2020 Stole a Fundamental Piece of My Identity

I am plotting to get it back!

Originally published here: https://psiloveyou.xyz/2020-stole-a-fundamental-piece-of-my-identity-957e0ea93609

Photo Credit Anouska Parr

I predict trends.

I do a lot of research, I travel all over the world, I look at what’s going on then I piece together a giant puzzle of information from social, environmental, political, cultural, creative and economic influences. My team and I then create guidelines explaining visually how this will impact our clients so they can prepare their products accordingly.

In a normal year, I would visit at least 10 countries. Travel was my lifeblood, a defining part of who I am, it always has been. Even when my partner and I bought our first house I ended up living on the other side of the country in a narrowboat, and this continued to be the norm. I would move to wherever the work was, just travelling home at the weekends.

I like being flung into the unknown, navigating a new place, absorbing different cultures, this anxious excitement powers my very being. I like time by myself, to think about things uninterrupted, to declutter my brain and get some breathing space.

I would often attend events with my suitcase and leave to go directly to the airport. I once skated a double roller marathon before boarding a 13-hour flight to China. This is the life I have known for the past 14 years, and this was my reality.

Then it stopped.

To start with it was ok. I was pleased to be at home, to spend time with my partner and furballs. Then, I started to feel a bit odd, tired, listless, unable to concentrate. When a defining part of who you are is removed and you have no control or power to get it back, it’s rather disconcerting.

This is the longest I have stayed in one place for YEARS, and it has proven to be a lot more challenging than I thought.

Vietnam has handled the pandemic situation very well; we didn’t get furlough or lockdown. Only contagious or high-risk people were quarantined, mainly people coming in from other countries.

We got a week off work (sort of) and life just carried on as normal with one exception: Travel — Vietnam closed its borders. I could leave, but getting back in again would be tricky, and that’s a risk I could not take.

As a frequent traveller and insomniac, I function on the basis of flexitime, which suits me very well. Now I have to go to the same place every single day from 8am to 5pm. This is an entirely new experience for me and honestly, I hate it. It’s so tedious.

Even my wonderful team are suffering at the hands of my confusion and inability to work through this bizarre situation. They understand only too well that something is missing, a part of me is gone.

It’s true, I have felt lost.

Very few people have made the connection and realised the significance of the situation. Instead of offering some support or flexibility, I have been told to man up or think myself lucky, and I do. I know I am very lucky, but it would be dishonest to say this has not affected me.

Not only have I been battling with the mundane, but my role has changed to help absorb some of the new challenges we are facing, the role that I loved and was so passionate about. To add insult to injury I have been under constant scrutiny because the people that remain here in the office in Vietnam don’t really know what my team is for. Most of my allies, the people that do understand, that champion what we do are stuck on the other side of the world giving support from afar.

So I did the only thing I knew how to do. I kept pushing myself, kept looking, searching, analysing, trying to create that same feeling that I get when I am off on an adventure. Battling through the frustration of being stuck, trying to learn how to cope with this new normal. It didn’t go so well. Instead of success, I found myself crawling out of the wreckage of a burnout.

These last few months I’d been on an endless, fruitless joyride through the back streets of Binh Chanh searching for something I was unable to identify, driving down the tiny lanes on the hunt for enlightenment, pushing myself to the absolute limit until I couldn’t go on. My oil had run out, my engine had combusted and I was left there a broken shell smouldering in the dirt.

I can’t remember ever being that ill before. I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t eat, I was hot, so hot. I had horrendous vertigo, I couldn’t focus or read, I couldn’t be exposed to any bright lights, any noise rang out vibrating through my bones. I tossed and turned in a pool of my sweat in absolute agony. Everything hurt. After five days of this hell, I finally dragged myself to the doctors.

“It’s chronic adjustment disorder,” he said.

I had never heard of this. He explained it’s normally triggered by an incident of some kind and can manifest itself as a physical illness. He started treatment immediately and within a couple of days, I was beginning to feel human again.

I did a lot of thinking whilst I was off sick. I couldn’t do anything else. I decided I was really angry about a lot of things. Furious, disappointed, let down. I was livid at COVID-19, at all of the terrible things that have happened in 2020, there have been so many.

But most of all I was angry that it stole something that was so safe and familiar, an extended part of me.

That’s when it dawned on me. The familiarity of my sporadic, hectic, international life was comforting. To most, this wouldn’t seem like a routine, but it was all I knew. It was my ritual. I had a specific process for every part of it, I was flawlessly organised and efficient, making the most of every second, every kilo, every euro. So now what?


I started to break it all down, what did it all mean? How could I survive this new world?

I analyse information for my job, I am acutely aware of everything that is going on, yet I somehow forgot to think about me. It’s interesting what you learn when you are forced to dissect something that you had overlooked for so long.

The things I missed were not as complicated or unattainable as I originally thought. Pretty straightforward in fact.

  • I crave structure, my own structure (even if to others it feels like chaos).
  • Space, peace, silence and thinking time are fundamental to my well-being.
  • I need to move, no matter how tired it always makes me feel better.
  • Creativity and curiosity are the things that motivate me.
  • Change is important.
  • Self-care is not something that should be reserved for travel.
  • Making time for myself is not selfish.
  • Kindness and empathy are for everywhere.

So I say fuck you 2020, fuck all of the bad things that are going on in the world, I can’t control any of them.

What I can control is my rituals, the things that are truly important. I can create new ones.

Now I have been forced to assess things I had never considered, I can improve them, I can make them better than before. I can adapt them to this new world. Maybe one day I will be able to get on a plane again, who knows…

The doctor said I need to take better care of myself, he might be onto something.

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