Liz Jones’s Diary: ‘In which I learn to count my blessings’

I have a new problem. I really do think I’m going bald. I washed my hair last night, and as I detangled it, great big hanks came out: enough to stuff a cushion. I often wonder whether there is one small window of a woman’s life where everything goes along swimmingly. At school, I was obsessed by my split ends. I used to furtively buy sachets of Protein 21 from Boots in a desperate bid to mend them. I would never sit in front of anyone on a bus or at assembly in case they commented on my split ends. I don’t know why my mum didn’t march me to a hairdresser.

Abbey Lossing at handsomefrank.com

In my 20s, I had terrible, weeping acne. In my 30s, I was obsessed by the fact I could see floaters, all the time. I worried about not getting a boyfriend: I actually bought vaginal cones, to exercise my nether regions, so that I was ready. In my 40s, I worried about my husband cheating on me. In my 50s, about money. And now? We could all say 60 is the new 40, but tell that to my left knee! I’ve had almost a year of not knowing if the room would be tilted when I wake up. Now that I have the vertigo under control, I’m turning into Kojak.

And then, I get an email from a reader, Ann. She is concerned about my vertigo and tells me that as my mum was a ballerina, she must have had hypermobility: her joints would have been able to move beyond the normal range. But she would also have been susceptible to arthritis – she was indeed in later life confined to a wheelchair, then a bed – and if I inherited the hypermobility gene, that could be causing my vertigo, due to movement in my neck and spine. She gives me lots of advice, and specialist contacts.

Ann then tells me about her daughter, Jenny, who is 35. She became ill with a virus 16 years ago, while at university. She has severe myalgic encephalomyelitis (inflammation of the brain and spinal cord). A poet, she can now only write one poem a year. Since January 2020, she is no longer able to watch TV. She cannot move her head from her pillow. She cannot look down, up or side to side. She can’t be washed or have her pyjamas or bedding changed because if she moves her neck even a tiny bit, this causes massive damage that could kill her. She is always in respiratory distress. A patch of ceiling is within her field of vision; that’s it. Her only solace is audio books, and the hope that enough money can be raised for her to see a surgeon in the US, as no surgeon here can help her.

Ann, now her daughter’s carer, sends me a photo. Jenny is very beautiful, like a Jane Austen heroine. That photo is haunting me. The other morning, I woke up dreading my day: deadlines, a long train journey, no food in first class, stress. Then I thought of Stella Tennant, the model who took her own life. How bad must she have felt to no longer want to be alive. And so I got up and I went about my day, but not with good grace, or any joy that I’m still alive. But at least Stella got me out of bed.

And now I keep thinking about Jenny, staring at the patch of ceiling above her bed in Snowdonia. Hearing her story has made me ashamed I don’t live with any happiness. And I’m wondering if we could do something for Jenny. Give her the gift of perhaps watching a Christmas special on TV. Of turning her head, even. Because that would be something. My life isn’t so bad, and her mum bothered to reach out to me. Let’s all reach out to Jenny, so she can get the surgery she needs. Let’s make her Christmas amazing. Let’s give her something to live for…

If you want to help, please go to gofundme.com/savejenny and jkrowbory.co.uk