An Ode to lockdown

The first thing to do will be to say Happy New Year, congratulations for making it through 2021 and into a brand new year. I am writing this on New Years Day in isolation; I’ve hidden and escaped from COVID-19 long enough to expect it to make an arrival at some point. I tested positive in the dull period between Christmas and New Year, I thankfully have nothing major or terrifying to report. For me, it’s been predominately congestion and fatigue which made the arrival of the infection blend in with the existing Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Although on review, my nerve pain flare to a whole new high which is classic for an auto-immune induced neuropathy should have been the sign I needed. I am fully vaccinated, having been boosted weeks prior to the Christmas period. I cannot truly determine whether my mild interaction with COVID19 is a result of the vaccine but I am truly grateful that my experience was milder than experiences being bombarded to us on the news, social media and our social scenes. The truth is and this is what my quarantine period has told me, we do not know the way this virus can affect us; it’s evident with the number of cases all with varying severity markers. So, yes I have it mildly and can’t tell whether this is vaccine-related or whether the strain that is dominating the media more than Ghislaine Maxwell is milder than previous strains that have impacted our lives for the last two months. The week of isolation gave me an opportunity that was well overdue to reflect and sit with what has happened over the course of 2021.

2021 was a mixed bag of the good, the bad and the ugly. It is a shame that this has been the year that I have truly understood how you know who your true friends are during your time of crisis and distress. We all consider ourselves as good friends, we think we are there for our friends in their times of need but are we when push comes to it? If I am entirely true to myself, my decline in physical health took a pause – the crippling numbness and loss of function still exists and gives me grief daily but it’s not taken centre stage this year. So, the Oscar goes to my mental health. My mental health took a decline when I experienced bullying for the second time in my adult life. On reflection, it is more traumatic when an adult; as a child, you could give it back or even fight back if you were gutsy enough but in the real world there is no life jacket of a parent to resolve the situation. In the adult world, you do not switch off from it and in a world where working from home is the expected norm, it is even harder. The experience drove me to some dark and horrendous places where a human should not be driven to. I really wish the givers of nasty comments, insults and discrimination realised the impact of their words and actions. At the time of this distress, I saw hundreds of re-posts of an image that read ‘today you could be talking to someone who is trying their best not to fall apart. So whatever you do today, do it with kindness. This line did the rounds in 2021 shortly after a year had passed since Caroline Flack took her life but I fear we live in an age where it is much easier to re-post, re-tweet, or re-share the same statements without understanding and applying this into our daily actions and lives. During this deeply frightening time, I thought of ‘do I belong in this world? Am I good enough? What would the world look like if I wasn’t in it?’ It was a period of self-doubt, depression and constantly wanting the world to swallow me in whole in favour of waking up. When I reflect, I spent much of the year wanting to not be alive but was not at a point where I wanted to take my own life. It is a feeling that makes many headlines across the online blog like news forums. I hit a low where even Flo-Rida’s apple bottom jeans wouldn’t hit the low. During this dark space, I reached out to Shout, the crisis charity set up by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. The service works like Samaritans but via text to give users an alternative option when communicating their stresses, needs and concerns. I had an experience that was not just positive, but a reminder that these helplines are there to be used and can be effective in a moment of concern and worry. If for any reason you feel like you need someone objective to review your state of mind – I highly recommend the Shout team.

In all honesty, I am grateful that I continue to regularly sit down with a therapist with who I confide my darkest, intrusive and self-hating thoughts. I sense some of my family see a private therapist as a waste of time money and energy but for me, it is the self-care a Garnier sheet mask can’t facilitate. Unfortunately, hundreds of people do not have the privilege to reach out for this support due to the cost element whilst others sit on waiting lists to be given a route for support on the NHS. So, for that I am truly grateful for the access I have been able to have as a result of a job. I try to describe to people that therapy does not work in the way the American dramas and films depict; the therapist does not hand a manual over that tells you what to do on certain occasions. ‘Turn to page 6 when X happens’ Turn to chapter 12 when suicidal’. I know that I have always benefitted from speaking to an objective outside voice who has no relation to family and friends. When I first experienced anxiety, I used to speak with a school counsellor and used this service throughout secondary school so this talking therapy has always been effective and useful for the management of my mental and physical health.

Elsewhere, I finally had a consultation with a neurophysiologist who to me was a complete contrast to any neurologists I’ve had the pleasure of dealing with. An appointment at Kings College Hospital was truly astonishing. His microneurography tests proved that there was hyper-excitability in my large fibres which had gone unnoticed. This came shortly after being told my MRI scan was clear and did not have physical evidence of the pain I was enduring. When experiencing chronic pain or illness there is a dialogue centred on test results; society tells us that you want a normal test result. A normal test when enduring chronic pain and suffering is unhelpful and not useful because it feeds many existing tropes that chronically ill patients are hypochondriacs. I know that my neurologist is convinced that I am presenting no issues due to his immediate referral to a pain clinic, something I have declined and refused. So, a medical test proving this pain was a breakthrough and gave me the reassurance that I wasn’t imagining the physical pain I’d endured. Within the same quarter, I also had confirmation that I do have a wheat allergy which was something originally ruled out, those with good memories can remember the content I wrote on this exact same topic. You can read this still today. It is ironic because, at the time, I was told wheat wasn’t the problem so I went back to eating Greggs, Chinese and the other great stuff I’d gone without. Now, nearly four years later I am back to square one where I am on a wheat-free diet; since ruling out the stuff, I notice the difference between bloating and just energy although the slightest amount leaves my face with a rash and nasty feeling. It definitely feels easier to navigate this time around than in the early days when gluten-free bread was like cardboard so there are some strange silver linings. I am trying to not discuss my wheat allergy because I am aware it can be quite triggering to much of the eating disorder community.

I round the last months of 2021 in a new job, securing a new job during a pandemic definitely felt a strange experience but a feeling of pride nevertheless. I now work from home full-time and starting a new job from home feel peculiar not having the packed lunch ready or the sat-nav playing havoc with the journey. I feel relieved but am still navigating this strange world of imposter syndrome that still cripples me on a daily basis. I think perhaps it’s something that we have to work in favour of accepting and not trying to resolve the situation. In the same setting, I also featured on a podcast discussing my experiences with M.E. which felt an honour. I love podcasts and to be featured on one was exciting, you can stream the interview via Spotify or Apple Podcasts depending on your preference. It was an interview that gave me an opportunity to discuss my M.E. experience at length verbally and really speak my truth after years of wording the truth. We all know that thousands of people who have had a positive COVID-19 test could go on to develop Long-Covid which is being seen similar to the Post Viral Syndrome; linking directly into M.E so I continue to feel obliged in talking and discussing my experience of M.E.. I echo the same line that I used earlier into 2021 which was ‘if we had listened and began to understand the experiences of those living with M.E. we could have had a better grip on Long Covid. I know by discussing my experience that I can hopefully shed light on my journey and the symptoms I have had during my time.

I am not going to write an essay because this post doesn’t deserve War and Peace but it does deserve me to share a candid experience of my 2021 without wearing the rose-tinted glasses that Instagram Reels would want you to think. I’ve had some great highs whether I’ve written feature essays for publications, featured on a podcast, wrote for newspapers, been part of fundraising campaigns, got a pay rise, promotion or started a new job. I am not setting resolutions because I think they set unreal expectations for the New Year and unintentionally trigger intrusive thoughts and anxieties that could’ve been prevented in the first place. I will perhaps report back with my goals in the last few days I have off work to try and really set a focus for 2022.

Whatever you have planned for 2022, I wish you the very best happiness, health and peace.

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