The Word of the Year for 2020: Denial Ain’t Just a River

Catherine Lanser
3 min readNov 25, 2020

They say denial ain’t just a river, but 2020 has been flooded with it. From COVID debunkers to a president who won’t concede the election, 2020 is the crazy man at the podium who refuses to admit his hair dye is running down his temple.

But I don’t even mean all of those obvious dismissals. I have seen myself avoid the truth in much more personal ways this year. It shows up in the things I don’t see, like the piles of manila files that were stacked on the kitchen table for months. They were a reminder of how, like so many others, suddenly one day, my husband stopped going to work. As the months dragged on, the files blocked half the table and made us uncomfortable on the other side. We weren’t necessarily avoiding finding a permanent place for them, but with so much uncertainty, why deal with it?

President Nixon wearing a “lei” at his welcoming ceremony for his Hawaiian stopover

It’s like the effect that quarantine eating and the reduction of exercise has had on my waistline. Sure I noticed the pounds creeping up, or maybe the scale was broken. Plus, I could justify them because these were special times. I needed comfort. And, if I got sick, the extra pounds might save me. I’m sure they would fall off easily in a few months when this was all over.

I’ve also been soothing myself with a dream of a vacation. We booked a vacation for last June that never happened. Luckily, we can reuse the airline tickets. I’ve planned three or four vacations in my mind since that time. I can now tell you everything you need to know about traveling to Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, or taking a road trip to Arizona, Nevada, and the Grand Canyon. Currently, I’m crossing my fingers for a trip to Mexico next year or maybe Hawaii if that doesn’t pan out.

Why Denial is So Comforting in 2020

Psychologists say we use denial when we can’t deal with what’s going on in our lives. Addicts use it to minimize and rationalize their actions, and to deceive themselves.

But people also use denial to avoid the bad things that are going on in their lives. And 2020, had plenty of that. Why not choose to ignore the facts and our actions and live in a world of fantasy?

But sooner or later, you see what you’ve been denying. You see the files on the tables or you realize that all your clothes couldn’t have shrunk. And if you don’t someone else does. Then it’s time to think about why you didn’t want to see what you were hiding from yourself.

Seeing things clearly can be hard. But it doesn’t have to hurt if you give yourself a little grace. I know it’s early, but maybe that should be the word for next year.

Originally published at on November 25, 2020.



Catherine Lanser

Narrative nonfiction and memoir. Querying my memoir about my family, told through the lens of brain tumor.