It seems like people spend every New Year's Eve these days dismissing the outgoing year as the Worst Year Ever, but 2020 truly was unusually bad. It was a particularly stupid election year; COVID-19 happened, there was that month everyone was watching Hamilton, etc. Did we really expect to come out of it without any weird problems? As we rise from the ashes of 2020, expect to have to deal with ...

Pet Separation Anxiety

When it started to look like we were gonna have to go all Cask of Amontillado on ourselves at the onset of the COVID-19 crisis, pet adoptions soared by about 34%. It makes sense: Everyone was terrified of being alone with their own thoughts, and babies take nine months and at least a temporary sex partner, so why not buy yourself a living security blanket who will never have to experience middle school and do something noble for an unwanted animal at the same time? Shelters literally couldn't keep dogs in stock. It worked, too: 93% of people surveyed said that their new cuddle monster was crucial to their mental health under lockdown. In fact, 80% of those people said they now preferred working from home.

MarlyneArt/Pixabay

“You are always my employee of the month.”

That's a problem, because pretty soon, those people are going to be forced to wear pants and leave the house sometimes again. It's going to be a weird adjustment for everyone, but especially for people who have spent the year bonding with a new family member who is unjustly discriminated against in most non-hippie indoor spaces, and they don't want to leave them for eight-plus hours a day. Again, it's very much like new parents who have spent a year on leave making a squishy new addition the center of their world only to be thrust back into the rat race as they hand the love of their life off to some daycare worker who's barely out of infancy themselves, except no one's going to laugh at you for feeling distressed about being separated from your child. Fur parent separation anxiety isn't quite so legitimized.

Seriously, Google "pet separation anxiety." No matter how you finesse those keywords, you'll get almost exclusively advice on how to deal with a pet who is feeling anxious about being left at home, not your own mental health. Even Google is telling you that only a creature with the emotional intelligence of a dog would be sad about the interruption of the owner-pet relationship, and no one needs that kind of judgment from a search engine. Fortunately (or further embarrassingly, depending on your perspective), the advice that is out there is largely the same: Start small with just five-minute separations, no emotional goodbyes, keep a routine, find a dog walker or daycare you're comfortable with, etc. You don't have to descend completely into Angela Martin territory with constantly monitored cat nanny cams, but we, for one, will not judge you if you do.

Vaccine FOMO

On April 19, 2021, all American adults became eligible for vaccination against COVID-19, but as anyone familiar with the phrase "eligible bachelor" knows, eligibility doesn't always translate to results. Manufacturers are making like Lucy and Ethel in the chocolate factory to keep up with the demand, appointment slots remain scarce in many cities, and it turns out not everyone is American. Even our neighbors to the north could only guarantee that everyone who wanted a shot would get one by the end of summer. While it's fun to brag to our Canadian friends that the U.S. medical system actually did something better for once, bragging during a pandemic is kind of a dick move, as many think pieces had already argued.

They're calling it "vaccine FOMO," the fear of missing out specifically on the opportunity to maybe faint in a Walgreens. It's similar to the jealousy, anxiety, and sadness you feel when all your friends are Instagramming from the club while you stay at home working on a project that could probably wait until Monday, but your life will be a lot easier if you don't let it, except they're photographing their vaccination cards alongside their overpriced drinks. Or maybe they're just tweeting a post-faint selfie with their cute little sticker, which we've normalized during the election process because no one has anyone to blame but themselves if they don't vote (mostly). One woman compared it to all your friends getting engaged before you.

Tumisu/Pixabay

“Do you accept?” “YES! Oh, God; I can't wait to tell my mom!”

Predictably, public opinion has split on the proper etiquette of the situation. Some advise those experiencing vaccine FOMO to cope on their own without infringing upon the human right to the selfie, while others think it's poor taste to boast just because you were lucky enough to have a qualifying medical condition or refresh the page at the right time. The good news is that vaccine FOMO is driving people who were otherwise reluctant to get vaccinated to give it a go just because they don't want to be left out. That's dumb as shit, but hey, whatever gets shots in arms.

Navigating State-By-State Marijuana Laws

The United States is a weird country consisting of, you know, all those states that have completely different cultures and laws, some of which are too small to properly label on a map and squished right up against each other. For example, let's say you moved to Seekonk, Massachusetts, just because it makes you laugh every time you say it, but the nearest urban center is Providence, Rhode Island, a short 15-minute drive away, so that's where you work.

You also like to toke up every now and then for reasons that are none of our business because Massachusetts is one of 11 states that have recently legalized recreational marijuana use. You're all good, right? Nope. As it happens, Rhode Island is not one of those states, so if your employer springs a drug test on you, you're as good as a common criminal. Now you're jobless, unhireable, and living on the streets or (worse) with your parents in a city that doesn't even have a funny name.

msqrd2/Pixabay

Basically, everything Reefer Madness predicted.

Of course, Rhode Island and many other states have at-will employment laws, meaning they can fire you for wearing the wrong color shirt if your boss is the wrong kind of eccentric and working (or driving or simply being in public) under the influence can be a serious issue. But marijuana is a unique substance when it comes to testing. Most are water-soluble, meaning they can be undetectable within hours, so if you pop dirty for opiates or alcohol, there's a pretty good chance you're blitzed right now.

Marijuana is fat-soluble, though, which means it can stay in your system for weeks. Maybe you smoked in the parking lot before your shift, maybe you ate a gummy three weeks ago because your partner refused to let you not watch Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga. No one knows, so you're fired and/or charged for something that was perfectly legal to do in your own home. God forbid you want to take your stash on a road trip. Get pulled over in the wrong state on your way to Vegas, and what was going to be an entertainingly regrettable weekend has now become just regrettable in a county jail somewhere in Utah, just as the Founding Fathers dreamed.

All Your Friends Have Podcasts Or Streams

In some ways, it's never been a better time for a deadly pandemic. In the plague days of yore, your quarantined ass could only write letters to your friends and hope you didn't hear back because the courier dropped their response in a swamp, but these days, you can just hop on XBOX Live. Hell, with everyone using their newfound free time to start podcasts and YouTube channels and Twitch streams, you don't have to do anything. Just sit back and listen as your friends tell you all about the movies they're watching, games they're playing, and politics they're raging.

The problem with that kind of one-way communication is that it's a really shitty way to maintain a friendship. Sure, it might feel like you're keeping adequate tabs on each other. After all, you're not saying or doing anything you wouldn't be saying and doing if you were in the same room. Your brain can't tell the difference between hanging out with friends or some dude on YouTube, but relying too much on the latter ends up making you feel lonelier, and podcasts specifically are really good at fostering an ultimately unfulfilling sense of false intimacy. Listening to your friend's Tiger King commentary makes you feel closer to them, so months can pass before you realize you can't remember the last time you asked them about their day. Fortunately, there's an easy solution: starting a podcast with your friends. You'll either get rich or strengthen your bond trying.

We're All Going to Have to Learn How to Socialize Again

For a lot of us, though, the pandemic has been a social godsend. Maybe you've always been the kind of person who doesn't really like to have contact with people outside your household to begin with, preferring to spend your Saturday nights watching a movie at home with your partner or family or roommates or just dancing around naked all by yourself. That's a perfectly legitimate way to be, but it's a fact of modern life that you can't avoid the rest of humanity indefinitely. Those damn extraverts aren't going to let us work from home and live on DoorDash forever, so at some point, we're going to have to officially leave the house, and when we do, we're going to be confused, angry messes barking at cars in the middle of the street because that's what happens to animals who get locked up alone for a year.

Specifically, a lack of social interaction impairs our ability to process emotions, speak fluidly, and remember things. You might be looking forward to a slutty summer but, once you actually find yourself face-to-face with another human, realize you don't remember what any of your friends look like, can't think of the right word for every other word, and curl into a ball of anxiety if someone so much as brushes past you. Before we knew it, experts were popping up on NPR to remind us to ask people questions about themselves, slowly expand our social circles so we don't overwhelm our stupid little brains, and visit familiar places so we can wander around like Robin Williams after 30 years in Jumanji.

Fortunately, the human brain is pretty resilient, so for most of us, it won't take long to reacclimate to eye contact. If you have a tendency toward social anxiety or agoraphobia, though, your problems are likely going to be worse than they were when all this started. You may be vaccinated against COVID-19, but your inoculation to other people has been wiped out, so you're basically starting from scratch as far as social anxiety goes. You might also find that your previously irrational fear of public places has become very rational, and one that doesn't easily go away just because someone tells you it's safe now, on account of, you know, the irrational nature of agoraphobia. This doesn't mean we can't still rub against each other en masse like rave bunnies. We just have to accept that it's going to be more like a middle school dance for a minute. Oh, and consider buying shares in Talkspace.

Top image: Congerdesign/Pixabay, Bernard Hermant/Unsplash

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