By Anne T. Donahue
I, like you (most likely), feel like the cheaply made corn husk doll version of my former self. Any goals and dreams and hopes I had for this year have melted away, and I am now merely a person consuming concerning amounts of fig newtons and wondering where to roam aimlessly after I’ve finished writing this essay. I try to be kind to myself, to honour the fact that hitting the wall calls for a gentleness I wasn’t familiar with until earlier this year, and remind myself that we’re all in the same shitty boat. But then I see photos from last year or a few years before and get supremely bummed out.
Which I know is normal. None of us saw this year or this life playing out like this. None of us planned on considering podcast hosts or Real Housewives our best and closest friends, nor did we think we’d exist in much smaller spaces, limited to a very small number of people. Everything has changed, and all of us are reeling. And we mourn for our old selves because we know they don’t exist anymore and we miss them. Those bitches got things done. They had fun and saw friends and ate at restaurants. They didn’t feel like they were falling apart in such an obvious way, and they didn’t consider eating several spoonfuls of peanut butter off the spoon a complete meal. (Just kidding: I have always considered peanut butter popsicles a complete meal.) Our past versions of us were great, and we never really appreciated them. And now we’re stuck with . . . well, this.
But here’s the thing: these versions of ourselves are who we need to be to survive. This version of you? Yes, it feels consistently like you’re trying to tread water in a pool of potatoes, but you’re also putting your efforts and energy into the safety of yourself, your family, your friends, your pets, or everyone you want to extend your helpfulness to. You are actively participating in the survival of your world, and you are succeeding at it regardless of how much it feels like you’ve failed or sinking. Feelings aren’t facts, and you’ve made it this far. This person you’ve become is who will ensure you keep going.
Which is hard to believe, I know. Every couple of weeks, I remember everything all at once and not only mourn who I used to be, but I look at my present and judge myself about everything. I spend days focusing on everything from body image to my inability to be productive for more than half an hour, and look at my friends on Instagram in their bubbles, wondering if I’ve let the fun in my life run out because I chose to live outside the city. I fixate on my parched bank account and any and all editorial feedback that isn’t “You are perfect and so is your writing” and then delve deep into the question of “Are we all going to die?” to balance things out.
And then, after those awful few days, the what-ifs fade enough that it’s possible to keep going forward; to grab the hand of this new version of self that has managed to bring me this far. And I trust her, so I follow.
Is this enough to keep me totally buoyant? Absolutely not: I need therapy, medication, family, and chats with pals to make me feel like not all will be lost. But I still embrace that precious reminder; that the selves we keep mentally beating up are actually our most powerful versions. They are strong and determined and know what type of fuel is needed to make it to tomorrow. They will never be the old model, or likely even come close. But thanks to them, we are venturing forward, even if we’re not always sure that we can.
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