Photo credit: LOW JIA YING

MY 2020: My toughest year yet, but I’m grateful for it

Slowing down and learning to empathise got me through the most difficult of times.

Low Jia Ying

Published: 10 December 2020, 12:25 PM

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?

My 2020 started on a high, literally.

I celebrated New Year’s Eve 10km up in the air on a plane from San Francisco to Singapore, after spending the last five months in the United States on a student exchange programme.

My time on exchange was extremely fulfilling. I gained confidence in myself and picked up the resolve to embark on new projects and internships that would push me further in my passions.


My sister greeted me at Changi with this sign – much to my embarrassment. PHOTO CREDIT: LOW JIA YING


Things were off to a roaring start: I was reunited with friends I hadn’t seen in ages, which meant hitting up clubs or bars every other weekend. 

I also hit the ground running with internship interviews and was enrolled in a number of challenging classes at university.

I also went on a blind date in February with a very handsome guy who ended up becoming my boyfriend.

2020 seemed like it was going to be my year.


A blurry picture on the crowded dance floor of EMONIGHT, some time before DORSCON orange was announced. PHOTO CREDIT: LOW JIA YING


Even though the number of cases in Singapore were steadily climbing in March, I did not foresee that COVID-19 would become the monster it turned out to be.

That outlook very quickly changed when I was hit with one piece of bad news after the next.

Internships were cancelled as companies went on hiring freezes, my engaging face-to-face classes were pushed online as my university enforced group size restrictions and we were unceremoniously told to move out of our dorm rooms to reduce the threat of the virus spreading on campus.


A disappointing email I received from a company I applied for an internship at. PHOTO CREDIT: LOW JIA YING


The enforcement of the circuit breaker also took a serious toll on my mental health. As someone who craved social interaction and being outdoors, being inside for what seemed like an indefinite amount of time felt as though I was trapped, with just my negative thoughts to keep me company.

Family tensions ran high as my dad’s company faced financial struggles, which meant that he often turned to alcohol to cope.

The smallest things started to trigger me. One occasion where a safe distancing ambassador sternly told me off for standing too close to the lady in front of me in line at the coffee shop led to me crying in my room over my bowl of wanton noodles mourning the loss of regular life.

I became very sensitive to negative developments around the world as well. Pictures of mass graves dug for COVID-19 casualties in Brazil, videos of protests during the Black Lives Matter movement in the US, and reports of the mass outbreaks at our foreign worker dormitories seemed to replay endlessly in my head.

It seemed like I was all alone in having to cope with these thoughts. I was afraid of appearing weak to friends and family.

Yet although I was never the first to reach out, my friends would often check in on me, suggesting that we play an online game or just chat. My mum would organise game nights and cooked themed dinners for us at home.

My internship at Youth.SG (now Youthopia) over the summer break also meant that I could still learn and challenge myself while at home. I had the opportunity to speak to many young Singaporeans who started initiatives to alleviate the effects of the pandemic.

I could see that even in such difficult times, people found ways to turn things around and help others.

In my own small way, I started helping out as well. I joined at-home charity workout classes, bought and packed care packages for foreign workers cooped up in dormitories, and started actively checking in with friends and family to ask how they were coping.


My sister and I made a trip to buy items to distribute to foreign workers in care packages. PHOTO CREDIT: LOW JIA YING


I realised that there was no shame in asking for help and being vulnerable. 

2020, with all its hard times, taught me to slow down and empathise with others. I often gave in to thoughts of helplessness, but I now know that reaching out and doing what we can in our own spheres of influence is still a positive step forward.

As 2021 is fast approaching, I hope to take this new outlook into the new year. Things may very well take a turn for the worse, but at least I feel that I am better equipped to face these challenges head on.


Other stories in this MY 2020 series:

This year taught me to be less hard on myself

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