2020, wiped

Two years ago, the last time I wrote about myself, I was travelling back on a busy train from Southampton to London post-Christmas. That feels like a different world now. In that blog, I confidently asserted that 2018 was the worst year of my life, for pretty obvious reasons — I broke up with my ex, I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression, my world felt like it had collapsed.

2020 is different, in that everyone’s world has collapsed. Well, possibly not if you’re rich, or if you live in the Antipodes. I suppose, looking back, that it has been an OK year, despite The Bad Thing. I have emerged from the ghost year a fitter man, a more confident man, a man with his dream job.

However, as I’m writing this I’m on my own. The new Tier 4 restrictions meant I had to come back to Bristol (from Southampton, where I had been for five days for Christmas) last Friday, driving back on Christmas day. My flatmate went home for Christmas on 12 December and isn’t due back until next week. I just realised that I haven’t spoken to anyone all day, and I don’t know the last time that happened. In fact, the only moments I’ve said anything out loud were when I was berating car drivers for their dangerous manoeuvres during today’s Big Bike Ride. I’m alone, bored, and feel a little hopeless.

I realise I’m not unique in this — there must be many people on their own around the country right now, in much more difficult situations than I am. It’s still lonely, though, and isolating. One lesson learned is that I’m not very good in isolation, especially when there’s no opportunity to go out and be around people, or meet people.

The truth is, despite moving back to Bristol, my dream city, I have few friends here. I mean, for starters, it is very difficult to make friends as an adult; you can’t just rely on people you’re in the same class or lecture as, or join a plethora of societies easily, as at school or uni. This has been exacerbated by a global pandemic in which you can’t really meet new people, and then even if you do, you can only safely meet outside. Considering that I moved to Bristol in October, well, that hasn’t really been feasible that often.

This should get easier soon, as life returns after the festive period, as I have work to concentrate on, as my flatmate returns, as I can play football again. Yet I still have little hope about how soon life will be OK, how soon I can meet people, explore, be adventurous.

2020 has been a tricky year for a depressed, anxious person. Feeling low while also being deprived of social contact is not ideal, nor is hating every inch of your existence. I have found things to help, however. Exercise has been so crucial, taking me out of my isolation. I’ve run 950km this year, and cycled 6500km, which isn’t bad considering I only really started in April. Running and cycling really works, as annoying as that is to the perpetually lazy.

To my knowledge, I haven’t had covid-19, nor has anyone in my immediate family. I haven’t lost my job, and I haven’t been furloughed, and yet the pandemic really has shafted me.

I was offered my dream job in February, as a writer for Procycling magazine, left London at the end of that month to move to Bath. I spent one week in the office with my new colleagues, before being sent home to work remotely in a city I did not know, with a flatmate I’d barely met, in lockdown. Cycling was cancelled. I moved home, back to Southampton, where I lived for seven months — the longest I’d spent at home since I went to uni at 18. Living at home was lovely, and it was wonderful to spend so much time with my parents again, but it felt like a big regression for someone turning 25, who had spent seven years away. Hence I ended up moving to Bristol, mid-pandemic, with few friends and just in time for lockdown 2.0.

Let’s focus on some positives again. I am fitter than I ever have been before: I can run a half marathon or cycle 100 miles with little preparation. There are moments, when I’m on a bike ride or on a run where I feel truly happy. I have my dream job, writing about professional cycling, and should be able to go to bike races at some point (depending on the state of the pandemic and Brexit, I suppose). I’ve read many magnificent books, watched many magnificent films, and many magnificent television shows. I have also taken to cooking in a way I never have before, and decided to film myself for Instagram. If you want any recommendations just ask. I sadly didn’t get to visit that many magnificent pubs this year, but shout out to BBP in Paris, and the Christmas Steps in Bristol.

I feel more self-confident than ever before, and I’m learning not to apologise for my presence. People genuinely like me for who I am, and so do I, to a point. I got a tattoo and an ear piercing, I feel more comfortable in my own skin. Not that I feel happy all too often, or sad really — my antidepressants mean that I am just stable.

Anxiety still gets to me. At moments of acute anxiety, my brain buzzes, I dry retch, sometimes am sick. I can’t concentrate on anything. This hasn’t gone away. I think leaving London helped my mental health, no longer feeling I had to be doing something all the time, but then this isn’t probably a reflection of a great city, more of me.

It is good to talk about mental health, obviously. I find men, in particular, are still slow to talk about how they *actually* are, though, rather than just surface level stuff. I don’t know how this can be changed, but do just ask people if they are ok. I always appreciate it.

My goals for 2021 are to make friends in Bristol, to be adventurous, to continue to be more self-confident. I want to go to a few bike races, to explore, to lose my inhibitions. On a less-important note, I want to beat the cycling and running records I set this year, but that’s more just me being addicted to Strava. Let’s go.

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