Opinion: Building resilience in 2020

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Akasha Khalsa/NW

Akasha Khalsa

My mom and I joke that everyone will look back on 2020 as the “worst F—-ING year in decades.”

“We’ll call it 2020 PTSD,” we said.

This year has been kind of a shitshow for all of us. Many people have lost someone, lost a job, lost a home. For me, 2020 is the year my dad committed suicide just before the coronavirus hit the United States. It’s been the hardest year of my life.

We’re all going through it this year. It’s been hard on our minds to be isolated from our friends and our family. Maybe we perceive COVID-19 precautions as imprisoning or restrictive. Additionally, there’s all the change happening on campus, the instability of our plans, the adaptation to new ways of socializing and communicating. Political drama. Campus drama. Change is a stressor for us all.

But this little essay isn’t about self pity. I think the difficulties of 2020 are making us all stronger, more thoughtful, and more inclined towards compassion for our fellow beings. Along with the hardest, 2020 has also been the year I’ve experienced the most growth, and the year I’ve felt most happy to be alive and to be myself.

Optimism is a little difficult for me. It’s something that has required practice. Slipping into the mindset of a victim is easy. Stewing in self-pity and becoming stagnant in remembering misfortunes and injustices in my life is a low-energy pattern to live. Left alone, I swim in spirals of dark reflection, folding in on myself, doubting, worrying, apologizing. It’s paralyzing to do that, though.

After my dad’s death, I was amazed that the world went on. I cried, I still cry. I felt the loss, waded into it, sifted ashes in my fingers. The worst had happened, and yet the air was still sweet. There was still warmth when my loved ones hugged me. Feeling the sadness, the unfairness, betrayal, guilt… none of it kept life from going on and on. I discovered how resilient I was.

The most difficult moments, the ones where I could feel myself detaching from what was around me, were the times that I could feel my own strength with the most clarity: this is real. I am here, taking action. Life continues.

I think this is something we can all do during 2020. One side-effect of the misfortunes and stress we experience as a result of COVID-19, political division, injustice, abuse, change, and mortality is the realization of how much discomfort we can endure, and still keep soldiering on.

2020 is also the year I’ve learned just how strong my support system is. My family and friends immediately coordinated to get me from Marquette and into my mother’s arms, then onto a plane to Arizona, and helped me through organizing my dad’s cremation and funeral and distributing his belongings among relatives and loved ones. They made sacrifices, sat with me while I keened and bawled, and made sure I felt their care and love. How could I have known what wonderful people fill my life if I never had that opportunity to see their devotion?

I’m doing well. I’m convalescent. That’s how we’re all going to be when this crisis is more or less over, I think. We’re a little less protected from mortality than we’re used to. Something, or many things, in our lives that we’ve relied on, may have completely collapsed. People we know may die from COVID-19. We’re separated from friends and relatives due to political disputes, or from health isolation. Perhaps we avoid the news because every day, something new and horrible seems to happen. A new bombing, a new shooting, a new injustice. 

But we all underestimate our resilience. We have no idea how much sadness and pain we can take until we take it. We have no idea how much we are capable of love until we must demonstrate it. This year needs to be the year where we all work to find optimism, recognize our growth, extend compassion and empathy to all those around us, and give bear hugs. Let difficulty be something that teaches our hearts. Embrace what’s so hard it hurts you, because that’s what will bring you and the world the most value.

I say this because, this year may be a F—-ing shitshow, but it’s also the best teacher I’ve ever had.