Table of Contents
It's no exaggeration to say that 2020 was one of the most difficult years the world has experienced.
The COVID-19 pandemic changed everything.
For some, this was the most difficult year in a generation.
For others, it was the most difficult year in their lifetime.
But there's some good that came from this, at least for me.
It's during the difficult times that I learn the mental health lessons that stay with me and improve for 2021--and the remainder of the life I have on this planet.
My Top Mental Health Lessons For 2021
Anything Can Happen At Any Time
You know, I had read articles about the possibility of a worldwide pandemic started by the transfer of a virus from animals to humans, but I never thought what happened in 2020 could actually happen.
But, of course it could.
Worldwide pandemics have ravaged the world throughout history. This is nothing new.
This year emphasized the importance of being a good student of history, of keeping a close eye on what came before me.
I've studied stoicism for years, so I'm familiar with the teaching that anything bad can happen at any time, but it's one thing to read and think about.
And it's something else entirely to be gripped by the darkest of moments.
Resilience Emerges From the Darkest Moments
But I know, without a doubt, that I need the darkest moments to make me better.
I never, ever would have asked to have open-heart surgery at 24, or deal with my mom's mental health crisis when I was 22, or struggle with my own serious mental health issues for years of my life.
Now I view them as the best things that have happened to me. Because they've taught me to be resilient.
This year, I found strengths I didn't know I had. More importantly, I met some of the most inspiring people I've ever come across. The difficult experiences propelled me forward. It didn't happen right away, of course, but the dark moments were springboards that put me on the path that only I could take. They showed parts of me that I didn't know existed.
And for that, I am grateful.
Acceptance Is the Key
This might be the biggest lesson I learned all year. Because, when the pandemic started, I was NOT doing well.
I thought that COVID would go away in a matter of weeks. When that didn't happen, I thought it would go away in a month or two at most. I thought, "Is this for real? Isn't this just a bad form of the flu? The media always likes to exaggerate things like this to get attention."
I soon realized that this was very different from what I considered normal. I also realized that my wishful thinking and constant hoping was slowly killing me.
In reality, none of us know when something will begin and end.
It was only when I sat myself down and considered what I was feeling that I moved through the anxiety and exhaustion that was eating away at my weakened mind.
Acceptance was everything for me.
It's the only way I was able to recover and keep moving forward. The process took me about a month to a month and a half. And it was only that fast because I've been training myself to be more accepting for years. Reading stoic wisdom and meditating have both helped me tremendously.
We Are More Adaptable Than We Think
If 2020 taught me anything about the world, it taught me that we are more adaptable than we realize.
With technology, we can do more, in more places, than we ever imagined.
Don't get me wrong, this transition to remote work and remote school was horrible in many ways. We struggled--and we're still struggling--to get it right. But, like anything in life, the more you practice something, the easier it gets.
And our newfound use of technology brought the world closer in other ways. I connected with family and friends over video when I would have just called them before.
My mom attended events through Zoom that she wouldn't have been able to ever attend, such as funerals thousands of miles away. My sister attended a wedding on Zoom. I helped move my workplace to remote work for the first time, and we became more nimble and thoughtful in our work as a result.
Systems evolve, and this is especially the case following catastrophic events.
The Mental Health System is Still Broken (But There's Hope)
The final lesson I learned is, at first glance, not a great one. I learned that the mental health system still isn't very much of a system.
It's a collection of disparate parts that rarely communicate with one another. And there's simply not enough support to go around.
The therapist-client model with maxed-out capacity pre-pandemic is even more maxed out during times of international crisis.
But, in January of 2020, I had been writing The Mental Health Update for only a few weeks. I didn't know what it would turn into. I didn't know if people would appreciate this model. I just had a hunch that email newsletters could be an intimate way to share mental health information.
Turns out, I wasn't alone in this feeling.
We need new ways to connect. We need to feel understood, and so many people have told me that this newsletter helps them to understand themselves and their mental health better.
That brings me so much joy. I love doing this, and I don't see myself stopping soon.
In fact, I have ideas for how email newsletters and other online forms of communication can amplify the mental health awareness and education efforts that are so sorely needed in this world.
I don't think the one-to-one mental health model is going to reach everyone who needs help.
I think we need to be more strategic in how we scale up mental health efforts so that have everyone can have access to mental health resources and support.
I'm excited to see what 2021 will bring, and you can bet that I'm going to be doing my part to make mental health more meaningful and accessible.
Your Turn - How Was 2020 For You?
What Lessons Will Guide Your Mental Health in 2021?
What did you think of the top mental health lessons I learned?
Do they mesh with your experiences from 2020?
Is there anything you would add?
Join the conversation on Twitter. I asked my 30,000+ followers for their top mental health lesson from 2020.
I hope you came away from this year with at least one realization about how resilient and adaptable you are.