Looking Back at 2020: A Year of Rebuild

On Memorial Day of 2020, I went for a run. It was a hot and humid day. My anxiety was on high as I ran with only myself as company. I really didn’t have much desire to move; but I did it anyway because I had this idea in my head to run around the Memorial Stadium that’s lined with American flags. This was just over two months since Indiana went on lockdown. I thought the running would feel good; a welcome break from what felt like solitary confinement.

When I got about three miles in, my legs simply stopped. I wasn’t injured in any way. But it felt as if everything that was “running” through my mind and body finally caught up with me and it just became too much. It was at that moment that I had some clarity that transcended everything. I paused my watch and momentarily parked myself on a bench and began writing in my phone notes. I knew in that moment exactly what 2020’s purpose was for me, although I had no idea how far that would reach and what I had to fight my way through to truly understand what I needed to take from this year. And it was also on that Memorial Day run that I realized what my word for 2020 would be: REBUILD.

Twenty-nineteen was my year of endurance, the year I physically and mentally endured some grueling experiences: leaving my marriage and training for and running the Indiana Trail 100K run. I had survived both those things and I thought 2020 would be my year to soar.

Well, the universe clearly had other plans for me and 2020. And while I endured and survived, the first year of the new decade was not going to be what I thought it would. Nope, I was entering the new decade as a new person — with a new life — and I had to rebuild myself in so many ways.

I had to rebuild myself as a runner, but I didn’t understand the depths of that for a very long time. Due to the pandemic and life’s subsequent changes, races and group runs were all cancelled. Running became a solitary activity for me again, just like it was from when I first began until the start of 2019. That meant I had to rely solely on myself for confidence, motivation and company. I realized that I’m not the same person I was in 2019 when I trained for a 100K; just like I’m not the same person who went outside for her first run on October 8, 2016. Running had a different plan for me than it did all those years before. This year, I was running to rebuild myself — mentally, emotionally and physically. I just didn’t know that, or what that meant for me, until late this year.

Beyond running, I had to learn how to be alone as a single and whole person, and how to build a brand new life. And due to the pandemic, I was experiencing a new form of physical and emotional isolation as I was suddenly away from my friends, all the people who gave me so much support, love and companionship during the most trying year of my life. I had to learn that receiving the divorce decree and moving into a new home did not guarantee happiness. And that maybe “happiness” wasn’t the goal after all; maybe it was about being content and hopeful. And as challenging as this year has been, I needed that pause; because I don’t know if I would have been able to face these truths without that forced isolation.

Through this year, I also realized that the only way for me to rebuild was to allow myself to go through every emotion — every painful feeling — and feel it all. For my entire life, I’ve been the kind of person who tries to find the lesson, the silver lining, the action steps to move myself out of painful situations. Those are definitely good traits, and they’ve served me well in life. But, they’re also coping mechanisms. They can be band-aids to avoid feeling the God-awful feelings. Sometimes, there is just no action to take. Sometimes, the lesson is not immediately apparent. Sometimes, you just have to sit in the awful mess and feel depressed, sad, angry, grief, anxiety, vulnerable, confused … and that’s an incredibly hard thing for me to do. But I think that’s part of what I learned from this year. Twenty-twenty forced us to sit in our shit and feel it, because we had nowhere to go. 

There’s a lot to be said about how 2020 was awful in a lot of ways, and I definitely agree with that. But at the same time, I’m incredibly grateful for so much from this year. I had some of the best experiences of my entire life — life-affirming moments that changed me for the better, and in ways I never thought possible for myself. I realized so much about friendship, people and relationships. And I end this year knowing I have chosen to surround myself (in person and in the ether) with people who bring light to my life; those I love, admire and care deeply for … people who make my life a better place to be.

These year-end photo collages give me a chance to visually reflect on the past year. And in 2020, more than any year before, these photos reminded me of so many little moments of peace, comfort and love. I was reminded of friendship, family, miles I ran, words I wrote, places I went, feelings I felt, music that moved me, new things I tried and new experiences I had, food I cooked … 2020 was a year like nothing I’ve ever before experienced. But in hindsight, I think it all happened exactly how it should have.

Thank you for reading Leah’s Thoughts and being part of my journey. Happy New Year, and here’s to whatever may come on the road of 2021!

A Look Back:

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