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What 2021 (and 2020) taught me

It has been a long road so far during this pandemic and it has taken quite a toll on everyone. I myself have not escaped this unscathed myself.

During the pandemic, I was lucky enough to be able to get my master's degree in Museum Education, start up my own online shop and business, as well as take a lot of time to learn new hobbies and coping skills.

I enjoy being able to look back on things and reflect as time goes on, so on the first day of 2022, I am opening myself up for a reflection of what I have learned in the last year or two.

  • Be okay with being just okay.

I'll be honest. There are a lot of times when I just wanted to scream or cry or just give up because what was the point of it all if nothing was going to come from it? Grad school had a lot of challenges for me and made me face a lot of trauma that I hadn't realized I was still harboring.

I found myself realizing that I could just be grateful for the days I woke up and accomplished a few little things or the days when I didn't really feel any sort of extreme emotion. It was a learning curve because I would sometimes go to bed and wonder if I was completely broken beyond help or if this was just something people went through.

I was used to always feeling some sort of strong emotion - exhaustion, excitement, happiness, sadness - you name it. But during this last year I found myself thriving at a much more normal level that remained nearly always the same. It was weird. I wasn't living in a constant state of flux, and I was beginning to be able to not have extreme reactions to things going on.

I think that may have been due to finally getting that pesky anxiety and nervousness under control.

  • Fear no man. Fear no God.

When I say this, I say it in a "Believe in yourself and do what you think is right" kind of way, but also the "Stick it to the man" kind of way.

Hime was the biggest blessing of the pandemic for me. She is an Akita, and if you know anything about the breed you know that they have no time to care for what you think.

I found myself channeling her energy and being grateful for the lessons she taught me. She is very independent and cares not for anyone's opinion of her. While it can be frustrating, especially when you are trying to do something and she simply will not get out of the way, I found it endearing too.

Why should she have to change herself to fit my life? Why should I have to change myself to fit someone else's?

Hime is my shining star for knowing how to set boundaries and stick to them. She is not a mean dog in any capacity, but she is also not going to tolerate anything she doesn't want to. This makes grooming and nail clipping a challenge, as she will fight and scream at being mildly inconvenienced, but it also reminds me that I do not have to put up with situations that are not healthy for me.

I fear no man, and I fear no god. I live as I need and I do what I can. I live under no fear of expectations of others and I finally feel free.

  • Take time for yourself.

I think this is something we all have had to learn how to do in the pandemic, especially with our whole worlds being turned upside down. It felt like I was a failure who couldn't even accomplish simple things everyday. Some days, showering was a chore that seemed beyond daunting, especially since I was just going to be holed up at home and not leaving.

But that doesn't exactly bode well for mental health as I'm sure we've all learned the hard way.

It was a vicious cycle for me at the beginning of the pandemic when I was in a tail spin of trying to figure out what life was going to be like and what I was going to do to make it through the next who knows how long.

While I still struggle with feelings of being a failure or selfish, I realize that I need to take a moment for myself and be kind to myself. There is no point in beating myself down into nothing because then truly nothing will come from it.

I've learned how to just take step back, do my nails or makeup, and remind myself that It's okay to take time for yourself.

  • Be gentle. Be firm.

Teaching online taught me a lot about myself and how I interact with others. It was huge learning curve and it was really hard at first to know how to manage time and keep interest. I worked on two different platforms: Cambly and VIPKid.

I was reminded often that it is important to have a gentle and loving approach as a teacher, and especially when teaching in an online space. A lot of body language or non-verbal clues are out the window and all you can see is the other person's face (or whatever they have chosen to show you).

I had to learn how to be good listener and learn how to read into a situation not with anxiety and fear, but with compassion and interest. Sometimes the most difficult of students, with enough love and care, were the best ones I had.

But I also had to learn how to set my boundaries and stick to them.

I had a student whom I loved very deeply, but began to feel far too comfortable with me. She was very young with no parents present during the lessons and she started to act out inappropriately. Try as I might, I could not get anyone to take my messages seriously, so I had to remove myself as a candidate for teaching her.

It was hard and I wanted to cry when making that choice, but I knew that it what was best for me and her in that moment.

As much as I loved her, I had to step away and be firm in my decisions.

  • It's okay to not be okay.

I mentioned earlier that I felt like a failure a lot sometimes. These past two years were definitely a time when I had to learn how to grapple with my emotions and experiences in ways I didn't want to. There wasn't an opportunity for escapism when you are the only thing around and your choices for abandoning the situation are severely limited by a certain fear of a virus.

In 2019 I started my gratitude journaling journey, and in 2021 I picked up bullet journaling as a hobby. I wasn't always consistent with it (I'm looking at you December 2021), but it helped me start to make positive associations with even seemingly negative things that happened.

Not that it always had that impact.

I was sad a lot during the last year, especially when I lost my teaching job online due to China's regulations changing. I suddenly had no income and had no way of knowing when I would get another job, because the change happened overnight seemingly. We went from being told we had up to six months before the change affected us to a two week notice of no more classes being had.

I was devastated and grappled with figuring out my next steps. I was not okay for a long while, but I learned how to work through those feelings and get myself to a productive place that leant to making steps towards a career.

I'm now employed at two part time jobs, but I am fairly content with the ups and downs that the job market has brought my way.

  • Stand up for what you believe.

Grad school was an interesting experience for me. I've always been a bold and brash person when it comes to pointing things out that I believe are wrong, and I've learned that hiding behind feelings hurts no one but yourself.

Not everyone is that way and in grad school I was reminded exactly of what kind of person I never want to be by some of my professors.

I was given some terrible advice of "Speak to your therapist" fairly early on when bringing up some incidents of bullying that was going on, and I got to say, that is wildly inappropriate to ever say to someone who confides in you.

I stopped reaching out to professors entirely after that and I wound up feeling more and more isolated from my classmates. I honestly walked away with few friends and even less acquaintances, but it was a situation where I was reminded that I have a voice and I can and will be heard.

I learned a lot about myself and to market my skills proudly, even if the other person sees no value in my experiences. I refused to back down when faced with a challenge, and I learned once again that my bold and brash personality is not necessarily a bad thing.

I can stand up for other people and I will. I can be heard and make changes, so I will. I will not waiver but I will be strong when in the face of adversity, because I will stand up for what I believe in.

  • You're not for everyone and not everyone is for you.

Honestly I could just go on about how I learned all about boundari