Happy New Year! Around this time I like to write a short summary about the last year, and this year is no different.
And damn, what a year it was.
Normally I’d speak from my own perspective but this time that’s going to be tough, because each and everyone of us was affected by 2020 in mostly the same way.
Here in Australia we had the first few months of megafires caused by climate change, which were a continuation of 2019’s megafires that started around August. Many lost their homes, businesses, millions of native wildlife perished and in the cities people breathed in the toxic smoke and had to adapt to wearing face masks. Some hundreds still died of smoke inhalation. Then the rain came and it didn’t stop coming. Homes that were once under the threat of being burned down were now at risk of being flooded.
Then, when they too seemed to clear, Australia got their first cases of a novel coronavirus, COVID-19, in late January. The infection spread as rapidly as those megafires. The government’s chief medical officers’ encouraged strict hygiene practices such as washing the hands thoroughly with soap for 20 seconds, using hand sanitizer when you couldn’t and keeping 1.5 metres from people. Even that wasn’t enough and the state governments called for businesses to be shut down, resulting in hundreds of thousands losing their job over night. The lines to sign up for the welfare payment, now increased, stretched throughout the street in every suburb. The website crashed. People took out their superannuation early. They did anything they could to survive financially. Rent reductions were introduced, evictions were frozen and compulsory job searching for welfare became voluntary.
The states declared lockdowns, commanding people to stay in their homes except for essential work, food shopping, medical appointments and just half an hour of outdoor exercise a day. People’s boredom turned into despair as the suicide hotline Lifeline saw an uptick in calls and therapists saw an increase in new patients. People eventually adapted by getting some new hobbies; baking bread, making videos, being creative around the home, turning a spare room into a home gym, playing video games, connecting to others online who were going through the exact same thing as them, and adopting a pet. Some people wanted to help others feel less alone so offered to do things for them, like shopping, if they weren’t able to do it themselves. Neighbours met each other for the first time. Despite there being a mass panic about having enough basic supplies including toilet paper, bread, milk, canned goods, rice etc, people would provide these for free on the street.
We humans are so adaptable to changes, even frightening and despairing ones that we experienced during 2020’s COVID-19 pandemic, that we began to adopt new ways to live life in the ‘new normal.’ Work from home became commonplace, Zoom meetings replaced overseas work travel, Telehealth appointments took up the bulk of GP and therapist visits, even the arts took advantage of video conferencing to keep their jobs alive.
It seemed whatever 2020 threw at us we could find ways to adapt to.
For me personally though, I was less adaptable. Being autistic and having my most severe symptom being a fear of change and difficulty transitioning to it, should have made me aware, but because I had been living independently for a few years I had thought I would be able to manage whatever came my way. Like other young people like me I was confused about the panic buying of toilet paper but I didn’t worry until I was close to running out. When the usual stores ran out I had to look for other places that sold it, but getting to these places gave me a panic attack because they were in new locations. Eventually I had to go online to buy toilet paper, and though it was a bit more expensive buying locally made toilet paper was a better value than buying marked up prices of commercial toilet paper from resellers.
For the first couple of weeks of lockdown I had zero structure, I just stayed on social media all day. I was constantly watching the news, hearing COVID updates that I had already been updated about three times since I turned on the news that morning. It had made me more anxious about the pandemic and when I went to buy food my OCD was so high I had to buy online, but then that got so booked up that the supermarkets stopped it and then brought it back for people who needed it the most (pensioners/disabled people), which you had to be approved for. Around this time my anxiety was so high that I thought it would have been better if I starved myself to death rather than worry so much about when I could get food delivered to me.
But eventually I could get my food delivered from ordering online again, and I even got a massive hamper full of basic ingredients, some of which I’d never bought before so I was kept preoccupied with having to learn new recipes. My niece even did a grocery run for me.
Australia celebrated Easter in lockdown. I baked a damper and some ANZAC biscuits and ate some chocolate I had bought from the supermarket before my OCD had gotten too severe and stored them away in case there was a lockdown.
I was finally able to distract myself from the pandemic by going back to the video game Destiny 2, and playing it from morning to night.
Eventually I found my way onto Reddit to make some attempt to make friends because I was feeling lonely. It was my neighbours who despite the lockdown still had each other and that reminded me of how lonely I was. It didn’t turn out too well for me so I gave up, went back to Twitter which I spent an unhealthy amount of time on.
Around August I had some unusual symptoms, not what you’re thinking. I woke up with what seemed to be an allergic reaction on and in my mouth. After asking around online especially in the ME/CFS Facebook group I found out it could be a fungal infection, Candida albicans to be exact. So I looked up how to overcome it naturally after the medicine I got didn’t work and just made me tired all the time. So I found the anti-candida diet and found myself on Reddit again, getting advice from the candida sub there. Then I was right back into Reddit and chanced upon a sub called Get Discliplined. First I was giving advice and arguing with people for not being sensitive enough toward the people they were meant to be giving advice to, then I started participating in the ‘plans’ thread, which is basically writing down a daily to-do list and sharing it in the thread. This is what helped give me structure and was what got me back into my screenwriting, and I was also encouraged by reading posts from the screenwriting sub too. So, while I was undertaking this strict gluten free no refined sugar diet I was also structuring my day with strict discipline and working on a script. I was finally able to forget about the pandemic. Lockdown had ended, and my state’s cases were down. There were still social distancing laws in place and high capacity venues were closed but medium sized venues were opening up with lower audience numbers, like music venues, the cinema, churches, gyms etc.
But even after learning how to adapt to the changes, especially the restrictions, when the next COVID surge hit my city the panicking and bad habits to cope came back. And it took a lot to try and overcome them again, but fortunately I did this a lot earlier than before.
However, the biggest test came in December. My Prime Minister always guaranteed us if we kept the hygiene regime up and followed the social distancing laws, that we’d be able to have a normal Christmas. This probably raised my hopes a bit too much because as it turned out, just a week before Christmas, that restrictions, which had been eased days before, were now tighter. Homes could only have 10 visitors which effectively cancelled my family’s Christmas lunch on Boxing Day, which also doubled as my 35th birthday celebration. I didn’t take it well. I had a mixture of emotions from anger and blame toward my Premier, to a resurfacing of abandonment issues that always come about when I go through a depressive episode. I guess you could say there was a lot of jealousy too, as I looked at those who could still celebrate Christmas with others with disdain. As a result Christmas just didn’t feel like Christmas at all. It was just another day, in which I continued my well structured daily routine, and did some baking and got sick off the food I made because it wasn’t nutritious enough. So Christmas didn’t seem to be worth it. Christmas just didn’t feel like Christmas and it still felt like it never happened.
But a few months back I had become a Christian again and was reading Devotionals everyday and a few weeks leading up to Christmas I was doing devotional plans, one of which was written by televangelist Joyce Meyer, whom I grew up watching at 4am on TV. In them each day you get a devotional that usually has an important lesson to learn and about 3-5 scripture verses accompanying them. I felt I learned a lot from these, deeply, spiritually. So I kept doing them and so on Christmas Day I continued them and a lot of them had to do with the true meaning of Christmas. And because I often don’t dwell on it because it seems so repetitive to me hearing it every year, especially when I was growing up in church, so I didn’t pay too much heed to the birth of Jesus. But I decided to on Christmas Day, and I felt a peace I hadn’t experienced for days. Now I feel like I don’t need the Christmas celebration, the commercialism and manic gift buying and anticipation of receiving gifts. As a Christian it’s definitely not about that, it’s far deeper. Our salvation depends on that one story I had kept avoiding, so I stopped avoiding it and really dwelt on it.
I don’t care if people don’t believe it as I believe, but it’s important to me. Through reading the scriptures I have found a kind of mental calmness and clarity that I haven’t experienced from anything else this year or the years before. And it helped and is helping me get through the pandemic.
By the time my 35th birthday rolled around I was content to just do my own thing at home. The restrictions were still in place so I didn’t have much choice. I’d often spend my birthdays alone but usually in despair and loneliness. But this time I was happy to continue my routine and play some video games. And I didn’t experience all of it alone. My niece, her fiance and my step sister dropped by to give me gifts (gluten free cookies) and wish me well. It was nice to have their company, and when they left I didn’t long for more. I just continued with the rest of my day, which now included eating dinner and watching streaming services.
I feel at 35 I’ve finally matured enough to be content in my own company, to not worry about how the world sees me, and to live my life according to the Bible, and not to be influenced by the world.
And also, now that I’m, 35, I am no longer required to do job searching. After five nightmarish years of being forced by disability employment services to apply for jobs I know I can’t physically or mentally do, under the threat of losing my pension if I don’t apply to them, I am free.
2020 was a trying year for all of us, especially me, but I too adapted and overcame some very serious issues and I feel like I’ve been transformed into a whole new person. 2021 will come with its own challenges but I must remember that I’ve survived through the worst and I can do it again. I only need to remember how I survived 2020 and apply those things I learned when the following years get too much, and then I can confidently face any challenge that comes my way in the following years.