I Knew 2020 Was Going to Be a Rough Year for My Career. I Had No Idea How Bad.

I applied for over 100 jobs and dealt with a surprise lawsuit while grappling with a pandemic

Illustration of a woman in a protective mask, with clouds and lightning flashing behind her to illustrate anxiety and gloomy thoughts.
Illustration of a woman in a protective mask, with clouds and lightning flashing behind her to illustrate anxiety and gloomy thoughts.

Just over a year ago, I was sequestered inside my apartment, barely leaving if I could help it. In late February 2020, the pandemic hadn’t yet become a terrifying reality in Brooklyn, where I live, but the thought of opening my front door filled me with an all-consuming, existential dread. I had already put myself into lockdown mode.

For a number of reasons (but many of them career-adjacent), I’d already made up my mind that 2020 would be a lost year. My contract at the New York Times had just ended and finding another journalism job was proving difficult. An editor for a new media website asked me to meet him for coffee in SoHo and never showed up. A tech company looking to staff up an editorial team had me come in for at least half a dozen job interviews and an edit test. I was so confident it was mine to lose that I finally talked myself into saying yes to said job at Major Tech Company, if offered, even though I didn’t feel very good about it. But at the last minute they decided to “move in a different direction.” Another website asked me to do a time-consuming edit test and interview with their editor-in-chief, who then ghosted me for several months.

On and on it went. I soon grew very tired of this cat-and-mouse game, but I didn’t know what else to do, so I widened my search and ended up applying for more than 100 jobs in and out of journalism. I could freelance full-time, but I’d already decided it just wasn’t for me, especially when I was doing it from a place of desperation and financial precarity. Meanwhile, I watched helplessly as my paltry checking account balance dwindled.

But this wasn’t the entire reason leaving my apartment made me so anxious. In early 2019 I’d started, and ultimately decided to leave, a job helping to relaunch a news website. I was upset that a job I’d been so thrilled about didn’t end up working out. Time passed. Then, in January 2020, I received a letter of intent to sue on grounds of defamation related to how I left that job and spoke about it afterward on social media and in the press.

I soon grew very tired of this cat-and-mouse game, but I didn’t know what else to do, so I widened my search and ended up applying for more than 100 jobs in and out of journalism.

I felt so lost. I could barely pay my rent at the time, so I certainly couldn’t afford a lawyer. I spent days on the phone with different attorneys, unsure of how to explain my situation — I hadn’t even received a legal complaint yet, so I only knew the broad strokes of what I could assume I was being sued for. Then the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press told me they would defend me pro bono, a godsend when I was in a tough financial position. Covid became more of a reality as March began, and I anticipated that it was only a matter of time until I’d be served at home. My anxiety peaked as I kept an eye on national news, noting an uptick in clusters in the United States.

My depression worsened. I couldn’t get out of bed. I didn’t want to go out and see people and have to explain anything about my situation to them, or even worse, not explain anything to them and have to act like everything was fine.

I was terrified of everything that I didn’t know yet, part of a perfect storm of Bad Things that were seemingly looming over my head. I dreaded the general psychological unpleasantness of getting served. Everything about the legal system seemed designed to make me, a person who apologizes when someone else bumps a shopping cart into them at the store, feel bad by default. I could only guess how much worse a lawsuit was capable of making me feel.

My fears of the impending pandemic compounded these anxieties. Leaving my apartment became a tremendous production. On the occasion I would go run an errand I had to talk myself through the act of actually leaving my building. I had panic attacks almost daily. My method of preparing for the worst wasn’t panic-buying groceries and toilet paper, the way some people had done. I started pacing around my apartment and making a lot of soups and freezing them and sleeping very poorly. The walls of my apartment felt suffocating weeks before other people would come to experience the same feeling in their own apartments.

Now it’s a year later. The lawsuit against me has been dropped, and New York has a strengthened anti-SLAPP law, which provides an expedited legal framework for dismissing meritless lawsuits filed against people for the exercise of their First Amendment rights. (Thanks for the literal only good thing you did in 2020, Gov. Cuomo.) I thankfully have a job and a new apartment. My agoraphobia has mostly subsided. It’s finally started to be sunny and warm outside (okay, it’s 40 degrees) after weeks on end of snow and gray skies. I got the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine yesterday morning. I wish I could go back in time and tell 2020 me to hold out the slightest bit of hope for myself.

The walls of my apartment felt suffocating weeks before other people would come to experience the same feeling in their own apartments.

There is so much that needs to be fixed that’s bigger than me, and we’re still very much in the throes of dealing with the pandemic. I’m furious at our government’s nonresponse to Covid, and how plainly the pandemic has shown us that all of our institutions are embarrassingly weak in the face of actual disaster. People are out of work, out of money, completely burnt out. They don’t have access to decent health care without bankrupting themselves, and somehow our national decision-makers still don’t think that should be a human right, not even in the face of a pandemic that has killed more than half a million people in America. I feel so jaded having watched so much complete systemic failure in the face of so much tragedy — tragedy we’ve barely begun to process.

All I feel like I’ve learned over the past year is that we have to help each other. I’ve gotten more involved with local mutual aid over the past year, donating what I can to community funds or bringing groceries over to my community fridge. In the absence of governmental leadership, we’re all we’ve got.

i’m a freelance writer and editor. you can also read me in places like the new york times and vanity fair.

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