Well, that happened.

As I write this, there are still a few days left in the year, but I’m calling it now. 2019 was awful. But it was also amazing. Despite some setbacks, I would overall say that 2019 was a good year. How is this possible? The truth is, most years fit this paradigm. The only major exception to this would be the year of one’s death, providing a handy guide to whether or not you had a good year or a bad one. Ask yourself at the end of the year, or close to it, “did I die?” If the answer is no, then it was a good year. Full stop. End of sentence. Congratulations. You made it. Pop the sparkling beverage of your choice.

ENDINGS

I’ll start with the endings, because those are at the top of my mind today, because yesterday was the memorial for my friend Elicia, a friend whose value to me I did not fully appreciate until she was gone. This is true for most people we lose, even the ones we know we appreciate, like our parents or spouses. People travel across our lives and leaves grooves in the landscape where they traveled the most, and sometimes we stumble across one of those grooves where we didn’t expect it to be. “I need to tell Elicia about this,” is one of those stumbles. Oh, right. I forgot we shared that particular interest.

Those grooves wear down over time, but never completely, at least not for me. I still think of my nephew Miles when I encounter anything involving photography or skateboarding, and he died five years ago. My Aunt Posy, gone now for ten years, is, daily, on my mind. These memories are sad, and they can stop me in my tracks when I least expect them. For instance, I cannot listen to Into the West, from the Lord of the Rings movies, without feeling like I might cry (which is good, because I like having the option), because it reminds me of everyone I loved who died. It’s a song about death, and being okay with it, so it’s a good one to have on hand when you need a cry.

My job at Carlow also ended, and that was also a thing that happened. It was both good and bad, as so many things are. I’m sad to not see the people I like every day, but I’m happy that I get to try something new now. The best endings are the ones that make us change ourselves for the better.

ENGAGEMENT

The origin story of my relationship with Shyloh has been shared elsewhere many times, but I’ll return to a brief version of it here: she slid into my DMs, I answered her, and we’re perfect for each other. She has a son named Shark, who is a whole person I get to watch grow up. He’s hilarious and loving, like his mom. I asked her to marry me and she said yes. Shyloh hates surprises, so I gave her plenty of warning. I have never met anyone who I feel like I completely understand yet who is always delighting me in ways I don’t expect. She is fun in all the best ways. She likes many of the same things I do, but we tease each other about the interests we don’t share. She is blunt and honest and takes care of me. I try to take care of her. I am excited to spend the rest of my life with her.

PROZAC

I tried two new brain medicines this year, and the first one was good but the second one has stabilized my mind in ways I did not expect, or think was possible. I have spent most of my adulthood on Zoloft, then Lexapro, but I branched out this year. I tried Viibryd, a drug that was great for depression but not so good for anxiety. My psychiatrist and I settled on Prozac as a good one to try, and it has allowed me to interface with my feelings in exciting new ways.

The point of good brain drugs is that they don’t change you, they help you be a better version of the person you already are. Lots of people are afraid to take drugs to help with their depression or anxiety because they’re afraid the drugs might attenuate their creativity, or transform them into a person who is unlike the person they are now. This is an understandable fear, but ultimately foolish. After all, how can an amelioration of suffering hurt you more than the suffering does? Imagine what a man like Abraham Lincoln could have accomplished if he had drugs like Prozac or Zoloft. If Isaac Newton could have taken a few milligrams of Lexapro, maybe he wouldn’t have spent ten years alone and closed up in his room instead of publishing his discovery of calculus. What genius has mental illness robbed us of? It hurts to consider.

Anxiety, my lifelong companion, has become a thing I can grasp. This is as radical an announcement about myself I could make as if I said “I can breathe underwater.” I feel like I have been given superpowers. This is a feeling I have not had since I first started taking brain drugs, twenty years ago, or when I first started wearing glasses in fifth grade. I have the upper hand, now. I seize my anxiety by the throat, push it up against a wall, and demand it identify itself. Where do you come from? Who sent you? Why did you come here?

The biggest, worst bully I have ever encountered, and who has battered and abused me my whole life, is finally under my power. I can yell and stab it in the head, like Eowyn before the Witch King. I’m in control.
It’s not just the Prozac, though it has smoothed the way. I can also deploy the support of my loved ones, and the skills I learn in therapy. I would never claim to have fully mastered my anxiety. The war is still being waged. 2019 tested my anxiety and mental health in ways I could have never predicted, so I will sidestep the implied hubris of claiming I have conquered my demons. They’re caged, for now, and that’s something.

OTHER BODY THINGS

If you’re one of the lucky ones who gets to have a good year often enough (see above), then eventually you’ll get to the point where your body will change. Our bodies go through one major change when we move from childhood to reproductive vigor (this is called puberty, and nobody enjoys it). The end of a woman’s reproductivity comes via menopause, which has the word “pause” in it, as if reproduction will some day resume. Men have no such signifier or end of their reproductivity, which might be some kind of half-baked consolation for not being able to literally create new life inside them.

It is this year that I have discovered exciting, new ways my body can change. Like an old house, the plumbing starts to show wear and tear. The simple things like reading, micturating, even eating are no longer as simple as they once were. New factors have to be considered. Timetables have to be adjusted, often without warning. Activities once enjoyed as simple pleasures, like tying one’s shoes, can cause a debilitating pulled muscle in one’s back so one has to miss one of his favorite bands for which he bought tickets, damn it.

Aging reminds us that our bodies are just pumps and pipes. Millions of years of evolution have created these bodies we stumble around in, with big heads and big brains bobbling around on our shoulders. The lucky ones manage to make it long enough for the machinery to break down after an acceptable amount of time, not too early. One way to make the body last longer is to exercise it, which is a ridiculous concept that would have baffled our ancestors. I have increased how much I do this, but I’m still struggling with a consistent schedule for it. The evidence, below, speaks for itself.

As I age I also watch Shark, who is almost 6, and Ollie, who is already 6, reach thrilling milestones in their respective cognitive development. They are old enough to understand some things extremely well, while other things simply bounce off their brains and they shrug and go back to the familiar boing of a ball or click of a LEGO. If you listen closely, you can practically hear the brain cells dividing and the dendrites growing. No, wait, that’s just Teen Titans.

I WAS ENTERTAINED

Speaking of superheroes, I enjoyed watching them fight and run around and talk and stuff. Our entertainment seems to be dominated by these characters lately, as noted by people who also seem to have a problem with them. It’s just a phase. I’ll enjoy it while I can, but it won’t last forever. We’ll get tired of this eventually. The characters of the Jersey Shore were ubiquitous not long ago, but I challenge anyone reading this to name more than two who aren’t Snooki.

A fun game to try this holiday season, as you spend time with family members you might not see very often, is to ask anyone younger than 20 to name the Beatles. The next-hardest level of this game is to name any of the Rolling Stones (Mick Jagger is only half credit). Ask them if they’ve ever seen a movie with Gene Hackman in it. Try not to cry when they ask you who he is.

Here’s my favorites from the year. They all tickled me in all the ways I like the most, but I refuse to give more details than this [all links go to wikipedia, except the last one]:

TV SHOW: Season 3 of Legion

GAME: Untitled Goose Game

MOVIE: John Wick 3

BOOK: My Age of Anxiety by Scott Stossel

SONG: Life on Earth by Snow Patrol

NEXT YEAR

2020 is coming! It’s a new decade. It’s a new year. It’s bursting with opportunities. I have plans, but they will unveil themselves over time. I leave you with this song, which makes me very happy:

6,781 thoughts on “2019: A Year That Happened

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