TGIO, 2021 Edition

(2021 by month)

Let me get right to it: 2021 has not been my year. In fact, it’s been downright awful in a lot of ways, particularly with regards to 1) grief/loss and 2) my physical health. And even though it looks like 2022 is going to start a lot like the way 2021 is ending – and perhaps continue on in that fashion for a few more months – I look forward to turning my back on 2021.

So, odd thing: Until the end of this year, when my whole maternal side of the family caught covid, I had this weird thought that the pandemic wasn’t a really major influencing factor of 2021. On further reflection, though, I realized just how wrong I was. Early on in the pandemic, people made this great effort to fight against isolation. As time went on, those efforts became harder, as pandemic-fatigue set in. Things returned to semi-normal off and on. Vaccinations allowed for a bit more freedom of movement. At the same time, we’re all getting used to a different kind of new normal, and I felt the effects of that a lot this year. I don’t think I’ve ever spent quite as much time alone, even surrounded by people, as I did this year. It’s both contributed to and been affected by my depression, a whole circle that feeds itself – the more I stay isolated, the more likely I’ll become even more so. It’s insidious, and it crept up on me this year, particularly once illness and injury kept me from participating in even the barest social events.

It’s a weird place to be – things look kinda normal, but they’re anything but. The stress has been hard. So while Covid hasn’t been an in-your-face influencing factor of 2021 – until these last two weeks – it’s been kind of the underlying atmosphere, the ugly sea I’ve floated on as I’ve dealt with everything else 2021 brought. Speaking of which, I’m going to break this post into sections, each a thing that had a major influence on my year, whether good or bad:

This is obviously The Big One. I began 2021 not in the greatest shape. An injury to my foot, combined with ten pounds of weight gain from a stupid medicine in fall 2020, had me starting off in a weird place. The sudden change in sleep – insomnia gone after over nine years, thanks to the removal of the Devil Bed – was another unknown factor thrown into the mix, as well as a change in doctor. In good news, the insomnia is still gone 99% of the time, and my new doctor turned out to be a wonderful doctor who has been working very closely with me all year to find answers. In worse news, the problems that began in October 2020 just continued to worsen, including further massive weight gain and this injury to my foot that still hasn’t healed (**which turned out to be related to RA rather than injury), complicated by further illnesses, injuries, and surgeries. It has been…unpleasant.

I took some time to add it all up. This year, I had a total of 121 appointments, tests, procedures, surgeries, and hospitalizations. And honestly, that’s probably missing quite a bit. I didn’t, for instance, count the twice-daily blood tests drawn while I was in the hospital! For a slightly more detailed list, here’s a condensed recap of my year:

  • Primary care physician visits: 15
  • Chiropractic and physical therapy: 17
  • Specialist visits: 28 appointments with 17 different doctors in 13 specialties
  • Labs taken (mostly bloodwork but some others): 25
  • Imaging (x-rays, MRIs, CT scans, ultrasounds, etc): 24
  • Vaccines: 4
  • Urgent Care and ER visits: 3
  • Surgeries: 4
  • Hospitalizations: 1

The per-month says a lot, too: Jan (3); Feb (2); Mar (9); Apr (8); May (4); June (8); July (5 – a HEAVY underestimate as this includes a four-day hospital stay as “1” thing, including all the doctors, labs, etc through those days); Aug (10); Sept (10); Oct (7); Nov (27!!!); Dec (10). January 2022 is already full of appointments and procedures, so things will continue at this pace for a time. I will say this, though – while not all of it has been pleasant, there was at least FINALLY an answer just a few days before the end of the year. There may be more answers and discoveries in the new year because I don’t think RA explains everything, but at least I now have a direction and a diagnosis and a treatment plan. I thought I was going to end the year with nothing to show for it, health-wise, but we finally tested the right thing at the very last hour!

When 2021 began, we had five cats, including our oldest, Ash, who had been sick for about a year at that point. Ash reached the end of his way-too-short life in late May, right before his twelfth birthday in June. It was an incredibly sad experience to hold him as he passed away, and honestly, I felt a little crazy afterwards. I went through a lot of grief – compounded by 1) my grandfather’s death in March, 2) the death of one of my favorite podcasters in June, 3) my normal PTSD triggers in May, and 4) my injuries, surgeries, and illnesses making it impossible to do any exercise at all to try to work through those feelings.

Honestly, I’m not sure where my head would have spiraled down toward if it weren’t for the kittens. The kittens were not a thing I ever could have predicted when I looked forward into 2021 a year ago. Very suddenly in June, I had four sickly, scared babies to nurse and socialize. I threw myself into this and let my heart shift sideways in my grief. Those babies did a world of good for my mental health this year. I do wish we’d been able to find homes for all four of them, rather than giving up after six months and keeping the three who didn’t find homes. Who would have thought we’d start the year with five cats, lose one, and gain three? At the same time, I don’t regret it. They still bring us joy every day. And I’m very proud of what I accomplished with them. I took these eight-week old kittens who were very sick – one nearly died – and made it so they will live lives without pain and fear in an unsafe outdoor setting. In the wider picture of neglected cats, it doesn’t help much, but it made a big difference in the lives of four little babies. I have no regrets.

Near the end of 2020, I decided to learn more about photography, and in particular, how to take good photos using a not-phone camera. My cousin’s husband – a retired photojournalist – helped me to find an affordable camera kit with basic kit lens, and later, a decent telephoto lens. I spent time reading, studying, and practicing some basics. I’m still not the best photographer, but I’m definitely improving, and learning all the time. This is barely scratching the surface of what’s out there, which excites me for what I can continue going forward!

Photography has also made me very happy this year. It’s helped me to see the little things – literal little things, like the ladybug-sized spur-throated aztec grasshopper in my garden – as well as larger perspectives. I’ve begun to think artistically again, in a medium I’ve always loved but never really learned about. It helps to have a creative outlet again as well, since I gave up writing in 2016. I like seeing what I can do with a camera, capturing not just images but movement and life. I look forward to seeing what I can do after I build some complimentary skills, like digital editing! When I was younger, I dreamed of being able to create images that match the tone and mode I pictured in my head, and while I could do that with words, I could never do it with physical art (painting, pen & ink, etc). Photography gives me a little hope that this might be achievable one day!

(Speaking of photography, I’m going to sneak in here to give my favorite photos of December, since I’m not going to have a December-in-review post!)

Clockwise from top left: my Angus looking like a perfect angel; forget-me-nots re-blooming; my dad and stepmom’s garden glittering on Christmas evening; Gherkin and Atticus cuddle; some of the best friends a person can have; yellow flowers whipping in the wind after a hike

Top row, left to right: celebrating fall colors (in December, ha!); the joy of the trampoline; dewy nasturtium
Bottom row, left to right: Gherkin stands tall and reaches for a toy; succulent blooming; garden rust

For most of my life, I’ve not been a big TV/movie/video person. Over the last few years, I’ve begun to watch more and more TV, and that expanded exponentially this year. Additionally, I gave in and joined TikTok in the late spring, and now spend WAY too much of my time watching random videos. Between TT and health problems keeping me immobile, I’ve probably watched more video/film this year than the last decade combined. It’s nuts, and I don’t like the influence it’s had on me. To give some scope – and to remind myself of what this year has been like – this is what I’ve been watching:

NCIS, Law & Order SVU, The Great British Bake Off, Truth Be Told, Schitt’s Creek, Manifest, La Brea, Temptation Island, Murdoch Mysteries, Home Before Dark, Sophie: Murder in West Cork, Britain’s Best Home Cook, The Great American Baking Show: Holiday Edition, Murder Among the Mormons, Evil Genius, The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel, LuLa Rich, The Morning Show, Victoria, NCIS Hawaii (gave it up), Law & Order Organized Crime (gave it up), a bunch of NFL football, and hours and hours and hours worth of the Olympics. Yeah…and this is just the TV portion, not to mention the movies and all the random TT vids…

Home & Garden
When I look back on the year in home improvement, it feels like a lifetime has passed in 2021. Over the course of this year, we:

  • rebuilt my external bedroom wall with new/updated windows
  • rebuilt the external kitchen wall with new windows
  • added wooden shiplap with shellac to the internal kitchen wall, plus a tile backsplash and shelving area around the new windows
  • replaced all the siding on that back side of the house
  • installed gutters on that side of the house
  • finished building our deck
  • replaced the wall units and plumbing in my bathroom after the Snowpocalypse destroyed them
  • xeriscaped another portion of our front garden
  • built a wall for the vinca in the front garden
  • built a retaining wall for the nectarine tree and surrounding plants
  • planted several trees in the back garden
  • fixed the water heater valve (another Snowpocalypse casualty)
  • rewired the back porch (twice)
  • rewired the garage to have more than one outlet
  • split the garage into two sections, built walls, and installed an a/c unit on one side so the space can be used for exercise
  • created a wildflower garden and a succulent garden
  • replaced half the kitchen cabinets and counters after a leak caused mold
  • stabilized the eroding side yard
  • removed pointless cabinetry in the pantry to add some shelves
  • installed a garage door opener
  • started the ball rolling to get solar panels installed

So…wow. Holy f–k, I didn’t realize just how much we’d done until I typed it all out right now. No wonder it felt like a lifetime!!

There were a lot of family changes this year. Morrigan returned to Kansas and decided to stay there over the summer. We haven’t seen him in person since January, and sadly, due to his current work situation, we might not see him for a few more months. Ambrose, forced into online school again for the spring, left school and started his first job. It was in manual labor in the outdoor Texas heat, and he hated it, so he went back to school in the fall (partially in-person), and is now done with his semester and working part time at McDonald’s. Laurence is busy busy busy with theatre (he’s been in several productions already this year, with several more in the works), and he’s applied to multiple colleges in Canada for school. He’s been accepted into all but one so far, and it’s actually cheaper for him to go to school there as an international student than to go to school in the US. Go figure, yeah? His plan is to eventually become a Canadian citizen. He’s so sick of America. I don’t blame him.

Then there was my grandfather’s passing in March, which was particularly rough since I hadn’t seen him since new year’s eve 2019 re: pandemic. At least my family got to have a memorial not long after (above), so I saw a lot of folks I hadn’t seen in way too long. Again, I planned to see them again for the NYE bonfire, but with covid ravaging my family, that’s not happening. In the days since my last family covid update, my mom has continued to go down the conspiracy theory rabbit hole and is now taking so many fake treatments and black market prescription meds (that do nothing for covid) that she’s making herself even sicker. To make things worse, she knows that she fucked up now, and so in her traditional fashion, she’s blaming everyone but herself (she has a persecution complex) and she’s begun to spit vitriol at my sisters and me. I’ve backed away for my own mental health, and I’m just done. At least my grandmother got the antibody treatment and recovered very quickly. That, at least, is a relief.

A few other things that have been a not-as-significant, but still a large part of 2021 for me:

  • Podcasts: Before this year, I’d only listened to Real Life Ghost Stories, but I began to branch out in podcasts this year with The Battersea Poltergeist, Uncanny, and Unsolved Mysteries. Two others – The Orchard and Intentionally Blank – are queued up as potential listens in the near future. There were a few others I tried as well, but that didn’t end up working. Either way, I listened to a LOT of podcasts this year, which took away a lot of listening time I usually spend on audiobooks.
  • Hiking: I went on 60 hikes this year, to 25 different parks, with an average of 2.9 miles per hike and a total of 176 miles. It would have been a lot more except that after April, I had to take four months off exercise, and then the rest of the year, my health was in a horrible state! More than half of my hikes (35) came from the first four months of the year. Also, I never did write up a post for hikes 57-60, so I’m going to add those here in brief:
    • Hike 57: Comanche Lookout Park, 12/5/21, 2.4 miles. First hike in a month.
    • Hike 58: McAllister Park, 12/11/21, 1.1 miles. New to me trail, done with Jason, turned around after half a mile because the trail was so poor.
    • Hike 59: Hardberger Park, 12/22/21, 3.1 miles. Anniversary hike with Jason!
    • Hike 60: Comanche Lookout Park, 12/29/21, 2.5 miles. Ending the year at the same park where I began 2021. Also, this makes 52/52 hikes for my 52 Hike Challenge – complete!
  • Cars: Jason was in multiple car accidents this summer. Thankfully, he was okay, but both of our cars had to be replaced, and it took ages for our settlement to come through from the first accident (the other guy’s insurance SUCKED, stupid Allstate!). I was without a car for an entire month this summer, and we both had to start over with car payments from the beginning again. Only good thing? Jason’s car was electric, so our gas bill was WAY down! Then 2021 found a way to screw us over again. Mid-December, Ambrose was in an accident on the way home from work and Jason’s car was totaled again! Once again, thankfully no one was hurt. But really? Five accidents and three totaled cars in a single year? Thanks, 2021!

I’m going to end this post with my top ten moments of 2021. Always best to end on a happy note, yeah? Again, in no particular order:

Hanging out with Neko: I loved seeing the garden explode with living things this year, insects and birds and flowers and produce, but the best thing was getting to know Neko the split-tailed lizard, and spending time near him on my deck, taking lots of pictures!

Walking through my old house: I was able to walk through my house for the first time in seven years, and in doing so, I was also able to put that part of my past behind me, and stop yearning for it. I’ll be forever grateful to the person who helped this walkthrough happen for me.

The library reopening: The library is my second home, and when it finally opened after a year of pandemic-closure, I went in the very first day, just to walk around, just to be in this place that I love so much.

Hiking in the snow: I’ve never had this experience before and it was absolutely thrilling to hike my favorite park in the snow, twice!

Eating the first strawberry from our garden: We honestly didn’t expect the strawberry plants to live, much less give us fruit a few weeks after planting. That first strawberry was so delicious! –>

Our vet’s donation in Ash’s honor: I don’t know why she did it, but our vet donated to a veterinarian program at A&M in honor of Ash, and the program sent us a letter to let us know the donation was made in his name. It was such a special tribute from a person who had done everything she could for 18 months to keep Ash as healthy and feeling as good as possible as his health declined.

Vaccinations: As each person I know got vaccinated, I breathed a little easier. I know this isn’t an individual moment, but it felt like it. When my oldest son got his second dose this summer, that was the last of my immediate family, and it was such a weight off this mom’s shoulders. (Now if only I could persuade the unvaccinated members of my family…)

Taking a photo of the moon: As I said above, photography in general has made for very happy moments this year. Then this fall, I was really trying to take a photo of the moon without any true knowledge of how to, and I kept failing, until a friend led me to an article that taught me how, and I was just so happy to get this one thing right, and photograph better than what I could see with my own eyes. After that first photo, which I included in an earlier post, I continued to take moon photos over the next few months. The picture above is from a mid-afternoon trip to the library a few days before the full moon in December, and was my first experience photographing the moon in daylight.

Our southwest road trip: Again, this is a whole host of moments, but it was just such a wonderful vacation, especially the part in Las Cruces, and especially the barefoot hiking over sand dunes at White Sands. I posted in detail about the vacation earlier this year.

The first time each kitten purred: They were so scared of us in the beginning, and then one by one, they spontaneously began to purr. Reaper was first. I was cuddling her by my neck where she preferred (she liked the warmth), and suddenly there was a loud, clunking jolt into purring from that tiny kitten. It was like she didn’t quite know how to purr, and had to put real effort into it. They were all like that the first few times. Gherkin surprised me the most, because she was the last to be captured, and was nearly a week behind the others in socializing. She still didn’t like to be held, so I was getting her used to gentle one-fingered pets while she ate her food. The second I started petting her as she ate – a time when she normally growled as if I was going to take her food away – she did that motorboat-sputtering kickstart into loud purring, just like the others had. It was astonishing, and lovely.

ETA: Moment #11 – getting my diagnosis. It was probably one of the happiest moments of the year, but I’m including it as a “runner up” moment simply because it’s only the promise of happiness, if that makes sense? I still have to get approved for the right medication, and start taking it, and see if it works, etc. But the joy of learning that the monster I’ve been fighting for seven years is no longer invisible definitely warrants mention here. (Pic – trying not to cry happy tears the day I found out)

There you go. The end of a very rough year. Happy new year, everyone! (Assuming anyone is still reading this super long post, heh.) I hope 2022 has great things in store for all of us!

About Amanda

Agender empty-nester filling my time with cats, books, fitness, and photography. She/they.
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