A Recap of 2021: The Year My Priorities Shifted

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It’s probably fair to say that 2021 was not quite the year that many of us had envisioned. The pandemic had already taken one year away from us, forcing us to live lives in isolation and in fear for the future. I know I was stupidly hopeful that 2021 would be different – would be the year that we started to regain our freedom.

Alas, life didn’t quite work out that way. But that’s not to say that 2021 was all bad.

This is probably going to be the most personal blog post that I have shared on here to date. It’s scary to start to delve into personal aspects of my life but I am at the same time confident that I want to be more transparent with my readers, to allow them to get to know me and perhaps even feel some comfort or inspiration by hearing about my experiences.

Let’s delve into a quick review of how 2021 panned out for me.

Making Lifestyle Changes (January, February)

I was pretty bummed to see in the New Year from isolation in my home. I saw little point in staying awake to watch a distant firework display out of my bedroom window and so clambered into bed, my small tabby cat purring away as she curled up on her cat tree beside me. I fell asleep before the clock struck midnight.

Just after Christmas a strict lockdown was announced for the UK and currently there was no end in sight. We’d already spent the best part of last year in some form of lockdown and I was struggling to come to terms with the fact that this year may follow the same lonely pattern.

I was pessimistic for the future, concerned now that a new variant was taking the world by storm. It frustrated me that governments around the world seemed powerless to stop new variants from spreading once they had emerged.

It would have been easy to wallow in the grief of my years lost to the pandemic and uncertainty of the future. But I didn’t want to let that happen.

For pretty much my whole life I have struggled with my mental health, finding myself in a constant wrestling match against my mind. It’s exhausting. Debilitating. Scary. I’ve sought out countless mental health professionals and booked numerous appointments with my GP but no one has ever been able to help me. I’d tried counselling, CBT therapy and two types of antidepressants. Alas, nothing even took the edge of my symptoms.

Now I was taking matters into my own hands.

I started researching various techniques for curbing some of my worst symptoms. Chronic headaches and migraines with aura could knock me down for weeks on end. There had been months in which only a handful of days had been headache-free for me.

Numerous resources online pointed to meditation and yoga as potential lifestyle changes to help fight anxiety and depression, which I believed were causing these symptoms. I was sceptical, particularly about the meditation part. My mind had tendencies to race at a million miles an hour and has always been impossible to quiet. How could I possibly meditate?

Still, I had exhausted many other options so I was determined to give this ago. I set myself the goal of having a 10 minute meditation session followed by a 10 minute yoga session every morning.

I found a guided meditation programme on an app called Calm and started watching yoga videos on Youtube. Before I knew it, I was in my new routine, determined as hell not to miss a single day’s session.

As expected, the meditation was incredibly hard. But having a relatable guide who assured listeners that there’s benefits even in the toughest sessions was a big help.

I even struggled to do yoga. My fitness levels were poor to say the least. Half-way through Yoga with Adrienne’s video on beginner’s yoga I turned into a collapsed and exhausted heap on the floor.

But I persisted.

Anglesey, Wales (June 2021)

My Diagnosis (March)

March was a huge month for me as I had an appointment with a psychiatrist who specialised in ADHD diagnoses. I felt like an idiot booking in the appointment and attending. I told myself that I couldn’t possibly have ADHD. ADHD was something mostly diagnosed in young, naughty boys. Until recently it was thought that it was impossible for females to have ADHD and that most people grew out of it when they became adults.

But recently I had seen some things on Twitter from late-diagnosed females whose symptoms were identical to mine. Could it have been possible that I had ADHD?

The psychiatrist assessed me and told me it was very, very clear that I had ADHD.

I couldn’t believe it. I expected to feel happy that I’d finally discovered the answer to my mental health problems. I had been previously mis-diagnosed with anxiety and depression and that’s why antidepressants had never worked out for me. Now that I had the truth I should have been happy. I knew I should. I wanted to be happy.

Instead I felt a great deal of grief. Grief for all the time that I had lost trying to battle against the demons inside my head when the answers had been there all along. I felt anger and disappointment that no one had noticed that I had ADHD and that I had instead been made to feel lazy, stupid and inadequate throughout my time in education by my teachers. I knew it would be hard to change the perception I had of myself from one where I wasn’t good enough to one where I accepted myself for my neurological differences.

My ADHD diagnosis was a huge thing for me. Especially because it happened so late in my life. If any of you are interested in hearing more about my ADHD journey, just let me know. I want to help others who may have undiagnosed ADHD and who right now may be going through the same struggles that I did.

Fort William, Scotland (July 2021)

The Effects of The Changes (April, May)

After my diagnosis I was prescribed some medication for my ADHD. I was sceptical about taking them at first (seeing as antidepressants had never worked out) but ultimately was so desperate for my life to improve that I took the plunge and began taking a tablet a day.

My medication combined with my new morning routine (yes, I still hadn’t missed a day of meditation and yoga!) really did have a positive impact on my life. I felt more motivated and more energised. I actually looked forward to my morning sessions of yoga and meditation.

More lifestyle changes soon followed. I began making time for a daily walk, watching as my step count rapidly ramped up as my walks became longer and longer. Some days I even did 2 walks!

My headaches decreased in frequency. Instead of 80% of days being plagued by headaches I now had a headache for around 1 week of each month – a drastic improvement.

I was far more productive with work and by being productive some of the guilt which had crippled my heart for so long had started to lift. I didn’t feel like such a let-down any more.

Camping in Anglesey (June)

After 5 months of being confined to my home, restrictions finally started to loosen up in the UK. We could now travel freely within the UK.

I took the opportunity to do some travelling as soon as it was presented to me and spent two nights camping by the beach on the Welsh island of Anglesey.

I had never been to Anglesey before. In fact, I had scarcely been to Wales. My expectations had been low and so when I arrived on a sunny Friday evening and watched the sun set into the ocean, casting a vibrant orange glow on the surround ancient cliffs, I felt awestruck.

After being cooped up for so long I felt humbled to be walking along the golden arc of sand which stood below our campsite, marvelling at the intricate patterns in the pebbles which were scattered about me. I remember thinking that this beach that I was walking on was one of the best I had ever laid eyes on.

I’ll write more about my Anglesey trip in the coming months but if you are curious to hear more about what I got up to in the meantime, I have a vlog on Youtube detailing my time there.

June was also a good month as I finally became eligible for my first Covid-19 vaccine. Yes, I had my first vaccine!

On the beach in Anglesey

Scotland (July)

In mid-July I drove to my favourite Scottish village of Kenmore, perched on the majestic Loch Tay. I engaged in some of my absolute favourite things to do in the area including: hiking up Drummond Hill, visiting the Birks of Aberfeldy and even swimming in the loch.

Unlike last visits to Kenmore I actually left Loch Tay and embarked on a road trip through Glencoe to Fort William in order to view an eerie shipwreck known as the Corpach Wreck. The drive was absolutely breath-taking and I felt both terrified and humbled as I stood in the shadow of the huge shipwreck on Corpach beach. I have a vlog about this experience too!

On Loch Tay in Scotland

Croatia (August)

Two weeks after I had my second Covid-19 vaccine, I embarked on a flight to the European country of Croatia – my first time abroad in the entirety of 2021!

I spent 3 nights in Dubrovnik and spent time exploring the stunning Old Town, gorging myself on Croatian cuisine, swimming in crystal clear waters that backed onto secluded beaches and getting caught up in 3 huge thunderstorms.

Then I took to the road, embarking on a 9 hour journey to Trogir town, just outside of Split. The drive hugged the coastline and I made sure to stop off at countless villages and towns including: Slano, Ploče and Podgora.

The drive also took me into a brand new country – Bosnia and Herzegovina. I thoroughly enjoyed driving through Bosnia’s only coastal town called Neum and marvelling at its stark differences to Croatian towns.

Once I had finally arrived in Trogir, I spent time exploring Trogir’s Old Town, wandering round night markets and eating my bodyweight in more Croatian food in picturesque  coastal villages.

The next few days were filled with inspiring adventures.

I drove for a couple of hours to Skradin town, taking the ferry upriver to Krka National Park, a gorgeous national park that hugs the Krka River and that is home to majestic waterfalls.

I wandered through the grand city of Split and even took a ferry to one of Croatia’s islands – Hvar. After gawping at the Old Town, meandering down narrow, cobbled streets and again gorging on food (one of my favourite past-times!), I took a dip in the cool (and choppy!) ocean.

I have some great stories to share from my time in Croatia and I can’t wait to start writing them. As usual with me I do have vlogs from my time in Croatia which you can find on my Youtube channel.

Krka National Park in Croatia

More Changes and a Trip to Blackpool (September)

In September I returned to the UK. I was feeling refreshed and hopeful for the future after my trip to Croatia.

I took some unexpected and reluctant steps to getting my mental health further back on track. In my routine pill appointment with my GP I was informed that my current contraceptive pill was not suitable for me as I suffered from migraines. It felt crazy that I was only discovering this now after being on the same pill for over 8 years!

The reason this complication had slipped through the net was because when I first started taking the pill I had never had a migraine in my life. I in fact had my first migraine two years after I started taking the pill, at a time when my life was extremely stressful. Since then migraines had become a routine part of my life and I experienced them a couple of times a month. There was one day where I experienced 3 migraines in a 24 hour period (the aura kind)!

I was disappointed when I was then switched to the progesterone only pill as I’d had such a hard time finding a pill that suited my body. Much to my amazement, the new pill has actually done wonders for me. I’m writing this blog post in February 2022 and since switching my pill 6 months ago I haven’t had a single migraine with aura! I have noticed other improvements too and am enjoying not having to suffer with monthly periods. My only peeve with this new medication is it is causing me to suffer from regular and ugly spots on my face which makes me feel incredibly self-conscious.

At the end of September I took a trip to Blackpool. Random, I know. It was for an award ceremony that I was nominated in. Sadly I didn’t win but I was grateful to have had the experience and to see a brand new city in the UK, although, admittedly, it is not my favourite UK city.

Can you spot me? On an islet in Mallorca

Mallora & London (October)

In early October I flew to Mallorca, one of my favourite places in the world! I spent my time exploring Palma city, wandering round secluded beaches and (of course) stuffing my face with fantastic food.

To celebrate my birthday at the end of the month I took a train down to London and spent the weekend with my family. Things took a turn for the crazy when a storm arrived and knocked trees onto the railway line, causing all trains out of London to be cancelled. I found myself stranded there with nowhere to stay and no idea of when I’d be able to go home!

A Surprise at the End of the Year… (November, December)

Nothing notable happened in the run-up to the end of the year. I was still doing daily yoga and meditation and my ADHD meds were now so integrated with my life that I didn’t notice their affects anymore – though I am sure they were working as my productivity was still so much better than it had been previously.

I made some huge decisions during this period which will affect my life going forward. However, I won’t detail them yet as I don’t like to go into things which are still in progress. I’m sure you’ll find out in due course.

I was relieved when we learnt that Christmas would still go ahead despite the new Omicron variant of Covid-19 sweeping through the country and causing record levels of infection. Despite numbers of over 100,000 infections a day I was hopeful. Over 90% of the UK population was vaccinated and the booster rollout was going well. I even managed to get myself a booster 1 week before Christmas.

Over the Christmas period I spent time with friends and family, eating out in indoor restaurants for the first time in ages. I saw relatives that I hadn’t seen for as long as I could remember and made the most of the close contact that we were now allowed. We had no idea if a lockdown would come into force after Christmas and cancel another New Year’s Eve for us, so we were determined to make the most of this pocket of freedom whilst we could.

Three days after Christmas I woke up with a sore throat and headache. At this point headaches were actually a rarity for me. I’d suffer with a headache maybe for 1 or 2 days per month. I immediately felt nervous as I knew that a sore throat and headache were classic Omicron symptoms.

I immediately took a lateral flow test which came back as negative. Still, I wasn’t convinced so I ordered a PCR test via next day delivery.

The following day my headache had gone but my sore throat was worse. I also felt rather lethargic. My daily LFT test showed a very faint line for positive and my PCR test came back positive.

I had Covid.

I couldn’t believe I had made it nearly 2 years without catching Covid and now I’d caught it whilst having Christmas with my family (4 other family members who had attended the gathering also caught it).

In the days that followed my sore throat improved and my nose became stuffy. If I didn’t know that Covid was a thing then I’d have been certain I had a relatively mild cold.

I was confident I’d be able to leave isolation early by producing 2 negative LFTs on day 6 and 7 of my isolation period. However, both tests had two really clear red lines on – clear positive results.

I ended up isolating for the full 10 days and missing out on any New Year celebrations, seeing the New Year in pretty similar to last year except this time I was isolating with Covid whilst the rest of my close family partied away.

It felt like quite a fitting end to 2021.

Ella McKendrick in Cavtat, Croatia
Enjoying the clear waters surrounding Cavtat village in Croatia

And That’s A Wrap!

That was my 2021 in a nutshell. As with last year, COVID-19 really hampered my ability to travel. This meant that not only did I not travel that much but I also didn’t produce much content for my blog and Youtube channel.

Let’s take a look at the stats:

Countries Visited: 6 (England, Wales, Scotland, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Spain)
New Countries Visited: 2 (Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina)
Blog Posts Written: 4 (Ouch! That’s poor!)
Youtube Videos Uploaded: 7 (Eek! Worst year yet)
Youtube Subscribers Gained: 1.7k (somehow exactly the same as last year!)

Plans for 2022?

Let’s just say I have a lot of plans for this year.

I am really excited about the direction in which this year could lead. At the moment my plans are just that – plans. Therefore I won’t delve into the juicy details just yet.

What I can say is this. If everything goes to plan (man, I hope so – I’m looking at you Covid!) then there should be a lot more than 4 blog posts uploaded this year and a lot more than 7 videos uploaded to my Youtube channel.

In a nutshell, my blog and channel will be getting a lot more focus this year.

I just hope, hope, hope that my plans come together because I really can’t wait to show you what I have in store!

Thanks for bearing with me over the past few years. I wish you all a pleasant 2022!

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