A Toss Up

I found out the other day that I’ll be going back to work very soon, and I feel very much in two minds about it all. On one hand I’m delighted to be beginning the process of creating a new normal to get back to, but on the other hand… the reality of risk is rearing its ugly head along with the fear of the unknown.

Intellectually, I know that the country – the world – cannot go on forever effectively hiding from Covid 19, holed up in hope of a miracle vaccine that can make us feel safe again. At some point in time we all have to face our fears, adapting and making the necessary changes to society that allow us all to live with Covid 19 in the community rather than potentially die from it.

But emotionally I feel decidedly anxious and wary, because however much I’ve found it frustrating at times I’ve got used to feeling snug and safe in my own home and it seems crazily counter-intuitive after months of a very successful ‘Stay at Home, Stay Safe’ campaign to now be told it’s OK, it’s safe out there too even though the virus hasn’t gone yet – basically it has to be OK because the economy is collapsing.

It’s all about finding a precarious balance, isn’t it? We balance the risk of going out into the scary world where a deadly invisible virus awaits by wearing some kind of protection from infection, and because full Hazmat suits are not practical daywear for most of us in our daily lives, we compromise and stick to wearing a simple face mask and using hand sanitiser and keeping our distance from others to keep us safe.

We have to balance the risk of catching a virus that might kill us against the risk of having no future income to live on, which in a very different way also might kill us in the end. So somewhere along the line we have to meet in the middle. It has to be done, and I know it’s almost time for me to get back out there and get on with it. And in a weird way I’m quite looking forward to it, except for when I’m not.

The department store I work in seems to have created a well-managed environment for both staff and customers to move around in, with plenty of safety measures in place to protect everyone as much as possible. So I can’t help but wonder how I’ll be feeling on my first day back, smiley and safe or frowny and fearful? Right now it feels like it could be either, and it’s going to be a toss up as to which actually wins out on the the day… πŸ™‚

Stream of Consciousness Saturday: Toss

Five Things I Miss During Lockdown

Dr Tanya at Salted Caramel asks us to list five things we missed during lockdown.

As here in Scotland we are technically still in lockdown, with only a minimal easing of restrictions to date, I’m writing my list in the present tense πŸ™‚

Hugs – Of course I can (and do!) still hug my husband several times a day, but I really miss hugging my kids and grandkids and my parents, and also my friends and work colleagues and all other huggable people in my life. I’m usually a really huggy person, so I’m finding this lack of everyday human touch really difficult to deal with.

Pub lunches – I miss being able to say ‘Stuff cooking today, let’s go to the pub for lunch’ and actually doing it – sigh!

Going out for the day – It doesn’t matter where, just the freedom to decide to go out somewhere – anywhere – and be around other people and not have to worry about personal proximity or face coverings or potentially catching a virus that might kill us.

Work – Yes I know, strange as it seems I miss physically going to work. There’s a familiarity to the daily routine of going out to work to earn a living that furlough just doesn’t recreate, even though I’m still receiving 80% of my usual salary just to stay at home.

Time off – Crazy though it sounds, I really miss that feeling of having ‘time off’, even though you could argue that technically I have infinite time off at the moment. But I think for me that’s the point – in order to really appreciate and enjoy the finite quality of ‘time off’, it feels to me that I have to have something to have time off from πŸ™‚

Ten of my Favourite Feelings

Fandango has offered us the chance to post a list of ten of our favourite feelings. The more I think about which favourites I might choose, the more I realise there are tons to choose from across my lifetime, some big, some small – so here goes with the first ten that spring to mind!

1 The amazement of realising I was pregnant for the first time – I was 18, and the knowledge of what was happening inside my body felt exciting and scary in equal measure. But I knew in that moment that one way or another my life would change forever, which of course it did.

2 The ocean of maternal love for each newborn baby I felt flooding my system immediately after childbirth – however knackered and sore I felt physically, for me that remains one of the most powerful feelings in the world. It may well have something to do with a chemical rush of hormones created due to the unavoidable internal imbalance as a newly-made part of your body you’ve been carefully growing and nurturing for nine months is violently expelled in one fell swoop to create a brand new person, but it’s an intensity of feeling I’ve certainly never forgotten ❀

3 The strangely unstoppable feeling of pressure release as warm milk flows unbidden from your body whenever your baby cries, or even when you’re lying soaking in a bath, and obviously as your baby suckles so rhythmically. Regrettably for me long-term breast-feeding was not a success with any of my three children, but I try to comfort myself with the knowledge that at least I tried with each one before I failed.

4 The additional layer of maternal love I felt for each precious grandchild when they were born – seriously, two people who once grew inside of me have grown their own babies from nascent egg-sacs initially created inside of them as they grew inside of me – mind blown!

5 The feeling of achievement I felt on gaining my First Class Honours Bachelor of Arts Degree at the ripe old age of 40 – I’d got married young, pretty much straight out of school, so only returned to my studies in later life once my children had grown up.

6 The thrill of looking out onto a spectacular rumbling thunderstorm with its torrential rain, the electric awe of watching lightning crack and flash across the sky while staying safe and dry and warm indoors.

7 The soothing hypnotic feeling of watching and hearing the soft swoosh of waves wash onto the shore in nature’s own tidal rhyming scheme, accompanied by the salty smell of the bracing sea air filling my lungs.

8 The sated satisfaction of enjoying good food, then feeling replete and relaxed afterwards.

9 The natural intimacy of sharing human touch in all its everyday forms, from handshakes through hugs to sex as appropriate.

10 The fundamental feeling of comfort and well-being found in snuggling down safe and warm in your own bed at night, especially with freshly-laundered sheets… sheer bliss! πŸ™‚

Brightening my Day

We’ve just had Mental Health Awareness Week (18-24 May 2020) and I’m very aware that my mental health is not great just now.

My motivation for doing anything much, in tandem with my melancholy mood, has been pretty low lately. I’ve been pushing myself to do ‘fun’ things to try to force myself out of it, bringing temporary relief at times but overall I feel I’m failing miserably at keeping my head above water. So while the weather is nice today I’m simply spending time pottering about aimlessly in the garden, letting go of the stranglehold grip on my own feelings and just letting the colours and smells and sounds of nature work their magic on me.

We had a lot of rain over the last week so all the flowers are looking bright and plump and the foliage is a really rich green; everything looks sated and content. I notice the old roses I cut back so drastically before the winter are finally starting to bud, and I’m relieved to see the large fuchsia bush by the gate I also hard-pruned almost to the ground is filling out nicely. Not having killed off either the fuchsia or the roses the first year we live here is certainly a good reason to bring a soft smile to my face.

As well as the ‘frequent flyer’ wood pigeons, seagulls and crows never far from sight we also have several blackbirds visiting regularly, the drab brown understated females as well as the striking black males with their orange beaks. And for the past couple of days I’ve also seen a few delicately-tinted blue tits flitting about hither and thither, pale yellow breasts and soft blue backs catching the sunlight as they dart about. Learning anew to recognise some of the childhood birds I now see regularly again makes me smile a little, too.

So in a week where I’ve been struggling to smile much at all without frantically forcing it through sheer willpower and definace against the lingering lure of depression, today I’m finding surprising solace in my garden by simply letting myself be – allowing myself to feel down when I feel down, and in turn feeling powerfully rewarded by the magic of nature’s own remedy helping to brighten my day.

Weekly Smile

Day 63: So Near and Yet So far

Day 63 of Stay at Home here in Scotland, with the tantalising promise (if all goes well) of the beginnings of a slight lifting of lockdown restrictions later this week, in that outdoor contact will finally be allowed between two separate households, as long as social distancing is maintained.

To be honest I’m finding it really difficult right now to stay in what amounts to full lockdown mode while everyone in England has already had a taste of relative freedom for the last couple of weeks. Although in an attempt to reduce our collective frustration, thankfully last week our First Minister Nicola Sturgeon shared in advance the Scottish Government’s full ‘Roadmap’ out of lockdown including the welcome announcement that Phase One of easing restrictions will begin on Thursday 28th May.

But until then, all previous Stay at Home rules apply… Sigh!

One week more of total lockdown for Scotland is not much to ask in the grander scheme of things – and the First Minister has given us fair warning of her future intentions – but to me it feels very much like that last week of work just before you go on a long-awaited leave. Your head is already in holiday mode but your job still needs to be done properly, conscientiously, with full focus. Yet all around you, you see friends already on holiday, enjoying their new-found comparative freedoms and forgetting that you have not yet reached that point.

I know there are absolutely no shortcuts to getting through this pandemic for anyone, huge mistakes have definitely been made along the way and we’ve got a long and bumpy road to travel yet, but personally I’m oh-so-ready to move on from this stultifying stagnant stage, however cautiously and carefully. I understand we need to take it all one step at a time, in the smallest of tentative baby steps if needs be, but I firmly believe in general we do need to begin to move on now. We have successfully flattened the curve of Covid-19 infection and protected the NHS, and that was what we were asked en masse to do.

We were neither asked nor expected – well, other than those shielding of course – to remain self-imposed reclusive captives in our own homes for unspecified months on end until an appropriate vaccine had been found and tested and approved before the world moved on again. But for the bulk of the population it makes sense that we learn to keep our distance and protect ourselves and others from infection, even if it means drastically change the way we live our lives outside the home for good. Because I think the time has come when we do all have to learn to live in the outside world again, even if it means going on living with this virus into the future, and not just exist in limbo as we have been.

I’m not in any way advocating acts of mass idiocy or individual selfishness, or of disregarding the rules or treating them with disdain. I’m simply saying it feels to me like it’s time as a nation the rules and expectations changed so we all stop floundering around treading water in absolute panic and start to learn to swim forward a little again, stroke by measured stroke, until we can gain enough confidence as a country to loosen our deadly coronavirus chains and as a people together look outwards once more to appreciating the everyday joys of living, instead of focusing inwards only on the fear of dying.

Fandango’s One Word Challenge: Shortcut

Anxiety, Boredom and Creative Doom

Day 53 of lockdown, and I’m having a crap day. I just can’t be bloody bothered to try to be anything other than meh. My anxiety levels are simmering at just below screaming, my brain is bored of nothing but the same old, same old, day in, day out. And my motivation to be creative, which has been faltering fast lately, seems to have flat-lined completely.

So far today I’ve showered and washed my hair, I’ve done a load of washing and have hung it outside on the line, and I’ve tried to generate enough enthusiasm to take some photographs of a vase of flowers but honestly, my heart is just not in it today. I can’t even find the emotional wherewithal to go out for a walk, and that’s almost unheard of for me.

Do I wanna read? Nope. Do I wanna cook something nice? Nope. Do I just wanna sit here and stew in my own juice? Um… no, not really, but it’s what I seem to be doing. Enough already with the lockdown limbo blues, I’ve got no business feeling so down. Thankfully no-one I love has even caught coronavirus never mind died from it. Things could be so much worse.

But yet I feel increasingly dissatisfied, frustrated, tearful, angry, and on top of all of those feelings I feel guilty for struggling so much with having to spend a few measly weeks at home. In the grander scheme of things I know it’s really not such a lot to ask, but oh, how I want it to end soon. A month I was prepared for, even six weeks at a push. But two months feels like too much.

Physically I feel fine, mentally, not so great. Too much time to think with nowhere to go to get away from myself. No daily distractions from my depressive demons. Nothing to mask my melancholy misery. Just full-on me, annoying and irritating myself, getting in my own face 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. I’m holding on so far, but for how much longer… who knows 😦

Fortitude

I don’t really think of myself as someone with fortitude, showing courage in adversity, and yet…

Having so much time on my hands just now, I’m doing something I’ve been thinking about for ages, since long before we moved from London to Inverness at the end of last summer. I’m reading through my old diaries, life journals from the last 20 years. They were still stored neatly in the cardboard box I’ve kept them in forever, because when we were packing to move I couldn’t decide whether or not to keep them for posterity, so they simply came with me as they were.

And here I am, re-reading my thoughts and feelings from two decades ago going forwards, and looking back to the words my younger self wrote so long ago I’m truly surprised at how well I’ve coped with some really stressful situations in my life, considering the particular circumstances I was faced with. I’m always so quick to criticise my past actions, focusing so detrimentally on those things I got wrong, or could have done better. And yet…

I’ve survived. I’m still here. I still have my family. I have two full-to-bursting A4 lever arch files plus 18 individual A4 wire-bound lined notebooks stuffed with words that mattered enough to me at the time to write them down and keep them safe. Reflective words, rambling words, ranting words – happy words, sad words, good words, bad words. So I’m taking my time in looking back, letting the memories awaken, letting them sink in, and then letting them go again with thanks.

Yes I’ve definitely made mistakes, and have definitely made some bad calls over the years, but I’ve also coped far better with other difficult situations than I could ever have imagined. Even the really bad stuff. I’ve achieved a lot more than I remembered, succeeded in the stuff of life way more than I’ve failed. So perhaps I do have more fortitude than I’d thought, perhaps I’m far more resilient than I ever give myself credit for?

On 1st September 2000, I wrote about a quote I’d seen written somewhere a few days previously that had resonated deeply with me – ‘Life is a journey, travel it well’. And although in the intervening years I’d inevitably forgotten all about it, I find it’s an idea that still resonates with me today so have recreated it with the little magnetic letters my grandchildren like playing with whenever they come to visit.

It’s been such a long time since I saw them, and it no doubt will be a while yet before lockdown is lifted and we can all see each other again. So I suppose right now we are all displaying fortitude in truly difficult circumstances, all finding our own way through this pandemic as best we can. Hopefully in the future I can look back on this painful time and think, yes, overall I feel I’ve travelled my life well… πŸ™‚

Fandango’s One Word Challenge: Fortitude

Tipping Point

Most of the time, me and depression have a long-standing uneasy truce. I recognise it, respect its existence, but in general I try to keep my most erratic errant emotions in check using all the coping mechanisms and other psychological tricks of the trade I’ve learned over a lifetime of mental confusion and distress.

Mapped out mathematically, graphically on an x and y axis of up-and-down emotion to linear time, life for me to date has been a parabolic undulation of relative highs and lows in perpetuity, a never-ending oscillating sine wave of sentient surfing. And as with real surfing it’s all about maintaining balance, and when I do fall off, keeping my wits about me and my head above water for the duration.

So on the surface I go about life as normal as it can be, getting on, getting everyday things done quietly and slowly, not making a fuss or drawing attention to myself but looking the part. I enjoy these good times, when life feels easy and I’m on top of the world. But there’s inevitably a point where I feel myself start to wobble, when I feel myself having to fight frantically just to continue to keep myself upright.

This is my own personal tipping point in life. Sometimes I can manage successfully to right my balance and stabilise my sure footing all by myself – hoorah, misery averted! But at other times I know there’s no stopping my roller-coaster crashing descent into darkness, gulping and gasping for air in drowning desperation.

These days I find that once I’m falling, it’s easier if I stop fighting and flailing. I feel a rush of relief and release from all that steely tension, then nothing. I simply let my body go with the flow, let my mind drift, metaphorically hold my breath and trust in life on autopilot to take me back up to the surface again when the time is right.

I’m feeling the same thing right now, five weeks into lockdown limbo. I began it all as positively as I could in the circumstances, but right now am currently having a huge wobble. My head tells me sensibly this is where we need to be in life just now, but deep down my heart is silently screaming, pounding in panic and pained with antsy anxiety.

I feel myself once more tantalisingly close to my tipping point. I feel myself holding on tight, tense and taut, wavering and waiting to see which way it goes. For now it feels about fifty-fifty, on the absolute cusp, hanging precariously in the balance…

Weekly Prompt: Tipping Point

Lockdown Meltdown Averted

This morning I had a bit of a lockdown meltdown threatening – it’s been five weeks today – so I took myself off for a walk in the woods nearby. Yes, I know I live in a town but it’s close to home so I walked there first (uphill all the way), then had my walk in the woods, then walked home again (downhill all the way) and felt so much better afterwards.

Walking in nature always makes me feel rejuvenated somehow, so the earthy forest smells and the everyday woodland sounds and the dusty feel of well-trodden hard-packed ground beneath my feet today worked wonders, releasing the tension in my body and amazingly even putting the slightest hint of a relaxed smile on my face πŸ™‚

Weekly Smile