2020: the year that wasn’t

When news came that Sheffield was entering into tier 3, nearly a month ago, I really struggled. I’ve been treating this year as a ‘blip’, a crisis to come back from, believing an end has always been just around the corner.

Since March, I’ve been taking a couple of months at a time. At first, I took up couch to 5k, and then 5k to 10k, telling myself that the end of each might coincide with the possibility of a return to all the social things I so loved. In May, after bursting into tears on a zoom call with church community, I made a calendar for until the end of July so that I could more clearly make plans. I mitigated feeling sad on my birthday with a litany of calls, post and a murder mystery. I still moved house in August, I have still made plans, life has still gone on. Although lots of things have changed, I am about as busy as I was before, and for the most part, I am still just as well in myself too.

And yet, when we went into tier 3, with the year’s end around the corner, it tore apart the narrative that I’d been faithfully reciting. This is not a blip, the end is not around the corner.

This is not a blip, the end is not around the corner.

Once more, I have mitigated where I can. I’ve drawn up plans with my house, I’ve been on walks in the dark and cold evenings to still see people, I’ve drawn up another calendar for the weeks until the end of this year.

And yet, something about the blank piece of paper over Christmas and New Year’s, and an empty calendar for 2021, leaves me aching.

I have been wary about writing about my experiences of this year, because I feel like it’s simultaneously too easy to both understate and overstate what has happened. I am reluctant to identify myself as someone who has found this year hard, because comparatively, I’ve had an easier ride than most.

And yet, there’s a reason for my feelings of loss. This is a loss. A loss which is still unfurling and changing. My memories from 6 months of conversations are not sticking because I am hanging every single one to squares on a computer screen. On bonfire’s night I went quiet and couldn’t work out why until I realised I was just longing to be in a crowd, any crowd, huddling to keep from cold, hearing the chattering, and smelling the smoke.

The situations which give me most energy and most life no longer exist.

The last party I went to was in February. The situations which give me most energy and most life – being able to host people for a dinner or games night, going to a wedding, staying over with friends, visiting new places, crowds, parties, weekly meals with community, weekends away – no longer exist. There are imitations and approximations available, but none of them can be done without careful planning. None of them involve hugs, or travel, or hundreds of people, or dipping in and out of multiple snippets of small talk.

I am the extrovert the world is built for, and it’s a world that it feels like we are leaving behind. My greatest need is restoring energy levels which have become increasingly depleted, and I don’t know how to plan for a future where there are no guarantees that I’ll be able to refuel in the ways I long to. I am a social person and a planning person who cannot be social and cannot plan.

I don’t feel like I can grieve this loss well, because it’s not over yet, and I don’t know when it will be. I don’t know how to grieve for a slow catastrophe. I don’t know, even as the gnawing pain of a diminishing baseline of energy becomes harder to ignore. My only strategy is taking a month at a time, and it doesn’t feel like that could possibly be enough.

My instinct if this was a loss caused by any others means, would be to gather with others; it feels like a cruelty that this is precisely what we are unable to do right now.

I deeply wish that I could feel like I’m not – at some level – holding my breath.

I don’t know what your experience of this year has been, or how you are feeling in this moment. But this is how I feel. I’m tired. And I deeply wish that I could feel like I’m not – at some level – holding my breath.

Really what I’m missing, is the same level of being able to connect and find meaning with others. So, would you comment here or message me, and tell me how this year has felt for you?


  1. Hey. Your post is beautiful, and your pictures are beautiful. This year has been a hellish extension of last- my husband’s health is going down, my finances aren’t improving even if I started a new business, a middle school friend was killed by his crazy wife, I have lost so many friends due to political, religious, and COVID-19/5G arguments. I have a strained relationship with my family due to several reasons.

    It’s been really hard.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. For me, this year has felt pretty eventful in some ways – diagnosis, new projects to fill up my time, not to mention major life curveballs meaning I am now in a different country to the one I planned on being. I moved house four times between March and September, for heaven’s sake. I’ve met new people, seen new places, had the new start I was lowkey craving. So I feel like I’ve been spared the kind of existential non-event this year has been for many people – plus, I know I wouldn’t be where I am now if it wasn’t for covid. But still, all this has come at a cost. I’ve lost a job, lost precious time with people, lost the chance to see my now seriously-ill grandma. On a smaller scale, I miss making music with people more than I can say. When I meet up with my one other person (outside, in the cold), I feel the ghosts of people who would have loved to be there too. I ache to hug people, to have random interactions with strangers, to sit in church and hear others’ voices praying in unison with mine. There has been significant growth for me this year, but at every stage that has come out of significant grief.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Holding of breath is something i heavily relate to. I miss weddings and big gatherings and even the most casual dinner. Thank you for writing this post, Rachel, I think more than ever we need to know we’re all feeling this heaviness (i thought i was going insane with my feelings of loss and not being able to hope the way others seem to). Not sure how to keep it moving for the future but we’ve come this far….

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Dearest Rachel, thank you so much for these honest, (and, as ever, beautifully expressed) thoughts on how you are finding life at the moment. I would echo many of your feelings: the desire to mitigate losses through planning ahead, a reluctance to ‘claim’ this as a hard year for myself when conscious of how not-hard it has been in relative terms, and a desperate ache to be visiting/dancing with/laughing with/hugging people in pairs and groups and crowds. I also really desperately miss live music and theatre which are perhaps my favourite forms of storytelling and sense-making, and the shared experience of watching or creating those things together. Whilst I’m an extrovert, I don’t get energy from larger groups to quite the same extent as you, so I remember when lockdown was announced one of my first thoughts was that this was going to be a particularly challenging and painful time for you, lovely friend.

    You speak of grieving a slow catastrophe and being forced to do so alone, which is perhaps the hardest aspect of all, and so unnatural for beings who were made to delight in community and contact and deep relationship. Thank you for letting me gather with you in the limited ways we are able to do so at the moment – sending huge love, to be followed someday by many a hug to make up for lost time xxx

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Rachel you have such a brilliant gift gor writing what others are thinking. I love your writing style. Yes i feel many of the same experiences are passing me by and in the last season of life I think older people( SORRY i should just speak for myself) are feeling concerned that life is closing down prematurely. I want to live and take every opportunity open to be not hide behind a mask sulking on my own and watching poor television!
    Guess things have been aggravated by having cataracts and so not being able to dissolve into a book for an odd literacy hour! Anyhow now operations are over and eyes are healed i want to see life in all its fullness. I just hope I can recall my previous energy levels when the vaccine is developed and we are moving again. I have grown used to this inertia and I don’t like it and don’t want it to define me in my retirement years. I wanted to retire from work and have more time to do exciting interesting things. . . I didn’t choose to retire from life.

    Liked by 1 person

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