How I Navigated The Shit Show That Was 2021

I can’t believe I felt optimistic in January

Of course, we were in a different situation back then. Our family had just survived a lockdown Christmas and re-entered the world with the excitement of William Shatner on his descent back to earth, optimistic and eager to move onto the next phase of our lives.

Was my lack of motivation caused by menopause or some greater force at work?

When I couldn’t put words on a page, I questioned whether I was suffering from a case of minor PTSD related to COVID, or if I had simply underestimated the disparity between the expectations of retirement and the reality. But whatever the reason for my lack of focus, I spent most of the year wandering aimlessly around our apartment, achieving very little.

I’ve lost count of the number of conditions ending in itis I’ve suffered from this year, none of which I’d ever heard of before

But my biggest bete noire has been my preponderance to overthink. “Existential crisis” doesn’t cover the number of Camus moments I’ve experienced in my quest to work out exactly what the fuck I’m doing here. I have days when I feel guilty about not being productive enough and days when I feel guilty about taking on too much and not making the most of this wonderful privilege of free time.

I would struggle to answer the question of what I do right now

Like most retirees, I bore thepants off people about how busy I am. And, in fairness, I write a lot — but very little worth publishing; I read and file a lot of research; I try to stay fit within the allowances of my degenerating body, and I attempt to live vicariously through the lives of my children — albeit, I suspect they are not as keen.

But what am I actually achieving? And do I need to achieve anything?

My single accomplishment from this year’s shit show has been my clearer understanding that LIFE IS HARD for everyone, an acknowledgement that has carried me through many of these difficult, self-reflective moments and highlighted the importance of resilience to me again.

I chose to be a victim

And victimhood has served as the perfect excuse for my inadequacies, my fragility, my tendency towards mild depression, and my struggles with work and parenting. It makes sense that if your emotional battery has never been fully charged, you go flat much more quickly when faced with challenging life situations such as parenting, relationship disharmony and rejection, thereby increasing your predisposition to mood disorders. And as I discovered recently, difficult transitions like middle age — when there is more time to overthink the meaning of life — can also be a trigger.

So how to stop the pain?

For years, I masked my low-grade depression with self-medication — still do, to a degree. I had to, because despite my awareness that no one leads a charmed life, my anxiety-induced perfectionism and hypersensitivity ensured that the knocks hit me harder.

Which brings me back to the question of whether pain makes life more meaningful?

Maybe.

“Some degree of misery and suffering is essential to a rich and meaningful life.”

Maybe, we do have to experience pain to understand what we are doing here. The gift of semi-retirement has given me the time to look at my life more closely, to separate the different elements and compartmentalise. All those cliched strategies for people with depression — walking in nature, fortifying relationships with family and friends, standing up for my rights, and being more self-compassionate — have helped me develop more resilience and autonomy.

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