What’s in a year? 366 days, 12 months, or 8784 hours when it came to 2020. I generally know how long a year is, but I take this information for granted sometimes. So what did I do in this time, how did I exist? How did I spend those hours? In thinking of 2020 what comes to mind to define the year? I think of COVID-19, the Black Lives Matter movement, Brexit, climate change. I think of privilege, and things I take for granted.
I remember January and February, still part of 2020 but for me it was in that ‘pre-COVID’ time when life was relatively ‘normal’. Where I had the privilege to go about my day – to the cinema, to get on a plane and visit family, to visit friends (to hug them), to leave the house whenever I wanted. I had the privilege to decide not to do those things, to be too tired to go out. What would I have done in January and February if I had known how the rest of the year would be? What would I have done last year, my whole life, if I realised how precious our time is? What am I doing right now? The privilege of sitting down at a laptop and being able to write, to find the time to reflect.
Time and reflection
The passing of time has been different this year. Without being able to leave the house regularly or meet friends, many of the days passed by in one congealed lump. Days became months. Calendars became useless. Time did not feel linear – April lasted for years, November disappeared. (Seriously, what happened to November? I’m not convinced it existed.) The normal significant events throughout the year that indicate the passing of time did not really happen as they usually do, so reflecting back it is hard to distinguish one day or month from another.
This year has been disorientating without doubt. What does it mean to be disorientated? For me it’s feeling like the ground has shifted, becoming lost in the dark, perhaps losing a sense of who I am or where I am going. But perhaps starting from a place of disorientation can lead us to understand/remind us what it means to be orientated. I think the starting place for becoming orientated is oneself, and identifying where this ‘I’ or ‘self’ is physically located in space. In other words, where am I, and how does this relate to who I am? To figure out where I am, I reach out to the space around me trying to identify familiar objects – walls, floors, tables, feeling the temperature. In reaching out I start to become reorientated with my own body as the person who is reaching out. Once I find my feet (and my footing) I can start to understand where I am, if this is where I want to be, and if not then how I will find my way towards my destination. So one aspect of this disorientating year could be to remind ourselves where we are, who we are, and where we want to be (if not here).
The privilege of being able to reflect on a disorientating year may be an opportunity for reorientation. But that’s not to dismiss the confusion and distress of the disorientation itself. There were incalculable losses in 2020, not just of people dying from the virus, but losses of work, of jobs, of time, of places to live, of identities, of sanity, of significant life events (marriages, births, funerals, beginning or ending university, school or college). How do we process this grief? What does it mean to ‘process’ grief? Is it a thing to be gotten ‘over’, or ‘past’? Sometimes loss can take up the whole of our being. Sometimes it can change us permanently in ways we can’t predict. Sometimes everything seems fine, until it isn’t.
Moving and connection
Movement is important, ‘moving forward’ and ‘moving on’, or simply moving. The word emotion is tangled up with motion, with movement. How do we move forward when we’re feeling stuck, or when we are literally stuck indoors? I don’t know. I think it really depends on who you are, where you are, and where you want to go. What’s helped me has been engaging in physical movement through daily walks or yoga. But just as important has been staying connected to friends and family, even if that is via video or phone calls. We are social beings and need that connection with others. If you’re feeling isolated or stuck that’s when counselling might be useful, to explore those things together with someone. As we move through January of a new year it doesn’t look like the pandemic will be over anytime soon, and we must each find our way forward together in this new way of being.
(* I was particularly inspired to write this article by Sara Ahmed’s book Queer Phenomenology, details below, in which she talks about orientation and disorientation.)
Ahmed, S. (2006). Queer phenomenology: Orientations, objects, others. Duke University Press.