Three hundred and sixty-five days. 365. A year.
I’ve tried as much as possible not to measure events in my life by time, like mum says, it helps no one. But, I’ve been back in the UK for a year today and that is a milestone. It’s a long time. I’ve watched one of my best friend’s little boy experience his first year of life and witnessed all the things he’s learnt to do. Life passes us by in a flash really and this year has made me slow down and take stock of what’s really important. In the grand scheme of things a year isn’t the end of the world I know; I’m only 30 and have many years ahead of me, yet, this is also the point that I struggle with. I know I haven’t “lost” a year of my life, believe me I’ve lived through every single day of it, but I feel like I’ve lost a year in terms of what I should be doing at my age.
As always, I have tried to combat every negative thing I can think of that’s happened in the past year with something that has been positive and actually, the more I’ve thought about it the happier it made me. Being forced to slow down and have time to think and assess life has been a good opportunity. So here are my year’s pros and cons!
Firstly, I haven’t worked full-time for a year. I miss my job, I still resent not being able to properly finish my time in Dubai and I hate the fact that for the first time ever, I’ve doubted whether teaching is something I want to eventually return to. I’m so lucky to be able to be doing two hours a week at my old school, reading 1:1 with children and don’t get me wrong, I love that and it’s started to build my confidence. Actually, I can still make a difference and I do adore working with children. But seeing the stress that my friends and colleagues are under panics me. It saddens me to see people I love so swamped by paperwork, percentages, facts and figures rather than being able to totally focus on the important part – the children. I am just unsure whether this has been a wake up call to lead me down a different path because teaching isn’t for me?
That thought terrifies me but then on the other side of the coin is the fact that because I haven’t been at work, I’ve discovered my love for writing. I will be forever thankful to Claire for encouraging me to start blogging. It’s enabled me to be totally open and honest in a way I otherwise wouldn’t have been with not only myself but with the people in the my life. Since starting the blog last December it’s given me some purpose, it’s something manageable I’ve been able to do – a little every day or as and when I’ve wanted/needed to. I’ve never written it thinking about who may read it, in a selfish way it’s been for me and me alone. I’ve written a daily diary since 1998 which has always been my way of processing things and ensuring I don’t bottle things up and the blog has been an extension of that. It’s just been an amazing bonus that people have read it, enjoyed it and supported me along the way.
This year has given me the time and material to write a children’s book which I am in the process of trying to get published. But the exciting thing is the door that’s opened in the process. One publisher loved my story but couldn’t take on any new authors this year however, said they were looking for authors to write books for titles they had. This was all new to me – I suppose publishers see gaps in the market and come up with titles and then find authors to write for them! I had to pitch three ideas for the title which they then presented to the bosses against other authors who had also submitted ideas. And amazingly, one of my ideas was chosen! I have since written the book and been through the editing process and now it’s being illustrated and will be published at some point next year! Okay it isn’t the book I hoped would be published BUT it will still be my writing, in a children’s book which has always been a dream and I can’t wait! It’s a step in the right direction so fingers crossed the next step is getting my manuscript published!
Alongside not working comes the not earning money scenario and this has been one that’s plagued me more than most other things. I’ve always been fiercely independent. Money for me was a way of making sure I could live but also treat and support my family and friends. Not having a penny to your name is something I never considered for my life. It’s meant I’ve encountered feelings I’ve never had before; I know it’s not my fault, but I feel ashamed and embarrassed to have to ask for help from my parents. I hate it with every fibre of my being. They know and I know that I will pay them back every penny but for me, that doesn’t help, I hate it. But nthis situation has meant I’ve found pleasures in other ways that don’t involve spending copious amounts of money. My poor friends have received homemade gifts for presents, I’ve picked up hobbies like my writing that don’t cost a thing and baking which doesn’t cost an arm and a leg. It’s the little things that count and it’s made me appreciate them even more now.
When I was working and earning, there was always more that I wanted to aim for. Another country I wanted to travel to or something I wanted to save for and treat my self to. Always something I would see that I’d want to buy for someone. But not having money has made me realise that is isn’t the money that brings the happiness. It’s the people who you want to experience those holidays with, the people you want to spend time with – that is what is worth more than money. I will always want to travel and treat myself and others but I will be more mindful about it. Money enables us to do things and with that brings happiness but money isn’t the catalyst for happiness, we are.
Last week I decided to finally give in and try to see what benefits I may be entitled to. Well, what an experience that was! Again, I can laugh now but that phone conversation was hellish. The guy was so rude I couldn’t believe it! Some of the questions had multiple choice answers but were so misleading, on a few I got confused and stumbled a bit,to which he exclaimed, “you’ve obviously never applied for benefits before!” Well actually, no I haven’t! I explained how I’d always had a job and that I didn’t want to abuse the system but after a year and going through all my savings and eating into my mum and dads, I should look into it! He also felt it necessary after asking about my marital status to say, “hmmm, 30, single and unemployed,” followed by a little chuckle!!!! SERIOUSLY?! I almost said, “yup, bald as well!” And when I declared the costs of my property and the rent I was getting from subletting, he couldn’t help but tell me how amazed he was that someone would pay that “for a flat.” I promptly told him I was a professional and that the people who rent are professionals who work hard to afford a decent place to live, but what I wanted to say is – it’s none of your bloody business you rude bastard! What a phone call!
This year has also highlighted things I took for granted. Driving for example; I am now driving a little further than I have done previously but even then the furthest I’ve driven is Swanley. There are days when my ankle hurts too much to drive or I know that I’m too tired to properly concentrate. Not being able to get in the car and drive to see friends or do things is so frustrating. Then there’s things like going shopping or going to London or eating out or going to the cinema. I now religiously carry my ear plugs everywhere. I’ve got a new-found respect for autistic children who explain how horrendous it is when there’s too much noise, it’s indescribable. It is like my ears pick up on every single thing that is occurring in any given place and I then can’t focus on a conversation, it’s exhausting and it’s painful. I find myself wishing myself home to a quiet bedroom or place where I can control the noise. I look like Greta Garbo whenever I go out now because my light sensitivity is so bad I need sunglasses on!
I just miss being spontaneous. Popping out, seeing friends, not worrying about how tired I feel and knowing that I need to pace myself. If I could be out doing things, either alone or with friends I would. It’s made me re-evaluate how much time I spent doing work and not spending time doing things with people I enjoy spending time with. I know that when you’re living “normal” life, it can be so hard to get that work life balance but as and when I get stronger and better, I will definitely get my priorities sorted and ensure that my life isn’t dominated by work. There is just so much more to life than that.
This year has made me see who my friends are and has made me start to say “no” and do things that enrich my life and theirs. I haven’t done a whole lot this year but the things that I have done and that I have spent my spoons on have been amazing. I cherish those days and moments so much more than things I’ve done in other years because they’ve all been with people who I now know I have an equal relationship with. They know I’d do anything for them and I know they’d do the same for me. It’s refreshing.
There are some things that I can’t pitch a positive against like the whole hair situation. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, people who I see on social media with alopecia that embrace it and say it’s part of them and they are happy, I admire them. I feel like I have embraced the bald now but although it is part of me and I don’t feel as embarrassed anymore, I continue to detest it. Living with alopecia isn’t life threatening but it is life changing and rightly or wrongly I still have all my hopes pinned on the day that my hair will return. But as I write this paragraph I’ve thought, there is a positive – it has made me stronger. I’ve had to encounter social segregation and ignorance and verbal attacks that have shocked and upset me. But through my blog I have spread awareness for the condition but also developed an invisible armour around myself to field off any idiotic comments or stares.
I was wearing this armour the other week when I received a phone call from the estate agents outside Holland and Barretts. As I was on the phone a man walked past whilst staring in shock at my head – so much so I thought he was going to trip over the bin ahead of him! But I stared him out until he silently apologised and scurried away. Then to my utter dismay another man approached and did the same. So I stared back but this time, he stopped and approached me. My heart was thumping because I obviously expected the worst, but as he got closer he said, “I’m so sorry for staring, you’re just so beautiful!” Talk about a chink in my armour, it made me realise that not all stares will be for negative reasons and maybe I really can pull of the bald!
When I saw mum and dad at the arrivals gate a year ago, I had never felt relief like it. I was safe. And I continue to feel that way a year on. My family is just beyond words. Everyone thinks their family is the best and that’s only right and I don’t dispute that but I just know that my family are my best friends and have been my rock. I already knew that but they have gone above and beyond this year and there really are not enough words to express my love or gratitude to them.
I am back in limbo a bit now whilst waiting for more specialist appointments but I do feel hope for the first time. The specialist at Kings was and continues to be amazing. She’s made me feel like they are doing all they possibly can to get to the bottom of whatever is going on and get me better. This has been the positive to oppose the negative feelings that are unfortunately creeping in about my GP. If you don’t know what’s wrong, just say. Do a referral, hold yours hands up. Just. Be. Honest. If my GP had done that months ago when we questioned if a specialist was the way to go, I would be much further along at this stage. But, I’m not and there’s no point in dwelling on it but it makes me sad and angry and definitely more prepared to fight for my cause than I was before.
So, there it is. My year. A truly crappy 365 that has uncovered so many wonderful things that I wasn’t aware of or didn’t appreciate as much as I should have. Making your own sunshine, as cheesy as it is, really works. A year ago I came home and cried and revealed my increasingly big bald patch but a year on I learnt how to use a power drill and used it to carve my pumpkin whilst being all wrapped up sitting at the patio table breathing in the fresh air. Now, it may not be how I’d have spent a half term before but you know what, it was bloody good fun!