Nicholas A. Yager


A Mosaic of 2020

17 Jan 2021

2020 was an odd one. There was jubilation, and there was grief. There was frustration, and there was pride. While I have always been one to reflect, 2020 is the first year that I've collected a full year of mood tracking data. In this case, the data can paint a very accurate portrait of the rollercoaster ride that was 2020.

Figure 1: Daily average mood heatmap for 2020. Mood data was collected at multiple times per day on a 1 (Awful) to 5 (Rad) scale and aggregated at a daily grain. Significant days -- highlighted using red borders -- indicate the day my daughter was born (2/6/2020) and the day I was diagnosed with a bone tumor (10/13/2020).

Let's start with the absolute best part of 2020: the birth of my daughter. Being by her side as she has grown up this year has been exhilarating. Sure, there were sleepless nights and many diapers to change, but that doesn't begin to compare to the joy I feel when I hear her giggle -- to the pride I feel when she discovers something new about the world.

Figure 2: Daily average mood as a first-time dad. Mood data was collected from January 1 to March 31. This subset shows a reasonable baseline mood between 3.66 and 4 most days with days of peak happiness following the birth of my child. Days of particularly poor mood are related to lack of sleep.

Then the rest of the year happened. First: COVID. Not much to explain there. This is very visible in April and May as my average daily mood slipped further and further. This was compounded by my returning from paternity leave to a sudden work-from-home and an unexpected layoff at the office that impacted a number of my friends and co-workers. It's towards the end of this period that I started to feel some pain in my left knee when ascending stairs and going on hikes (foreshadowing). Eventually I started to adjust to the new scenario, but my primary coping mechanism was to throw myself into my work.

Figure 3: Daily average mood during the first wave of COVID. Mood data was collected from April 1 to June 30. This subset is heavily impacted by the global pandemic and job anxiety. My average mood recovered in June due to unsustainable working habits.

Unsurprisingly, next came burnout. While throwing myself into my job worked from May through July, it all caught up to me in August. By the time my annual camping trip at the end of August came around, I wanted nothing more than to disconnect from the world for a few days. This trip away from society was a bit of a wake-up call for me to make my workload more manageable and to renegotiate expectations on the projects I had been juggling. It's around this time that my knee pain started to worry me and I scheduled an appointment in October with an orthopedist.

Figure 4: Daily average mood while burning out. Mood data was collected from July 1 to September 30. This subset shows the destabilization of my mood as my work-life balance became unsustainable. This was characterized by a decrease in my average mood on both weekdays and weekends, as well as a decrease in the variance in my mood between days. My mood finally starts to stabilize at a decreased daily average in September.

On October 12, 2020, I was diagnosed as having an aggressive bone tumor in my left femur. At this point, the growth had destroyed ~50% of the end of my femur, and had started causing fractures along the length of the bone. Over the coming weeks I learned everything I could about Giant Cell Tumors of Bone. I combed through papers detailing the efficacy surgical adjuvants, meta-analysis on tumor recurrence rates. There were MRIs, x-rays, CT scans, and a biopsy. All there was left to do was remove the tumor. I'm glad to say that it has been a few months since the tumor was successfully removed and I'm well on my way to recovery.

Figure 5: Daily average mood after a tumor diagnosis Mood data was collected at between October 1 and December 31. These months exhibit extreme deterioration to my daily average mood, with most days averaging below 3.24. On our 1 - 5 scale, this would put most days as "Meh" at best. My mood only starts to recover after my mobility started to return after the surgery. I'm happy to report, however, that the last weeks of December included some of the most positively-scored days in 2020.

As I turn away from the year behind me and towards the year ahead, I consider what last year has taught me. It has it me that youth is not invulnerability. Extreme health issues can happen to those my age and I have the scars to prove it. It has taught me to reconnect with nature more often to quiet my mind and recenter myself. Most importantly, it has taught me just how precious time is. Once I could crutch around the house I spent every moment possible chasing my daughter, reading her books, and telling her terrible dad jokes. I'm lucky to have more time to spend with my family. I'm not going to waste it.

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