Letter to my January 1st self

It is safe to say that 2020 has looked very different to how any of us imagined. In this series of letters, students write to their January 1st selves to take time to reflect on what their year has looked like, how expectations have shifted and the lessons they have learned so far.

Dear January 2020 Mary,

The next few months are very different from the way you are living right now. A set of new and unexpected challenges are upcoming but, I know you are prepared. Spend as much time as you can with your friends at the moment because it’s still uncertain when you may see them all again. 

It’s amazing that you have so many goals for 2020 but, don’t feel disheartened when things begin to go off path, the whole world is off path and there is nothing you can do about it. 

Start working out now: your health will appreciate it. It’s a great stress reliever and will become the only structure left in your day by June, very important for your mental health. You’re going to get into cycling, in particular, fixing a bike with your dad. You will be spending more time at home than you have in two years; gaining a new sense of appreciation for the hobbies and time you share. 

Lockdown may start out rough, particularly with the unexpected mumps you develop at the start (despite being vaccinated), so maybe avoid gatherings early March… But, you will adapt, and everything will be ok, you can trust me on that.


I write to you to give you hope, for you will need it. To speak plainly, 2020 is going to be a year of great change: good and bad. I will not say much about the actual events which are to transpire in the coming months; however, know this: your father is right. To attempt to predict the future is a fool’s errand, because everything you know will change in mere seconds. But fret not, what awaits you is a journey, necessary for you to take.

The exciting news, this year will be one of great growth. But, know, trying times are to come. They will transport you back to feeling fifteen, a year we do not remember fondly. The difference this time? You will weather this year because of a newfound love and respect you now have, for yourself.

My advice, relish in the opportunities presented, yet know, now is the time to make your own. The world is about to open so many passages for you, ignore all the doors that will close and keep your eyes open. And, remember, that it is best to walk away the second you feel drained.

With love,

Your dearest friend

On 1 January 2020, you were waking up in London, thinking you’ve left the worst behind. You were just pickpocketed last night in the middle of Chinatown — you lost your ID, your cards, and a host of other memorabilia you’d kept inside your purse. You felt like an idiot, but at least it all happened in 2019 and not a couple of hours later in 2020. That would’ve been a horrible start to the decade. 

Of course, you had no idea what’s in store for you and for the world. You wouldn’t have guessed that since then, you’ve experienced months of self-isolating on your own, gone on a 15-day trip home to Vietnam (centralized quarantine included), and contemplated quitting everything. Since then, you’ve rode waves of emotions, from feeling as if you’re the only person in the world to getting torn between life at home and life in the UK. All of this will make you grumpy and anxious, and there are moments when you’ll want to disconnect from the world. 

But don’t worry, you won’t be alone. Thank goodness for the internet and all the video calls that remind you that there’s no need to choose Vietnam or the UK – you can take a slice of both. Thank goodness for all the people that stay with you even though they were themselves struggling. They’ll give you some bright moments in this bleak time. Remember that, so you don’t feel like the whole of 2020 is a flaming mess. And you’ll do okay.

January 1st 2020 Madeleine was expecting her 20th birthday celebrations to be held at the Library Bar in Durham, surrounded by friends, lots of food and drink – an all round great start to the new decade. Sorry past Madeleine, but you thought wrong. Instead, you celebrated your birthday via Zoom (which you never would have heard of before March), with your friends appearing as pixelations on your laptop screen. 

You also thought you were going to book the cliché, but perfectly Instagrammable short trip to Paris during the Easter holidays. Instead of the Eiffel Tower being around the corner, I was greeted with Durham Cathedral  – staying in DH1 over lockdown was the safest option for me. However, this was nothing but a good thing. The expected 4 days with your boyfriend turned into 6 weeks, after deciding to live with him over the duration of the lockdown period. Living with my significant other has strengthened our relationship to such an extent, that even the ‘mundane’ tasks of washing up, doing the laundry and revision became transformed into an activity filled with laughter and fun. 

In a time filled with grief and uncertainty, lockdown truly made me treasure the times of normality. The mundane, the usual activities one does daily have now become truly appreciated. Lockdown may have stopped a holiday, or a birthday celebration occurring, but I have my health, my friends and loved one. For now, that is all I need.

Let me just start by saying you will have a new-found appreciation for loo roll. There shall come a time when it is perhaps the most desired commodity, and the looming threat of loo-roll-extinction exposes barren supermarket shelves where neat rolls of luxurious paper once happily sat in comfortable numbers.

In seven months’ time many things in your life are going to look considerably different, starting with your hair, which, inevitably along with 98% of the British population, you will have assaulted with scissors and numerous hair dyes. Lockdown will cause you to rethink (and then rethink the rethinking) about more than just your questionable new hair; lockdown will bring into question the ‘valued’ aspects of life. You know those parts of life that are the anti-Instagram; the everyday mundanities which we like to pretend actually don’t take place? Yeah, well that’s going to become life. For everyone. For at least four months.

The greatest gift (and curse) lockdown will give to you is time. You will absolutely never know what day it is or be able to recall a single thing you did over the entirety of lockdown, but this expanse of unabridged time forces you to get to know yourself. When you are wrapped up in a society which thrives on busyness, you don’t have the room to reacquaint yourself with yourself – the ‘you’ who you think you know is probably ‘you’ from about three years ago when you ‘found yourself’ in Thailand on your gap year. Maybe you are a Picasso in hiding, or maybe you ARE in fact destined to make it in your TikTok career, or maybe you will just realise that lots of the relationships, activities and things which you used to think were essential for your life actually aren’t – even toilet roll.

Image: Álvaro Serrano via Unsplash

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