What I learned in 2020

Despite several disasters (a surgery, a pandemic, riots, a turbulent presidential election, family health scares, three tornadoes and two hurricanes!) 2020 was a great year for me personally. From where I look back, I see myself in January as an overwhelmed, anxious, scattered person trying hard to figure out how to feel better. In December of 2020 I see I am still a little anxious, but have come to peace with it, and developed some skills to help with it. I’m not nearly as overwhelmed. And I have a lot more focus.

As I’ve written before, the pandemic/quarantine really helped me feel less overwhelmed. It’s not that the pandemic wasn’t terrifying -of course it was. Is. But just having permission to stay home all day every day, having no job, no church responsibilities, no vacations or road trips, no social events, and very few errands really gave me a lot of peace. Turns out I am really good at staying home. When expectations to do things that overwhelm me were lifted, all the shame of being overwhelmed and struggling was also lifted. Such a relief. It’s not like we were very busy before, but we were busy enough to keep me in a state of mild overwhelm. Now I wonder, how can I stay feeling peaceful when the expectations return? I’m hoping for 2021 I can learn more about losing my own feelings of shame so I can stay feeling peaceful even when the expectations come back. Because I genuinely like my church, my friends, social events, etc. even though they overwhelm me a little.

Back in January I was just beginning to learn that making specific lifestyle choices, forming strong opinions, and choosing sides wasn’t the hurtful, biased thing I had always thought of it as. For some reason I can see the good in most opinions/sides/lifestyles. I have a diverse group of friends who, if they all met together, might disgust each other. I love them all and I think they are all doing great things with their lives. I also have often felt like I had to hide certain parts of myself, or not choose sides on certain topics, depending on who I was talking to among my friends. Unfortunately, in today’s world, if you share a different opinion or lifestyle, those who disagree are likely to see it as a personal attack on themselves at some level. They will respond with various levels of self-righteous anger and disgust, and possibly reject you. This makes me really sad, so I’ve tried to avoid it for years. But it only made me more fearful, scattered, and with no focus on what I want to do with my life.

Because I see good in so many lifestyles, I’ve tried a lot of different things. I’m easily influenced by people I admire. If they’re doing something remotely interesting, I want to try it. I’m talking about skills, hobbies, vocations, beliefs. But it turns out it’s hard to keep doing things like that if you refuse to decide whether they’re right for you for fear of hurting other people. At some point in late 2019 I realized this, and I started to try and make specific choices and develop actual opinions. As I did this, I became more self-confident and less anxious in my relationships. Here are some things I decided. I preface this list with a reminder that my beliefs might make you feel attacked. Please don’t respond in anger. I care about you and literally do not care what you believe. I just care about you.

I am a legit Democrat. Why? Because I like everything on their platform. Simple as that. Am I going to debate with people, join protests, and raise awareness for what I want? Not unless the crippling overwhelm those behaviors will bring to me are worth the results. So generally, no. I would rather be a mostly functioning human than be an activist who can’t perform basic responsibilities due to being in a mild panic attack all the time. I realize that I am privileged to choose to avoid those things because, systemically, politics do not affect my lifestyle much. I hope my vote can help and I will do more when I am able.

I buy the vast majority of my clothes used, because the clothes available to me in stores are typically made out of plastic (which feels disgusting,) harm the environment in multiple ways during production, harm humans who are basically enslaved as they make them, and harm the environment again as they linger on the planet for years, failing to biodegrade. I think marketing and advertising and big corporate companies who manipulate the masses using shame and fear to make money are sick.

I limit my use of disposable, wasteful items in the kitchen. I wipe oil on my muffin pans with my fingers instead of Pam spray or even a paper towel. That aerosol can is very wasteful. I use beeswax wrap instead of plastic wrap whenever possible. Why on earth did we start using plastic wrap for everything? It’s so wasteful. I make my own yogurt, laundry detergent, toothpaste, lotion, and hand soap to limit how many plastic throw away tubs I buy. I recycle jars to put bulk spices and foods in. I mend clothes. I hang some clothes to dry so they’ll last longer. I try to buy sturdy used furniture that won’t need to be replaced. We are such a wasteful nation and it makes me sick. Anyone who knows me knows that I certainly don’t have the perfect zero-waste lifestyle. I’m doing my best. So much of what is available to me is utter crap and won’t last long. And it’s not me that should be ashamed that I’m not doing everything right. It’s the billionaire corporations who are pushing ordinary people to spend more and more of their hard earned dollars (that are worth less and less every day) on cheap crap that will wear out too quickly. Slightly related, I see being a billionaire as a personal failure -it means many people are suffering to make your life possible.

I have finally, at age 34, chosen a vocation. It’s homesteading. I’ve detailed that decision in a previous post. One thing I didn’t mention is that homesteading makes it difficult to go on vacations. They have to be timed just right, and you might have to get a farm sitter, which could be expensive. And the more animals you have, the more things could go wrong. With dairy animals, you really can’t go on vacation unless you have a substitute milker (unless the animal is dry.) The heaviest harvest/preserving season is June and July here in the south, and fall planting season is July/August. Which is also Samuel’s usual vacation time. You can’t really get a farm sitter for that. This was a huge block to me in recent years, because my family and my husband’s family are spread literally all over the USA. Family is the most important thing. Sacrifices ought to be made to visit family. Right? I do believe that to a certain point. But one day in 2020, when I was yet again wishing I could have my dream garden/farm/homestead life, I realized something. I realized that if Samuel had felt called to be a doctor, we would have made the necessary sacrifices to make that happen. Heck, if he had felt called to be a farmer, we would have gone for it. Even if it meant vacation time would be hard to come by, and it would be hard to visit family. His vocation is important. And I realized mine is too. So, I’m sorry family, my chosen vocation is going to make it hard to visit you. I’m going to do my best to still make it happen, of course. And please come visit us! If my dreams come true, we will have a little petting zoo and a lot of farmy projects to keep you busy and entertained.

At the moment, playing the piano does not bring me joy. It hasn’t for most of my life. There have been moments of joy. But most of my experience with piano has been fraught with self-imposed anxiety and shame. I had the sweetest piano teacher in the world -it’s not her fault. I need to figure some things out before I push myself to play piano regularly. I’m taking a break.

I’m not an academically-minded person and academics do not bring me joy. They bring me pride, anxiety, and shame. This was hard for me to figure out because I love reading “heavy” books. They do bring me joy. I love writing. I even love literary analysis. But when I start pushing myself to be better at those things, I feel afraid and ashamed that I’m “not smart enough.” Because the academic world is all about proving that you’re right and the smartest. I’m sick of pretending that I’m smart. I’d rather just be myself. Smart sometimes, stupid other times. Admitting that I’m not that smart is actually energizing to me. It removes the crippling shame and just lets me explore. Maybe I won’t achieve as much. But more likely, I think I’ll achieve just as much, in ways that matter more to me.

So that’s what I learned in 2020! I learned some ways to feel less anxious and overwhelmed. I learned what I believe, I learned my vocation. I know exactly what I want to do in 2021. We’ll see what the year brings.