It’s difficult to put into words just how terrible 2020 has been. It’s been utterly devastating at a macro level, and at a personal level it’s proven to be the most brutal year of my life, shattering me physically, mentally, and spiritually.

Over 1,600,000 have died from the coronavirus pandemic, and while there’s a light at the end of the tunnel there’s still months to go before things will get better. Systemic racism and injustice are still very much part of America’s DNA as the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and other Black Americans have shown us. And of course there’s the sitting US president makes everything worse in every imaginable way: doing worse than nothing to help battle Covid-19, sowing discord & inciting violence, and doing his best to destroy our country’s democratic institutions. And yet 70,000,000 people living in an alternate reality still voted for the guy.

A sharp left turn

I was watching the 2020 Shitshow in horror same as everyone else, but in early summer a new episode of the Shitshow began that cast my family as the stars.

In June, my Grandpa had a major stroke and was life-flighted down to the neuro ICU in Pittsburgh. Witnessing this trauma triggered a manic episode in my Dad, who began acting very much not like himself (not helped at all by residual scar tissue on his brain from his bout with spinal meningitis two years ago). He had to be hospitalized and because of coronavirus, only one visitor was permitted in the hospital. That one visitor was me.

I had to manage him (who was still very much not himself) and coordinate his care across 4 hospitals. Because the United States’ healthcare system is what it is, in order for my Dad to get the care he needed I ended up having to play the roles of medical team manager, behavioral health specialist, social worker, psychiatrist, and therapist. It was an utterly exhausting, devastating, and disheatening number of weeks.

And then in the middle of this traumatic medical emergency, our mentally-unstable neighbor across the street began accosting my family, flipping off our toddler and nanny, racially harassing my wife, and making violent threats. We fled our home for fear of our safety because he was out in the street exposing himself, shouting belligerence, and threatening violence.

Screenshot of my security camera, highligting my neighbor's various threatening incidents

Stills from my security camera capturing my neighbor’s alarming and threatening behavior

Unfortunately, it became clear it was no longer safe to return home, and with great sadness we sold our our house of 6 years that we had put so much time, money, and love into. The math was simple: so long as our neighbor lives across the street (and he’s got nowhere else to go), our family couldn’t feel safe or at peace in our own home.

Melissa and Brad standing in front of a Uhaul truck

Because the United States’ mental health and criminal justice systems are what they are, I had to play the roles of police detective, mental health crisis worker, neighborhood watch coordinator, and others. It took 38 days and 6 different neighbors calling 911 & mental health services for the police to finally arrest him. The process is ongoing and looks like we won’t have any real resolution for quite some time.

Meanwhile, we had to say goodbye to Grandpa Frost. He was an absolute role model, always warm, inquisitive, caring, and interested in what we were up to. He supported me in every way, and he valued family above all else. He was a great man, and I’ll miss him so much.

Brad and Grandpa Frost smiling

And 2020 still isn’t quite done. Every time we feel like we’re out of the thick of it, we seem to get another terrible surprise. Things like, “Guess what! Your father-in-law was rushed to the ICU to be treated for sepsis!” “Your uncles and cousin have Covid!” “Your nanny broke her ankle and foot and can’t watch your kid for months!” It just doesn’t seem to let up. In fact, I’m delayed posting this because my wife slammed her back into a wooden fence while sled riding with our daughter. Thankfully, the impact missed her spine by just under an inch, and while she’s been laid out with terrible nerve pain, she’s making progress and it looks like she’ll fully recover.

Believe it or not, this is really just the high-level overview of everything. There’s a whole mess (and I mean mess) of details and other totally not fun stuff I’m leaving out here.

It hasn’t all been bad.

It’s not in my nature to dwell on the negative. But holy shit 2020 has made it extraordinarily hard to be positive. That said, despite the relentlessly crashing negative waves, this year has unearthed some truly life-affirming things. I have:

  • A renewed sense of gratitude for everything. Health, physical safety, family, friends, community, essential workers, a job, my privilege, and so on. This year has reminded me to not take even simple things like the ability to breathe and walk for granted. My family’s 2020 has been super shitty, but unfortunately I have good friends and family who have had it way worse. If for anything else, this year has given us all a new perspective. Silver lining I suppose, but I hope we don’t lose it.
  • An incredible wife. I’m so incredibly fortunate to have such a strong and resilient partner in Melissa, and would not have been able to survive this year on my own. We don’t know what the coming year holds for us, but our adventure will continue. “In good times and in bad” indeed.
  • Supporting family, friends, collaborators, and community. I’m incredibly thankful for everyone who showed up for us with compassion, empathy, and a willingness to help. We had people come out of the woodwork to help us when we truly needed it, and I will be forever thankful. I’m also fortunate to work with fantastic, understanding collaborators and clients who were extremely patient and gracious with me.
  • A place to heal. We literally fled our home, so I wasn’t expecting much from a temporary rental. But thankfully our rental place (what we’ve been calling our “adventure house” to our daughter) is near nature and we’ve been enjoying hiking and (thanks to this movie) taking pictures of mushrooms, flora, and fauna.
  • A political sigh of relief. I’m so relieved the election went the way it did, even if the deluded right wing doesn’t believe the results and is doing irrevocable damage to our democratic institutions.¬† America is bleeding out, and Biden is the imperfect-but-available tourniquet we hastily grabbed in order to stop the bleeding. Permanent damage has been done and we’re still in critical condition, but I’m hoping that the country will start healing and recovering.
  • A sparkly drum kit. As I mentioned early this year, playing music gives me an enormous amount of physical, mental, and spiritual satisfaction. With all the crazy shit going on, I decided to treat myself to a sparkly Ludwig drum kit. I play music every day and the new kit has made that activity even more enjoyable.
  • And of course an amazing daughter. Ella has been such a grounding and positive force this year. Her innocence, excitement, curiosity, and bubbly personality has been so incredibly welcome and important. I feel terrible she’s had to endure all of this, and I can’t wait for her to be able to run around and play with other kiddos again. It’s such a joy to watch her grow, learn, and come into her own, and she’s been a constant reminder of all the positive things life has to offer.

Ella about to blow the seeds off a dandelion

2020 by the numbers

Every year-in-review post I round up my year in numbers. Given what I just shared above, this exercise seems almost laughable. Like, who cares? But sharing numbers this year is interesting largely as a point of contrast with other years. Being grounded due to the pandemic changed my regular routine, as did having to step away entirely from my professional life for almost 4 months. So here it goes, in 2020 I:

  • Wrote 12 posts on my blog, an all-time low by far ūüôĀ
  • Shared 29 links¬†on my site
  • Traveled just 3,782 miles to 7 cities in 2 countries on 1 continent
  • Spoke at just 1 virtual conference and gave 4 company and community workshops
  • Consulted with 5 clients and helped them create and evolve their respective¬†design systems
  • Helped build 1 giant design system
  • Processed¬†1,676 ebook orders¬†of¬†Atomic Design
  • Raised $5575 for various (largely social justice related) charities/organizations

What’s Next

It’s gotta get better from here, right? …Right? Here’s what I want to focus on in 2021:

  • Recovering – A lot of the acute crises I’ve been juggling are thankfully behind me (holy hell I hope they are), but the residual effects certainly are not. Small stressors that I used to be able to manage with ease now can be debilitating. More than anything else, I feel like I (and the rest of the world) need to focus on recovery and healing in 2021. We’ve all been through so much, and I hope that we all get at least some reprieve from the relentless onslaught that has been the norm in 2020.
  • Mental health – If there’s one thing I’ve learned this year, it’s that mental health is so incredibly critical for the well being of individuals, communities, countries, and the world at large. Mental health care should not be stigmatized. Mental health care should be well funded and prioritized (fun side note: I talked quite a bit with the police due to my neighbor situation, and they all essentially told me “defund the police” in order to better equip mental health care services). Despite not historically seeing a therapist, I started this year and am so glad I did. I’m going to continue individual therapy and do some couples activities to strengthen my relationship with my wife and help us process this year. The crises I dealt with also unlocked some interest in this field, and I want to explore how I might be able to dive deeper into the world of mental health care in some way.
  • Physical health – I’m not going to apologize for the way I’ve treated my body this year. 2020 has been pure survival mode, and I’ve indulged in lots of ice cream, junk, alcohol and comfort food as coping mechanisms. But I know I can’t carry that behavior into 2021 or else it’s going to go from a short-term survival technique to a long-term bad habit. Going on a diet as a new years resolution is so incredibly clich√©, but it’s entirely necessary. Here’s to not eating like shit in the new year! I’ve also been doing a better job making stretching part of my routine, but I need to up my game and get more cardio and strength stuff in the mix.
  • Getting back to work, but also work/life balance ‚Äď The “life” part of “work/life” ate my 2020, and I need to get back into the swing of things work-wise. I have a lot of exciting work prospects in the new year, but I’m also going to do my absolute best to maintain a healthy work/life balance in order to honor the other goals I’ve stated above.
  • Figure out where we’re going to live –¬† The stabilizing sensation of feeling at home is something that was suddenly taken from me and my family. We’re not quite sure what our game plan is just yet, but I know we’ll be sorting out our living arrangement in 2021. We might do something drastic, or maybe not. Who the hell knows.
  • Return of the blog – This is the longest I’ve ever gone without writing a blog post, and it’s a miserable feeling. I have a lot to say, and I really hope to catch a blogging stride in the new year.
  • Continue making progress on FIRE – Despite this year being so awful, I still feel like I’ve made some progress in my financial independence retire early goals. This year has demonstrated just how fragile everything can be, and I want to do all I can to ensure financial stability for my family. But beyond that, I see these financial goals as part of a larger mission to help many other people. There’s more to say on all this so I’ll leave it be for now.

So that’s that. I’m not so naive to think that crossing over some artificial boundary on the Gregorian calendar is some magical light switch and that everything in 2021 is going to be peachy keen. BUT. I do think psychologically the 2020/2021 delineation is important as it helps instill feelings of hope and optimism. So I’m looking forward to a new year, and I know you’re likely eager to leave 2020 in the dust too. Wishing you and yours health, happiness, and safety now and in the new year.