What 2020 Taught Me

- 5 mins

“I want to taste and glory in each day, and never be afraid to experience pain; and never shut myself up in a numb core of nonfeeling, or stop questioning and criticizing life and take the easy way out. To learn and think: to think and live; to live and learn: this always, with new insight, new understanding, and new love.” — Sylvia Plath, The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath

As a kid, I had really strong emotions. On the outside, I seemed calm, but there were many instances when I became overwhelmed with emotion. I think a lot of Asian culture doesn’t accept these emotions—we’re taught to be calm, to dial it down, to sweep our problems under the rug. To be a well-behaved, “good” kid meant acting pleasant and agreeable, especially as a young girl. Growing up with perfectionistic tendencies, I wanted so badly to fit that mold. But as a kid, when I was punished for being angry, I bottled up a lot of hate and resentment; when I was told to stop crying, I would keep my frustrations and sadness to myself. When things got hard, I turned inwards. My natural self was excitable, strong-willed, and inquisitive—but on the way to growing up, I lost some of that. I was never really encouraged to regulate or express my emotions in a healthy way.

This year was so hard because after such a sudden shift away from an environment that grounded me, I lost myself. My deep-rooted self-hatred came to the surface, and I spent many months trying to come to terms with who I was at the core. I felt so broken, and even telling myself that I was enough made me burst into tears. I had a hard time doing anything, and the less I did, the worse I felt. More often than not, I woke with a feeling of dread, wishing for it to be night again. When things got hard in the past, I thrived by choosing to numb my feelings and compartmentalize; the only difference this year is that I often couldn’t just force myself to keep going.

The turning point was when I internalized that I had the power to heal myself and write my own narrative. The stories we’ve been told and continue to tell ourselves don’t have to define us—we choose to tell it in the way we want to. I realized that my anxiety was a form of control and my depression was a form of repression, and I had to hold and honor my emotions. I had no choice but to learn to live with the pain, the anger, the darkness. The people around me did the best they could given the circumstances, and so did I. I spent so much energy resisting—blaming myself and others—when the only way through the pain was unconditional compassion and acceptance.

There were many points this year when I felt like things were just too much. People were dying, hospitals were overwhelmed, racial unrest flooded cities, and so much injustice boiled to the surface. Meanwhile, I had never struggled so badly. For a long time, I hated myself for feeling so terribly when others had it worse. I wished more than anything to be the happy college student I once was, in a place where I could easily reject my past and form my own identity. But 2020 has forced me to sit with the discomfort, be my own best friend, set personal boundaries, and address the root cause of my problems. Instead of harboring anger towards individuals, I now have so much more understanding and forgiveness towards everything that has led me to where I am today. For the first time, I gave myself the voice I wish I had as a kid—a voice that I’m still trying to figure out how to use. While I felt stuck for so long in the monotony of the days, feeling like I was regressing and turning into the worst version of myself, I see now how much I have truly grown from the start of this unforgettable year.

As I enter into 2021, I have only one goal: be kind. This year taught me that I beat myself up in a way that is extremely counterproductive and leads me into terrible spirals. I need to be kind, even when I don’t feel like it. And being “kind” is different from being “nice”. While being nice comes from a place of fear—of wanting to keep the peace, please others, or be liked—kindness comes from deep-rooted empathy and compassion. I’m so tired of holding back from saying what I feel and doing what I want out of fear. I’m tired of second-guessing myself and not feeling enough. I’m tired of being a shell of myself. Most of the time, I already have all the answers I need. I am doing my best, even when it doesn’t feel like it’s enough. Instead of comparing myself with who I was in the past or who I could be in the future, I am trying to focus on building an unshakable core of gratitude, acceptance, and love. And maybe now, that is more than enough.

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