Guest contributor Jade Green on how 2020, despite all its challenges, brought her personal triumphs amidst the chaos of a wide-reaching pandemic.
It feels odd writing this, but 2020 was my year of healing. While I zoomed in and out of the apocalypse as it unfolded around me, internally my world was changing for the better. In our modern world, where social media is in the driver’s seat, our boundaries have become more confused than ever. The self and the other, the internal and the external, the private and the public all merge and spill into each other. Navigating between these is like trying to unravel an entangled barbed wire; someone is going to get hurt.
And yet, things do not exist in isolation. The world exists in opposites, in complementary occurrences. For the good, we have bad. For the disastrous, we have the miraculous. But despite knowing this, I cannot help but feel the guilt on my fingertips with each click. Must it be this way?
For the last 6 years, I have spent 70% of my life in bed. Things were happening around me; the world was changing, and I felt static. I was entrapped in a snow globe, stuck in time. Everything seemed so far away from me. All I did was sleep.
I’d wake up any time between one and six pm, sleep sometime after midnight, and wake up at an ungodly hour yet again. I ended up missing lectures, spending time mostly on my own, scraping through my first degree and existing like a zombie. I was experiencing debilitating depression for the entire duration of this period, and nothing seemed to help.
The pandemic beginning in 2020 was the final straw: I was sure I wanted to die. The thought of what could have happened if I had remained in this mindset any longer makes me shudder. But around then, I started taking medication as a last resort to try and bid a final farewell to my bat cave.
I have worked in mental health anti-stigma campaigns, and see the value in acknowledging experiences of mental distress to seek treatment. I have even worked in mental health research. While I originally accepted the biological theory of depression as truth, I now possess a more nuanced understanding behind the politics of “mental health”. I came away feeling even more cautious about the over-medicalisation of the human experience. Something seemed to be going wrong; on one hand, there was the pathologisation of something as normal as sadness; on the other, the normalisation of something as grievous as living with depression every single day.
Despite all these contradictions, I decided to give medication a shot. It made a world of difference. Perhaps most importantly, I can finally wake up before noon. Where before I had to think about waking up and getting to class, now I only have to wake up and study in the comfort of my home.
For my previous degree, and indeed up to now in my current degree at King’s, I managed to get through only a third of lecture recordings, if even that. How I passed all my assignments is a miracle to me. Now, I attend all my classes and have slowly managed to squeeze in revision time too.
During the pandemic, there have been no social pressures to answer questions about my life, perhaps the most daunting of which is: “if you have lived in London all these years, how come you don’t have any friends?” Being in lockdown meant that I no longer had to brave a happy face amongst strangers, a constant reminder of how depressive episodes robbed me of my light.
My medication has made me more functional, and I was able to move out of a toxic home environment, finding kind flatmates to live with. I have a job, manage extracurricular activities, and have been more engaged in my course than ever before. While I may not be doing as much as my medical course demands, I am doing more than I ever have at university, and I am content. And this all happened in the hellish year that was 2020.
So here I am, in a good place, in a bad world. If I had not recovered, I would not have been able to connect with those I felt for in meaningful ways, be that through reaching out in person, writing, campaigning, or fundraising. I’d only have isolated myself further. And I do not want to think about how that would have ended.
So, while many of us unravel the emotions and experiences of 2020, wondering whether our acknowledgement of personal healing means we are disconnected from the horrors of the world, pause and spend some time redrawing those boundaries. We must remind ourselves that healing is not selfish; it has a butterfly effect on those near and far.
Drawing boundaries between the self and the other, the public and the private, helps affirm that our reality is complex and exists between ourselves and the world around us. Doing so allows us to reap the benefits of our healing, and act upon our compassion without feeling guilty about it. And isn’t that the point of it all?