Jenny Bathurst: 21 today after the hardest year yet dealing with chronic illness

Jenny BathurstJenny Bathurst
Jenny Bathurst
Sussex student Jenny Bathurst chronicled Covid week by week. Now she returns to share thoughts, fears and hopes. Jenny is studying journalism at the University of Brighton.

As I write this, it is my final day of being 20. It’s funny because I remember writing a similar article two years ago on the day I turned 19, when the university’s water pump burst and I started my birthday with unclean hair, body and face and feeling very dehydrated. If you had told nearly-19-year-old Jenny that her 21st wouldn’t be spent at university with her newfound friends but at home, she would probably have been rather confused. In fact, she most likely would have put it down to the pandemic seeing as at that point it felt like we would be locked down for the remainder of our lives. If you had told her that her 21st birthday would be overshadowed by a chronic illness that had appeared in the past year she would have had a major meltdown. I have never really been a big ‘birthday person’, if I’m honest. Of course as a child I used to wake up in the early hours desperate to tear open my presents and stuff myself with cake, but as a teenager I never bothered with organising meals out or get togethers.

However, there is something about not having much option at all for what you can do on a day that is supposed to be special that is quite sad, really. A few weeks ago I didn’t want to celebrate and couldn’t be less fussed about the upcoming day - because why would I want to celebrate another year when the one just gone has been the hardest yet? Writing that down has now made me realise how incredibly stroppy and entitled that seems, but it is honestly how I felt. Especially when your 21st is supposed to be such a special day where some even fly abroad or throw a massive party, but I’m not even certain if I’ll feel well enough to sit up for more than five minutes.

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And then I had a moment last night where suddenly my attitude changed. That sounds incredibly cringeworthy - I am not claiming to have had an Isaac Newton apple-falling-from-the-tree kind of revelation. More of a realisation of how blessed I am no matter my health or circumstances. One of the most frustrating sentence openers for anyone suffering with prolonged sickness is ‘at least’. ‘At least you’re not actually dying.’ ‘At least you have some not so bad days.’ ‘At least you’ve got friends and family who love you.’ And I’ve always found that last attempt at consolation the most infuriating. Because I KNOW that I am loved and have people to love and I KNOW that it is is a privilege that I am extremely blessed to have, but it doesn’t take away the pain and discomfort that I experience on a daily basis. It is an entirely different part of my life. But sitting round the table last night with my boyfriend and his family, seeing the smiling faces and being handed a gift I never dreamed of ever receiving - it did give me a glimpse of what people mean when they say ‘At least…’. Except I don’t agree with the ‘least’ part of that sentence. Because focussing on the most important people in my life means more to me than anything else.