The 2021 (What a) Year In Review

“I can’t wait to see 2021 gone. Next year – “
“Don’t you say it!” I screamed. “Do not say anything about 2022! I don’t want to hear that it’s going to be better. I don’t want to hear to watch out because it’s twenty-twenty, too.” I made contemptuous air quotes to emphasize that I did not appreciate the pun at all. “I don’t want to hear want to hear one word about the new year! We’re just going to sit here quietly, and hope it doesn’t notice us.”

My coworker chuckled with the kind of laughter that wavered between genuine amusement and hysterical terror. Her smile became strained as she realized what a number of other people had already agreed:

2021 was much harder than 2020.

Pandemic aside – and I cannot believe that I’m brushing a frigging pandemic aside, but I am – 2021 was an intense tornado of events and emotions for not only myself, but for quite a few members of my framily*. I mentioned in the beginning of 2020 that I felt the weight of all the work I had to do. 2021 was the year I did it. That’s not to say that I didn’t work hard in 2020 because I did – if I hadn’t busted my ass for the latter half of 2020 I wouldn’t have been able to accomplish what I did this year – but that was more part of my health journey, which is a post in itself. I touch on my health in this YIR of course, but this is more about the many things that happened around it because 2021 felt like it was three years.

January

I returned to school full-time which was terrifying. Up until this point, I had been taking one course at a time – sometimes none – because my health was so precarious. Also, the prior courses had been prerequisites, and though I still pushed myself to get A’s, I didn’t feel the need to distinguish myself. The courses this semester were in “my” field, so I didn’t want to just do well, I wanted to excel.

I updated my physical therapy to build muscle. Here again, this wasn’t something that I was doing new, but something that I was finally building on. I’d been doing physical therapy since July, but I started adding more resistance with tighter bands and weights in January.

About half of my hair, which was nearly as long as my waist, broke.

February

I made a few more adjustments to my physical therapy in February, but for the most part, this month was spent doing homework, and constantly looking in the mirror to figure out if I should just cut my remaining hair immediately, or wait until it grew a little more.

March

I got vaccinated against COVID. There were a lot of emotions attached to this, and sadly some of the darker things I’d been feeling, things that I thought I was finished feeling now that I was protected against dying from the virus, have become valid again. I never fully worked through them, and now I’m glad that I didn’t waste the time trying.

I cut my hair. The reason I had considered waiting was because I grow my hair out to donate it. I like to donate 12 inches because most kids request longer wigs, and chopping that much now meant that my hair would be shorter than I’d ever had it. I finally just did it. The chop might have been less traumatic if I’d tried to have it cut into some kind of style, but I was already feeling ugly and frankly did not give a f*** at that point.

April

There were some familial changes that I don’t want to examine in public, but they were pretty cataclysmic.

I started an autoimmune flare that would last about six weeks. Not only was it the longest flare I’ve ever experienced, it was the most painful because my kidneys became inflamed twice during it.

May

I finished my first full-time semester of school. It was the first time in twenty years.

My GPA became 4.00. Long story short, I’d been carrying 5 F’s in my GPA because I didn’t formally withdraw from classes over twenty years ago, when I was an 18 year old who was recovering from brain damage. I’ve achieved A’s in all my classes since then, but it was not reflected in my GPA. The school finally approved expunging the F’s from my transcript.

The company I work for moved the office for the first time. Renovations in the new office wouldn’t be finished until September, but the executives were dead-set against renting a few additional months at our current office, so they rented a temporary space in the new building.

My company hired another person to do the brunt of the work in my former position, and I began training in earnest to help/cover for my coworker in Finance.

I managed to sell off about 500 trade gallon-sized plants of my nursery stock. I’ve had to accept that even a small nursery is too much for me, so I had my first open sale since COVID, and thank God for my mother’s help because we sold that many in about five hours.

The flare continued…

June

I had another plant sale that moved about another hundred plants. (My plants really are bomb, and I do it without chemicals because I’m really a witch.)

The first Summer semester began. A fun note here is that I did not realize these were six-week accelerated courses.

I completed my 100th documented physical therapy session. I shared this on Twitter, and everyone was very sweet about it, but I had to delete the tweet. Ironically, it was because I was receiving compliments about my weight, and they were putting me in an unhealthy mental state. I’ll just leave it at that.

I got two bathing suits. Yes, this is big news for me.

July

My coworker went on vacation and I covered for her. I had been seriously sweating this for over a year, so much so that I put off re-piercing my bellybutton because I didn’t want to worry about soaking it while covering for her.

Summer classes session one ended making it the first time I had completed two semesters of school in a row.

Summer classes session two began.

August

I had a lot of support, but I chose this text because this person NEVER curses lol.

The mental crash that started in June picked up speed.

I was in limbo at work. After my coworker came back from vacation, no one could decide how much of whose work I should do. I really didn’t know what to do with myself.

COVID numbers began to rise. I’d spent months buried in schoolwork and learning someone else’s job, just waiting to get through to spend a day at the shore, and when I looked up, the Delta variant and the likelihood that immunocompromised people needed a third vaccine meant it wasn’t safe for me. I had a difficult time with this.

My healthcare provider said some pretty fucked up shit that I’m still processing.

Summer classes session two ended.

September

The Fall semester began. My advisor assured me that taking three English course wouldn’t be more than I could handle.

A company’s finances are somewhere in there.

My coworker gave her two week notice, it was a given that I would stop doing anything related to my former position, and pick up her work. I had been taught just the basics of her job to keep the office running while she was on vacation, and I now had less than two weeks to learn what she did as full-time employee, who had been there for years, and had a degree in Accounting. I was assured that I wasn’t expected to do that much.

My company’s office moved for the second time. Not only was the furniture not installed yet, but the move happened during the last three days my coworker had with the company. You know the expression “you don’t know what you don’t know”? Well, I didn’t know anything, and I didn’t know which box it was packed in either.

I randomly mentioned making ghosts out of chicken wire in a Twitter response, and it exploded. That goofy tweet is probably the only thing I’ll ever write that will achieve some measure of success, and I alternately laugh and cry when I think about the reality of that. There was enough interest that I created a TikTok account to show how I make them.

I got my COVID booster.

October/November/December

(I’m lumping these three months together because they were so hectic that I never had time to look up to see what week it was. October 1st was my coworker’s last day and the date that I had three papers due, and the next thing I knew it was Christmas Eve.)

The assurance of my advisor that three writing courses wasn’t more than I could handle was wrong.

Tell me you’re stressed without telling me you’re stressed. (My cardiologist is pissed.)

The assurance of my employer that my coworker’s job wasn’t more than I could handle was wrong.

I learned that somehow people who have actually conversed with me, still vastly overestimate my intelligence.

I somehow became responsible for the finances of a million dollar company when I don’t have my associates degree in anything much less Finance, have never done any accounting, and barely knew the financial software. That said I learned Quickbooks desktop, then I learned Quickbooks online. I learned how to process contractor payments, pay taxes, calculate IRA contributions, do international wire transfers, S corporation shareholder distributions (kind of), business expense, employee reimbursements, and a whole bunch of other stuff that I’m guessing I did correctly since the Feds haven’t smashed through the doors. Yet.

I completed a semester with three writing courses. Never again. At least not until I’m able to compose a two page essay without agonizing for hours over word I type.

I wrote a poem that my professor loved. She asked if she could forward it to the head of the Literature department because he is part of some publishing group in Boston, and she believes he would be interested in my work. So there’s a teeny-tiny possibility that I could get published, through my poetry of all things. I haven’t heard anything more though, so I’m still banking on that Tweet being the highlight of my literary career.

You can see how much of my hair broke now that it’s growing back.

For the first time ever, I made it through my first full year of school. Though it was Spring into Fall, I completed two regular full-time school semesters in a row. I’m sure that’s nothing for most people, but last year at this time I was terrified and looking for an excuse to not return to school again, and here I am on the other side. I still choke up when I actually think about that because I can’t believe I did it.

My hair has grown back about eight inches.

And that was 2021.

As much as I don’t like to admit it, there have been times in my life that I’ve given up. There were moments in 2021 when I felt like doing it again, and I’m so thankful for the loved ones I have who told me to keep going, and for God pushing me through when I didn’t have the strength to do it myself. I love you all so much.

I don’t really have many expectations for 2022. I meant it when I said that I’m not attaching anything to the coming year. For starters, I don’t think I could accomplish more than I did in 2021, and I’m still too tired from it all to try. But I know that I want to finish my first “normal” school year with a Fall and then a Spring. I want to write more poetry**. I want my hair to keep growing. I want to pitch somewhere to write an article how to help hair regrow quickly – I actually wrote those kinds of articles once. I want to sell the rest of my plants. I want to make my abdominal and glute muscles stronger to take more pressure off of my back. I want to go to the shore.

I think that’s a good start.

*Framily – The family you choose, and the ones who chose you
**This link might be dead because I’d unpublished the poetry I shared on here before, but if anyone wants to read them, I’ll retry to resurrect the posts.

I Don’t Know

June 30 was the year anniversary of doing physical therapy to try to straighten my spine.

Actually, no. At that point we didn’t know how badly my spine was twisted, so I had to do physical therapy for six weeks to satisfy my insurance company’s requirements to get the MRI that would reveal the damage in my spine, hip, and pelvis. It wasn’t until after the MRI and being told what kind of physical limitations to expect that I decided to prove them all wrong. Nothing motivates me more than other people trying to tell me what I can’t do.

So, I’d been planning on making a video about what the journey this past year has been like, but in true chronic health condition fashion, my kidney decided to flare up and that killed any plans I had about anything. To be honest, that in itself conveys the the road I travel better than any video of me sweating, swearing, and crying my way through a year of physical therapy ever could. I do know that I’ve made huge strides in the past twelve months, and I’m incredibly thankful to God that He brought me further than I ever thought I could go, but I feel like a video would send the wrong message – that there is an “end” to all of this. That seems to be the consensus of opinion based on the questions I’ve been dealing with for the past few weeks regarding The Future. I feel like if I shared the details of how I built up enough muscle strength to stand straight despite my twisted frame it would only be met with a thousand comments of, “Great! Now what are you going to do with it?” And here’s the answer:

I don’t know.

“How many more hours can you work before it messes up your health insurance?”
“Not many, but I don’t know.”
“We might be able to compensate for it. What’s your medical cost?
(I wasn’t sure if this was a question regarding the cost of my health insurance, or how much it would cost if I had to take a cheap plan with a huge deductible, but it was the same answer either way.)
“I don’t know.”

“You’re feeling better and the world is opening up again, so what are we going to do this summer?”
“I’d like to go to the beach, but my heat intolerance hasn’t been tested in a while, so I don’t know.”
“You shouldn’t be out in the sun like that anyway. And you can’t ride the rides. Or eat the food, so what would you even do there?”
“I don’t know.”

“Kat, our bookkeeper is planning on retiring in the near future and we thought that you could take over for her. When do you think your health issues will be resolved enough to do that?”
(Ignoring the assumption that I even want this.)
“My health issues aren’t ever going away. They’re just coming under better control. I don’t know if I’ll continue to improve or if this is it.”
“Well, when will you know?”
“I don’t know.”

“That’s great that they finally fixed your GPA, Kat. When are you going to be done with school?”
“Well, it depends on how many classes I’m able to handle without putting myself under too much stress that I start to flare, so I don’t know.”
“Well, how much stress can you handle before that happens?”
“I don’t know.”

“We’re ordering food. Can you eat anything from Adolfo’s?”
“I’ll have to look at the menu because I don’t know.”

“The cabinet is overflowing with prescription bottles. Why doesn’t your insurance allow you to get a three month supply of your medication?”
“I don’t know.”

“You’re really thin! What size do you wear?”
“I don’t know.”

“I don’t want to waste my life with this job. I have too many other interests to explore. My dream is that you start working with me, and then I cut my hours, and then I fade away and you take over. But I don’t know what your dream is. What do you think?”
The words “I don’t know” were on the tip of my tongue. They swelled in my mouth, pushing against my teeth to get out, but I refused to say them another time. “I don’t know” became a lump in my throat that I couldn’t swallow, and still I clenched my jaw shut, choosing to choke before I’d let that bloated phrase escape from me again. I pursed my lips together, trying to hide the effort in a determined smile when I felt “I don’t know” shiver up my cheeks and into my eyes, pooling and spilling over before I could stop it. The words streamed down my face in two plaintive statements.

I don’t know. I don’t know.

I clamped my eyes shut to keep them from saying any more, but they continued to seep on both sides.

I don’t know. I don’t know.

I blinked furiously trying to bat the words away, and instead it was an arm ushering them into the world, “Ladies and gentlemen…”

I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know.

And then people became upset because they thought I was crying when it was only “I don’t know” running down my face, collecting into a puddle of uncertainty that seeped across my notebook.

“Kat, what’s wrong? What is it?”

I don’t know.

PT Session #117

Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow aka Thanks Again 2020!

I knew that the week of January 17th was going to be insane. I had immunotherapy on Monday, and then classes started on Wednesday, which was the same day as the inauguration – and I know I wasn’t the only one who was stressed about that. Given all of this, and the fact that the first two weeks of January had been insane, I said that I didn’t consider 2021 starting until after Biden became president. Well, that was a mistake because 2020 saw that it had extra time to do something shitty, and so it did.

On Sunday of that week I had my cousin* trim my “pandemic hair” because, even though I was growing it out, it was looking really ragged after not being cut for over a year. After my cousin trimmed about four inches of ratty ends off of my hair, I decided to cover my silver while I was at it since I was also going to be adding another year to my age that week too. After doing that I was too busy to pay any attention to my hair again until the end of the week when the dye had set enough to wash it. It wasn’t until I went to pull my hair back into a ponytail the morning after I had washed it that I noticed there was a lot less hair to gather than before.

“What the fuck?” I muttered as my hair band wrapped around my ponytail several more times than was required before to hold my hair in place.

Unfortunately I had been getting ready for a Zoom class at work and this was the moment that my professor decided to let me into the meeting and, though my video was off, my microphone was on. It was enough to take my mind off of my hair for about five minutes because throughout the entire session my hand kept reaching back to grip my thin ponytail, hoping it would magically feel normal. When class finally ended I ran into the hall to look at my hair in the mirror there, and it only took a glance to tell that something bad had happened to it.

In the midst of this crisis my phone was blowing up – because this happened to be on my birthday – and I could feel my abdomen beginning to cramp as I tried to field well wishes through my rising panic over my follicular situation, which meant the stress of everything was sending me into a flare.

A few hours later I was able to go home and show my mother my ponytail to get her opinion. I really, really wanted her to say that it looked fine, but she was honest and agreed that my hair looked a lot thinner. 

“Is it the way that it’s cut?” she asked.
“No, she literally just did a plain blunt cut to remove the dead ends,” I told her. “Nothing like layering that would change the way it looked.”
“Do you think it was from your immunotherapy?”
“I don’t think so. I’ve had enough times, and never noticed any hair loss before.”
“But you’ve been having reactions during your treatment. What if it’s from that?” she asked.

My mind was racing as I tried to think of all of the things that might have caused my hair to suddenly disappear. Was it because I was underweight? Or because I’d been very anemic since Christmas? I did notice that I’d been shedding a little more hair than usual, but this was so dramatic it didn’t seem likely. Was it the hair dye? It was the same one I’ve used for several years, though in a darker color, so I didn’t think it could be that.

“I don’t think you shouldn’t continue the immunotherapy anyway,“ my mother pressed on. “There has to be another treatment that won’t give you anaphylaxis.”

I shook my head because we’d been through this discussion a number of times. “My insurance won’t cover another option. You know this. It’s either deal with the reaction, or rely on pills that make me feel like garbage every week when I take them. The immunotherapy is only one day of feeling sick every six weeks. And it hasn’t killed me yet.” I paused. “But if it is what’s causing me to lose hair then I might rethink it.”
My mother looked at me.
“Yes I will accept the possibility of having a lethal reaction to my treatment but I will not accept losing my hair!” I huffed, then stomped down to the bathroom and closed the door. 

It was the first time that I was alone and could really examine my hair at all angles. The mirror above the sink was long enough to see down to the tops of my legs so I twisted around to see how my hair looked down my back. I could easily see the grey of my shirt through the thin curtain of hair laying against it. And yet I still couldn’t believe I was really seeing correctly. I ran my fingers through the hair on my scalp. It didn’t seem any thinner there, but as I continued down just past my ears there was a dramatic difference in volume. It was like half of my hair broke off from there.

I took my hands out of my hair and just stared at myself. Staring back at me was a person with hollow eyes inside a gaunt face, with cheekbones that looked cadaverous, all framed by lank hair hanging in thin ropes like broken party streamers. Someone whose right hip was now noticeably higher than the other due to a crooked spine. Someone who was too skinny, and yet had an inflamed abdomen that was starting to distend like a starving child’s.

Someone who was now another year past forty.

I was too upset to even cry. I felt like all of the hard work I’d done, and all of the progress I’d made, and everything I’d been proud to have accomplished over the past six months to put myself back together, to try to be normal, was bullshit. No matter how hard I pushed myself, I was never going to be normal. I was never even going to look normal. I’d been trying so hard to become who I had been prior to my health crash, and now my long hair – one of my defining characteristics – was gone. It’d be at least a year until it would be long “enough” again. Another year to add to the nearly ten I’d already spent getting my health under something that resembled control.

But I’d never have control. And even if I’d found some way to be – or at least resemble – the person I’d been, I’d never have that time back.

I came out of the bathroom and threw myself into scouring the internet on the best ways to make hair grow faster, and though there are things I can do to facilitate its growth, the final answer was the one that I feel I’m always working against: time.

It’s been about six weeks now and I think I’m finally ready to make the jump and cut the handful of hair that did not break. (Explanation of what happened will be added separately since you’re probably already sick of hearing me whine about something so stupid as hair.) I’m not thrilled, but I’m trying to not be a big baby, and to keep it in perspective. I know it’s only hair. I know it’s ridiculous, and it’s vain. I know it’ll grow back. I know I should be thankful that I haven’t lost my hair the way that others have. I also know that I should be thankful that my hair was long when it broke because it could’ve happened right after I got sick and I would’ve had nothing. 

But it’s another aspect of myself that was taken out of my hands. And I’d been growing it out to donate, so if I’m cutting it then I’m going balls in and cutting the full 10 inches required. It’ll bring my hair up to about shoulder length which is “longish”, but shorter than I’d planned. (And then I just pray that my hair is still donatable because if it’s not then I don’t want to know.)

In a way it’ll be a relief to finally make the chop because I’ve done nothing but obsess over my hair these six weeks, and when I do that I ignore or disparage how much better I’m feeling and functioning today than I did a year ago at this time. Which horribly ungrateful of me. I’m honestly very thankful to have made it to where I am now. It’s not perfect or “normal”, but I’m blessed because I’ve come further than I thought possible. And I’m not done yet.

*Cousin is high risk, already vaccinated and I’ve lived in a bubble for a year now so we were following COVID19 safety guidelines.