Firstly, before I begin I want to start by saying thank you all so much for being here. This blog and all of you have really helped with many of the challenges described below. It’s given me a focus and output that has enabled me to both reflect and feel like I have a voice. Despite not having been able to post much in November and December ~10,000 of you have visited the blog this year, with over 13,500 views. Numbers I would never have dreamt of. This community, your responses and sharing have really kept me going. My sincerest hope for 2022 is that we will be able to continue to find a way through together, supporting each other and sharing the learning.
It seems to be the thing to do a New Years post. I’m not really big on New Year, I’m much more of a Christmas kind of girl but this year has been A LOT and so I thought I should take a few minutes at the start of 2022 to at least acknowledge it happened; and to give some reflection on all it contained: the good, the bad and the oh so very ugly.
I want to end in a positive way so we are going to take a deep breath, drink a cup of tea and do this is reverse order.
I discovered this year that I am oh so very human. I used to think I could push through anything with enough willpower. It worked for my PhD, it worked for FRCPath. I have discovered that that doesn’t work for pandemics.
I think part of it is something to do with a lack of a defined end point. With an end point you can plan, you know when you can take breaks, you can plan downtime. There has been nothing planned about this. My first break away was the one and only time I’ve been pinged (I’m basically a hermit) and so my time away involved self isolating in a very small cottage, albeit with an amazing view. Christmas, which is my joy, involved working and being broken by the time it arrived. The constant responsive mode means you feel like you achieve nothing and that the ‘Control’ in Infection Prevention and Control has been lost and you don’t know when it will come back.
The other part of it, for me, is that there has been hardly any of the diversity that is the thing I love about Infection Prevention and Control. When the non SARS CoV2 work does escalate up the priority list it is on top of everything else and is therefore a burden rather than problem to be solved. It is the diversity of the role in normal times that energises me. This year therefore, has just felt like one constant drain on my batteries rather than the normal peaks and troughs that give recovery time.
So what am I going to do about it? Long and short I need to carve out some professional me time. I can’t manage a third year of just pushing through. I’ve hit a wall and something needs to change. I need to find time to write a paper, use a pipette, write a talk in more than 5 minutes. I need to feel like I’m making a difference again, making an impact. I need to end 2022 feeling like I’ve moved forward, even if the pandemic is still with us. I think collaboration for this is key, working together is one of the things I’ve missed, so if you’re up for a project give me a shout.
The worst and most shocking thing of 2021 was that we lost Lee, the guru who made the grammar on this blog bearable, but who also helped run the Environment Network and some of my other events. He went from fine to deceased in a matter of weeks and to be really honest it’s been quite the wake up call. He was ~10 years older than me and still had so very much to give to the world. I don’t want my tombstone to say ‘She pulled a lot of hours’ I need to make time for the people and activities I love. I hadn’t seen him anywhere near enough since the pandemic started as I have prioritised work so much. Going into year 3 that has to change.
In 2020/1 I learnt to fail, spectacularly. I learnt to fail at managing my workload, my inbox and my deadlines. I’ve failed to manage to keep on top of, let alone ahead of anything. I’ve learnt that this leads to 3am panic and exhaustion and after a year I’m trying to also learn to just let it go. Being a perfectionist in a pandemic is not a survival strategy. Assuming that everyone is judging you as harshly as you are judging yourself is not a wellness technique. Just working harder no longer cuts it, as to be honest there are simply just not enough hours in the day.
Over the last 2 years I’ve let myself be defined by work. I’ve stopped running and I basically am working, rushing to catch a meal or trying to sleep in order to prepare to do it all again. Between getting shingles and the number of angio oedema flares my body has basically let me know that this is not sustainable. To be honest I don’t think I could continue this way even if I wanted to, my body feels like it has given up on me. I need to cut it a break and heed the warning signs.
Having discovered I am not professionally or physically superwoman I have decided that I need to make some decisions about putting me first. No one benefits if I break, not me and not my team. I need to do my hours and come home in time to do something other than eat and sleep. I need to have some time for me, be that to read a book or go for a run. I cannot work every weekend. I need to trust that others will not judge me for stepping away and that the only person who is holding me to this standard is me. I’m going to walk in the sun, take bubble baths, drink tea and learn to be kinder to myself. I’m also making a commitment to give explicit permission to others to do the same, so that our head weasels have less power over us.
Well enough with the hard stuff, its really easy to forgot with so much challenge, the amount of good that has actually occurred. All the more reason to take the time to reflect. Times of challenge are when we learn most, not just in terms of academic knowledge but also about ourselves, and I have learnt a lot that I intend to build on in 2022.
I started 2021 announcing that I’d been awarded the British Empire Medal in the Queens New Years Honour list. Something that was always going to be difficult to top.
In this respect 2021 out did itself and was the year that I firmly set down roots to continue at GOSH, after a period of not really knowing what my future would hold and where my career would go. I got my dream job, as a Consultant Clinical Scientist in Infection Prevention and Control. I have a solid foundation for my future, I no longer need to have a plan A B and C about where I might end up. I work in an organisation aligned to my values with 2 amazing teams and in a job I love. I will always be grateful for that.
There have been some great moments from an education perspective. I’ve done podcasts, made it onto power lists and had mentees grow and develop in ways that have made me beyond proud. There are some wonderful projects in the pipeline that will give opportunities to my team and I believe will support change across the infection workforce. One of them is on whole genome sequencing and if you’re interested in learning more check it out and input on what you’d like included here. Being able to plan for the future is key to my mental wellbeing and so I’m so excited to have something that forces me to look forward, not just be in the moment.
Project Nosocomial has continued to grow and despite, or possibly because of, the unique demands on artistic and scientific collaboration in 2021 delivered some truly exciting new content. We ran 2 festivals to raise awareness of antimicrobial resistance. We ran comedy shows, quizzes, panels and featured poetry, drag, opera and gamification. If the pandemic has shown me anything its that we need to work harder to engage with and have dialogue with the public and wider communities. Science communication should no longer be seen as an indulgence but a central part of our roles. In 2022 I’m determined to continue to fight for this work to be valued and to increase the impact of our conversations.
So there you have it, despite feeling I’ve been standing still there has been a surprising amount of moving forward. I have learnt a lot and to summarise what from that I want to bring into 2022, it is simply this:
All opinions on this blog are my own.