The post with a year-in-review and blog stats is usually the post I publish in January of a new calendar year. However, that didn’t happen this year for a few reasons. First and foremost, we packed out our house and departed our third diplomatic assignment before mid-January, so I was crazy busy with work and life transitions. Second, there were a lot of things in 2021 I hadn’t processed adequately by New Year’s or in a superficial way felt I didn’t want to reflect on or remember. And third, 2021 marked the first year the blog did not receive more page views than the year before. Every year since I started writing in 2014, the number of views and visitors have each steadily risen, making it something fun to announce the following year.
In January writing this post out of a sense of forced obligation – particularly at a time when I was honestly pretty down on a lot of aspects of this career as well as struggling with health and moving – didn’t seem like fun. So I decided to write about whatever was on my mind as it came to me, and shunt a blog stats post from last year off until a future date when I actually felt like doing it. And as the blog celebrates eight years today since its very first post, today seemed apropos.
Year in Review
I started off 2021 with high hopes and fingers cautiously crossed. After the uncertainty of 2020 caused a months-long lockdown in Arlington and delayed our arrival to my third diplomatic assignment in Ciudad Juarez, I was looking forward to us getting vaccinated against COVID-19 and settling into a normal routine in the consulate. I was also looking forward to having spinal fusion surgery and was bound and determined to lose 100 lbs. I wanted to take off my mask, see my family and friends in person, travel around Mexico, finish the repairs needed to our house, get a housekeeper, see more of Juarez – generally get on with life! Some of those things came to pass and some did not, and will not.
In January and February I started my weight loss project with a vengeance, losing 16.2 lbs and 10.8 lbs respectively during those months. I ate healthfully, I organized my life, and I exercised as much as I could being injured and very overweight. My motto was, “No Excuses in 2021.”
In February, V and I along with some colleagues from the consulate were lucky enough to receive our first two vaccinations across the border at the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP). For a time, my hopes soared that we were safe after a full year of fear. I started thinking about how the pandemic had changed my perspective on how to best take care of my health as an immunocompromised person and reconsidered what, in retrospect, had started to seem like my own complacency and disregard for the long-term effects of constant viruses and infections on my immune system over the prior 15 years.
But my attention soon had to turn completely to my back surgery, which took me down pretty hard at the end of March for several weeks. I lost another 13.6 lbs in March, 5 lbs in April, and 8.2 lbs in May as I navigated a big slowdown in my movement and adjusted to not driving for a while, getting out of bed by the “log roll” maneuver (once I could even be up and about without assistance), and spent lots of quiet time as my boss juggled all the U.S. citizen emergencies without my help. (Unsurprisingly, I went back to work a few weeks early, which alarmed everyone but for me was great as long as I moved slowly. It did mentally take me longer than I’d anticipated to get back up to speed though.)
In May I published the sixth post in the “Your Questions Answered” series, my friend and bridesmaid K came to visit in El Paso from Fort Worth, and I started to face the uncomfortable realization that we’d reached a turning point in the pandemic where those who had reached the two-week mark after their vaccination were now safe… as long as they were immunocompetent. Hearing these words of caution from politicians and public health officials for the immunocompromised started to raise questions, at least for me personally, about whether I should be taking off my mask at work or anywhere else. This started to put me at odds with colleagues who saw this behavior not as medically necessary mitigation, but as some kind of weird resistance against ‘getting back to normal‘, which of course I found ableist, unempathetic, and ultimately, discriminatory because it didn’t address the fundamental issue I kept raising, which was that the behavior of society was creating professional and social barriers to access in public spaces for immunocompromised and disabled persons.
My stepdaughter graduated from university and between the pandemic and my still-healing spine, I couldn’t accompany V on the flight to visit her. I took a solo Mother’s Day weekend road trip to Las Cruces, NM instead for my first post-fusion hike, and dug deeper – both at work and as an advocate – on allyship issues for medically vulnerable people in light of the growing chasm between COVID-19 safety recommendations for healthy people… and for the rest of us.
In June and July, my weight loss continued at 7.2 and 8.8 lbs respectively, and I entered the second half of the year during which things became very dark for me. Although I was ahead of schedule on healing from my spinal fusion, had started hospital physical therapy which was going well, planned a trip to see my family in California in August, and was enjoying my work, the stress from behavior in my workplace around the pandemic was getting to me. I was tapped for a work project that put me at higher risk of illness, and as masks came off and I contracted my first viral illness in more than a year – which quickly turned into weeks of pneumonia, I backed away from the project and took a lesser role. This was another mark against my “getting back to normal,” even though I wasn’t being treated with the same equity my colleagues received (e.g. the chance to gain immunity before resuming ‘normal’ work activities).
My hair had started falling out so significantly that I went to my primary care doctor and learned I had a new, devastating, and irreversible illness I hadn’t been aware of. The existential anger and unfairness I was experiencing at work just exacerbated my symptoms and made it almost impossible to focus.
I found solace in the outdoors even as my weight loss in August hit an all-time low of 2.4 lbs and I struggled to find anything appropriate to write about in a public-facing space through my incredible fury. For my own well-being, I decided to roll back my three-year tour to two years, after initially agreeing to extend until summer 2023 when we’d arrived in mid-2020. This put me into the ring for bidding immediately and I started working on looking for my fourth assignment (which I also talked about here and here).
And then one glorious August day after graduating from my four-month physical therapy program (which I woefully dropped the ball on writing about), I got in my Volkswagen and simply drove all the way to Nevada, blazing through all four of North America’s deserts in literally one day. The next day I was in California with my mom who I hadn’t seen in over two years. On the way back to Juarez a couple weeks later, I rolled through San Diego and Tucson, the latter for the first time. In September I also went with V to Carlsbad for the first time and picked my weight loss back up that month with another 7.4 lbs.
In October I celebrated my birthday all month, attending the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta and welcoming my dad and stepmom to our home in Juarez – the only guests we ended up ever having there – before traveling with them to Playa del Carmen for their 20th wedding anniversary where we’d had our honeymoon in 2013. I had to exercise daily to beat back any food and alcohol-related weight gain there, and only lost 0.4 lbs that month, but it was worth it! My hair continued falling out for a fourth month straight and it had been several weeks since I could wear it down or wash it more than every couple of weeks. So it was difficult to keep it dry while swimming and put it in ugly buns when we went out to dinner each night. I shed a lot of tears over it, but tried to enjoy myself anyway while doing what I could with makeup and appreciating the new body I’d earned through months of effort.
I finished the year with a flurry of thematic blog posts – the most I’ve ever written in a short period of time – about what it’s like to live and serve on the border, celebrating 15 years with my husband, and the announcement of my fourth Flag Day, followed by travelogues to Cloudcroft, NM and San Antonio and Fort Worth, TX where I adjusted to eating on the AutoImmune Protocol. In November and December I lost another 9.6 and 6.8 lbs respectively, closing out 2021 with a total weight loss of 96.4 lbs (43.7 kg) – so close to my 100 lb goal! (I subsequently reached that goal the third week of January 2022, after slowing down my weight loss repeatedly in an attempt to protect my scarily thinning and shedding hair, and wrote an intensive post about my whole weight loss journey here.)
In December I finally acknowledged something I’d been exploring and considering for months: I had requested curtailment from Juarez. And the week before Christmas, it had gone to panel in Washington and been approved. We essentially skipped Christmas and cancelled a trip we’d been planning across the southwest to southern California in favor of preparing for our packout and return to Virginia, which I found myself preparing for on New Year’s Eve.
It was a rough year, but the wonderful back surgery and physical therapy I had in addition to my weight loss, as well as my travels both solo and with V stood out as sparkling highlights in a year that filled me with dread. Other years in my past have struck me as more difficult than the rest, but 2021 was just… different. I found 2021 much, much worse than 2020 for reasons I think I’ve already outlined extensively. I was happy to close the door on it and I tried to do so in a clear-eyed and grateful way.
And for what it’s worth, my hair shed slowed down about five weeks ago – after eight straight months of telogen effluvium (TE) in which I estimate I lost three-quarters of my hair. It was incredibly traumatizing and I do intend to write a post about it in the future; given the number of private messages I receive whenever I mention it on my personal social media, I do think a lot more people are starting to experience TE as an after-effect of their COVID fevers and infections. In my case, it was caused by a combination of weight loss, thyroid disease, autoimmunity, and physical and emotional trauma. If you have experienced this, just know that you are not alone and you are welcome to contact me about it. I completely understand how upsetting it is and how it feels like it will never stop and you will go bald. (You won’t.) Unfortunately many in the medical profession also minimize how devastating hair loss (alopecia) can be, particularly for women, and/or want to treat it as anxiety. No, you are not mentally ill, and you have every right to feel however you feel about your hair loss. Stay tuned…
Blogging in 2021
- In 2021, I only wrote 28 new posts, down for the second year in row (from 38 in 2020 and 47 in 2019). However, the average words per post was the highest ever at just over 2,100; the previous four years I’ve averaged 1,640 words per post.
- I also set a record in December for the highest number of posts in a month (10); the previous records had been nine posts in May 2015 followed by eight posts during July 2019. For the first time ever that month too, I published blog posts five days in a row.
- While the blog received only 38,361 unique page and post views (a 14% decrease from the prior year), the number of visitors itself reached 15,765, an all-time high and a 14% increase over the prior year.
- The blog also exceeded 1,000 followers across its WordPress, Facebook, and Twitter platforms for the first time and surpassed 200,000 total lifetime views.
- The blog did not break the highest-ever number of monthly views (5,111 in August 2020); however, during all 12 months of the year the blog had at least 2,000 page views per month, with seven months being above 3,000 page views per month, and two months being above 4,000 page views per month.
- Blog readers in 2021 landed here from 146 different countries, up slightly from 139 in 2020. See below for a list of the top 20 countries from which visitors most frequently viewed the blog:
- United States
- United Kingdom
- Bosnia & Herzegovina
- South Africa
- Democratic Republic of the Congo
Below is a list of the top 20 posts and pages, ranked by the number of the views they received, and including their year of publication:
- Tips for Authenticating Louis Vuitton Multicolore (2020)
- Foreign Service Housing (2019)
- My Foreign Service Timeline (2014)
- For Immunocompromised People, the Pandemic is Now + How You Can Be an Ally (2021)
- Becoming an FSO Part II: The QEP (2014)
- I Love a Sunburnt Country (Wide Brown Land) (2019)
- About the Author (2014)
- Suckerpunch (2021)
- Your Questions Answered, Volume VI (2021)
- Becoming an FSO Part III: The FSOA (2014)
- Year in Review: 2020 Blog Stats + Recap (2021)
- About the Foreign Service (2014)
- Flag Day Recap (2014)
- Your Questions Answered, Volume V (2020)
- Flag Day Announcement… IV (2021)
- Fourth Tour Bidding, Part I (2021)
- Rest, Now (2021)
- It’s Not Over Yet (2021)
- …Vaccinated (2021)
- Seven Years in Blogging + Recovery Continues (2021)
Just a few of my conclusions from looking at the 2021 data:
- I wrote less often in 2021, but more in-depth about things on my mind.
- Of the top 20 most-viewed posts in 2021, half were written in 2021 and the other half were written in earlier years.
- The majority of visitors to the blog, as always, hail from the United States.
- The #1 most-visited post about my Louis Vuitton purses was visited five times more than the #2 most-visited post about Foreign Service housing! I haven’t done any advanced analytics to see if the viewers who come to read that fashion-related post hang around on the blog to read any posts on my more typical subject matter, but I expect I will in the future. It’s clear that Louis Vuitton post is a big driver of traffic to the blog, but I’m not sure it translates to interest in my Foreign Service-related material. Conversely, I doubt that many who come to the blog to read about my Foreign Service candidacy and career are necessarily interested in fashion topics! I have no desire to be a fashion influencer; I just write what I like and if people read it, that’s great, and if not, that’s OK because I still enjoy the posts myself!
Thank you as always to blog readers who enjoy coming here, especially to those who send me questions about the Foreign Service. I am several months behind in answering the blog inbox and for that I am sorry. If you have written me since the end of last summer with questions or comments, you simply caught me at one of the most personally and professionally difficult times I have experienced and I did not want to exhaust my emotional energy by being inauthentically enthusiastic, or worse, respond from a place of negativity. I thank you for your continued patience. I enjoy corresponding with you and I promise that I will get back to you directly through email. I may also include include your question (anonymously, without attribution) as part of my “Your Questions Answered” blog series.
A note that I am increasingly frequently asked to participate in research studies and/or appear on video calls for interviews. Unfortunately, those are things I won’t be able to do, both in terms of my own bandwidth, avoiding bureaucracy with my employer, and with an eye towards preserving the semi-anonymous character of this blog. I also don’t respond to any messages related to monetizing content from my blog, which I’m not permitted to do. Writing is really my medium and although it’s not the most clickworthy or modern, I’d prefer to leave it there. Thank you for your understanding.
I hope the first quarter of your 2022 has already brought you astonishing happiness, renewed your spirit, and challenged you to explore unexpected passions. Please stay safe!