Over by Christmas…

Everything feels really ominous just now.

Here in Scotland we’ve all been placed under reasonably restrictive coronavirus rules since the last week of September, unable to mix socially with other households at home at all, and from tomorrow we start our new tiered system going from Level 0 to Level 4 ranging from as-near-as-dammit-normal-as-can-be-without-a-vaccine at Level 0 to pretty much full-lockdown-apart-from-schools at Level 4.

Here in the Highlands apparently we’re going to be in Level 1, which is really good for local businesses but sadly we’re still not allowed to meet people indoors at home – only outside, or in public spaces, and still in restricted numbers – so for me personally none of it makes any real difference to life as it has been for the last few weeks, and that’s a bit frustrating to have to deal with as it’s not quite what was promised when the tiers were first set, but caution is the name of the game in Scotland.

The Scottish Government has been very clear all along that according to scientific data close person to person contact at home has played a big part in the spread of the virus to date and acted accordingly weeks ago, banning household mixing socially indoors. So I still have to go out to work and come into contact with strangers every day, albeit masked and sanitised and socially distanced, but basically still won’t be able to see my family at least for the first week of the new system, after which time things will be reviewed.

But in England, although certain local areas in Northern England have also been under greater restrictions than others for weeks now, the UK Government dithered and dallied and didn’t want to mess up their economy or piss off their people any more than they had already, so didn’t impose a blanket ban on households meeting across the whole country like we did here when the scientific data suggested it. Too much carrot, not enough stick. And infection numbers across England do appear to be rocketing again, so perhaps there is something after all in preventing people from mixing indoors in private homes.

And so just as Scotland introduces its new tiered system of loosening things off at last, England is due to be going into full lockdown for four weeks, which feels really weird to think about. Does that mean that here in the Highlands we’ll be inundated with visitors over then next few weeks as people further south try to escape greater restrictions and go elsewhere for the duration? Good for the tourism economy in such a tough year financially but perhaps not so much for the overall health of the local population up here.

It’ll all be over by Christmas, we jokingly remarked earlier in the year with pseudo-war-time spirit in the hopeful belief that Covid 19 would be a dark and distant memory by then, yet here we all are still in the midst of this global pandemic, mired in a no-mans-land of fear and misery trapped uneasily between the two front lines of health and wealth, bombarded incessantly from both sides by propaganda and prophesies of doom. Clearly not a snowball’s chance in hell of any of it being over any time soon, at least in this part of the world…

Yup, everything feels really ominous just now.

Fandango’s One Word Challenge: Ominous

Trick Cyclists and Other Balancing Acts

No idea where I’m going with this week’s Stream of Consciousness Saturday post with the prompt word of ‘trick’ other than steering well clear of all things Halloween.

I also have no idea why we Brits use the rather derogatory slang term ‘trick cyclist’ to refer to a Psychiatrist, but we do! I could always look it up on the internet but where’s the fun in that? Anyway, suffice to say I’ve seen a couple of Trick Cyclists in my time and both have been perfectly non-tricky. Nice guys (not being sexist here – both Psychiatrists whose care I have been under were actually male) who clearly acted and advised with concern and my best interests at heart. Definitely much appreciated.

Sadly I can’t say the same for all the Psychotherapists I’ve seen though – the last one clearly had a narrow agenda all of her own and on our last meeting where I sat silent for the entire hour with tears running down my face in sheer frustration because everything I had said previously had been twisted to suit her preferred pathway of thought, I decided enough was enough and I wasn’t ever going back. It still smarts when I think of it, years later, to have felt so disempowered and disenfranchised and tied up in tight knots by someone who was supposed to be helping me loosen and unravel my long-term mental health issues.

Trying to stabilise and level out my own psychological problems does sometimes feel like a bit of a balancing act though – here I am right now feeling caught in the spotlight of my very own personal circus ring, the rest of the world looking on as I struggle to stay upright and show that I really can do this life thing, watching me fly my freak flag high and keep my multiple plates spinning while constantly adjusting my balance on my rickety old unicycle. A collective sharp intake of breath from the front row as the world watches me fall, then exhales in relief as I pick myself up, dust myself off and get straight back on again.

So these days I am basically my own trick cyclist, allowing everyone else to be able to mutter gratefully under their breath ‘Not my circus, not my monkeys’ as they leave the tent reassured that thankfully I have finally found the ability to keep my own show on the road and my melancholic monkey-mind under some semblance of control – for now at least… 🙂

Grey Days Continue

My miserable grey days continue unabated…

For now my inner world is still feeling far too dark and tearful for comfort, but I do try to find life’s fragrant roses amongst the world’s abundant thorns wherever I can to remind myself never to lose hope that better days are always possible…

Ironically yesterday was the 2020 World Mental Health Day and I meant to post something poignant to mark the occasion, but sadly my non-motivated despressive mood means I didn’t quite get there after all…

Life lived closed down on autopilot can only take me so far…

Keeping Our Distance

Here in Scotland, keeping our distance between separate households is sadly going to be back in force from tomorrow. Zero mixing indoors for families and friends for at least the next three weeks – we can still meet (with limitations) outside in the garden, but hello, Scotland in the autumn so far this year is cold and wet and windy so realistically that probably won’t be happening anytime soon.

It’s upsetting to have to have such restrictions back in place, but not totally surprising. Northern Ireland and Wales have also set the same curtailments for separate households no longer socialising together, although England has not applied quite the same blanket rule across the whole country – rather certain areas have a similar kind of local lockdown, while in other areas the population has slightly more freedom to mix.

So here we are six months almost to the day of the start of our initial lockdown, feeling frustrated yet resigned to the potential reality of this kind of ongoing stop-start, two steps forward and one step back approach to controlling the spread of Covid 19. It seems unavoidable that a second wave is on the horizon, R rate rising as it is above 1 once more. Pubs and restaurants will now have a curfew of 10pm, too, to try to limit the spread of infection.

We certainly could never have imagined back in the Spring that we would be so little further on by the Autumn, but oh, we clearly still have a long way to go before we can even begin to put this virus behind us once and for all…

Quarantine Questions

Having been subjected to stay at home restrictions (to one degree or another) over the past six months, would you say that quarantine has made you a better person? If so, in what ways? If not, why not?

Hmmm. Has this pandemic made me a better person? Different, certainly, but better – no, overall on balance probably not…

Lockdown began with a deep fear of what might happen if I or anybody I loved caught the virus. Scared, I stayed at home for the duration as instructed, and enjoyed being a loner home-maker and a gardener for a while. But as the weeks passed I became increasingly disheartened, disconcerted, distressed. I missed people, and places, and soon it seemed like partisan politics got in the way of everything else and none of it made any sense any more.

As the infection rate and death toll here in the UK first rose alarmingly and then gradually started to fall week after week, I questioned the lack of testing, the lack of track and trace, and seriously struggled with the free-fall never-endingness of feeling trapped in a groundhog-day-style lockdown limbo. It felt like as a collaborative community we could not simply hold our collective breath forever, and that sooner or later something somewhere would have to give.

And eventually when the time came I went back to work. New rules, new restrictions, new possibilities for potential infection to get my head around. People to see and places to go, granted, but cautiously, carefully, all masked up and keeping our distance, dancing around each other delicately as if surrounded by an invisible forcefield like repelling magnets of similar polarity. Social contact, but still without any physical contact. Together but apart. The new normal.

To date thankfully my family are all fine in that none of us have had Covid, but other long-term ongoing health problems have become far more difficult to deal with across the months and the generations. ‘Protecting the NHS’ when it comes to Covid seems to have meant forfeiting so much else health-wise for so many of us, even now that first peak has passed. The importance of continuing family connections definitely means more to me now – I know potentially there is a lot to lose for all of us if things go pear-shaped.

Six months on I now feel frustrated as well as fearful. I still don’t want to catch this damned virus but I also want to live, not just continue to exist: I want to enjoy life again. What I miss most is the freedom to just be, without having to think about it. Go out where I want, see who I want when I want, socialise or not as the mood takes me. Now we no longer have that freedom I do appreciate what we have lost – perhaps temporarily, perhaps forever.

But whereas before I tried hard to be someone with a ‘live and let live’ mentality, I currently find myself far less tolerant of those selfish individuals amongst us who choose to demean, debunk, disregard and blatantly dismiss the scientific reality of our current global situation. I feel like saying to those self-important ignorant idiots – well, screaming at them, anyway – it’s not fake news, fuckwits, get with the program!

So on one hand I’m more grateful for what I have, but on the other hand I’m definitely far less trustful of others. Some of the time I’m wary and weary, emotionally exhausted, easily irritated. The rest of the time I’m just happy to still be alive…

Fandango’s Provocative Question

Starting September – One, Two, Three, Go!

Seriously, I need to sort out my eating.

Comfort eating, emotional eating, over-eating – whatever I choose to call it, I do far too much of it far too often and have done my whole life, and lately it’s really beginning to worry me. I already have far too many niggly ongoing health issues with my digestive system these days to let it continue – high cholesterol, gall stones, fatty liver, and reflux.

I have three months until I turn 57, so have decided that for all of September, October and November I’m going to try to break a few bad habits of a lifetime by changing the way I eat. Three months, and then I’ll see how I feel about it all. Some things I need to cut out completely, others I need to cut down on, but whatever it takes I really do need to do it, and I mean it.

It’s no longer just about vanity, about wanting to look better (although that would be good too), but about looking after my internal health because I need to start to feel better in myself. I know I’m overweight and unhealthy and it’s time to admit I feel really crap, both about myself and within myself. So I have a list of things I’m saying goodbye to, starting tomorrow (but with an initial trial run today)…

No more chocolate, sweets, ice cream, crisps, chips, or takeaways – no exceptions. Less processed food, pre-prepared food, packet food – stuff with too many hidden ingredients. Minimal alcohol (none at all is not realistic for me). More fresh food cooked from scratch, more fruit and vegetables . It’s not rocket science, it’s basic common sense and I’m too old to mess around any longer – my future health depends on it.

I’m hoping above hope I’ll soon start to feel more energetic, that my weight will maybe start to drop slowly but surely, that my skin and hair will improve condition and I’ll simply feel less of an unhealthy slob as time progresses. I know I’ll never look or feel young again, that ship sailed a long time ago, but I can perhaps start to age more gracefully.

I’ve no idea how much I weigh and have no bathroom scales (nor do I wish to own any), so it’s not going to be about numbers but more about how I feel internally, including in my aching joints. So watch this space, because for the next three months I seriously need to sort out my eating once and for all, starting September – one, two, three, go!

Fandango’s Dog days of August: Plans for September

Hanging by a Thread

I’ve been feeling sadly out of sorts this week, both emotionally and physically. Ironically I’d actually been given this week off work (annual leave accrued over lockdown to be used up), and had so much planned to get done at home, as well as visiting family members socially.

But I’ve clearly picked up an annoying summer cold from somewhere – sneezing, headache, ear-ache, sore throat, tiredness – and as ever it’s gone into my chest so I’m currently waiting with tight wheezy breath to be coughing up gunk in my usual fashion once it all loosens off and starts to pass, probably in another day or two. As an added precaution (in the current circumstances) I’ve been checking my temperature religiously, but thankfully it remains decidedly normal.

Also no irritating dry cough in major long-lasting coughing fits, and no obvious loss of smell – everything tastes a little bit metallic just now but there’s nothing odd in that for me, having a crappy cold as I do. None of the notable specific symptoms of Covid, so as I’ve not recently been travelling anywhere that requires quarantine on my return, according to the NHS website there is no test required. But even so I’m not visiting anyone anytime soon – I’m staying home alone.

I hadn’t actually considered until this coronavirus pandemic hit this year just how unwell I’ve felt a lot of the time over my whole lifetime – not properly ill as such, just always under the weather, not quite firing on all cylinders. Niggly things, nothing huge, causing inefficiency rather than inertia. Just over five and a haf decades of ongoing health-related baggage I carry around with me all the time, weighing me down a bit more than normal when the life-going gets tough.

But right now I seem to be almost paranoid about it – every cough or hot flush or ache or pain freaks me out in a way it never has before. And I’m not sleeping well just now either, so that magnifies everything by about 100%, giving me even more time to lie there in the dark and fret about everything. I felt so isolated during the height of lockdown, but since going back to work I feel far more vulnerable and exposed than when I was stuck safely at home.

It still scares me so much to think of catching a virus I might not survive – or worse pass on to those I love and potentially kill them. How could I live with myself if that hapened? In my area there have been three new cases this week adding to the five from the week before – the latest a member of staff in a business not more than 100 yards from the building where I work. Yes, the numbers here might be small, but without caution they can easily grow out of control and before you know it a local lockdown is necessary.

Maintaining constant vigilance of face covering, social distancing and hand sanitising is stressful and so emotionally tiring, but is oh so necessary now more than ever – especially at work. Right now I just wish I could start to feel a bit better both in body and soul, so that everything stops feeling like life is hanging precariously by a single thread, just waiting to fall into oblivion with only the slightest infectious touch.

Fandango’s One Word Challenge: Survive

Everything and Nothing

Nothing could have prepared me for the realities of 2020, for a pandemic and blanket lockdown, then for the onerous post-lockdown restrictions we have to contend with that will no doubt remain in place for the forseeable future. We may once more be open for business as a country but we are not yet open for the carefree life we knew before.

Things are not in any way back to normal – how can anything ever feel normal again? No easy human touch, no closeness, no community gatherings, no real socialising. Physical barriers to personal contact everywhere – screens and masks and gloves and sanitiser between us and others – and inevitably I fear emotional barriers will soon grow too.

Suspicion and fear and avoidance and caution are becoming built in to the fundamental fabric of our existence. We all have to learn to expect the worst but hope for the best, keep our distance, keep away, keep vigilant at all times while outside of our own little bubble of safety and security, and even be wary of those we invite in to join us at home.

We can’t automatically trust people any more, even our nearest and dearest, and that hurts us all. We can’t know who has touched something somewhere that someone else has touched who has the virus, who has not washed their hands enough or changed their potentially contaminated clothes or inadvertently touched their masks too often? We just can’t take risks.

People have become inherently dangerous just by being out there in the world, living and working and making the best of a bad situation as best they can. I don’t like stepping back when someone gets too close, turning away when someone breathes on me, flinching when even the slightest contact is made accidentally. But I know I must keep myself safe.

Nothing could have prepared me for any of this, and yet here I still am, bewildered and beleaguered, through spring and summer and soon heading into autumn with no end in sight. Simple self-preservation should not require such levels of separation, so all I can do is make sure to smile at people with my eyes and say rather than show them how I feel.

Fandango’s One Word Challenge: Nothing

The New Dinosaurs

Over the last few months, since this coronavirus pandemic so drastically altered the way we experience almost everything we hold dear to our hearts, when it comes to considering the future of humanity my mood regularly vacillates between hope and despair.

On my positive, optimistic days I feel charged with hope, and feel sure we’ll all (eventually) pull together as one people across the globe, committed as a species to get through this difficult period of adjustment and re-alignment in the knowledge that life will adapt as ever to the necessary changes Covid-19 brings. Current frustrations will inevitably ease as familiarity spreads and we find new favourable ways to have fun without fear.

We’ll learn to live together in a far more careful, cautious, respectful way within our own cultures and communities and moving out across the world. We’ll socialise in smaller groups spaced comfortably apart, and perhaps soon enough we’ll look back on historical images of mass gatherings in close proximity and wonder how we could not have foreseen the potential health hazard of seeking out such uncomfortably close contact and spending extended time with seething hoards of strangers.

I mean, when smoking restrictions were first introduced here in the UK it felt far too much to expect society to accept, and yet here we are today shocked that people used to smoke so easily and thoughtlessly on trains, on planes, in offices and shops yet no-one at that time found it odd, because it was simply how things were. In the wake of HIV we now practice safe sex without question, because these days we understand the potential dangers of not doing so. And not having seat-belts in cars seems unthinkable nowadays.

But on my negative, pessimistic days I feel doomed to despair at the self-destructive set of the human race. We consistently rape the natural world with an entitlement borne of ignorance and arrogance and when she finally gives birth to a novel coronavirus gestated in our own greed we create convoluted conspiracy theories based on an inability to understand basic cause and effect. Mother Earth is having her ‘Me Too’ moment and much of mankind stubbornly refuses to accept what she is telling us.

Too many of us are the new dinosaurs, drifting towards extinction with our heads in the clouds and our fingers in our ears, telling each other with puffed-up pride filling our tiny brains in our thick skulls that these so-called destructive giant meteor showers are a hoax perpetrated by our powerless prey. They are nothing more than little shooting stars in the sky, we say, re-affirming our self-belief that we are the biggest, the best, the greatest animals ever to roam the earth and nothing will ever take away our right to be right.

But we all know how well that one worked out last time… boom… bye-bye! Mother Nature – One, Big Dinosaurs – Nil 🙂

Fandango’s One Word Challenge: Vacillate

Weird But Wonderful

Yesterday was my first day back at work with real customers as well as just us staff in store (I work in the women’s wear section of a local department store), and to my relief it went fine – woo-hoo! On the whole customers wore reasonable face coverings, warily kept their distance, and calmly followed the correct procedures at the till without complaint. I felt a bit apprehensive to begin with, but as my usual sales-assistant work-mode kicked in I soon got used to the initial strangeness of it all.

We’ve been provided with full-face visors to wear at work, or we have the option of wearing our own masks if we prefer, and thin blue gloves are provided if we choose to wear them. Hand sanitiser is readily available for staff and customers to use, and we have perspex screens in front of the till points in use. I’m not fussed with gloves, I’d rather just maintain good hand hygiene, but face wearing some kind of face covering in all shops is mandatory here in Scotland.

In practice I found the visor to be really good to wear in regard to ease of breathing and still being able to see people’s faces when standing still or walking about, so fine when at the till point but not necessarily so practical for the inevitable lifting and bending and reaching when moving stock around – it got caught up and fell off or at got least shunted uncomfortably out of place far too often and I spent a lot of time yesterday adjusting it or replacing it, so the perspex became smudged and soon gave me a headache to be looking through it.

Hmmm… how best to overcome that little difficulty? I’m not generally great at having my mouth and nose covered directly for long periods of time – being asthmatic I tend to freak out at the feeling – but today I think I’m going to try to wear a face mask instead of my visor on shift. I’ve got used to wearing a mask when shopping myself, but coping for ten minutes here and there in and out of a shop is different than breathing through fabric for hours at a time at work. But it’s definitely worth a try.

Or I might take both visor and mask onto the shop floor, and change my face covering as necessary depending on the task at hand? The thing is, everyone’s in the same boat, no-one finds it easy because it feels decidedly odd for all of us. But we’re doing it because however restrictive and frustrating it is in the short-term it is helping us as a country reduce ongoing infection in the long-term, and that makes prefect sense. Sometimes we all have to do what’s difficult for the greater good, and that’s all there is to it.

Overall, though, even with my constant fiddling about with my face covering I really enjoyed my first ‘proper’ day back at work, and however tentative a beginning it may have been it is still a return of sorts to a normal life, or at least to whatever is going to count as normal for the next few months or so. Customers, too, were on the whole relieved to be out and about and enjoying a physical rather than virtual shopping experience. It felt good to have the normality of interaction with others again, even if at a safe distance.

Weird but wonderful is probably the best description of my day yesterday. It does feel weird to have to be avoiding yet accommodating a silent but deadly virus in every part of our daily lives, but at the same time it feels wonderful to have the opportunity to begin to end our lockdown limbo at last. Life goes on, cautiously and carefully, one small step at a time. But I’m taking nothing for granted, the threat to us all is by no means over yet. This virus is clearly here to stay, and the sooner we all accept that stark reality, the better for mankind.

Fandango’s One Word Challenge: Tentative