Six months ago, I found myself reflecting on my first half-year of pandemic living. A spring and summer of near-total isolation, non-stop chaos, and unfathomable suffering had sapped any semblance of optimism that March 17, 2020 Matthew held onto, leaving in its wake a despondent September 17, 2020 Matthew.
I was scared another six months of this nightmare might devolve me further into the human equivalent of Squidward. Well, here we are — I’ve made it to March 17, 2021. While I haven’t yet become a resentful and dour clarinetist, and some positive changes have come about — no frogs falling from the sky yet! — too much is still the same. My former optimism is nowhere to be found.
Soon after I passed the six-month mark of working alongside cats instead of coworkers (that’s still happening, though I did finally buy a laptop mouse), I had the interesting experience of moving during a pandemic, from Centennial to Capitol Hill. This brought some much needed variety to my monotonous quarantine life.
New Trader Joe’s grocers to talk to, new neighborhoods to walk around, new Nextdoor drama to indulge in. A car-free Cheesman Park provided a wonderful new regular running loop. The best part: My remarkable parents drove halfway across the country to help me move, marking the first time I’d seen any family in almost a year. Things were looking up. October 2020 Matthew was well on his way toward a more optimistic mindset.
And then came November.
Remember last November? How could anyone forget. COVID-19 cases exploded and lockdowns were reinstated, all while the tensest election of my — and possibly anyone’s — lifetime was threatening to derail into a full-blown crisis. And mere hours after Joe Biden was finally declared our next president, we lost Alex Trebek, a personal hero who had done more to keep me sane in 2020 than perhaps any other person with his consistent, comforting presence on Jeopardy each evening. He was truly a lifeline for my mental health; his passing felt like the last straw, and I wished that someone would just wake me up when November ended.
Although I was fortunate to spend time with family over the holidays, this winter was overall one of great despair and even greater loneliness — even worse than I had feared six months ago. Days got cold and nights got long. Park meet-ups were no longer an option, and Zoom hang-outs were no longer fun.
The dual existential threats of climate change and systemic racism kept rearing their ugly heads, and society seemed more divided than ever. Our pandemic queen, Taylor Swift, came through with another surprise quarantine album, but that only brought temporary respite from the general awfulness.
January 2020 Matthew was in an even worse place than his six-month-younger self. When watching an old episode of “Dinosaurs,” that ridiculous ’90’s sitcom, made me tear up, I finally had to confront that most terrifying of d-words — depression — and accept that I needed help.
I used to be one of those people who thought that therapy is a wonderful thing — for everybody else. Definitely not something I needed. “I’m healthy, I’m content, I have a great family and great friends, what could I possibly need to talk about?” the thinking goes. The best thing about March 17, 2021 Matthew is that he realized how wrong that is, and that it’s OK to not be OK. A special shoutout goes to my sister, who helped convince me to finally take the leap and talk to someone — thanks, Megan. I’ve had a few sessions now, and it’s been more helpful than I would have ever imagined to just talk and be heard. If you take anything away from my musings, please make it this: Wherever you are in life, therapy is absolutely for you.
A lot of other good things have happened this past month. I actually walked inside a library the other day, and that experience was almost cathartic. My siblings and parents have now all been vaccinated, and that feels even better. I met up with my running friends for the first time in what felt like forever, and they brought muffins!
This isn’t to suggest that, one year later, I’ve fully returned to my optimistic March 17, 2020 form — far from it. But I’m also not sure if I want to. As neat as I think he was, he was also a tad naive. The circumstances that brought it about are obviously terrible, but all of this time to myself has helped me to grow as a person. At least one positive to come out of 2020.
I have no idea what September 17, 2021 Matthew will be like. It’s hard to say what the rest of 2021 will bring for any of us, and that’s OK. As much as my planner brain wishes otherwise, uncertainty is just a part of life. I’ve recently found myself returning a lot to a lyric from a song by The Maine: “I’m not looking to be found, just want to be unlost.”
I lost myself last year and I don’t expect to find the person I was a year ago any time soon, if ever. But these past few months — the therapy, the vaccines, the return of sunny park days — have finally got me feeling a little less lost. That’s enough for now.
Matthew Downey is a transportation planner and occasional writer living in Denver.