It is very common these days for people to say ‘I’m having a quarter-life crisis’ but what happened in my 20th year is better described as one crisis after another, a train wreck and a life-changing absolute disaster of a year.
I started the year reliant on oxygen and knowing that I would be having two major heart surgeries that year, I expected that by April I would have fully recovered and no longer be reliant on the oxygen tank that I was dragging around with me. But you can’t plan for your health, especially when you have a chronic illness. Over the course of the rest of the year, I had pneumonia, 3 blood transfusions, over 100 nights in the hospital, 2 operations on my face, a brain abscess and brain surgery. This meant everything that I took for granted had suddenly been taking away from me; my independence, my place at university and my driving license. There were many times throughout the year where I thought that I had completely rock bottom, I couldn’t walk unassisted, my mum had to shower, toilet and dress me, I couldn’t feed myself or even use a straw or Tommy Tippy cup without spilling my drink everywhere. Luckily, I am very nearly back to normal and I can realise that although this year has been tragic and life-changing there have been good moments and I’ve learned a lot of lessons that I want to share today.
Lesson #1- Never Take Your Family for Granted
This may seem like an obvious one, but one that I didn’t quite appreciate as much as I should’ve until this year. At 20 years old you understandably feel like an adult in your own right, you might not have all of your shit together yet but your well on your way and you may feel like you need your parent less than ever. I felt the same until my health started falling apart this year and I realised that I was still a very scared, very hopeless 20-year-old child, not the adult I thought I was. There were times I needed help with absolutely everything and times I just needed a chat, a shoulder to cry on, someone to play cards with or one of my dad’s amazing home-cooked meals.
Lesson #2- Life Moves at Different Paces and in Different Directions for Everyone
When my health forced me to drop out of university in September, I felt like my whole world was over. Education was all that I had known for 15 years and to me, it felt like ‘dropping out’ or taking a break from studies that meant I would graduate a lot later than my friends was disastrous. After I’d calmed down, gained some much-needed perspective and spoke to some friends that hadn’t taken the conventional university route I realised that everyone’s lives move at different paces and go in different directions, especially in your twenties. I have friends that are graduating this year, friends that are starting university this year, friends that have been in jobs since they were 16 and friends that have just bought their first homes. Although I haven’t fully figured out what I want to do next, I now realise that that’s completely okay as long as I’m doing something.
Lesson #3- Focus on the Good Times.
Although this year has been very difficult and scary it also holds some of my best memories that I will not forget. This year I learned to squeeze in good times around the bad. Although I was in the hospital for a lot this year I still managed to holiday with my family, go on amazing days out with friends, have some of the best nights out ever and spend my 20th birthday in Paris with the love of my life. What I’m trying to say with all of this is bad things happen in everyone’s life, it is inevitable as death and taxes, but so do the good things and if we can make sure that the good memories outweigh the bad then we’ll get through it, I know I did.
Lesson #4- Give Back When You Can
Spending so much time in hospital this year made me realis that my story is not unique, there are young people up and down the country living with chronic illnesses that put them in and out of hospital quite frequently, and there are little to no resources to entertain us, protect our wellbeing and to make inpatient stays in hospital a lot less isolating. Because of this revelation, I decided to try and take something positive from this year and organise a charity spring ball and auction evening in order to purchase media devices, craft materials, toiletries, and a few other luxuries, to make young peoples stay in hospital more bearable.
Lesson #5- The NHS is Beyond Amazing
There is a lot of talk at the moment surrounding the standard of the NHS. This is what I have learned. Although the NHS service is underfunded, understaffed and overstretched, it never gives up on you ever. This year I have had 5 major operations that have saved my life, when things have gone wrong in the middle of the night doctors have pulled their selves out of bed to come and help me, and nurses who have dealt with crash calls, bad news and long hours were always there to make me better and to put a smile back on my face. It is the best service in the world, and we cannot lose it, it is simply amazing.