best year ever

For many people, the meme to the right expresses the past two years quite well, not to mention their fears for this year. This is understandable. The pandemic has killed 800,000 Americans with more to come. Donald Trump tried to use his followers to overthrown the government. The economy broke, as did the supply chain, and what was normal in 2019 is gone forever.

Oh, and Tom Brady won another Super Bowl. That really makes this period intolerable to a lot of people.

So excuse me for not being part of the gloom-and-doom festivities, but 2020 and 2021 were perhaps the best years of my life, and 2023 could be even better. This tells you how awful my years before 2020 were and how I have been spared, personally and in my family, of much of the worst of what occurred. I did not escape unscathed, of course, but the good things that occurred were far greater than the bad.

Even my break-through covid was no worse than a light case of flu – along with losing about $500 from missing work. Bleah. But here is why 2020 and 2021 were so good for me, and I can sum it up in two words:

Mental healthcare.

As 2019 was coming to a close, I was living with untreated depression and undiagnosed anxiety; I later came to understand that I had been since I was a child. I’m now learning that it’s likely my personality leans in the direction of anxiety and that my early years enable the anxiety to become chronic, impacting my life negatively until I finally got the help I needed. In 2020.

Then at some point near the end of that year, I had the thought: Maybe I’m eligible for the VA. Of course I was, and I had been since 1979 when I left the Air Force. Decades without healthcare, and it was there all along. So I applied, got enrolled, and made an appointment for mental health intake.

That was March 3rd. The next week, the country shut down. But I had a mental health counselor and we met regularly, online, for the next year-and-a-half. Without doubt, this was the best thing to ever happen to me. We quickly realized the role of anxiety in my life, and I was able to begin working my way towards living my life on my terms, not anxiety’s. I was especially helped by the book “The Happiness Trap”, which I’ll discuss in coming posts.

The other big mental healthcare step for me was participating in an 8-week MBSR (Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction) program through the VA in April-May. This is the original clinical mindfulness program developed by Jon Kabatt-Zinn in 1979; it is the program from which all other mindfulness-based mental healthcare regimes are descended.

MBSR works. It flat-out works, generally better than other forms of therapy (and medication), and has been proven by clinical results. I repeated the program in 2021 and got even more from it. I developed a mindfulness practice that slowly but surely rewired my brain from anxiety, and all the fear attached to it, towards living a life that fulfills the values I hold.

I had taken early Social Security in late 2019. My benefit is 25% smaller than if I had waited until I was 65, but I also knew that any kind of job was almost impossible, for a variety of reasons. So between SSI and SNAP, I had enough to get by. The two other people I shared a house with were pretty good with the protocols, although not nearly fanatic as I was most of 2020. We got through that year unscathed by the virus.

2021 brought a few big changes. I had to move, and, while I found a place that was cheaper and quieter, it was also in Beaverton. The people who I rent from also live here, and they watch, and believe, Fox News. They are, of course, unvaccinated, and they eventually, of course, caught covid and passed it along to me, vaxxed as I was (and now I am boosted, too).

I also got a part-time job, which means the hassle of getting to work on-time, having food ready to take for lunch, and not having all day to lounge around doing nothing. Or having all day to go for a long bike ride or a walk through Forest Park. But it’s a fun job, at Kitchen Kaboodle, and I love having an employee discount there!

So today, on January 1st, 2022, I can look back at the past two years and be deeply grateful for all the good they have brought me. Again, I am lucky that my siblings, my sons, and all their families have stayed safe and healthy (vaccinations, all around). They’ve kept their jobs, and my grandkids got through a year of distance learning in pretty good shape.

And although my life still needs a lot of work, I recognize how much healthier my mind is than two years ago, before I started mindfulness (on my own) and counseling. It should be no surprise that I’ve done well, given the lack of bad stuff and my access to professional, on-going, free, mental healthcare. If we valued human beings in this country, we would do all we can to mitigate the bad stuff people live through, and we would provide everyone with the mental healthcare they need.

We don’t care about humans in this country. We care about ourselves, our families, and our stuff. For numerous bizarre reasons, we allow the rich and powerful to run roughshod over us. And I’ll limit the rant to those two sentences.

My path to fulfillment as a person is still a difficult one. There are things I want to do that I’ve wanted to for years but have never managed to accomplish. Sixty years of mental unhealthiness isn’t undone in just a few short years. But I have the understand, the tools, and the experience of the past two years of growth and health. 2022 won’t be easy, but I’ve never come into a year better prepared to live it fully, and on my own terms, than I am this year.

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