The End of Year reflection that no one asked for

Ah, the week between Christmas and New Years.

My current view from my living room/bedroom/porch

I always like to do a lot of reflecting at the end of the year, and I usually am so inspired by it. The lessons I’ve learned, the intentions I want to take into the new year, etc. But this year is different.

I can think of some lessons I learned, and some intentions I have for 2021, but I also feel that both personally and in *gestures wildly* the world, I am/we all are still smack dab in the middle of some real shit.

I really only like to write when I’m past The Thing I’ve been learning and can write about it from that new vantage point. “OLD me was so young and naive, but I moved or broke up with someone or both and just LOOK at how I’ve grown.”

But that’s just not where I’m at. I have no pretty bow to put on this year, but that feels the most honest. I refuse to say that this year could’ve been better with just a mindset change, or cultivating more gratitude. I refuse to only focus on the good things of this year and gloss over the fact that it was good for me in some ways *only* because of my enormous privilege. That would be a gross over simplification, and I won’t do it.

But I did learn a few things. Some really weighty, others not so much. So, I promise not to be *too* much of a downer if you’d like to forge ahead with me:

Being “Aunt Alex” is my new favorite role.

Lord, I’m already crying as I write this. I knew this last year too, but even more now.

My favorite boy is so much bigger than this now.

I’m not a “real” Aunt in that my brother doesn’t have kids, but when my best mom friend leaned her baby off her hip and toward me and said to him, “Go see your Aunt Alex!” My heart burst in a million pieces. And it still does, every time.

Watching my friends become parents and getting a front row seat to their babies’ milestones has been an honor, and I was not expecting it to feel like this. Locales could always change, but as long as we’re in the same place, I’ll happily be a small part of the village that raises these kids.

I want to forget the world’s troubles while I babysit them and give their parents a break. I want to read books to them that teach them to love and respect all kinds of kinds. I want to pick them up from soccer practice one day. I want them to come up to me in the big group of adults and say “Aunt Alex will you play hide and seek wif us?!” And I will every time.

I want them to know me well enough eventually that they feel comfortable telling me things they wouldn’t tell mom or dad. I want them to feel like they can call me if they’re in trouble.

My friends have made me feel like not only is all of the above possible, but that they want it, too. I love them so much for making me feel so included in this new part of their lives.

These are the days of walking into a friend’s house after not even knocking, while she’s cooking dinner with one hand cause the baby doesn’t want to be put down, and me either taking the baby or the spatula to help before so much as saying hi. I love it, and I’m so thankful for it.

Quarantine was hard, but having a smiley baby around was a dang good cure for a lot of my 2020 woes.

Gratitude lists don’t always cut it.

The English language needs a new word for the feeling that most of us had this year. If you’re me, you often (read: every morning after doom scrolling) felt absolutely destroyed by all that was going on in the world: The COVID death toll, systemic racism, job loss, the economic recession, businesses closing, full hospitals, incompetent governments, etc., and then one second later realized that in a lot of ways, my privileged life hadn’t changed much at all.

I kept my job and with it kept my steady paycheck, I saved money from staying in, I still saw a few friends and family, I loved working from home. In some ways, in all of this pandemonium, my life was nominally better. So who was I to feel THIS crappy all the time? There were months when almost every day I felt so overwhelmed by the grief I felt on behalf of others juxtaposed with the ENORMOUS amounts of privilege I’ve been given, that I couldn’t get anything but the bare minimum done. And some days not even that. And then I’d feel terrible about that and the cycle would continue.

What’s the word for those two feelings smashed together? I need it. I need someone to put words to it better than I can. If you’ve found the article, feel free to send it my way.

I am a firm believer in cultivating gratitude. Every day. Wherever you are. I am really good at it. How many mundane things am I grateful for? The limit does not exist.

  • The way my jade plant is sprouting new baby leaves.
  • That sunset just now.
  • The trees behind my house.
  • The fact that my closet is HUGE.
  • The way that driving in my car on certain Columbia back roads while listening to new albums makes me feel like my life is its own movie.
  • How my favorite pens feel on my favorite journal’s paper.

The limit does not exist.

But nothing felt stupider this year than trying to cultivate gratitude for “warm coffee” or whatever else each morning as if that could help me ignore the fact that thousands of people were (needlessly) dying from a virus, etc.

Real suffering was going on, even if I wasn’t the one truly suffering, and I felt all types of ways about it. When your gratitude lists feel kind of stupid for months on end, or the sunsets just aren’t hitting you like they used to, it may be because a global pandemic is happening.

This is how 2020 felt for me. So, last month I started going to therapy. The jury’s still out on how effective it will be for me since I just started, but I guess I’m writing this to say that if your normal techniques to keep you happy and centered and grateful fell short this year, you aren’t the only one.

And also, a lot of things can be true at once. I can feel sad about not seeing extended family and some friends in a long time, and also acknowledge that my year has been pretty fine compared to so many other people’s. Both feelings are true and valid and OK.

Sometimes church is just community, and I think that’s OK.

I’m not really about to spill my spiritual guts on this stupid blog (truly no one has the time, nor is my narrative very different from lots of others’), but it’s safe to say I think that this year’s circumstances brought back up some theological questions/frustrations.

I didn’t really lean in to my faith in light of how terrible the world’s events were in the way that I’m sure a lot of people did.

But I still showed up most Sundays (masked, socially distant, outside, etc.). Some weeks it was the only time I saw another person I knew. Some weeks Zoom bible study was my only real form of socializing. Some weeks Sunday mornings were the one hour a week I was fully off my phone. Some weeks I was just there ’cause I like to sing with other people. Some weeks it just felt good to be in a place where 20+ people know me pretty well, and I can confidently say they care about me and what happens to me.

Some weeks I was grateful for church because the world felt so heavy, I wanted to be DOING SOMETHING in the local community that felt like I was making a difference, and you know how I got plugged in to serving? Church.

While none of this feels particularly great to admit, because I’m supposed to feel like church is where I go to feel closer to God, I think God can handle all of my wrong reasons for attending church and do something with it anyway.

So I’ll keep going on Sunday mornings. I’ll continue to deepen the friendships I’ve found there, I’ll keep plopping rice from Main Squeeze onto the plates of Columbia’s homeless on taco night at Wilkes’ Blvd. United Methodist Church, shoulder to shoulder with my friends/other Midtown congregants.

And I’ll keep praying Mark 9:24 like it’s my job: “Lord, I believe. Please help my unbelief.”

I’m addicted to blocking out my own thoughts

Somewhere in the middle of the year I noticed how little time I spent in silence. Literally before my feet hit the floor each morning, I checked my podcast app for the day’s newest, and hit play.

Making coffee? Podcast time. Showering? Podcast, please. Doing dishes? More podcaaassts! On a walk, run, or bike ride? Podcasts.

Don’t get me wrong, I think that what I’ve chosen to fill my brain with in that time has actually served me really well. Podcasts helped me laugh during some of quarantine’s darkest days, they made me more informed and empathetic, they encouraged some spiritual growth, etc.

But looking back, I can see how constantly filling my ears with chatter of other people’s stories and thoughts was actually also a mechanism to keep my own thoughts at bay.

I don’t *think* I’m turning into one of those woo-woo people who checks in with themselves and writes it down every morning, because not every one of my thoughts and feelings deserves that much reflection, honestly. But, I did see this year how not just sitting with some of my anxieties and acknowledging them did come out in some negative ways.

This year I’m going to try to sit in silence a little more, or at least listen to music instead of chatter. While I can certainly be inspired by other people’s content, I’ve also noticed that letting my mind wander while on a walk or doing the dishes can lead to some creativity as well.

For me, inertia is everything

I am (pretty sure I’m) a 9 on the Enneagram. The Enneagram is a personality typing system that puts people into 1 of 9 types. I highly recommend the enneagram as a tool that can help you understand yourself and the people in your life better.

I knew I was a 9 when I was listening to an enneagram book called “The Road Back to You,” and the author was describing 9s as folks who can sometimes “fall asleep to their lives,” meaning I can go on auto-pilot big time and not think about my own big-picture wants, needs, and goals.

In addition, the “vice” of type-9 people is sloth, and type 9s have relatively low energy levels. You read that right. I am advocating for a personality typing system that literally called me lazy. But going one level deeper than that, my reading on type 9s taught me that inertia is everything for 9s, meaning if I have some momentum going, I’m good, and it’s very important for me to KEEP that momentum. If I let myself sputter to a stop, it is very hard for me to get going again.

Just knowing this about myself has been helpful. Implementing “inertia-building” activities into my day-to-day is easier said than done, but again, just thinking about it has been helpful for me.

But all of this thinking about inertia has made me a little nervous for the second-half of 2021. To be honest, I lived a very small, simple life during COVID. It was easy to cultivate routines and stick with them when I wasn’t traveling. The homebody in me found true delight in spending a lot of time just cleaning and enjoying my home.

But I’m a little bit worried about regaining momentum and energy when it’s safe to do so again in 2021. Will I have the energy to go out and live LIFE again? Or will planning a camping trip just sound like too much work? Will crowds ever not make me anxious? While part of me can’t WAIT to go to a bar again and invite literally everyone I’ve ever known – in multiple cities – another part of me is quickly tired and overwhelmed just thinking about it…and actually, on second thought, my couch and a book sounds nicer.

Can you blame me? My couch is so cute and comfy.

So, this is me putting this fear out into the world in hopes that writing this will keep me accountable. I already have a few trips I want to plan for the second half of the year, which will hopefully be the momentum I need to keep the inertia going.

We missed out in 2020, I won’t do it again in 2021.

Some other 2020 lessons:

  • Dogs are better than I remembered
  • Rage journaling is less destructive than rage tweeting. The internet. is. forever.
  • It’s slightly easier to avoid screen time once we realize how bad it is for us and what it’s actually doing to us.
  • Accomplishing a big years-long goal you set for yourself really does feel amazing, even six months later.
  • Going to a BLM protest didn’t feel as impactful as spending money at Black-owned businesses or even reading about diversity in America and my own complicity in racism did.
  • Having more space really does help you be more organized. Seeing all your stuff is necessary.
  • I still spend way too much GD time on my phone, but confronting your problem is the first step, right?

Author: Alex Ethridge

Hi, I'm glad you found me.

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