In 2020, I rediscovered myself

2020 has been the worst year by all standards. It hits all my fatal weaknesses. Actually, the zoo of weakness has always been there, just like a ship full of small holes functioning at its very limit, in a fragile balanced state.

And 2020 smashed it.

I have always been a lonely person. Well, as a human, even for an introvert like me, social connections are needed. Honestly, I like to be among humans, even just for sitting with them quietly.

Thus, 2020 has become a nightmare. Locking down in my apartment alone for months, I have never been so emotionally destroyed. I started to rethink life and death and all those big crazy questions (actually, I did end up reading some excellent philosophy books, a silver lining, maybe). I went through a lot about myself, my life, the purpose of life — everything in my head. I read books and Internet articles, and I listened to podcasts, with the hope of finding some answers. This despairing solitude exposed all those weaknesses, which were crashing along with the fragile balance.

Why have I been lonely?

I think it is because of an unhappy family. I had been close with my mom but disdained and even hated my father. Since my childhood, the figure of him has almost always been negative. A guy who drinks, who smokes, and who gambles all the time. A guy who really does not take any responsibility for caring for me. Relations were different between mom and me, but I haven’t talked much about my life to her since high school because of the huge gap in education and culture. I always assume that she would not understand me. As for the rest of the big family, I have never been close to them. They were very authoritarian and distant. Therefore, ever since I moved to eastern China, even to Paris, and now to Santiago, I have seldom initiated commutations with them. The family part of social life has been a void for me. I guess that is why I never understand why I am unlike others who hate school. I like school-time and hate vacations because I can see friends at school.

The holes on the ship need to be filled. With my family out of option, intimate relationships, and more general friendships have to play a role.

Indeed, I had close friends – really good ones. Nevertheless, those friendships were also difficult to maintain because our life paths were drifting apart. I have been moving from city to city. 5 years in Beijing, then Nanjing, then Paris, and then here now in Santiago, and then later this year somewhere else in the world. These challenge friendships. Moreover, I am an introvert. My head is always overloaded with thoughts of scenarios of thoughts of others before opening my mouth to talk to people. This made me seldom initiate any conversation, invitation, or whatsoever (God knows why I have always been a student leader since elementary school straight to college! I guess politics does not require being an extrovert). Therefore, to fill the social void, I buried myself within movies, books, and social media, and with the hope of building some intimate relationships. I should have paid more attention to building bonds of friendships with my colleagues. I was, however, kind of shutting myself down a little because of all those personal conditions that formed a kind of negative feedback loop. This is why the pandemic hit me hard. I have been basically locked inside my apartment, with only strings of communication from online. The pandemic prisoned me. No, it’s far worse than prisons. At least, prisoners can still be social inside the facilities. In the worst days, I’d lost the sense of time and did not feel like doing anything but thought about life and death, the unthinkable stuff. Those things made me depressed.

I started to learn who I really am and to contemplate why I end up like this.

My partner told me once that I have been too focused on my work and enjoy little of life. He told me that I should be more grateful. I shrugged that criticism off, following my tradition of being an exemplary student, who has always been self-pushing. Back in middle school, my mom never needed to care about my scores, I took care of studying all by myself. In the pandemic, however, I was destroyed; I was unable to maintain that momentum of hardworking. It’s not because of solidarity, but rather that the quest for how to live a life conquered me. For once, I was lost in the abyss of absurdism. I started reading Sartre. Yet, there was a hole in me, a central mystery and an anomaly that bothered me. I gradually realized that I was chasing the wrong path. Accidentally, last week, after watching the new Pixar movie Soul, I was struck because it was telling exactly the same thing that I had been told.

Life itself is a miracle. It’s the one and only experience and one should “live every minute of it”. It’s about making the most of the current, and treasuring what you have, and you will end up with a bright future naturally. There is a quote from Paul Graham that is taken from the most common regrets of dying people – what they would do if given a second chance (well, here isn’t a second chance):

Don’t ignore your dreams; don’t work too much; say what you think; cultivate friendships; be happy.

— Paul Graham


This is the core of the movie Soul — Treasure every minute of your life. Be the best version of yourself to enjoy life and be yourself and love your friends and family, and most importantly, be happy and chase dreams.

I remember that I took a walk around the neighborhood after finishing the movie. I didn’t bring my phone, nor was I listening to any podcast. I imbued myself into all my sensations at that moment and all things around. I was purely grateful, appreciating every atom in the surroundings and every vibration of the air that went into my ears.

I felt I rediscovered the world, I rediscovered myself.

2020 has been a trial for me. As a new year, 2021 is only a new calendar cycle that things won’t miraculously change solely because of that. Nevertheless, I feel something profoundly awakening from inside. Part of me died in 2020 and yet something new was discovered and nurtured carefully. I feel the holes of my ship have been filled up gradually.

I am really glad that I was rediscovered in 2020.

 

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