MY 2020: This year taught me to be less hard on myself

2020 was a tough year, but I’m grateful that it taught me to treat myself better.

Celeste Lim

Yogurt lover with a Spotify playlist for every mood.

Published: 9 December 2020, 11:05 AM

In this MY 2020 series, Youthopia writers explore everything that happened in the past year – the good, the bad, the ugly – and also share their hopes and dreams for 2021. What’s yours?

This year, I didn’t attend any concerts or make any new friends, and I only had a grand total of three physical lessons in my final year of school – but I got to witness myself grow.

During the circuit breaker, I spent my extra time at home reflecting and becoming more self-aware. I realised that most of my behaviour – not letting myself have fun and negative self-talk – stemmed from being tough on myself, and it was affecting my ability to enjoy life.

I decided I wanted to treat myself better, so I set out to achieve that before the year ended. Although it hasn’t been an easy journey, I’d like to think I’m nearly there. 

Here are some things I learnt while trying to be kinder to myself.

1. I’m not responsible for everything

I used to be able to fall asleep the moment my head hit the pillow. 

But because of the wild unpredictability of 2020, I found it difficult to go to sleep, no matter how tired I had been all day. And when I finally drifted off, I would be plagued by nightmares.


In the past, all it took was a second and I would be in deep slumber for the rest of the night. PHOTO CREDIT: QUIN STEVENSON VIA UNSPLASH


I wouldn’t be able to sleep as I was worrying about what would happen the next day. My head was swimming with thoughts and concerns: What if I’ve been an asymptomatic carrier of COVID-19 all this time? What if my family members contract COVID-19? What if we never get a vaccine?

My concerns also manifested in my dreams, as I often dreamt that I was naked (or without a mask) in public, running away from someone or getting humiliated by my friends.

The final straw came when I found out my grandfather was slowly losing his hearing. I beat myself up for not noticing earlier, but since I had not seen him in two months due to the circuit breaker, how could I have known?

Ironically, the unpredictable times in 2020 also taught me that there are many things out of my control, including the behaviours and reactions of others. All I could do was make the best of it and stop taking responsibility for situations out of my control.

Like Michael A. Slinger wrote in his book The Untethered Soul: “It’s like sitting down at night and deciding whether you want the sun to come up in the morning. The bottom line is, the sun will come up and the sun will go down. You can think about it all you want, but life is still going to keep on happening.”

2. My feelings aren’t embarrassing

During the circuit breaker, my friends could tell that I was struggling with being cooped up at home.

I would tell my friends when I was feeling down, but when they probed for more information, I refused to elaborate. 

I closed myself off from my friends who had known me for years because I found my feelings embarrassing. I thought that my friends would judge or even mock me if I told them. I decided life would be easier if I didn’t have any feelings at all, and tried to repress them.


When I tried to brush off my feelings with jokes, my friend told me off for not taking my own problems seriously. PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTHOPIA/CELESTE LIM


Finally, when I couldn’t handle bottling up my feelings any more and was on the verge of a breakdown, I confided in a friend. 

I felt on edge throughout and experienced a vulnerability hangover, the feeling of shame people get after tough conversations.

But in the days after, I felt amazing. With that intimate conversation, a huge weight had been lifted off my chest. I felt lighter and noticed I was carrying myself with more confidence. 

I told a few more friends about what had been bothering me, and noticed the same effect each time. I vowed to never let myself put up walls again.

Of course, that’s not to say that I go around revealing every detail of my personal life to strangers. Instead, I’ve learnt that there is strength in vulnerability and my feelings are far from shameful.

3. I should reward and praise myself

Studying from home boosted my productivity and gave me more time to work on my assignments. 

Unfortunately, this freedom ended up hurting me. Since there was no set time to rest or eat with my friends, I would only take a break when I felt like I had done enough work.


I didn’t have to travel, so I could start working on my assignments right after the Zoom calls ended. PHOTO CREDIT: ANDREW NEEL VIA UNSPLASH


Once, I was starving but didn’t let myself eat lunch since I wasn’t done with my portion of work. It was then that I realised that I had to stop denying myself of my vital needs. 

I didn’t need to “earn” the right to eat or take breaks – I should have been taking care of myself from the start, because that’s what my body and I deserved.

This year, I also took a quiz to learn my love language, and found out that my main love language is words of affirmation. My friend then asked me about the last time I had praised myself.

I couldn’t recall a single scenario where I had complimented myself. Even when I received compliments, I always dismissed them, thinking that those people were just being too nice.

This realisation that I hadn’t been practising my love language on myself was a wake-up call to me. It explained why I had low self-esteem and thought I didn’t deserve to have my basic needs met.

Even though it’s still hard for me to believe compliments sometimes, I started taking note of the compliments instead of rejecting them. I also began to notice my own accomplishments, and let myself feel pride at what I’ve achieved.


I list compliments I’ve received so I can remember them when I’m feeling down. PHOTO CREDIT: CATHRYN LAVERY VIA UNSPLASH


Still, I don’t think being hard on myself is an inherently bad thing.

It means that I have high standards and a sense of responsibility. As long as I don’t cross into being overly hard on myself and remember that making mistakes is all part of the process of becoming better, I can twist this into my strength.

So this 2021, I want to continue maintaining my standards, but I will remember to ease up on myself a little. In the coming years, I’d like to take even better care of myself, get in tune with my feelings, and cut myself some slack. 

It’s a long journey looming ahead, but I’ve already grown so much in 2020. I can’t wait to see what the next year has in store for me.

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