The last time I locked my classroom door and departed from my normal life, it was March 13, 2020. It is now the first day of Spring 2021. While the first few weeks of 2020 were a manic time filled with the optimism and fervor of a new decade, to call the months that followed “an upheaval” is an understatement without parallel. The entire world has proven it is more resilient and adaptable than any of us ever thought possible.
While some parts of the world have been itching to return to the world that existed before COVID-19 was declared a worldwide pandemic on March 11, 2020 to the point of behaving with willful negligence and disregard for science and safety, I think it’s pretty safe to begin to come to terms with the fact that that world is gone for good.
I believe that our lives operate on narrative arcs, that our personalities and identities update with relative frequency, not unlike the suite of Apple products upon which I write this. This pandemic was the resolution of one of those arcs for me. The depression, social isolation, infection panic, and general stress of the past twelve months was enough to force an update to my base code, and I have grown and become significantly happier for it.
I am one of the lucky ones. I did not personally lose anyone I loved to COVID-19. People I love lost people. I had the virus myself and couldn’t distinguish my symptoms from regular old seasonal allergies. I still have antibodies, and I donate them to those less lucky than I have been. I have been vaccinated (well, first dose). I have been gainfully employed through the whole ordeal, and have had the luxury of protecting myself by using platforms and services like Instacart and Amazon Fresh. I have been grief-adjacent, able to lend hands and shoulders for others to find support on. I was able to send a heartfelt email to some of my students that fought this disease in the intensive care unit for weeks and send care packages to children that lost everything to this virus. I know and feel and constantly remind myself now lucky I am.
It took a worldwide pandemic to force me to see the ways in which my life before COVID-19 was not working or sustainable in the long term. I thought I had everything I wanted.The years between 2016 and 2020 were incredibly difficult for me and I spent quite some time trying to heal from those traumas. I had started therapy in the spring of 2019, which was a decision imbued with more foresight than I could ever have imagined.
I was able to maintain the facade that I would be returning to that life for only a few days before it became clear that that life was over. I thought that I had gotten to a place where I could do the deep work of healing trauma and excavate coping strategies from my true self with my therapist to continue living the demonstrably perfect life I had created for myself. I thought I had everything I could want. I was “out” as bisexual and nonbinary, but using she/her pronouns and presenting femme so as to be completely indistinguishable from a ciswoman. I was engaged to a cis-het man. I had a pretty diamond ring and the support of everyone around me. The people in my life were far and away more excited about the prospect of getting me married off, a final success after many years of struggle. I had a good job at a good school where I had many friends and deep relationships with students. I was, for the first time in my adult life, making enough money to put a little bit away for savings. I was in the process of buying a car, looking into cities with lower housing costs so that I might actually become a homeowner before I die.
There was much more going on with me than I thought.
I did get a chance to really investigate my trauma and to face my deep and strong feelings. I even came off of antidepressants at some point in April because I felt so much more in control of my life and my emotions than I ever had. I was able to let go of years-old grief and grudges I thought I would be carting around in my head rent free for the rest of my life. I was really able to strip away trauma piece by piece like unwrapping a mummy.
That’s when it started to become obvious that there was no way I’d be able to maintain the farce of a life that I had been leading. I had to come to terms with the giant question mark that lived in the part of my brain wherein my understanding of my own gender identity and presentation lives. I had to come to terms with the fact that I was perhaps not as interested in my fiance’s genitals as I had been trying to convince myself. I had to come to terms with the fact that I didn’t want the house, white picket fence, 2.5 kids and a dog life that everyone had been bullying me into wanting my entire life — that I was trying to convince myself I could live with. I had to grapple with the fact that I had been, over the course of many years — and maybe over the course of my entire life — slicing part of myself off and hiding them away from view. As a youth, I literally engaged in the slicing up of my physical body, but have not engaged in that kind of physical self harm (aside from a slip up or two) in over a decade. Turns out a razor blade is not the only thing that can cause irreparable damage to the self.
I had been shrinking the parts of me that were gender nonconforming. The ability to verbally identify myself as agender while playing dress up as a ciswoman every day was taking a much heavier toll on me than I had ever imagined. Pretending to be a true Kinsey 3 bisexual with no preference whatsoever was something I didn’t even know I was doing until I began to peel back the layers of armor I had slathered over myself to stop the bleeding for all those years. I was holding back on my intellect, my creativitity, my radical politics, and the expression of my love and affection to make myself palatable to cis-het culture.
I ended my engagement, I came out as nonbinary, I began my physical transition after delaying such a move for almost eight years. I lost the deep and unyielding fear that came with being different. I stopped trying to conform to the expectation of others, including members of my own family.
I am coming out of this pandemic with a new lease on life, a different conception of myself as a person, and buckets more confidence than I ever thought possible. Overall, I see the pandemic as a boon in my own life, while honoring the unbelievable pain and suffering it has caused many others and the world at large. I know for certain that I will never be the same, and I suspect there are many parts of our world that will be forever altered as well. I’ll explore some of those in a future post.
It’s been one hell of a year, but also potentially the best of my life.