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How the pandemic has changed my life

2020 has been a ridiculous year, unprecedented as so many people have said, and I think it has changed how so many of us feel about ourselves and our lives. And we are no different here in the Cleasby household. I said a couple of months ago that my big news was that I was going to University this year at the grand old age of 39. But also my husband Timm has decided to do it too! He is 48 and will be heading to do a degree in film.

We don’t do things by halves do we?

A series of unfortunate events

Lockdown was a bizarre experience for everyone. For us, it was another trauma in a series of tough events. In December, our beautiful 12 year old dog Lola got cancer and died, just a week before we moved house. So Christmas was two weeks later amidst boxes and the confusion of not quite knowing where everything was. I then ended up leaving my job that I absolutely loved, but had gone totally awry. I was incredibly poorly, awaiting another major surgery which happened at the beginning of February.

The recovery from this surgery was a nightmare, I had complete Ileus where my bowel stopped working for three weeks and ended up with an NG tube (Nasogastric tube) and on Total parenteral nutrition (TPN). My kidneys began to fail and I nearly died. It was a very difficult time for us all as a family. For weeks I was unable to do anything, the muscles in my arms and legs are wasted and I was left weak and exhausted from the kidney issues.

woman with NG tube and a bag of bile

So 7 weeks later as I was just starting to feel a little bit human, it was a total shock to find the whole country going into lockdown! I hadn’t been able to leave the house for a couple of months and then suddenly we weren’t aloud to leave the house and thousands of people in the UK were dying. I was terrified. Due to Covid, I also lost my radio presenting job and our photography business was severely affected as we couldn’t shoot anything. All just as we had taken on a bigger mortgage.

Too much to bear

To be honest, it all just felt too much to bear. It was like everything was going wrong for us and it hit us both hard. My husband is a total workaholic, and all of a sudden, he had no work at all. At first we struggled with knowing what on earth to do with ourselves. We both felt very down and like we had lost part of who we were with the loss of work.

But there was nothing we could do about it and so as we have had to do so many times before, we tried to find the positives in the situation. We were both healthy (ISH!), we had our kids with us safe and well, we had a beautiful new home and though we desperately were grieving the loss of Lola, we had our chihuahua Lemmy to hug and keep us going. We also talked about how many times after surgery, I get back to things too quickly and don’t give myself enough time to heal, so this enforced rest and downtime could be a blessing in disguise.

family stood outside a house during lockdown

We walked a lot in the park, we learnt to bake bread, we bought a blow up hot tub and spent a lot of time chilling in the garden. We played games with the kids, read a lot, watched a lot of movies. There were things that needed sorting in the house that we wouldn’t usually have had time to do, so we decorated and sorted the bathroom and fixed up our camper van. We also started plotting.

If I won the lottery…

One day I said to Timm “If we won the lottery, I would go to university. I never got to go as a youngster and I feel I missed out”. He questioned why I would need a lotto win to do this, and I said that it would mean I couldn’t work full time and study. But as we talked about it, it started to feel more and more possible. I looked into it and saw that as I didn’t have Alevels, the uni would consider my life experience as part of my application.

I began putting together a portfolio which was scary but fun, the worry of others seeing my work nearly got too much. I thought about the experience I had and realised it was more than I had first thought. I knew that I wanted to do art, but I also knew I wanted it to lead somewhere where I could help people. I read up on Art Therapy and just felt that I had found what I was looking for.

During this time, Timm told me how excited he was for me, but that he did feel a little jealous! So I suggested that he do the same! He is a really creative person and has run an arts collective and a photography company for the past ten years. But he wanted to know more about film and have the time to gain new skills. And so he did!

New starts

Next week we both start university at the ages of 39 and 48. Something neither of us ever thought would happen and if I am honest probably wouldn’t have happened without the pandemic.

Often we get so caught up in the daily grind of life, in habits and fall into a groove of just plodding on. And when something happens to blow life apart it can shake you free of those binds to rise up and look at what you actually want from life.

We were happy before. Last year he was running the photography business and ran a music festival in Sheffield and I was working for a charity supporting disabled people as well as having my own radio show on Saturday mornings. Life was good. But that series of events from December through till July just changed everything.

man and woman walking a chihuahua through a field

We have had so many ups and downs, nine surgeries in the past 7 years and so much uncertainty around my health and there were moments where I felt like this pandemic was going to push us over the edge. But in true Cleasby style, we have picked ourselves up, dusted ourselves off and tried a new path.

We are both nervous about taking on uni later in life and carrying on running businesses and bringing home the bacon but we have always said that we would rather regret the things we have done than regret not doing them. Who knows where our new paths may take us, but I couldn’t be happier to be facing it with my husband together.

Thinking of others

I know I am super lucky to be in this position, I don’t take it for granted that I have this opportunity when so many do not. It is easy to say we should all look for the bright side, seeking out a positive even when everything is shit but not so easy to do. But what a life with chronic illness has taught me is that nothing is guaranteed, we never know when this life we have could be taken away from us. I have learnt that I need to say yes, to be brave, to try the things I dream of even if I may fail.

The pandemic is simply awful and my heart goes out to everyone who has lost a loved one, has been ill themselves and everyone who has missed time with family and friends, who has had their care cut, who is lonely and struggling.

There is a quote that I often use and it feels apt today.

Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times if one only remembers to turn on the light.

Albus Dumbledore

I hope you can find the light switch, peace and love,

Sam xx