An Atypical Reflection on 2020

“Everything that we were, everything we based our lives upon, everything that we believed is gone…So, the betrayed ones, like you and me, have to start all over again, from absolute zero, and construct some new version of “life,” one that we can “live with.” No way we can hold onto what we used to believe, and no way we can forget what has actually happened in our lives, and in our worlds. We will never trust life again.”

Neil Peart, 1952-2020

Well….that was a difficult year. Thanks for reading

No, only kidding. As tempting as it would be to just label 2020 the worst year ever and leave my analysis there, that would be taking the joke to an almost destructive extent, blotting out opportunities for learning and doing a disservice to those who need us to learn.

I began this blog as an attempt to document my experiences as an autistic person living through strange and extraordinary times. In my very first blog post I talked about making connections, and seeing the world in terms of its interactions, rather than seeing separate elements, each with an entirely distinct story to tell. In a sense, this year has required us all to think like that. Suddenly our actions became not about us but about what we were doing to combat the spread of something that effected all of us. Staying on that, we soon learned that the emotional anxiety, worry and fear that we were feeling was being felt in some way by everyone else.

Around where I’m from quite a few peoples terrible year started with the flooding. I have a friend who owns a live music venue which was destroyed early in the year, and who couldn’t hold the fundraising events which they had planned. Still, through digital campaigns they’ve made steps towards a reopening in 2021. This was an early indicator of the fact that as humans we don’t exist in a vacuum, but operate in complex spaces where we need each other. My friends music venue was one persons entire livelihood, a few peoples jobs, another persons community resource and a small piece of the local economy…I could go on. My friend was denied an insurance pay out on some spurious notion of what technically counts as flooding. With all the controversies that have emerged about how you support people in desperate situations this year, the floods just felt indicative of everything that would come next.

I don’t fully remember exactly how I felt as the pandemic started. I did go through the process of downplaying COVID-19, becoming scared and then finally coming round to comprehend the gravity of the situation. One nerdy joke that I made at the start of the year was “of all the things I was expecting to happen in my life, global pandemic was not top of the list”. And thats true, this whole situation feels so alien to so many people. Put yourself though, in the mind of a journalist taking an observing view to the whole experience. On a global scale this year has involved a pandemic, economic collapse, and a social justice movement, not to mention the politics of Brexit and the American election. To this end items in the vein of a shopping list of items that need to be stockpiled for lockdown, a face mask, a tear gas cannister, take on different meanings and help to tell a story. There’s something beautiful I think about appreciating the value in the mundane. For while 2020 has been boring for many its not been dull in the wider sense. On a personal level, something like an album which kept me sane over lockdown, or a book I’ve read might become ‘signifiers’, changing the meaning of how I see them forever.

For me, one important signifier were the timetables I kept for myself, which were filled up usually with mundane tasks but helped me preserve a sense of routine and surety throughout. This year was a paticulary difficult time to be autisitc, especially in the transition points between normal life and lockdown where my routines, as well as my expectations of stability, collapsed in on me. While as an autistic person I occasionally enjoy solitude, to me the sensory stimulation that comes from going places and meeting people is a cornerstone in staying mentally healthy. As an autisitc person I also experience emotions more intensely. This means that the turmoil the world has been in often leaves me in an emotional state. At the same time though, those little moments of emotional reprieve, the rush of happiness that comes from listening to a song that takes me to another place mentally, time spent with family, these are all important moments that throughout 2020 reminded me that the situation we are in is temporary.

Just because somethings temporary though dosent mean that we forget. We can never forget. Read the quote at the beginning of the blog post. Its from a musical inspiration to many who died very early on this year. It talks about how after you’ve seen tragedy on a huge enough scale, whether that’s personal or global, you learn not to trust the world. Even still, we construct something from that tragedy. When the pandemic struck we strengthened our online communities, and made memes and media which spoke of the universality of our situation. When the floods happened, communities tried to arrange fundraising efforts. When George Floyd was murdered by police it resulted in an international movement for racial justice being ignited. The world will never feel ‘safe’ again. The world was never safe to begin with. As climate change continues to take a toll, scientists warn of the risk of future pandemics and injustices continue to permeate throughout the world, there is every reason to feel scared.

Oddly though, I’m strangely optimistic for the future. That might just be the hope that 2021 will be an improvement but I do feel that we are on the cusp of things getting better. It goes without saying that the news of the vaccines has been amazing, but aside from that I think there is a larger point to be made about lessons learned. One lesson which I learned very early on in the pandemic was never take anything for granted, realising the kindness that people can be moved to with that philosophy.

Come the return to some form of normality next year, I would like to think that we’ll all appreciate our friendships a lot more, that we will all value the community spaces which provide us with sources of togetherness, and that we won’t be so quick to judge others. Mutual aid, the acts of charity work, the shifting conversations on mental health and loneliness, and to an extent even the clapping for NHS workers, proves that we’re capable of that kind of humility. Not to get to political but when Trump lost the US election, many observed the event as a victory for a kinder way of doing things. That will only happen if we are willing to act on that, and work to transition not to normality but to a better way of being that is both sustainable, inclusive of people from a variety of backgrounds and concerned for everybody’s mental and physical health.

Every year I make the same two new years resolutions. They are to look after my mental health, and to make an effort to see my friends (or make new ones) more. This year has not made either of those easy for me, yet I consider them a work in constant progress. I might add one resolution to keep, going forward: to appreciate my little privileges’ more. After everything, to be more compassionate and thankful towards those people and elements which allow us to survive and thrive through chaos, feels wholly and vitally natural.

Thank you for supporting this blog so far. Atypical Perspectives will return in 2021! Have a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

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