On 2020 when you worry about everything

I am a worrier — I imagine that anyone who knows me knows this, or anyone who follows me on Twitter.

Once my old boss said to me “everything you tweet about seems anxious”, well, that’s because it generally was.

I’ve had this my entire life, sometimes it’s fine and I can live with it and once it became pretty much all consuming to try and sit on it and just function day to day, but more on that later.

It’s strange because I worry about everything I think so that bad things can’t creep up on me — they can happen, but I knew they were coming.

That’s why I worry about being bad at my job, or losing my job, or doing something so catastrophic that I can never get a job again. Or why I worry chronically about my health — because when I wasn’t worried about my health, I got Type 1 Diabetes without any symptoms and even though it was 14 years ago I still feel stung that I didn’t have adequate time to prepare.

More fool you who makes me feel stupid and even more fool you if you try — you can guarantee any bad thing you’re going to say at me or throw at me, I’ve already worried about for hours and come to terms with it. I’m not a big risk taker, I don’t like rides or rollercoasters (doesn’t sound that great in a Tinder bio).

I can be spontaneous, but only if I’ve prepared for it.

I worry that I’m not attractive enough, or witty or funny or whether anyone else notices the bump at the top of my spine that makes every jacket look weird? I worry that I’m surrounded by magnetic people and alas I am not magnetic at all.

I worry that someone I’ve known for years will turn around and hurt me or that I’m missing great friendships and connections by not talking to people in the street — particularly this year.

I’m not someone who just sits in their comfort zone and doesn’t try. I do try, and my natural comfort zone extends probably as far as my front door. But I hate living like that so I don’t. I managed to move to London when I was 18 and stick it out, working shifts and double days, starting at 10am and ending at 3am across the city. I lived in shared houses with terrible people — and some amazing ones. I got obsessed with carpet cleaner and candles to try and alleviate the feeling I had that my carpet had seen too much. I even once heard my housemate and her boyfriend having sex to the Wicked sound track during a power cut and I didn’t run for the hills. I did a training scheme which meant I moved all over the country alone, piling a suitcase of clothes from Liverpool to Hull and Dublin on the train, bus, Uber, Ryanair flight.

Weirdly, I wasn’t worried at all about Covid-19 at the start of the year. I wasn’t worried when I saw posters in the airport in January, or when I was writing about it for my job in February.

I left my desk in March with a half-read book on it, a coffee cup and my favourite pair of shoes in my drawer.

Even when we got a text that weekend saying we were to work from home, I didn’t worry. I’d be back in a month, I thought, there to work out the final couple of weeks of my notice period, have some drinks and start a new job (I’d already worried about how I was going to organise the drinks and whether people would turn up.)

I worried a bit when my new job went quiet, when we locked down, when I got the email that I couldn’t start my new job or go back to the old one. Things started happening which I couldn’t have prepared for or controlled or expected. I felt lonelier and sadder than I ever have in my life. I was scared and, obviously, worried, near constantly. The constant briefings, press conferences, change — it’s been hard to get any purchase on any situation that has presented itself. And for me, like many others I imagine, things just kept changing.

The only way I can describe it as someone who hasn’t experienced any great trauma or loss through Covid-19 is homesick. I have been homesick a lot, generally revealing itself in force at Gate 20 in Victoria Station as I’d just got off a megabus and needed to literally throw up because I was crying and had to go back to Wicked soundtrack sex girl back in my terrible shared house.

Through this year, from leaving London to leaving home to leaving London again, not seeing the people I love, realising some people I loved I wouldn’t see in the same way again, sleeping in my teenage bedroom, not seeing friends — or seeing them on a screen whilst looking at my own face, it’s just felt like an entire mass of displacement and homesickness.

And I’m definitely not alone in feeling like that, which really is comforting. And when you’re with your parents in your teenage room you aren’t really alone anyway but sometimes it does feel like that. And when you can’t meet people feeling the same way to have a chat about it, it doesn’t feel like that.

Among this endless cycle or worry and flatness, I do know that I am incredibly lucky to only experience the side effects of the pandemic rather than loss hitting me full force in the face. My loved ones are healthy and anyone I know who has had Covid recovered seemingly well. I have a home, a family and friends and that is incredibly important, it’s an incredible position to be in.

But my point is that whether or not I worried or I didn’t, nothing changed. This year still happened and turned my life head over heels, basically upending everything I thought I knew or trusted. The process hasn’t always been pleasant, but ultimately I’m still here at the other side.

I’m never very big on New Year’s Resolutions. Every single year I buy a diary and never manage to write things down. But as it seems like everything else is a fresh start, it seems like a good time to actually try and implement some changes.

I want to stop trying to process bad things before they’ve happened because they might never happen, or worrying what people think about me, or worrying about striking up conversation with the wrong person.

I want to do stuff that I actually want to do, like climbing or cycling or sitting in the pub with a drink on my own. I’m going to talk to everyone I can without fear they might think I’m weird, air my ideas where I can and not feel sick every time I walk into work. And when Covid-19 is over I can’t wait to go into an office, with colleagues, wearing clothes that aren’t leggings.

I want to visit cities in the UK — starting with Newcastle, because the last time I was there for a few months I was so wracked with actual crippling anxiety that all my energy went into quelling a near-constant inner panic rather than enjoying the city. I thought I was going to have to quit my job just for a rest.

The same for Dublin — most of my time there was spent anxious, even though I remember thinking at the time I’d done a pretty good job of overcoming it but really I’d just transferred it to believing that losing 2 stone would solve the worry (spoiler, it didn’t, does it ever? I just worried about regaining it).

I want to say yes to things instead of thinking about the risk or pay off or worry about getting hurt. I want to go out again, get so drunk that I lose an entire lipstick in a bathroom sink on West Street. I want to sit with at least 20 other people in a room playing a drinking game I’m too old for. I want to put Talking Heads on at a house party and when I leave the room, hear someone say: “She’s gone now, just change it”.

If this year has taught me anything it’s that no matter how much you worry, or try and anticipate things, or head them off before they happen, or be perfect or problem free, it doesn’t matter. If it’s going to happen it, it will. But it probably won’t in the way you expect it and that applies for good things, too.

Aside from when I was 18 and first moved away, I’ve never felt like a year was a fresh start or a clean slate. And even when I moved away from home, it felt like I was trying to leave something behind rather than embrace a new thing. So maybe coming back now that everything has changed, that’s exactly what I should do.

So anyway, to a year of worry in 2020, capping off years of worry. Considering worry changes nothing, here’s to less worry in 2021, no matter what’s thrown at us.

Worrier, writer, forever a bleeding heart