I knew it would be hard.
But I had no idea it would be this hard.
Exactly one year ago today, I sat down at my dining room table to work from home because COVID-19 was spreading into my part of New York State.
I thought it would be for a couple of weeks. Once we flatten the curve, it’ll all go back to normal, I told myself.
Then two weeks went by. Once summer comes, it’ll start to get better, I told myself.
Then summer came and went.
I stopped telling myself anything.
This pandemic has taken so much from so many. And I’m luckier than most—a year later, I still have my job, my health, and my family.
But no one escaped this year without losing something. A graduation. A wedding. A vacation. A concert. A movie’s opening night surrounded by friends and fellow fans. The sound of laughter in a classroom before a teacher says to quiet down. The feeling of hugging your best friend. The sight of a stranger smiling when you compliment their shoes while you wait in a long line for coffee.
The version of you that you used to be. The version of you that you were becoming.
Exactly one year ago, I knew who I was. It had taken me 31 years to get there, but I felt confident and content in a way that I’m not sure I’ve felt since I was a kid. I knew what made me happy—what made me feel the most like me.
Planning trips. Flying to new places by myself. Saturday afternoons in a darkened movie theater. Sitting with my team at work and helping them through problems and giving them advice. People-watching at the mall. Making little kids laugh. Walking into a crowded restaurant or hotel lobby or airport in my high heels, finding the friend I’m supposed to meet, and hugging them like my life depends on it.
I thought I’d just be giving up those things for a few weeks.
Then, I thought I’d just be giving up those things for a season.
Now, one year later, I’m still trying to figure out who I am—what makes me happy and what makes me feel the most like me—without those things.
It’s like the last year slowly, painfully dug these deep holes in my sense of self, and there’s a whole lot of nothing where my plans, dreams, and extroverted energy used to be.
I know I’m not the only one with those holes. I know we all have them to some degree. But I also know so many resilient people who’ve worked to fill those holes with something new—who forged new fandom connections, picked up new hobbies, and learned new things.
I admire these people so much.
I envy these people so much.
I don’t want to feel like I wasted a year of my life.
I don’t want to look back on this year and realize I came out of it a worse person than I was before.
I don’t want these holes in me to turn into scars.
But maybe they already have.
And maybe that has to be okay.
Maybe I have to learn to live with them.
Maybe I have to learn to use them.
Those two tiny words from Moira Rose on Schitt’s Creek have been the one mantra that feels true to me this year. I can’t always tell myself I’m strong because I don’t always feel strong. I can’t always tell myself it’s going to get better because I honestly don’t know when it will (but thank God for vaccines because it finally does feel like a matter of when and not if). I can’t always tell myself to choose joy because sometimes that feels like a task so exhausting I just want to stay in bed.
But “use it”? That I can do.
Those two words are the ones I turn to when I’m afraid I’m not doing enough—not reading enough or exercising enough or cooking and baking enough or trying hard enough to find a new hobby. They’re the ones I turn to when I feel like I’m less than who I used to be—less enthusiastic, less warm, less hopeful and happy. They’re the ones I turn to when I feel small and lost and sad.
Because those two words don’t demand anything of me but my truth and a willingness to share it. They don’t demand perfection; they just ask for honesty. They don’t push me to find a happy place, they just guide me to a gentle acceptance of another of Moira Rose’s words of wisdom:
“You need to be exactly where you are.”
And where am I?
I’m still sitting at my dining room table. I’m still stuck in a world that feels too small and makes my problems seem too big. I’m still struggling. I’m still scared.
But I’m using it.
I’m writing again.
The first time I heard Moira tell Stevie to “use it,” I knew in my gut what that meant for me. I knew it meant that I needed to get back to the one thing that would let me use everything I was feeling—all the doubt and loss and the occasional bursts of happiness and hope—to connect with people in the best way I could.
So I started writing again. I came home to this little corner of the internet and ripped my own heart out and framed it in hot pink and held it out for the world in trembling hands. And then I did it again. And again. And again…
And the craziest thing happened—some of those holes started to fill themselves in.
Writing hasn’t given me a magical cure for all the sadness I’ve felt this year. But it’s given me a way to use it. And using it helps me make peace with it instead of wishing it didn’t exist.
I’m not a better version of me than I was a year ago. But that doesn’t mean I have to be worse.
It’s been a harder year than I could ever have imagined on March 16, 2020. But it hasn’t been a waste.
Because I can use it.
This is me using it.