Happy new year!

Everything has been a lot. Not only did the pandemic climb to terrifying numbers, but our political divisions reached an overwhelming apex before the inauguration. We endured a national reckoning with white supremacy and fascism in American history.

But we got through it! Somehow, we managed to survive one of the worst years in recorded history! I cannot wait to see what 2022 brings our way!

…what do you mean that was all two weeks ago?

Trauma is a funny thing sometimes. It can be isolating due to how unique the pain feels and people calling attention to how different you are as a result. But it can be unifying when you surround yourself with people who understand and support what you are going through.

Something we are all grappling with is that 2020 was universally traumatizing. Nothing about what we are going through is normal. We are still surviving a pandemic almost a year after the lockdown. We witnessed the culmination of white nationalist rhetoric unfold before Joe Biden’s inauguration. Even after January 21, we are not out of the woods by any means.

Despite what history teaches us, nothing can fully prepare you for new historical events on the horizon. You can find articles about DIY Chick-fil-A waffle fries or how to write a good cover letter. Prior to 2020, you did not usually see articles about how to cope during a pandemic or an era of neo-reactionary politics.

(Okay, maybe you saw articles about how to theoretically survive a zombie apocalypse, but that does not count.)

A lot of us said at the start of the pandemic this would be a scary and solitary time. We encouraged each other to be kind given our current situation. We did what we could to build a community—and it worked for a lot of people.

But it was not as feasible for others. The constant stress and paranoia instilled into us put everyone on edge. We became prone to lashing out or otherwise biting at each other over minor inconveniences. Taking it out on others only risked the chance of wrecking their mental health, and it did nothing to repair ours.

What also made it hard to keep cool was the number of people denying anything was wrong. Many people consciously disregarded COVID-19 safety mandates, going as far as to claim the pandemic either abated or is less serious than initially thought. The misguided loyalty towards our current administration continued despite their known failure in containing the virus. The ongoing conspiracy theories and vilification of leftists throughout the election culminated on January 6’s attempted coup to stop the confirmation of President-elect Joe Biden.

Throughout last year, I constantly dealt with people’s toxicity. It was hard to function when I could neither find consistent stability in the world nor complete safety in other people. However, I would be lying if I said I did not have any desire to bite at people, too.

I am tired of trying to understand different political perspectives when those same people talk over me, ignore what I say, rant about their ideologies and even take delight in making me uncomfortable. I am tired of dealing with people who peaked in high school and have not outgrown the need to be cruel for kicks. I no longer have the patience to “be kind” to people who either do not respect my existence or my basic human rights.

But I am also tired of no longer having faith in people. I wish I could be kind to people without consequence. I wish differences in political opinion did not come at the cost of either my relationships or my values. There is nothing fun about being suspicious of everyone’s intentions. I do what I can to adapt, yet I remain tired of being vigilant and angry.

So, now what? Where do we possibly go from here? The unfortunate truth is I have no idea.

The first thing we need to accept is systemic issues are never resolved within a year, let alone under a new administration. Fighting for basic human rights is an unending battle. For every amount of progress, there is a step or two back that undoes a lot. It is a hard pill to swallow for inexperienced advocates. It is also a harsh truth for people who express concern for minorities once it becomes useful and convenient for them.

For example, racism and antiblackness can never be magically resolved so long as we have a fundamentally corrupt police state with no legal accountability. Memeing Breonna Taylor’s death or posting “ACAB” as part of a pink Hello Kitty aesthetic is not activism. Black lives matter when they are no longer trending. Human rights are still at risk when you no longer hear about them.

Secondly, not only are things not back to normal, we may never return to our old “normal.” Life will go on after the COVID-19 pandemic, but that does not mean we act negligently once the dust settles. Many of the safety mandates, such as mask-wearing, will likely become normalized remnants of a dangerous time. How this pandemic affects disabled or otherwise immunocompromised people will also conjure discourse about the state of disability rights in America.

The possibility of a second lockdown is inevitable. As much as it hurts, we know in our hearts this has to happen. We crave stability so much that a lot of us became careless. Even those of us abiding by mask mandates and social distancing guidelines became complacent to some degree.

It feels self-defeating to deprive yourself of what now feels like archaic joys such as going to the movies or traveling. I understand how frustrating this is, but we need to go back to being uncomfortable to navigate through the pandemic. What is inconvenient now will be life-saving for many people in the long run.

Most importantly, we cannot expect things to be constant or stable right now.

Remember how many of us roasted people who made lofty “new year, new me” declarations only to never follow through with them? There is a good reason that mentality does not work. Not only is it unrealistic to expect how your year will turn out, but it also creates pressure to fulfill self-imposed expectations.

People undergo metamorphosis at their own pace. It can take a whole year to transform, or it can take events in short succession. You cannot estimate who you will become or how long it will take. Sometimes, the only thing you can do is take everything a step at a time.

You survived 2020. That is the most incredible thing you could do. If you prioritize surviving 2021 above all else, that is also incredible. Survival should neither be seen as the bare minimum nor insufficient progress. There were too many people who did not survive in 2020, so be proud of yourself for still being here. Work to achieve the goals you are determined to accomplish, but allow yourself to process the trauma last year put you through.

There is one thing for certain. Throughout the rest of the year, we need to work together to survive whatever comes our way. And with that, a quote by John Oliver best encapsulates what to expect moving forward in 2021.

“I really hope [2021] is going to be better, but the truth is what happens next is up to all of us. It’s gonna depend on how willing we are to fight, how well we learn from what’s happened, and how much we are able to care about each other.”