Wow, did we really make it to the end of 2020? As I type this, half asleep at 11:44pm, I involuntarily (and sleepily) shake my head. Some days, it still feels like a bad dream. Stuck in Tier 4 London, aka Lockdown 3.0, with London hospitals at breaking point, the end of December doesn’t feel very different from the end of March. Which was nine long months ago. Back then, I was brimming with virtues like patience, hope and optimism – vital tools to ride out a global pandemic. Now? I count it a lucky day when I wake up feeling more like me and less like a stranger I cant recognise. I am recovering from a major burnout, uncharacteristically numb yet stuffed full of feelings. Guilt, frustration, anger, disbelief, resignation, confusion, fear, helplessness – there’s a crowd in my heart.
No matter how the year goes, we rely on December to gift us a forgiving climax. We slow down, help ourselves to merriment, don bobble-ওয়ালা beanies to greet the cold air shimmering with Christmas lights. (In Dhaka, we gorge on pithas, tuck into musty smelling kombols and chadors and proudly celebrate Victory Day). Its the most wonderful time of the year because EVERYONE celebrates it. Life is put on a delicious pause, as we hunker down to reflect back on the months gone by and reboot for the next 12.
For a brief, wild slice of time, December 2020 almost awarded us with normalcy…but like all good things this year, it came at a heavy cost.
A Ray Of Hope
The month started with a harrowing statistic: 1.5 million confirmed Covid deaths across the globe. On 2nd December, England scrambled out of 4 weeks of a second lockdown to embrace festive season with gusto. UK became the first country in the world to license a covid vaccine. On the 8th of December, a historic moment unfolded as the first UK patient received the Pfizer/BioNTech shot.
Within days of lockdown lifting, Tier 2 London (High Alert) started threatening Tier 3 (Very High Alert). A new covid variant B.1.1.7 was identified and blamed for a spike in Covid cases in and around the capital. Could the vaccine roll-out stop the highly transmissible variant from wreaking too much havoc? The answer landed on our heads as a hard no. On our 6th marriage anniversary, as we stood outside Tortilla munching on takeaway quesadillas instead of fancy plates at Sticks’n’Sushi, ready to be shooed away lest someone deemed it unlawful, Boris presented us with the ultimate Christmas gift – Tier 4 (Stay At Home). In the span of merely 2.5 weeks, London had moved out of lockdown and back.
Christmas was effectively cancelled, causing heartache for millions. ‘We have been shut off like the plague rats we are,’ complained someone, while others thought it was only fair – Eid, Diwali and other major festivals had been cancelled too. Countries in Europe and beyond started shutting their borders to Britain, just as a post-Brexit trade deal was reaching it’s climax.
I talked about burnout in my November Digest. But I dont think I was prepared to discuss the severity of it. Unexpected lockdowns and social isolation during the coldest, gloomiest days of the year delivered a double whammy to my already fragile mental health. I constantly felt like I was not being a good enough mother. When I read a post on burnout symptoms – insomnia, change in sleep patterns, unexplained exhaustion, irritability, being physicall ill, feeling numb or apathetic about life – and immediately burst into tears, I knew I had to acknowledge these feelings at a deeper level.
I have had the occasional good days. I remember feeling ready to take on that last full working week of the year, pumped by the idea of the impending Christmas break, and energised by a rare spate of sunshine. But my feel good bubble was pricked by news of fresh covid cases at Ary’s daycare. They had flagged the alarm a week ago when some children and teachers from a different bubble to Ary’s had tested positive. We considered getting tested as a precautionary step but we werent eligible as we had no symptoms.
Things had moved on since then, as they tend to do in covid world. Our local council was now offering mass testing in response to the tsunami of infections sweeping the area. We immediately booked ourselves in. It took a whole day for the negative test results to come through, flooding me with relief for a) not having covid, b) freedom from the prospect of self-isolation and c) having access to daycare again. I was barely functioning around this time and majorly struggling with tackling the most basic tasks, let alone juggling work and toddler parenting. A part of me wondered if I was a bad mom sending Ary back but another part of me argued that I was making the most of a shit situation. I placed my faith in Allah and embraced the ONLY source of support I had in my life.
Tis the season to be jolly
Once Christmas break kicked in, some sort of chemical reaction fired off in my brain. I started feeling like me again. I played scary diso and sang Jingle Bells with Ary. We laughed and danced and baked chocolate cake. The worst of December – Tier 4 announcement, new covid variant, anxiety over children catching it more easily (this was the first outbreak at Ary’s daycare since he returned in June), cancelled travel plans as the world shut out UK – paled against the joy we found as a family intent on chillaxing. While a part of me felt sad watching people in other parts of the world living normal lives, going on holidays and spending time in the company of loved ones, I also felt strong and secure in the knowledge that my time was going to come. When you hit rock bottom, the only way is up.
Friends – but with a new flair. I have moved from watching it passively (think virtual side dish to my dinner) to craving it (think biryani for mains). I snorted as Ross struggled in his leather pants, admired every flick of Rachel’s hair, replayed Phoebe’s quirky one liners in my head. It felt like an intimate reconnection with an old lover. When all of 2020 has been one shit show after another, Friends served me the joy of precovid, premillennial times.
My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite.
Aryan has had a winter wardrobe refresh with new jumpers, hats and gloves, many of which he chose himself. He hugged a red jacket in M&S as though he knew its worth in fashion – it was the cutest moment!
He has been a bit of a threenager this month, as perfectly captured in our December feature by @Motherly (although the footage is a year old). His big emotions also translates to big love. He makes sure that his Nina brings me my hot water bottle every night. When Nina asks him ‘Is Aryan Daddy’s son?’, he replies firmly, ‘No, I am Mummy’s son!’.
His latest obsession is fiddling with light switches, especially when his Nina is using the toilet. He loves playing Policeman and chasing us around the house (‘You are under arrest!’). He has perfected ‘I dont think so!’ as a nonchalant reply when he actually means to say ‘I dont know’. He sometimes calls me Mampa but also knows my full name, and his (Aryan Karim with an emphasis on the Ka).
He immersed himself in festive mode this month, breaking into Jingle Bells and Deck The Halls, surprising us with a fair few lines and perfected tune. The other day he correctly identified his toy as a ‘submarine.’ HOW DOES HE KNOW ABOUT SUBMARINES?
He spends hours making up clever contraptions – connecting his doctor’s stethoscope to his lego plane or tying his toy cars to his balance bike with headphone cables. Seeing his young mind develop against the crushing weight of a global pandemic makes me hopeful for a better future.
Tried this chocolate loaf cake goodness from @flourandspiceblog this month and its a keeper!
2020 belongs to the BLM movement just as much as it does to Covid-19. I have rounded up some of the most powerful posts I found on Instagram in this IG guide.
Looking back at 2020
2020 has been the year of staying home. I loved having all the extra time with my husband and son. To get the plants I had always wanted. To focus on writing. To read more. To nap more. To work out. To potter around the house and give it some lift. To take a hard look at money. To address buried trauma. To revisit old feelings.
I have learnt so many lessons this year that its impossible to state them all. I feel like a fundamental change has taken place inside of me, rendering my pre Covid persona an impossible state to reach. But maybe its for the best. We used to take the whole wide world for granted, didnt care that it was in grave danger, and placed higher value in materialistic, temporary highs. We needed a wake-up call.
A few things that I want to remember from 2020, in no particular order:
- Having access to a hairdresser is a luxury.
- Socially distant walk/picnic in the park with friends is a PRIVILEGE.
- I dont need fast fashion. I can, and should, do better.
- Books light up my soul. I need to make more time for them.
- Its OK to sit with uncomfortable thoughts. In fact, its necessary.
- Science is sexy.
The number of infections in England have reached record levels. I cant recall a NYE that felt more bleak and bereft of excitement. But 2021 canNOT be worse, right? We might be in Tier 1000 by the time we get vaccinated but I want to take a moment to thank the scientists who worked tirelessly to give us a fighting chance. I want to thank our overworked NHS, and our frontline workers, who showed up when the rest of us retreated. Your service and bravery shall go down in history as an exemplary display of human courage and perseverance. Long after Dalgona Coffee, Zoom Quizzes and Toilet Roll stockpiling become a distant memory, you all will still be at the forefront of our minds.
If you are reading this, you too have made it through the super-sanitised, ‘unprecedented’, time warp that was 2020. Hopefully with good health and love of your nearest and dearest. Undoubtedly having lost, grieved, and hurt. And possibly after sitting through enough Zoom/Teams sessions to make you learn to unmute yourself when you speak. Take this virtual hug from me and know that I am transmitting all the love I can muster through it. Thank you for connecting with me through my writing and reading my digests. It means more to me than you know!
Happy 2021! You deserve it. May the new year bring us more human connection, more kindness, more holidays, more spontaneity and a complete defeat of covid. Is that too much to ask?