It was the year of our LORD, 2020. We didn’t have a vaccine for COVID-19. The Democratic primaries were happening. George Floyd had just been murdered by Derek Chauvin. Most of us were in quarantine or were “essential workers” praised for fighting on the frontlines.
I was angry, all the time.
I wrote angry, impassioned posts on my old blogs. I posted angry posts on Twitter. I said angry things to my friends and family and alienated them. It was just me and my boyfriend in a small apartment in Dallas, struggling to make ends meet month-to-month. Trump, Biden, and the coming election loomed so largely over everything. Politics were a part of our day-to-day conversations.
Sometimes, for me, it feels as though that year was a lifetime ago, other times it feels as though it were yesterday. Even though we have vaccines and treatments, now, we need to remember that COVID-19 never ended. Millions of people have died, and millions more around the world haven’t had the opportunity to receive a vaccination. While the virus is on the road to becoming endemic in developed nations, the rest of the world lags behind.
Sometimes we forget that anger is a common response to loss and grief. Some of us lost jobs, homes, and relationships. Some of us lost loved ones. Some of us lost our ability to feel safe and secure in the world. Some of us lost faith that our freedom and independence would be protected.
For many of us, 2020 wasn’t the only “Angry Year.” Starting around 2021, up to the present, news outlets have been posting about the rude, belligerent behavior expressed by customers in stores, on airplanes, and in other public places. Mask mandates are sometimes a particular source of tension in the U.S., and at times disagreements over mask-wearing have led to violence.
In 2020, I believed that it was my social responsibility to remain informed—e.g., pay close attention to the news—and on some level, I still believe that I have that responsibility. I also felt that I had a responsibility to vote and be involved with politics at the community level, even if I knew that doing so would have limited results. I fancied myself an activist even though so much of my “activism” was in a buried-away corner of the internet.
As I stepped away from my 2020 self, however, and into a new year and a better mental space, I reflexively started reading the news less. I became more aware of how little power I wielded, and that was strangely liberating for me. My focus turned away from mastering my outside environment to mastering myself first, which I now realize is the only way to become capable of creating lasting external change.
However, I can’t deny that living as a lower-to-middle class American under Neoliberal Capitalism is a grief-inducing experience and a subject that I previously spent a lot of energy meditating on. The pandemic amplified all the cracks present in our already-crumbling system. While anger exists commonly as a response to grief, it also exists as a response to a sense of unfairness or injustice, and as an average American living today, there are multiple injustices that we are forced to endure.
So, what do we do with all our anger, hurt, and rage?
First, we need to acknowledge that COVID-19 was a collective trauma that has severely impacted the mental and physical health of people worldwide. Being angry about the governmental mismanagement and the way we’ve had to rearrange our lives around the societal change the virus caused is valid. Sometimes trauma brings people together, but in the case of this trauma, it has driven many of us apart, sometimes physically in the form of “self-isolation” and quarantine, other times emotionally as arguments about the efficacy and necessity of vaccines have damaged relationships.
Everyone wants a “return to normalcy” but in my thinking, there is no “return.” We can only build something new out of the ashes of what was lost. Functional plasticity refers to the way the brain can transfer certain functions from damaged areas of the brain to undamaged parts of the brain to restore the use of those old functions. In the same way, I believe that we might not be able to restore ourselves to where we were before the pandemic, but we can create a new sense of meaning from the way things are right now and continue living our lives.