Boy, what a year. I distinctly remember this day, exactly one year ago, when I told my partner “Thank goodness 2020 is over! Here’s to a better year in 2021!”
At the time, vaccine rollout was picking up. They were proving highly effective and case numbers were plummeting. The most contentious and divisive election of my lifetime had concluded. The wildest, scariest year of wildfires, pandemics, and world-wide chaos had ended. I thought, surely, things would be looking up soon! Womp.
Of course, just five days later was the January 6th insurrection. 2021 saw more wildfires and significantly more COVID deaths than 2020. So as I sit here in my sweatpants – worn thin from day after day of having no use for jeans – I don’t know what to expect for 2022. Will we get past the worst of the pandemic? Just a few months ago I was writing blogs like Advocating to Employers Post-COVID. Yet here we are with Omicron, the most infectious variant yet. Will it ravage our communities, even those vaccinated, until it mutates again? Or will this be the variant that turns this disastrous disease into another flu – prevalent, but manageable without extreme precautions?
With our collective mental health beaten down by two brutal years, it’s easy to wallow, or to sink into apathy. Why would I plan anything for 2022? Why would I set any goals, hopes, or expectations?
It’s true, we don’t know what this new year will bring. But I am hopeful – not necessarily for any rational reason, but because I need to be. I need to believe that this next year will be better. And so, for this (somewhat dreary) New Year’s update, I want you to know how I am creating hope and joy for myself:
remember the good
This last year wasn’t 100% horrible every single day. I’d wager that everyone had at least some moments of hope and joy and connection. Remember those! Don’t let them get lost in the mix of less pleasant memories. I, personally, had a pretty huge positive this year – my daughter! I am making a scrapbook for her. Every month I go through all the pictures, milestones, and good memories from that month, and create a new page. It has become a ritual that makes me laugh, smile, sometimes tear up a bit, but mostly forces me to remember that there have been some truly beautiful moments. At the end, she will have a book from that first crazy year of her life. Similar projects might be the 100 Happy Days challenge or simply journaling before bed each night, remembering to record something good or something you’re grateful for. If you can’t find something from your own life that day, I often feel moved by the Mr. Rogers quote: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’” Whether it’s looking for small acts of kindness around you or watching an episode of SGN, the helpers, the joy and the hope, are there.
look for life
Similarly, when things seem bleak, finding a new life is just the boost I need. Yes, I have a baby to fill this hole in the most extraordinary way, but even small reminders of life are buoying. For example, today is the worst kind of weather here in Vermont: grey, cold, and a “wintery mix” of rain, sleet, and snow. Miserable to go outdoors, not even cozy to sit and look outside, like a snowy or rainy day might be. But I looked outside and saw some birds coming to the window as if nothing was wrong. I see trees with berries, and tracks in the remains of snow from squirrels and bunny rabbits. Even my houseplants seem to regulate my nervous system with their reminder that things still grow. So, if you can, snuggle a pet, nurture a house plant, or get outside. See if it helps the world feel fresh!
Most importantly, connection is what’s going to keep us going through this next wave (and whatever comes next). This is sometimes what gets me down, that connection is so difficult in a pandemic, especially when immunocompromised and with a young unvaccinated child. In my (interfaith) household, we had to bail on Christmas, thanks to multiple direct COVID exposures in our family members. But we found a way to gather with just my partner’s parents. It was small but cozy. For Hanukkah, which we celebrated late since family couldn’t get off from work and school on the actual dates, we required all guests to PCR and/or rapid test daily. It certainly added a level of tension, but it felt amazing to have the whole crew together for the first time all year! For New Year’s, after so many people we knew had gotten COVID (likely Omicron) from the previous holidays, our friends decided to do a several-hours-long virtual game night. Some even made NYE decorations and silly hats out of aluminum foil. It was lovely and festive, and I didn’t have to worry about going out into the cold or finding a babysitter! This week I also received cards and letters, went on outdoor walks, FaceTimed, and sent gifts as ways to connect with loved ones. I also felt warmth from my larger communities – group texts from my Jewish friends on Hanukkah, solidarity from my spoonie friends when Omicron hit… All in all, I was amazed at the number of ways I could find connection.
Finally, if you are someone who, like me, finds meaning in New Year’s resolutions, this can still be a way to stay grounded and find hope. Consider, however, examining how you make resolutions. Do you tend to keep them? Do you put undue pressure on yourself? Are your goals riddled with guilt, stress, or unhealthy expectations? While thinking about resolutions today, I am trying to stay grounded in self-love. What goals will help me feel happier and genuinely healthier – including my mental health, and excluding social constructs around health like fat shaming and exercise routines steeped in ableism. I am using my resolutions as a way to reflect on the good of the year – how was I successful? What did I learn? What creative solutions did I find? In what ways can I love myself and those around me this new year? Any new goals I set should lead towards more of these positive moments, should bring hope and joy, should boost my mental health. Because, let’s face it, whatever 2022 brings I’m going to need it!
Whatever this new year brings, I have hope. And not just the hope that I build for myself out of hard work and out of necessity. But also the hope that comes from being part of this incredible community. I know we’ll be ok. Because no matter what pain, fear, or grief we face, we have one another to turn to for support. Thank you for sharing this year with me, and here’s to 2022!