Friday, 5 February 2021

Reflecting on 2020 and my Goals for 2021

It’s hard to know how to start this post after not updating my blog in so long, so I think I’ll just start by saying ‘hello’ again! Being quiet on here since July hasn’t been deliberate. I’ve desperately wanted to share posts and have a growing list of ideas of things I’d like to write about. I’ve just struggled to actually do it! A mixture of my health being decidedly rubbish since my major surgery in November 2019 and a global pandemic affecting both my physical and mental health haven’t made for a very productive Jenny. But one of my goals for 2021 (more on those later) is to really try and start getting some content out on here again, even if it’s just writing little bits here and there. So here I am with my first post of the year! And I thought a good place to start would be to just reflect a bit on the past year and then look forward to the year ahead.


Reflecting on 2020


Where do I even start with reflecting on the last year?! It’s certainly been a strange and scary one for most of us hasn’t it? I started 2020 having just had major leg surgery (a Femoral Osteotomy). I was spending the majority of my time sleeping, keeping dosed up on various painkillers and having regular physiotherapy. I saw 2020 as my year to recover – to gain strength, increase my mobility and to start doing some of the things I enjoy again as I started to get better. But I hadn’t planned for two things – one, that complications from surgery would make recovery increasingly difficult and two, that we would be plunged into a global pandemic. 


I always knew that the surgery came with risks (with added risks on top because of my Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome). But I think when you go in for any kind of surgery, you convince yourself that you will dodge these risks and that things will go smoothly – otherwise you wouldn’t go ahead with the surgery! And a lot of the time, things do go to plan. You have your surgery, it resolves the problem, you make a good recovery and generally your life is better for having that intervention. But occasionally, things aren’t quite so straightforward. And this seems to have been the case for me this time. 


The place where they broke my femur has actually been healing quite nicely (albeit rather slowly). But unfortunately, the surgery has affected my knee and nobody seems to know why. As the months have gone on, I’ve been struggling to bend my knee, have been getting a lot of pain and swelling in it and have been finding it hard to put much weight through my leg because of this. It’s been incredibly frustrating, especially as my mobility is now worse than it was before I had the surgery (which definitely wasn’t the plan – it was meant to try and improve it!) 


And unfortunately a global pandemic hasn’t helped matters, as it meant my physiotherapy had to stop and I struggled to get appointments with my surgeon. When I did eventually manage to see my surgeon in person, he let me know that because my appointment (and possible treatment) had been delayed due to Covid, there is a very real possibility that I may never regain the full use of my leg again. Devastated is definitely an understatement! I don’t blame my surgeon – he’s just as frustrated by the situation as I am and it’s not his fault we’re in a global pandemic. But I am obviously angry and upset at Covid for potentially losing me the full use of my right leg. 


I’m trying to stay as positive as I can in the hope my surgeon can find an answer and that I will see some improvement. But it’s not easy, especially when it’s still so difficult to access services because of the strain of the pandemic.


And that brings me on to the second significant thing that happened in 2020 – Coronavirus. It’s obviously been a difficult time for everyone, although we have all been affected in slightly different ways and perhaps some more negatively than others. I can only really talk about the effect it’s had on me and my loved ones, but I don’t want to dismiss the fact it’s impacted each and every one of us and that some people are struggling a lot more than others. 


For me, in some ways, I guess I’ve been kind of lucky in a strange, roundabout kind of way. Having been chronically ill for the last 17 years, often spending large parts of my time housebound, being put into Lockdown wasn’t a huge shock for me. Chronic illness had prepared me pretty well for not being able to leave the house. So while a lot of the world struggled to come to terms with staying at home for months on end, the chronic illness community didn’t see our day-to-day lives change particularly. 


Don’t get me wrong – it was really hard to suddenly hear everyone complaining about being ‘stuck’ at home, telling everyone that they didn’t know how they were expected to live like this for so long. It was strange to suddenly be surrounded by people living a life that you have lived for so many years without any recognition. All of a sudden things started to be made available to people who couldn’t leave the house. It was possible to work from home, medical appointments could be done via video call, virtual tours were made available for museums and gardens and communities came together to ensure those who were housebound had access to food, medication and company. 


For a lot of the chronic illness and Disabled community, these changes were a double-edged sword. In some ways it felt really great to see the wider world being made accessible for the first time. I have friends who were finally able to speak to a doctor after struggling alone for years because they weren’t well enough to get to a physical appointment. But it was also incredibly frustrating and hurtful to see these adaptations be put in place with such ease and speed. We have been asking for them for years and have either been ignored, or been told it simply isn’t possible. Imagine developing a chronic illness, asking your work if they will facilitate working from home to enable you to still do your job and then having to leave when they tell you that the job can’t be done from home. And then, to add insult to injury, someone else is given your job and is then given the adaptations needed to do the job from home. It was possible all along, but only when a situation arose that affected non-disabled people. 


I think the way Disabled people have been treated over the last year is one of the things that has affected me most during the pandemic (other than losing the majority of my medical care and the fear of myself and my loved ones getting the virus). I’ve been well aware of ableism growing up, having been Disabled since I was 15. But over the last year it has become so overwhelming that it’s been difficult to escape, even in the safety of my own home. 


Constant comments on social media like “Only the elderly and vulnerable will die,” “the vulnerable should just stay inside so the rest of us can get on with our lives,” “the vulnerable should take responsibility and protect themselves – it’s not our job to mollycoddle them” and “why should the majority suffer to protect the few” have been hard to ignore. 


Finally being able to leave the house and finding Disabled parking bays have been turned into queuing areas or toilets have been closed has made it even harder for Disabled people to access the world. And knowing that, in the first half of 2020, 59% of all deaths involving Covid-19 were among disabled people was terrifying to hear. 


This year, it’s just felt like things have gone backwards with our society’s attitudes towards Disabled people, and it’s been really sad (and quite scary) to witness. I know a lot of Disabled people have found this has taken a toll on their mental health (myself included). So I hope anyone who is reading this that has been affected in a similar way is doing as OK as possible at the moment. It hasn’t been easy (and it’s hard to see things improving any time soon) but you’re doing an amazing job simply getting from one day to the next, so please don’t be too hard on yourself. Apart from my family and friends, the one thing that has kept me sane over the last year is the amazing Disabled community I have found on social media. Perhaps I’ll do a blog post at some point sharing some of my favourite accounts, as feeling a part of a community who are fighting back, showing that being Disabled isn’t a negative thing and supporting each other through this has been a real lifesaver. 


Goals for 2021


So moving onto this year – I often find it quite difficult to set New Year’s Resolutions and goals to be honest. Being chronically ill, life can be pretty unpredictable and so it can get quite demoralising setting goals and then finding my health just won’t allow me to achieve them. Add into the mix a global pandemic, and it almost feels impossible to look ahead and find things to aim for that I know will be achievable. However, I do think setting myself targets is important, as it helps me to have positive things to focus on and gives me some motivation on those days where it’s seriously lacking! So this year, I’ve tried to set myself goals that I should be able to achieve regardless of what’s happening with the pandemic (and my health to a lesser extent). I’ve tried to focus more on self-care – doing things that I know will help me to feel a bit better physically and mentally – because I think that’s what I need right now. I thought I’d share them with you, partly to give myself some accountability, but also just in case it helps anyone else who’s trying to set goals but doesn’t know where to start. So, my goals/resolutions for 2021 are:


Go to bed earlier


I’ve always been a night owl, but since the pandemic hit, I’ve got into a really bad routine of going to bed far too late. In some ways it does work for me (I guess that’s why we get into bad habits, because they do serve a purpose, even if it’s not in the best way) but I also know that it’s not the best routine to be in because it leads to me getting up a lot later in the morning and generally just feeling pretty groggy. So I really want to get myself into a better routine of going to bed a bit earlier. I’m not saying I’ll be in bed by 10pm, as that just isn’t how my body works, but I do want to gradually bring my bedtime forward until I get to a place that feels right for me. And I’m hoping it will bring the added bonus of giving me a bit of time to start reading again before I fall asleep because at the moment, I’m just too tired to even try.


Get back to doing my skincare routine


I used to religiously follow a skincare routine of cleansing, toning and moisturising every day. But when I had my leg surgery, it kind of went out the window a bit and for some reason, I’ve really struggled to get back into doing it. I think part of the reason is because I’ve felt so rubbish since having my operation – I just haven’t really felt like doing anything nice for myself, partly through feeling physically unwell and partly through my mental health not being great. And this is something I want to work on because I know spending a few minutes each day giving myself some simple pampering can make a big impact on how I feel. Even if I start with something very simple – like putting a bit of moisturiser on – I want to get back into consistently making time to look after my skin.


Post on my blog more


So as I mentioned at the beginning of this post, things were pretty quiet on my blog during 2020. And it’s something I really want to change. My blog is where I first started creating content before I expanded to Instagram and YouTube, so it holds a special place in my heart. I love writing and taking photos – it just ended up falling by the wayside a bit recently as my energy was being used for other things. I don’t want to compromise on creating content for my other platforms, so I need to try and manage my time a bit better so I can start getting some more posts on here. Apart from my energy levels, I think one thing that continually stops me posting on here is not feeling like my work is good enough. Comparing my photos to other bloggers who take the most beautiful pictures, doubting myself over whether I have something interesting or useful to say and worrying that, because I can’t get out much, what I post won’t be interesting enough – I’m constantly telling myself that there’s no point in trying because it won’t match up to what other people are doing. But the more I think about it, the more I realise how ridiculous that all sounds. I follow a whole variety of content creators and the things that they post are so diverse, and that’s why I like them. And even if no one wants to read my ramblings, I enjoy writing them and taking the photos, so I think that’s the most important thing to focus on. 


Be open-minded about treatment for my leg


As I’ve talked about in this post, my post-surgery recovery from my Femoral Osteotomy has not been going to plan. To begin with, I was quite fixed with my ideas of what was causing the problems (I thought it was all down to the rotation issues with my lower leg, and believed that by having that corrected, everything would be fixed). But, with the help of my surgeon and other medical professionals, I’m starting to realise that it probably isn’t as ‘simple’ as that, and it may be a case of a number of problems going on that we have to deal with (i.e. muscle and nerve problems too). Because of this, I feel like I need to try and be a bit more open-minded about possible treatments I’m being offered. It’s not discounting that I’m likely to need further surgery at some point to correct the misalignment in my lower leg (and possibly sorting out my other leg at some point!), but just recognising that it’s probably not a straightforward issue and that I may have to have other treatments to get me to a place where surgery can be considered. 


Less mindless scrolling


It’s only fairly recently that I’ve realised just how much time I spend scrolling through social media on my phone and how much of a negative effect this has on my mental health. I definitely think it’s got worse since Covid came along – perhaps because there’s a bit more time, but also because I think I’ve got a bit drawn into reading comments on news articles on Facebook, which really isn’t good for my mood and anxiety levels! I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with social media – in some ways, I find it completely draining, while in other ways, I find it a great place to keep in touch with friends and to feel part of an amazing community of disabled and chronically ill people. So I guess I just want to make sure I’m using it more mindfully, in ways that make me feel good. I’ve already decided not to look at Facebook before I go to bed because I know it just triggers my anxiety and doesn’t help my brain to wind down. And instead of just scrolling and scrolling, I want to use the time I’m on social media to create more content, reply to more messages/comments and interact with users who make me feel happy and empowered. 


Be kind to myself


This last resolution is probably my most important one, but is also the one I know I’m going to find the hardest. I’ve never been very good at being kind to myself. It’s a major underlying theme of my mental health problems and I can trace it right back to my childhood. But I know it needs to change if I want to keep as well as possible. I know it’s a bit non-specific, but that’s kind of deliberate, as if I make it really specific, it will just be another thing I can use to berate myself when I don’t achieve it. I’d rather see it as an overarching theme, rather than a set goal. It could include things like not giving myself a hard time if I have a day where I don’t achieve one of my goals, letting myself start the next day afresh, cutting myself some slack when I’ve felt too exhausted/unwell to do anything but get out of bed and eat. There’s a never-ending list of little things I can do to just be a bit kinder to myself, so I just want to try and be more conscious of my thoughts and actions towards myself and to continually question whether I would treat a friend the way I’m treating myself. I’ve got a long way to go to get to a place where I accept and even love myself, but starting small and making the first step is the only way to start.

How did you cope with 2020? Do you have any goals for the year ahead? And do you have any advice that might help me with mine?