It’s that time of year again. Time to go “really?! End of the year already?!” The time where you maybe take a second to look back on the year and reflect on what has happened, what maybe didn’t happen and what you want to do next year to keep moving forwards. That’s my topic for this month and I hope you will join me for the ride and maybe spend a little time afterwards thinking about this year and what you want to carry forwards into the next one. It’s a bit of a personal blog but I think it’s a good thing to do when this time of year rolls around. I am a big believer in self-reflection as a tool for improvement.
2022 did not start well for me. The New Year started with a period of illness. If you follow my blogs you will probably know the story. I live with a chronic autoimmune disorder that affects my digestive tract. It flared up really badly at the end of December. My first week of 2022 was spent at home getting sicker each day until I was eventually hospitalised on January 7th for 7 days. I wrote a blog while I was in there. There wasn’t anything else to do as COVID rules meant I could have no visitors. I was, however, fortunate enough to get my own room with a view of the Mersey estuary. There isn’t really an ideal place to be ill but overlooking the wonderful city of Liverpool is pretty close.
In the weeks that followed my discharge my only goal was getting better. I was told it could take a few months but I was determined to be back on my feet as quickly as possible. I bought a journal and logged my symptoms and what I ate every day so I could visually see my progress. Every day I challenged myself to do something that could represent a small step in the right direction. I made sure I went back to what I had deviated from that ultimately left me in hospital; I started eating well and exercising where possible again. Within a week I could go out of the house and spend the day walking with my partner and our dog. I was finally back on track and I have remained symptom free ever since.
That time in hospital pushed me to navigate this year in a different way to before. I know appreciate the value of good health. We have a tendency to think we are invincible until something comes along and rocks that fantasy. I try to be grateful for every day that I don’t have to worry about my health. I also try to avoid stress and only do things that bring me joy. It’s a philosophy that I have developed over the year and I recommend it to anyone.
As the year progressed, it became clear that 2022 was going to be a year of change. Not just personally too. I would argue that 2022 has changed the face of dementia research for the better and I’ll come on to that later.
This year was the last year that I was under contract at the University of Manchester; and institution I have worked at for the entirety of my postdoctoral research career. It has been a wonderful place to work but I think everyone reaches a point where they are called by a need for change. You can sometimes try too hard to force change and it can have disastrous results. If a change is a positive one it will appear with screaming obviousness.
For me it came in a desire to move on from Manchester. I reached a point where I felt I had done all I wanted to do there and, in order to progress, I needed something new. I don’t mean professional progress either. The University of Manchester is a great place to build a career and I have no doubt that I could have continued to develop there. The progress I wanted was more personal. I wanted a new challenge.
Now it’s important to explain one thing before we move on. I am a northern lad. Born in Sheffield, I have never lived outside the north of England. Sheffield, Rotherham, Huddersfield, Manchester and Liverpool have all been my home at some point but as the year went on it became clear that I was headed away from the north. In fact, I am currently writing this blog from Birmingham as I prepare myself for a big switch in my career. In January I leave UoM behind to start working at the University of Birmingham. It’s a really exciting time and I cannot wait to get started. As I write this I look back and think what else has changed this year. I’ve left my favourite city in the UK (Liverpool) and found myself falling for another (Birmingham is excellent!) I have moved to a new university, we have swapped out apartment for a house and my parents have relocated from our family home to start their retirement in the Lake District. My sister and her lovely family have started the next phase of their lives in a lovely new family home and my niece and nephew are excelling at school. I still have all my grandparents but, sadly, this year dementia also made an appearance at our door; descending on my grandfather 90 years into his life. He saw his 5th English monarch earlier this year to give you an idea of how long he’s been around for.
That got me thinking about what has changed in the world of dementia. I wrote a blog a few months back about how I think we are heading into a golden age of dementia research. After decades of scraps to feed from, 2022 saw the emergence of two treatments that could positively impact the lives of patients like my grandfather. This makes 2022 a landmark year in the field. Maybe this is the year when things change for the better. Maybe it’s the year we start to bring in wins in the fight against dementia. It’s sadly too late for my grandfather but I hope in decades to come we look back on 2022 as the year that started a revolution.
I am excited for what 2023 will bring. This has not been an easy year but it has certainly been an interesting one. If you can start a year in hospital but end it in a new home with a new job, it just goes to show what a difference 12 months can make. So let me sign off with a simple message. Merry Christmas, happy New Year and bring on 2023! Let’s keep moving forwards!
Dr Sam Moxon is a biomaterials scientist at the University of Manchester. His expertise falls on the interface between biology and engineering. His PhD focussed on regenerative medicine and he now works on trying to develop 3D bioprinting techniques with human stem cells, so that we better understand and treat degenerative diseases. Outside of the lab he hikes through the Lake District and is an expert on all things Disney.
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