2020? Completed it mate
Is there some kind of prize for completing 2020? A certificate? Bad tattoo that says I completed the pandemic 2k20? Or at least a T Shirt and complimentary medal? No?
Normally around this time of year, like most of the world I do the 'Instagram Top 9', and post it with some kind of meaningless caption such as '2019 has had it ups and downs, but it's been an absolute blast, and I can't wait to see what the next year has in store... Got a feeling it's going to be a good one guys!'. The reality is that this year, that this feels like probably the least appropriate action to take for me, given the utter shocker of a year that most of us have endured, and I almost want to tiptoe into 2021 without announcing my arrival just in case it kicks off that we're there.
I'd love to be able to sit here and say that I could write a blog about this year without mentioning the C-Word (Covid-19), but given the domination that this has had over every aspect of our lives for the past 10 months, it seems pretty much an impossibility. 12 months ago, Coronavirus was just something that was happening in another part of the world, somewhere that 90% of the general public had ever heard of (okay confess, who'd never heard of Wuhan?). In fact, the amount of variations of the pronunciation of 'coronavirus' that I heard over the early months was quite astonishing. In general there was a huge case of feeling as though this was happening so far away, that it wouldn't impact us too greatly.
How wrong we were.
2020 has probably been the greatest battle I've faced so far in my life, and I know I'm not alone in that. There will always be a part of me that is never quite the same after this year. It's taught me more than I can imagine, and some of the eternal optimism and fearlessness that I had going into the year has certainly been tested.
January began much the same as most years, except I was preparing to move my entire life from my home in North Staffordshire to Windsor to accept the job of a lifetime. I had my uniform fitting and began my journey with my new airline... not knowing at all what lay ahead. I spent time in Spain, a country that I’d usually have had 3-4 trips to in the year, however this was the last time 2020 was to allow a trip here. It's somewhere I miss dearly for the culture, the language and the people and I hope that in months to come, I'll find myself wandering around the streets of some beautiful Spanish city once more. I took my last lectures at University (thanks to the strikes and the pending pandemic), marking the last physical contact I had with my undergraduate degree. I turned 25, and full of optimism still thought it would be the best year of my life.
February I began my life in the South and training for my airline. I met the most amazing people, who I know will be friends for life and was in awe of life in the Red Team. I was working harder than ever to prove that I had been the right choice of crew for this airline, whilst managing living away from everything that I knew, for the first time in a long time. Whisperings of the strange virus making it's way across the world had began, and unknown to me then it was the last time I would see my family for 5 months, but with my head in the clouds, I still thought very little of it.
March hit. My first trips as a long haul hostie, and despite the worry, fear, and unknowns faced by my colleagues, I had the best time. Probably some of the best moments of my entire year were had during this month. The sheer impact of the pandemic on my industry was starting to become very clear, with words such as 'Furlough' (who on earth had heard of that before this year?) bashed about. And then Boris very clearly told the country to 'stay at home'. A real first for most people alive today. Lives turned upside down in a matter of seconds, and that was that. I flew out to JNB (Johannesburg) that night to repatriate our customers, for what was going to be the last 4 days of freedom probably of the whole year.
April began with still flying to repatriate customers, and transport PPE, which I was very grateful for, and incredibly humbled by. The efforts of key workers through the pandemic has been nothing short of amazing, and the smiles, laughs, and attempts to keep spirits up through the whole ordeal has been and continues to be inspiring. I still believe now that people are inherently good, and this was never more apparent to me than during this month. Then began furlough. What at first was a novelty, with beautiful weather, long lazy evenings in the garden, music and gin galore... at first it was okay. Virtual pub crawls, quizzes, 'Zoom', the pillow challenge, 'tik tok', and even the 'down a pint' challenge. Furlough sure found me a way to procrastinate writing my dissertation. Then the reality set in that this wasn't going to be a three week thing. This terrible virus was ravaging the country with human loss, economic distraught, and mental instability at the core of it. Somehow, I also had to finish my degree and I'm not going to lie when I say that I almost packed it in on more than one occasion.
After two weeks of sitting at home, I realised I was bored, and done with having nothing to do. Enter Project Wingman. Easily one of the best things I've done this whole year. Project Wingman consisted of airline workers, volunteering to create 'first class lounges' in NHS hospitals to support the key workers with donated food, drinks, and peer support during what was a super challenging period of their working life. Airline workers were the perfect people for this, given that most of us were grounded due to the pandemic and travel restrictions, our ability to provide top class service and for our skills as human factors professionals. We understand the value of communication, listening, and support as we rely on this day in day out to perform our duties to the best of our abilities. (If you're interested in finding out more about what we did here, then check out my blog 'Your forever wing-girl joins Project Wingman'). It gave me a purpose, and maybe even more importantly it gave me a family in my new home down in the South of the UK. The people here have literally dragged me through this year, been a shoulder to cry on, given me a social life, and I can only say I am forever grateful that I stepped into the hospital on the 1st May.
May is also the month that 'Passport and Pants' was published. A concept that had been in the making for probably 5 years, I finally decided to go ahead with. The suffocation I was feeling from not travelling, and lack of creative inspiration was fuelling me to create something that I could escape with, and maybe allow other people to as well. Incredibly, a few organisations have also asked me to write work as well this year which I'm so grateful for. Never did I think anybody would ask me to write something for their followers to read. To everyone who has supported my writing this year, I say thank you.
I also did manage to complete my undergraduate BA Hons degree in Education, securing myself a 2:1. I celebrated with a prosecco in the garden at home, given that our graduation was cancelled, but even so I felt an enormous sense of achievement. That was it for me though as far as academia was concerned. I was done. I never wanted to reference anything again, and I certainly never wanted to open an academic text book.
Let's fast forward to June. The summer became a battle with my mental wellbeing, one that I believe I'm only just starting to win now. Despite an easing in restrictions, and being surrounded by my new friendship group, as well as having the continuous support of my friends and family back home, the ongoing impact of the pandemic on the aviation industry was in my mind permanently. And even to this day, is still an overwhelming thought every day of my life. We know it will recover, that much is clear. But 'when' is the huge question. At this point signs of a vaccine were few and far between, and I spent most days staring at the sky, desperately trying to gain a glimpse of the life that I knew existed. I immersed myself in plane-spotting (okay, so I have no problem admitting that this is one of my favourite hobbies and it kept me going during some really difficult weeks) and spent a great deal of time reading about different elements of the airline industry; unbeknown to me then, I was building my future for the next couple of years. When you love something as much as I do, and dedicate as much of your life to it as I have, you shouldn't ever lose it should you? Well Covid-19 had other ideas....
However in June I also had to eat my words. Impulsively I decided that I wasn't done with education. A great big hole had been left in my life by the ending of my degree, and so I decided to apply for a Masters degree. I got accepted into three Universities and just a few weeks later accepted my place at Coventry University to study an MSc in Human Factors in Aviation via a distance learning method. Along with Project Wingman, this is one of the best decisions I made this year and I can't believe how close I came to not doing it. Since the first cabin crew initial training course that I did, I had been enthralled by the subject of human factors. It was probably the part of the course that I enjoyed the most, as it seemed to me the most diverse, volatile, and based within my realm of current academic research. I spoke to my trainer about human factors after that specific training day (after all on initial training, you get just a snapshot of what this incredibly vast subject is actually about), and knew that it would be a subject that at some point would become a huge part of my life. Moreover, the like-minded students on the course, have provided me with friendship, Friday night socials a-plenty, and another support network to rely on... another way to stay connected to the aviation industry.
Summer flew by, and before I knew it, I moved in to the aptly named 'Prosecco Palace' with my lifelong wing-girl. Somehow, we've managed to drag ourselves through this shocker of a year, and for a flat that's already seen many a tear, many a prosecco fuelled laugh, and many a dilemma, I can hand on heart say we've nailed 'completing 2020'. Oh, and our pad is an absolute 10/10!
Shockingly, in September, my family and I managed to evade Boris's tier system and co-ordinate a completely legal and quarantine free escape to Sicily. A truly stunning little gem in corner of the Mediterranean, it was a well needed get-away and chance to have some well needed family time. I have finished my blog on Sicily if you are interested in finding out more and will be sure to publish it within the next few weeks, so keep your eye out!
Another highlight of the year came in October, when I finally became sky-bound once more. I started working towards my Private Pilot License, something that I've been plodding towards for the last two years, however this year has taught me that there is no time like the present, and if you want something, gather everything you've got, and GO for it. So yes, I might be pretty skint, unsure of the future, and no there actually isn't a reason for doing this i.e. I'm not going to be knocking on the doors of any airlines any time soon for a commercial opportunity, but I love it, and learning to fly has become a much more holistic experience for me than it has been linear. In the sky I find my peace, my calm, my purpose... it gives me a reason to hope. That sounds crazy right? But I'm a huge believer in finding what sets your soul on fire, and clinging onto it. If it gives you your spark, then do it.
Lockdown 2.0 was thrust upon us in November. Gone were the less restricted, warm summer days, and here we were trapped inside once more in the middle of Winter. This brought about new challenges, but strangely despite an initial feeling of anxiety, I felt like preparing for this one was easier. I could accept it. Looking back now, it feels like it flew by. I know at the time though, it didn't feel like it. It felt like the whole world had stopped again, and any hope I had at getting back to my normal life had disappeared quicker than you could say 'next slide please' (seriously will someone ensure that a clicker is on the government's list for next Christmas).
December. Here we are. What has truly been one of the most difficult Christmas period's I think we are to face. On a personal note, I had to do some hoop jumping to obtain my pilot medical, which thankfully has all paid off, and I committed to a month long charity running challenge called 'run the runways' for Aviation Action, in which at the time of writing we have beaten our original target and raised over £15,000 to train peer supporters that will support the mental health of aviators around the country, as well as provide Mental Health First Aid support and materials for participating airfields around the country.
As a nation, we were promised a Christmas, if we completed Lockdown 2.0. The promise of the end of lockdown, to now? You wouldn't believe it. We entered lockdown in tier 1 where I live, to come out into tier 2, for two weeks later to enter tier 3 and no less than 16 hours later enter tier 4? Yeah you couldn't write it could you!? I know so many people who have had their Christmas destroyed, and my heart breaks for every single person. It's not what we deserved and I'm so sorry that we are all still enduring this. My temporary Christmas job at Lapland had to end after 2.5 weeks, which I was gutted about, due to tier 4 restrictions, and a New Years trip to South Africa thanks to some kind of mutant strain has also been cancelled. A pretty sombre end to the year, and It looks like the uncertainty is set to continue for some time yet.
Despite this, somehow I still have hope. Hope that next year will be a damn sight better. The promise of a vaccine is more than welcome for me, although not everyone feels quite the same, which I understand and respect. Similarly to how we've all felt about the pandemic. I know some people who have quite enjoyed furlough, and the pandemic actually hasn't been too unkind to them. For me, it's been life destroying, and life changing. If I've said it once this year, I'll say it again. We are all in the same storm, but we are not in the same boat at all. Some fear the virus, I fear my future. Some fear for the physical health of loved ones, I've spent more time fearing for the mental health of myself and my friends. It doesn't mean that anyone isn't caring about or worried about something, it's just that people live different lives, on different paths, and under entirely different circumstances.
Whilst I wish that words like furlough, bubble, 'next slide please', covid, isolation, quarantine, tiers, and 'you're on mute' will become a thing of the past overnight, sadly I don't think that will be the case. I used to believe in a world 'post-covid' and now I know there won't be. It'll be a world in which we live with covid. In saying that, I know that the worst is behind us and we can move forward. The scientists have been nothing short of amazing, in finding tests, vaccines, and treatments for this virus and I know they'll continue to look after the health of the world continuing on. Things have to get better. I can't believe looking back to the financial crash where we were told it would be a once in a lifetime economic devastation, we have so soon after had to deal with this. I feel so sorry for the younger generation, who have had their studies, internships, first jobs, promotions stolen from them, and being a part of this generation, I can hand on heart say I know how bleak it looks right now. I know and understand how it feels to feel as though your entire future is gone and destroyed by this pandemic. I know how it feels to play by the rules, study, work hard, and then this happens and for all of it to feel pointless. Please hear me when I say the rest of your life is not this year. It will get better, we can rebuild our lives, and in turn we can rebuild our future. Your efforts have not been worthless, and have not been unnoticed.
There's an awful lot of pressure that surrounds New Year, about analysing the year's loss and gains, planning for next year, and I'm not sure that's right this year. If you're here still standing right now, I think that's a jolly good effort to be honest. You may be scarred, you may be still fighting battles, but you're here, still fighting and that's a win. In saying that, I've also fallen into the trap at several points this year of saying that it's all been a disaster. It hasn't, looking back. This is the year I came into my own with my purpose in my career, my writing, my studying, and have genuinely met the most amazing people, that I owe so much to. I am so lucky to be surrounded by family and friends that have listened at every step of the way, allowed me to grieve the years' losses, and still celebrate the wins. I'm also more certain of myself than ever, and feeling entirely happy with the person that I have become, and proud of the adaptability and drive I've had to show. For that, for my health, and for the hope for the future, I am so incredibly lucky and thankful.
So what about 2021? I write my manifestation list every year. This is a list of goals split into categories that guide and inform every single decision I will make in the new year. The list can only be filled with goals that I can control, which allows me to feel as though I have choice and decision when it comes to making the next steps in my life. In short it allows me to feel successful. I have study, career, health, flying, personal, writing and travel goals set and noted, and these will keep me on track over the next 12 months, so even when I feel at my most lost, I know what can guide me through.
For the next year, I wish you all a smoother, happier, less turbulent year. I hope it's filled with adventure, travel, love, and success. I hope it's happier and filled with less grief. More than anything I hope that we can all stick together, to get through this battle together, and to rebuild our lives together. My inspiration has been, is currently, and will continue to be to remember that 'when everything seems to be going against you, remember that the airplane takes off against the wind, not with it'.... you can thrive in amongst the madness, and please don't forget that.
Here's to a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year to you all. See you on the flip side!