This year taught me a lot.
Let’s just start with the cliche because it’s true. As I look back at the life I endured (yes, endured, not lived) this year, I feel like each month gave me a lesson to learn, not that I was looking for one. But isn’t that the way? The lessons you need most are the ones you don’t expect to nor want to learn in the moment. They condescend and sting, they seem obvious and boastful, they try to disguise themselves in overly complicated nuances when in reality what you initially see is the whole picture and then you realize how you didn’t have to split hairs or over analyze the situation. But that’s what we’re taught adulthood to be — that there’s always something MORE than just what’s given to you. We’re taught that no one is ever straightforward and that there’s always something that lies beneath. And as we perpetuate these lessons, we no longer feel like we have anything more to learn. We no longer feel like students in this life and rather feel like we should be experts when there are no experts in this life. Sure, you can be adept in astrophysics or know how the mathematics of the electoral college system, but neither the astrophysicist nor the mathematician are adept in the other’s expertise. To break from the metaphor — there is always more to learn and in opening ourselves up to becoming students again, we are that much closer to accepting the world around us and seeing what it has to teach us.
I. This year, I learned to accept my darkness.
I found myself in DC — I’ve made that much known to those important to me. I found a routine that makes sense, a cat that loves to scream at me, and a community that constantly helps me thrive. But in finding myself, I also found the parts of me that might not even like me. The parts that tell me I’m not good enough and the parts that tell me that I’m better off alone and the parts that would rather I stay trapped in the darkest recesses of my depression because it’s “safer”. It’s hard to admit out loud, but there were weeks where I had built a home in the darkness. There were days that I thought I would never leave, and there was a night where I got very close to giving up. And as much as it hurts to write out now, it hurt even more to do the simplest thing anyone could do in that situation: I needed to ask for help. How simple, right?
But in that moment, it’s mammoth. No, it’s grander, actually. It’s gargantuan. Because even as I was about to hit send on the text to whoever would listen, the darkness said: “Go ahead…just tell people exactly how DARK your mind really is and maybe, just MAYBE, they’ll help. But you’re so fucked up that you’ll probably just be a burden. But yeah, just reach out. Ruin their night for your own selfish needs. You selfish fucking burden.” And a part of me felt like I was on a cliff knowing I needed to jump, and even though I had no fucking clue where or how I’d land, I knew that it was better than staying put and letting the void swallow me whole.
So I leapt.
And I landed surrounded by people who didn’t see me as a burden, but as a friend. Because that’s what I am to them, a friend — someone worthy of care and love no matter how dark and scary and messy I am. And it’s especially those dark and scary and messy parts of me that deserve the most care and love, not because they are lesser but because they are equal parts of me.
II. This year, I learned to not force love.
I’ll be honest—love scares me shitless. After my ex, it felt like love was something I knew in concept, but not in practice; when I was with him, it was so hard to be and feel genuine, so I stopped. I became too petrified to move. So I stayed behind walls as tall as towers to keep myself safe and waited by windows to entertain the idea of connecting with another person. It was cold and lonely and empty, and I could feel the walls closing in on me, holding me in perpetuity so men can wonder about me, but not get close enough to touch.
I longed for connection beyond the walls, for the windows provided nothing but voyeurism and teases. For the better part of the year, all I did was complain about this to anyone who would listen; to anyone who cared. The pitiful stories my walls could tell. Then one day, I got sick of hearing my own complaints and decided to finally open a window. The breeze was sweet and the sounds of summer enticing — friends and companions ushering me forward to frolic and have a life; all of them telling me to stop overthinking things for once and just live life amongst the world.
I closed my eyes and stepped through the window, urging myself to move forward. And I found myself exploring the depths of what I once thought was extinct. I had almost forgotten how good it can feel to let someone in and to let myself be vulnerable again. I had almost forgotten how good it felt to love. Embrace the saccharine with me for a few more sentences, please. Because as anyone who has gone through a break up, a global pandemic, and then struggled to reintegrate themselves into the dating world can tell you—it’s not easy. It’s not just hard to love again, but it’s hard to let yourself feel loved again. And to let yourself feel that fully is such a lost practice and I had to learn it all over again. I had to relearn how scary it is, I had to relearn how good it feels, and I had to relearn how much it hurts when it doesn’t pan out. And there’s the lesson, right? Sometimes things don’t always go as you plan. Sometimes the timing isn’t right. Sometimes you have to give yourself over to know what you need in return.
It was a harder lesson to learn, but now that the walls are broken, the towers are dismantled, and the windows shattered—I will never go back.
III. What Now?
Let’s just bookend this with the cliches—we never know what’s going to happen next year. But I do know that it will be challenging; I do know that it will hurt; I do know that it will be another 365 days of lessons that will bring me closer to who I’m meant to be.
And I vow to be the student this life asks me to be, and to continue to let the world teach me things I never knew I needed.