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What I Learned In 2020: An Assorted Sprinkling of Impressions

It's a ramshackle bunch of stuff. But, it was that kind of year, wasn't it? Here are my reflections looking back over a year that many of us would rather forget...

(Disclaimer up front. During no point did I get covid, lose income or have people close to me suffer. So, I got an easy ride from that point of view.)

1. Being on lockdown is much better than being sectioned

Bear with me. During 2017 and 2018 I spent significant chunks of time living on a locked psychiatric ward with severe post natal depression. At times I was literally not allowed to leave the hospital unaccompanied (being sectioned under The Mental Health Act, which is something you never want to happen to you). I spent long periods having no idea when I'd be let out, and having to ask permission to go out when I had that privilege. So–uncertainty, distress, along with intense boredom became a fact of life. All with a tiny baby in tow.

Meaning that lockdown and its restrictions, not knowing when it would end, was not difficult for me to adapt to. I was used to killing long periods of time with no company or entertainment. Living with uncertainty. Basically, if your mental health is in good nick and you aren't forced to live in an underfunded institution with other distressed people, lockdown felt doable.

2. Racism in the UK ain't going anywhere fast

There's the obvious Tory nastiness that has had 10 years to grow and fester–the hostile environment which has seen deportations of people who've lived their whole lives in the UK and no recourse to public funds rule, causing untold pain and hardship to migrant workers and their families. But the white fragility and fleeting attention following the Black Lives Matter uprisings in the summer was discouraging.

I hoped that we'd be seeing more sustained involvement by white liberal people, many of whom are my friends, to keep challenging systemic racism. Instagram's gone pretty quiet, despite the disproportionate numbers of people of colour dying from covid. I hoped that the case for greater action would be an easier sell in my workplace. But we're very keen to avoid having difficult conversations or seeming impolite or confrontational. I see this most obviously on LinkedIn. Is talking about racism somehow seen as unprofessional? You bet. As Nova Reid reflected recently in her podcast, it seems we need to be confronted with horrific racial violence to move us to action. And then it fades away.

We need more solidarity in the other direction

3. I've got better at handling uncertainty

In 2020 I left my job of 8 years to go freelance, and I moved from London (after 10 years) to Rotterdam. And the key to all of that was having the confidence that I would be able to cope and figure it all out as I went. I put 90% of this down to therapy, helping me to overcome deeply ingrained low self belief and propensity to worry. But I've also been hugely buoyed by following inspirational women writing and speaking about confidence, financial independence and challenging racism. It's all been lies! Instagram scrolling can have positive benefits!

4. In this country, if you are poor, you are fucked

Inequality is completely insidious. I have friends that are up against cancer, abusive family members, PTSD and financial hardship, all at the same time. All the fat that might have existed in the system to help has gone, or been cut to the bone. From our punitive benefits system, to mental health services being cut making therapy hard to access, to the police and ambulance having to be first responders to mental health issues, to cancer treatment waiting times lengthening, the list goes on.

If you don't have money and connections, chances are your connections don't either. And so it goes on–families and communities that are traumatised, only having other poor and traumatised people to go to for help. I don't know what to do about this other than giving money, talking about it, and checking in a lot more to the people that have it hardest.

5. Coaching is pretty brilliant

If you know, you know with this one, I think. I completed a coaching certification with the MOE Foundation this summer, where I learned how to help people figure stuff out about their lives. It was great. I met some fantastic people, and an unexpected benefit was that I got proper motivated and productive as a consequence of people trying out their coaching skills on me.

If you're not familiar with coaching, it basically is about being a brilliant listener and asking pertinent, open questions. Very few of us have time to think out loud, uninterrupted, with the sole goal of the conversation being to help you understand yourself and where you want to go better. Shout out to MOE Foundation that offer low cost coaching courses meaning many more people can access it, from a diverse range of backgrounds. And even bigger shout out to my coaching buddies Amani Simpson and Olabimpe Sangowawa.

6. Spending time with little people makes you more creative

At the start of the first lockdown, shortly after going on furlough, I realised I was going to up my game with my then nearly 3 year old. He'd been at a brilliant nursery four days per week, and so coming up with inventive activities was not something I had to do too much of. There was a flurry of parents sending (an overwhelming number of) links to things to do, and I struck gold with one of them.

This guide to independent play is absolutely brilliant. It's about how, if you give children open ended things to play with (buttons, paper clips, sand, pots, etc) and get them going, eventually they will start to spend longer periods of time pottering around without needing you actively playing with them. It has all sorts of benefits for the child (problem solving, creativity), as well as for the parent needing to check the emails! I found it inspiring, particularly as it recommends acquiring very inexpensive items like rubber bands and pieces of fabric.

As well as getting me to think more creatively, I also bonded more with my little one. Morning picnics were a thing for a while. A winter lockdown is a much less pleasant affair, but I'm going to be digging out that guide again this time around...

A common scene in our home

7. I (still) love learning languages

Now, people are pretty hard on Dutch as a language. What's the point, people told me. They all speak perfect English! It is true, I say in my best Dutch "spreekt u Engels?" and they say, "a little bit" and then proceed to speak perfect English. But, I strongly believe that you are seriously missing out on a place if you don't try to learn the local lingo. You learn so much about the culture, and people respect you for it.

Favourite word hands down is winkelwagen (shopping trolley). For my son it's lekker (yum), slecht (horrid) and smeerkaas (cream cheese).

Right, I'll leave it at 7–I love a prime number. What have you discovered over the last year? I want to hear it!


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