2020: The Year I Lost Myself

All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

I haven’t read Anna Karenina, but that opening sentence had been stuck with me for a while. Last year (2020) was a mess for almost everyone I know (as I realized while scrolling through reflection posts on the eve of December 31), but perhaps it was messy in slightly different ways for each of us. My mess didn’t even have anything to do with the coronavirus per se, although the pandemic might have exacerbated it.

You see, I think a lot. I think a lot about thinking, about being, about why people say what they say or don’t. I do this in my head, silently, making assessments one observation after another. It’s not a brag, not a call for attention, just a fact. Sometimes the thinking gets in the way of doing, but most of the time it helps me come up with a plan/approach which later makes the doing twice as efficient, compensating for the time lost to thinking.

I think a lot about myself. Not in a self-absorbed way (hopefully), but in a way that I have an unhealthy obsession to put a label or to make sense of who I am, what I’m going through, and what I’m supposed to be, what I’m supposed to do. You might have noticed that throughout this blog-memoir. When I was confused about being both a researcher and a spoken-word amateur, I called myself a nomad. Other times I wrote about what being a bilingual or marrying early means, and about arriving at a state of constant sadness. The first time I read about Hogwarts, I was happy to finally ‘belong’ in a house that appreciates intelligence, at a time when my friends at elementary school nerdshamed me. Not sure why, but I keep having this urge to clarify some sort of ‘scope’ or rules of the game as a way to understand myself.

Last year, however, my brain failed to help make sense of who or where I am in life. The year was challenging for a lot of reasons, but more than anything, I felt lost.


Without warning, I found myself hurt pretty badly at the beginning of this year.

Without going into too much details, I kind of hit a new low in the first few months of this year (way before we all realized a pandemic was coming into the picture). I did not realize I could cry so intensely for a few days straight. And even after that, I cried some more still. I’m not sure if I had properly processed it or I’m simply suppressing something that will bite me back later, but I’m glad I came out the other side. I feel much better now, and while there are some triggers that could put me back there, in most days I simply forgot—it almost feels like nothing happened.

One thing I know is that I would never wish it to happen to anyone. But if it does, I hope they get the help they would need to get through it.


I can’t find my authentic voice and cared a little less.

I don’t even remember when this happened, but at some point in late 2019 (?) Twitter got so toxic that instead of letting me—and many others—learn from our mistakes/translation- and character-limit-related misunderstood tweets—I was ‘cancelled’. I’m still recovering from quite a deep PTSD since then. I now find myself self-correcting more than once, deleting and re-tweeting my carefully drafted sentences, and later just not caring anymore.

Because between the options of being misunderstood or keeping some information/opinion to myself, it turned out I preferred the latter. Perhaps it helped that I have other platforms to share on, be it work or personal projects. But even then, I still felt a little hallow (like a weird limbo) where I’m not allowed to have an opinion because it will only be misunderstood or used to attack me out of spite.

Of course I knew that judgments thrown at you say a lot more about those people(‘s insecurity) than yourself, but your System 1 won’t always remember that. So here’s to hoping that this year I could be a little braver and stronger to be myself again, with all my shortcomings as a human being.

___

I lost my soul a little, trying to do too many things at once.

I’ve always been an advocate for generalists (including multitasking ones). I think each of us could become more than one thing, be it in parallel or sequenced in a lifetime. We are three-dimensional after all, and shouldn’t be confined to one role. That said, this year I have split myself too many times that I kind of lost my soul in the process (much like what happened to Voldemort and his horcruxes).

Between doing research and building a community, I almost constantly feel like I barely got caught up with everything. I kept having panic attack, feeling like I haven’t done enough, haven’t put my best on both. Not to mention that I have done at least additional 4-10 webinars per month (which I would normally divulge in, but given the spreading myself too thin, they then felt a little suffocating). All of this seemed to have happened mainly inside my head because apparently most of my colleagues thought I was doing quite well: “Mbak Afu hebat sekali bisa melakukan A-B-C, gimana bagi waktunya?”*

[*The truth is, I got a lot of help from Lidia, who is also my hero of the year, introduced by Ogi to figure out my schedule and everything. It’s one of the few things I’m grateful about this year.]

But it’s not just about doing well. In the last quarter of 2020, a friend’s IG story hit me: “Between the scale of 1-10 of being busy, someone needs to be at 6-7 in order to have enough mental space to innovate, to make great things happen.” The truth is that I have been constantly at 9-10 this year, if not 12. There’s no way someone at 12 could lead/drive something—I was struggling and did not feel good about doing the work I normally enjoyed. I started looking forward to weekends, something I never did in the past.

Another signal that I have split myself too thin: I dropped balls a few times—missed meetings or deadlines, which again was so not me. At the beginning of the year, I said I was going to help a mentor with her recent political appointment, but I ended up abandoning the team completely, barely had anything left to offer. I also talked to an editor about publishing a book, and again I ran away. I don’t want to jinx it this year so I won’t even try to promise that I’ll finally get it done this year.

Twenty-twenty was also the year I realized I hated being called an ‘influencer’ (whatever that means), and contributing to the toxic culture of trying to get people to buy something that you post. While I tried to keep an open mind and set a certain criteria (sustainable local products, etc.), promoting products without actually presenting the full options because the competitors did not pay me goes against the very value I believe in: agency. As much as I tried to ‘inform’ instead of ‘sell’ in my posts, at the end of the day I don’t have the full liberty to review as though I buy the stuff myself. Here’s being able to stop doing that in 2021.


I have been worrying a lot about my family(ies), sometimes it’s numbing.

As millennials entering their 30s perhaps could relate to, we switch roles with our parents. With COVID-19 being around and them being more vulnerable, I worry about my mom, who is still telecommuting Jakarta-Semarang for work. I worry about (but also am proud of) my dad, who has been making peace with his Parkinson’s Disease. I worry about my little brother who was brave enough to decide about what he doesn’t want to do (and consequentially what he does).

I worry mostly in silence, sometimes through sending stuff home through e-commerce. Some nights these worries could be numbing. I hope that this year I could manage these worries of mine, and simply support and be happy for them.


I was late to realize that staying in touch with art could’ve helped me remain myself. I found a new solace in nature.

Art had helped me process my anger, my fear, and hidden feelings in the past. Back in the days I would write fictions/spoken word poems here. Each time I performed (and listened to) a piece, I felt recharged, I felt that my anger, fear, and hidden feelings were understood. One of the symptoms of my losing a state of balance this year is the fact that my last spoken word poem was from August 2018.

I am grateful, that said, that Hamilton Musical was made available on Disney Plus this year, because I finally get to sing along to Lin and the original cast performing what used to just be iTunes albums I listened to on repeat on long drives. Is it weird that I found myself both in Lin (“Why do you write like you’re running out of time?“) and Angelica (“You strike me as a woman who has never been satisfied.”) Can’t wait for the pandemic to be over so we could organize a Hamilton singalong party soon.

Another special part of this year is rediscovering nature in all its glory. Between long staying at home periods, we took a break and hiked Mount Pangrango. It was over 18 hours of going up and down, overcome major obstacles and at the end accomplished something I never thought I could. Can’t wait to do more hiking sessions next year.


I look forward to rediscovering (if not reinventing) myself in 2021. Cheers.

3 Comments

  1. Thanks for sharing. I loved the “Between the scale of 1-10 of being busy, someone needs to be at 6-7 in order to have enough mental space to innovate, to make great things happen.” quote. I have been at 9-10-11 during 2020 as well. By the end of the year, I reflected that while it’s true I am omega busy all the time, yet at the same time not really innovating nor delivering great things.

    Cheers – here’s to rediscovering ourselves in 2021!

    Reply

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