2020 will go down in history as the worse year in living memory. It’s not hard to see why. A global, deadly, cruel pandemic, decimating families and communities and leading to unprecedented (the word of 2020) economic, social and health misery on an unimaginable scale.
Lives lost. Lives put at risk. Lives thrown into despair (including those trapped at home with hateful, violent partners). Lives changed forever.
Victoria Wood once wrote: “I only know a little latin; just enough to buy a paper”, but I think she would know the phrase ‘annus horribilis’. The horrible year of 1992 for the House of Windsor was nothing compared to 2020 and that’s even before we mention The Crown! We’ve clearly had a collective horrible year. A year of darkness and sadness. A year to forget.
But that’s not the full story. It’s not my story.
For me, 2020 has brought with it awful sadness and fear but more besides. I have been lucky that – so far – nobody close to me has been lost to this vicious virus and those I care about who’ve had it have recovered and are safe and well. Dr J and I are so grateful to have jobs that have continued to be secure – if anything even more secure – during this year of all years. We did our home schooling in the first lockdown – and it was challenging and stressful whilst working full time – but Miss J has spent most of the year in school, receiving a full education and enormous love and support from her teachers and schoolmates. We have the space and the jobs to be able to work at home and have, so far, sidestepped the worse effects of the pandemic.
Of course, we have missed seeing family and friends – especially those across the Irish Sea for whom a walk together in the local park is not possible. We have also missed things that matter to us, including for me the chance to stand shoulder to shoulder with thousands of people who share a love and a passion to celebrate the end of a thirty year title drought at Anfield and the golden sky that came at the end of the storm. But these are small sacrifices and losses in a year when lives, jobs, homes and more have gone. In the final analysis, this personal good fortune – the avoidance of the worse impacts of the pandemic – is not why 2020 has been ok for me and my mental health. There is more.
- I have been at home (my place of safety, security, happiness and contentment) more than ever.
- I have seen more of my extraordinary wife than at any time since we met.
- I have spend more time with my darling daughter than any time since she was born – and have had lots of 121 time with her, building a deeper connection and relationship that moves me to tears even as I write this.
- I’ve had time to think about the things that matter to me/help me to stay well and build them into my life more consistently than at any time – certainly since my breakdown – including running every day, reading books and listening to podcasts.
- I have reconnected and stayed connected – virtually – with friends, with whom in normal times, things slip.
- I’ve had the time and perspective to make big decisions about my working future and am in the final days of working my notice at LJMU and moving to a new phase of my life – part time work/part time study – with a future in mental health and a chance to do something I care so much about. It feels like a calling and a vocation rather than a job.
- I am enjoying my masters course more than I could have imagined – feeling humbled that people on my course have shared with me some of their most private thoughts and feelings and seeing a glimpse of what my working future could be like.
- I have started my training to become a psychotherapist and have for the first time in my working life found something to do that doesn’t feel like work, even though it is stretching all of my intellectual, emotional and philosophical bandwidth.
- I have reconnected with my personal therapy and therapist and have been talking through some of the toughest parts of my story – at a depth and with emotions that I hadn’t reached before. This has brought – and continues to bring – tears and pain but also a feeling of a great progress, understanding and acceptance.
- I have learnt so much already on my course about myself (as well as the start of what it takes to be an effective counsellor/therapist) and am seeing changes in how I see people and life – less quick to judge, more accepting of others, more thoughtful and reflective.
- I have played more golf this year and enjoyed it more than at any time since I was a child – appreciating the joy of the game and not preoccupied with score.
- I have worried about those close to me and their risk of catching the virus and dying but I have worried less about stuff in general and been less anxious in my day to day life (and have stopped taking my daily anti-depressant).
- I now worry less about leadership in the world with full, rounded, compassionate President and Vice-Presidents elect in the US.
- I have met some amazing, inspiring people – virtually – in 2020 and am full of hope of what 2021 will bring.
Over the last few years, I have learnt that not everything is what it appears at first look. I was the smiling, contented, successful guy with a dream life and a career to envy. Inside, I was falling apart and screaming for help. Screams that not even I could hear.
And so 2020 can seem like a shocker for everyone but for some it can be full of joy. For me, it’s been my best year for some time, even though I mourn and grieve with those who have suffered. This reflection – my reality of 2020 and that of my own mental health this year – is how I feel about life now. No longer black and white and immediately clear but full of grey. And at times, grey can be a beautiful colour.