats. Some are in giant luxury yachts and some are in rafts that are starting to fall apart and so on. I love the clarity of that phrase — how perfectly it illustrates the way a crisis can fall unevenly and unequally upon a society — but it doesn’t describe how 2020 felt to me. For me, the worst part of the year was not having a shared reality of the storm itself.

“Right, like the worst part was the arguing,” you may be thinking right now. “I’m pretty sure it was the—” and whatever you come up with next, whatever it is, like if it’s “over 350,000 deaths,” or “utter lack of leadership during a dangerous health crisis,” or “batshit crazy unfounded claims of widespread voter fraud which would eventually culminate in an actual storming of the U.S. Capitol,” whatever fact about 2020 seems indisputable to you, there is this entire alternate version, right?

The numbers of deaths are wrong. The crisis is being exaggerated in order to enforce draconian rules. The election was stolen.

It’s one thing to disagree on how to react to a thing, it’s another to disagree on the reality of the thing itself. Like suddenly finding that you aren’t feet or even miles apart, there are entire continents between you. No shared north star to fix on in order to try and close the distance.

Lockdowns and isolation, the many things I took for granted that suddenly became and remained unavailable, kids stuck at home, upended daily routines, political turmoil and social unrest, all the small and not-so-small losses — all brought on by a storm whose very nature could not be agreed upon. My household is a boat but we don’t see the same waves.

Distanced. That might be the right word after all, there’s the obvious reason but also that’s how I got through 2020, at a distance. I distanced myself with food, with doomscrolling, with medication. I put insulation all around me until it was hard to recognize what was worth paying attention to. It was hard to feel anything, any more. I was there but I wasn’t.

Nothing changes unless nothing changes, and so I — finally, partway through December — started making some changes. Quit the worst kind of self-medicating, tried to give myself grace for being so helpless in the face of a cookie. I see a counselor now as well as a doctor specializing in addiction. I write in a gratitude journal and I have one of those goal-tracking grid things where you get all excited about filling in the little water box each day with your specially-purchased colored pencil until you realize just how hard it is to stay fully hydrated on the reg without straight-up peeing your pants.

Anyway. I ended 2020 better than how I lived 2020, which … isn’t saying a whole lot, but after many months of quicksand-level inertia at least I’ve got that goin’ for me.

I wish we could all be confident that this year will be nothing at all like the last but of course that’s not how it works. We’re still in a pandemic, we’re still in the midst of political upheaval, we’re still painfully polarized as a nation. I know better than to believe that everything will instantly be better or easier now that the calendar rolled over, but I am re-committed to staying present. Un-insulated, un-muffled, life on life’s terms.

And if I had to pick a word, a single word, for what I am hoping for in 2021, it is this: Connection.


25 Responses to “A single word”

  1. Emily H Dixon on January 8th, 2021 1:30 pm

    Well said. We all need connection for sure, to so many things that we’ve missed but also have never had. A close 2nd in my book is also HEALING on so many levels from everything that hurt so many people in 2020 – physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually – we need to heal our hope!

  2. PETE J HAIDINYAK on January 8th, 2021 1:55 pm

    Everything we have taken for granted in this country has been changed. We are like that frog in a pot and the water is starting to boil. Kind of creeped up on us.

  3. Kim on January 8th, 2021 2:26 pm

    Yesterday was my monthly appointment with my counselor, also an addiction specialist. Ironically, my (new, only 5-month-old) car was in the shop being repaired for a very unexpected problem and so the logistics of even GETTING to my appointment was an ass-pain of epic proportions. I told my therapist it encapsulated perfectly what this last year has been: even the simple things suddenly seem insurmountable. I’m hoping all the nervous pacing I do lately at least burns some amount of Baskin Robbins calories.

  4. Missy on January 8th, 2021 2:32 pm

    Very true. Highly recommend checking out Brene Brown’s unlocking us podcast from December where she talks about the Queen’s Gambit. Very interesting and helps me think about perspective and reframing some of this craziness. I too need to find a way to re-engage with the world.

  5. Carla Hinkle on January 8th, 2021 3:14 pm

    Diminished is perfect. My life has become so small, and I retreat into myself even more because in its diminished state there is so little to take joy in. Dreaming of days outside the very small enclosure of my life is painful. I don’t know if 2021 will open up my life again. Let’s hope.

  6. Trish on January 8th, 2021 3:46 pm

    Beautifully and skillfully said, as always. Your words connect me to my own thoughts. That’s magic in my book.

  7. Willow Snow on January 8th, 2021 6:19 pm

    I hear you!!

  8. Kyla on January 8th, 2021 8:05 pm

    I’ve honestly wondered how people in “mixed marriages” (politically but like, politics go so deep and wide right now) survived this year. Thanks for talking about it and you manage to do it so respectfully of all involved, what a gift. Agreed that after this year Connection is so much more important than Distanced, truly the best and bravest vibes to you.

  9. Susan on January 8th, 2021 8:33 pm

    You write so wonderfully. I agree that I feel diminished in my life. And so very sad about so much.

  10. Donna on January 8th, 2021 10:09 pm

    Surreal. Everything was surreal to me. I still went camping, still did the things I always do, but standing in lines, wearing masks, doing the walk of shame back to my car to get my mask, no traffic, and stores and theatres closed, it was just surreal.

  11. Missy on January 9th, 2021 9:25 am

    My marriage did end this year because the chasm was too wide. I could no longer live with someone who’s world view was so different from mine. I continue to be shocked at the number of marriages that are falling apart alongside ours. 2020 was unbelievably sad and I worry 2021 will be more of the same. Maybe that is the takeaway from 2020… seeing our REAL selves. Thank you Linda for expressing what many of us feel. Rebuilding/renewal is my new focus this year.

  12. Nikka on January 9th, 2021 11:31 am

    Well said! I’ve followed you for years, but rarely comment. But when I see the notification in my inbox that you’ve posted, I read it first before anything else. Your post could be coming from my mouth, it is my experience of 2020 also. A divided household, alternate realities, self-medicating. Thankfully, but sadly, it took the attack on the Capitol for the other half to see the light. For all of two days. Until he said that he had ‘heard’ the protestors (terrorists) were mostly antifa, looking to smear the names/reputations of honest folk. *smacks self in forehead, goes to fridge* I, too, am hoping for connection. And peace. And will continue to survive. Thank you for your candor and sharing your thoughts with us!

  13. Caitlin on January 9th, 2021 1:31 pm

    No name, I can’t imagine how you thought those first two paragraphs could be helpful to Linda (or John, either) in any possible way. I can’t speak for them, but that felt like more than just a rude thing to say. Not just in a space where this woman, this human, writes about her experiences thoughtfully and honestly, but in ANY space. Go home.

    Sorry all, carry on. Sending love, connection, and solidarity from Ohio to anyone here who needs it. <3

  14. Alison on January 9th, 2021 4:50 pm

    Well. 2021 and I continue to be horrified by commenters on the internet. Jesus.

    I’m glad you’re going into 2021 in a better place Linda.

  15. Jon Bell on January 9th, 2021 8:09 pm

    No name, that is not helpful at all.

    Offer sympathy, or a personal perspective, but it’s never appropriate to say the things you did.

  16. juli on January 9th, 2021 8:13 pm

    I think more people, in the end, will be hurt by the mental aspects of COVID than the actual virus itself.

    When the spiral started in our house it was March, I think, my son has hit bottom and is maybe starting to see a way up, but it culminated in his attempted suicide in September. I say he’s coming back because he’s now on the “right” medication(the other made him suicidal) and I’m starting to see signs of connection again.

    I saw two friends that I hadn’t seen in months at the store. They both hugged me without hesitation. 6 months ago they would not hugged. They were longing for connection.

    I believe “connection” is the perfect word for 2020.

  17. Frannie on January 10th, 2021 1:09 am

    Connection is nice. So is validation. Having those two would be great. But moreso, giving that back to myself, and I have. But when I do, just noticing that lonely feeling, not getting lost in it. I ask What is it trying to tell you? For me, it’s saying, maybe things can be better elsewhere. You don’t find validation in the same place that’s invalidating or disconnecting you. I’m at a crossroads. The thing about it is, we come to it when we are ready. Just like this country was at some extent ready to deal with a demagogue and cult of personality. We just have to be alert for it. We must take care of ourselves first. I try to do that radically so, so that in time, it will become a normal pattern for me.

  18. Nine on January 10th, 2021 8:00 am

    I’ve been reading you for a long-assed time (since the 12% Beer days) but I rarely comment because I am reallllly bad at connection. Just wanted you to know that I love you and want good things for you, always. You deserve them. Much love from this particular internet rando. <3

  19. Linda on January 10th, 2021 11:05 am

    No name, I un-approved your inappropriate and unhelpful comments.

  20. Mackenna on January 11th, 2021 1:53 am

    I feel like I’m living a dystopian Cormac McCarthy novel. 2020 and now January has been one shock after another until I think we must all be suffering the same shared PTSD. It’s hard to sleep, it’s hard to navigate each day, it’s hard to trust. It’s hard to understand what the hell is going on.

    This week has been the worst yet and I find I have to remember…oh yeah, there’s a deadly virus, must take precautions but somehow the virus feels like a less formidable foe than some humans right now. (I didn’t have Trumpenstormers literally trying to overthrow the government on my 2021 bingo card. Geezus!)

    I don’t know if this will help anyone but I found Arnold Schwarzenegger’s personal message helpful.

    The Terminator has a few words for Trump and I’m ON BOARD.

  21. Mackenna on January 11th, 2021 2:04 am

    Post script: What you wrote should be syndicated because everyone can relate. Your post connects. Your wisdom and insight is much appreciated.

  22. Hillary on January 11th, 2021 8:07 am

    As someone in a similarly mixed marriage, the arguing was pretty bad. I mean, yes, of course all of the things you mentioned are bigger and worse, but I don’t think people understand how hard it can be to live, day after day, with someone you love who seems to automatically believe the opposite of everything you think is obvious and true. I try to just ignore it, to not engage, but I inevitably get sucked in, and then there’s a huge shouting match and it is not good for anyone. I am sure we’ve done damage to our marriage over the past year. But I am hopefully for connection in 2021 too. And so very glad you’ve found a way to make make changes that works for you. I’m still working that part out for myself.

  23. Mary Clare on January 11th, 2021 1:22 pm

    Glad you are coming to 2021 with a fresh perspective. It’s been a helluva year for us all. I’m at a very different place this year than last – bruised and jaded for sure and also grateful for a ton.

  24. 303 Bookworm on January 11th, 2021 5:19 pm

    The UK Guardian (I think) ran a competition asking for a word or phase that best summed up 2020. A 9 yr old won with “its like looking both ways before crossing the road only to get hit by a submarine”. As for me I have constantly reminded myself this year that i am lucky. So very lucky. Lucky to live in NZ, lucky to have the leadership that we’ve had, luck that my job was not impacted even during lockdown, lucky that our election was so very civil. Things are far from perfect here but this year has been an eye opener in how good we have it and I need to remind myself that I have a responsibility to the wider community to share that back and to help those who haven’t been so lucky this year. 2020 = lucky. 2021 needs to be “kinder”.

  25. Jill on January 14th, 2021 6:35 am

    My word for 2021 is “healing” I think the entire globe needs to heal from 2020

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