You Don’t Have To Win At This…Clumsy Survival Will Be Just Fine

In the days leading up to the lockdown, my Facebook feed became full of well-meaning posts about how to survive. The ones I paid closest attention to initially were the home schooling ones. These were, at the time, quite reassuring so I saved them to special folder marked Home Education. But of course, schools have been just brilliant at providing everything we need to keep our children happy and learning. Mix that up with some physical exercise, some art, music and general mucking around and having fun, and I don’t think you can go far wrong.

With home schooling under control, the next thing I turned to was the influx of posts, emails and links urging people to get their businesses online and keep earning. As a self-employed person who suddenly found themselves out of work on 18th March, I started saving these too. I run a writing based business called Chasing Driftwood Writing Group. It started in 2017 but 2020 was shaping up to be my best year yet, with three new writing clubs to add to the three I already had established. Everything was going well.

Instantly I started seeing other self-employed people launching online content. I had no idea how, but surely my classes could continue online in some format? If I wanted to keep earning and keep my business going, I had to do this too, right? I started looking into Zoom and Skype and Microsoft Teams but that was as far as I got…

For so many of us, actually scratch that, for all of us humans on this planet right now, life has changed drastically. If there is one thing we can say it’s that at least we all know how other people feel because we are all experiencing this together. We’re not all in the same boat, obviously. Some of us live in mansions, some of us live in tower blocks. Some of us were already poor and struggling. Some of us never will. Some of us are safe at home while some of us are on the frontline in a variety of keyworker roles. But we are all affected by Covid19, lockdown and social distancing and by the ever present fear of one of our loved ones catching it.

I assumed I would be able to home school and keep working. I assumed I could do what everyone else was doing. I felt the pressure instantly. All these wonderful self-employed people popping up all over the internet, moving their classes online, producing quality content they could charge for, still earning! I was impressed and inspired and thought I could do it. I felt I should. I mean, the schools are closed until further notice. I have no idea when I can get back to running my writing classes!

Last week I had to admit defeat and let people who were waiting know that I won’t be doing anything online any time soon. I felt horrible doing this, like a total failure, but once I’d done it the pressure was off and the relief was immense.

We are all dealing with this differently. I’m an introverted homebody who isn’t really missing the outside world, or shopping, or traffic very much at all. I am generally loving home schooling my 5-year-old and I am spending so much time in the garden, its really having an impact. But this is still getting to me. The anxiety doesn’t really set in until my little one is in bed and then it’s just bizarre. I think everything I try to avoid thinking and feeling in the day hits me all at once.

I am exhausted by the time I get on the laptop. Of course, with the four kids here 24/7 there is no time in the day for my own writing, let alone working on anything business related.

I had every intention of keeping my business going. I wanted to create online content and videos but I just can’t, and I am learning to be okay with that. First I had to admit that as much as I knew I ought to, I just didn’t want to. And there were many reasons for that…exhaustion being one of them, lethargy, anxiety, take your pick. I feel bad about it but then I realised you can only do what you can do. You can only deal with one thing at a time and this is a weird old time. It’s bound to mess with our heads and our hearts.

The thing is in our society we have been led to believe that we can and should ‘do it all’. This is not just felt by women, but perhaps the childcare element often still falls disproportionately on their shoulders… Before lockdown, we were all running around like headless chickens. No time to stop and chat, forever apologising for not seeing friends or relatives enough, driving from here to there and back again, grabbing coffees for fuel, pumping our little metal prisons full of poisonous, expensive gas, pulling our weight, doing our bit, working hard, paying taxes and bills and rents, doing what we were told, being good citizens, breaking our backs and drinking too much wine. Sound familiar?

On top of that we were trying to reduce our carbon footprint, drive less, eat less meat and dairy, get enough exercise and look after our mental health as well as raise happy, confident and adaptable children, all while working at the same time, don’t forget!

Was it too much? I think maybe it was. And now? We are being asked to stay at home and stay safe, yet there on the internet gleams the ever present expectation that we should also be winning at this. Learning new skills, new languages, reading the classics, doing yoga, keeping fit, entertaining and educating the children, making meals from scratch on a reduced budget, training the dog, planting a garden AND getting our business online so we can keep earning!

Just today I scrolled my Facebook feed and felt a wave of guilt at the sight of so many motivational videos and tutorials urging people like me to create online content and sell it. I have read some of these. I have watched some of these videos. And then I have turned it off and gone to find out why my 5 year old is peeing off the side of the trampoline.

I just can’t do it. At least, not yet.

I don’t want to win at this. I just want to survive. Maybe I’m just not that driven by money, maybe I’m just not that ambitious. Maybe I am just really tired.

I want my kids to survive and I want their mental health to survive. I want my garden to survive and my sanity. However clumsy it may be, survival is fine. Winning is not required here.

Maybe you are feeling the pressure in other areas. Home schooling is another can of worms if you let it be. There is so much advice. So many posts and links and articles. So many well-meaning people suggesting this and that. If it stresses you out or makes you feel like a failure, ignore it. You are doing fine. Again, you don’t have to win at this. You won’t get a certificate. You just need to get through this and come out alive. It’s not a competition. Some of us are barely holding it together but we will come out smiling, I swear.

So if you would rather dig your garden than watch a tutorial or webinar on how to build your online business I salute you.

If you would rather lie in the bath and drink wine than join a Zoom coversation, just go right ahead. Guilt free.

If you would rather do Just Dance with a 5 year old than PE Joe, don’t you worry about it. If you want to let your small child play with the hose by themselves until the garden is mud, I’m not going to judge you. And if that same child is offered the x-box as a bribe so that you can sit on the doorstep and enjoy a cup of tea in peace, you’re just human and surviving the best you can.

We won’t all come out of this as winners, and we shouldn’t aim to if that stresses us out in an already stressful situation. Survival is all that is required.

Weird Is The New Normal and It’s Okay To Be Constantly Confused

Yesterday in the UK we heard the news that lockdown will continue for at least another three weeks. It’s probably what most of us were expecting. It also seems the most sensible and the safest course of action in light of the fact deaths are still rising.

The last few days I’ve been struggling with a constant mix of emotions and from what I hear on social media, this is a very common way to feel. In a weird way, we have all adjusted to lockdown and for the most part, we seem to be making light of it and digging up our sense of humour to survive. I think most people would rather stay at home while the virus is still rife, if only to protect their loved ones.

I was thinking the other day how quickly we have got used to things that would have been very weird to us a few months ago. On our daily walk or cycle ride, we’ve got into the habit of looking out for other people. It’s only so that we can change direction if we need to, or move to make room and allow everyone enough space to pass. Ideally, we don’t really want to see other people when we are out because it has become very awkward and strange. No one really knows what to say. Everyone starts moving out of the way and it feels weird, like we are all diseased or dangerous or something. I start feeling like I’m living in a film, a post-apocalyptic one, where strangers usually mean danger.

I’m worried about causing anxiety about strangers in my youngest. I suddenly realised the other day how many times I say phrases such as; ‘let’s go early, so there’s no other people,’ ‘let’s go this way, because I can see people coming,’ ‘there’s people coming, so move over here.’ Scary, really. I have obviously explained to him why we are doing this and so far so good, he is five and seems to have adjusted to this better than the rest of us. But it’s unnerving in a way, how quickly weird things have become normal.

Like avoiding people. Like not going to work. Like not driving anywhere. Like not doing the school run. Like staying at home and making the most of the house and garden and our imaginations. Like eating slightly odd dinners based on the fact we can’t always get what we need in the shops. Like constantly wondering what the fallout of all of this will be on society…

It’s weird, but it’s become normal. We’re getting used to it. The other thing is the constant confusion, and by this I suppose I mean confused emotions. I’m an emotional person at the best of times, so this is playing havoc with me. I’m up and down and all over the place. I have such mixed feelings about everything. I both love and hate lockdown. I both long for ‘normal’ life and fear it returning. I’m thinking a lot about a lot of things and that’s pretty exhausting.

My own confusion is hard to understand, although I think I’m getting closer. I will probably delve into it in another blog post.

But from what I see and hear around me, feeling constantly confused during this strange and scary time is perfectly okay. Maybe our confusion is the most normal part about this. No one really knows what is going to happen. Everyone is scared on some level. Everyone is doing their best and putting a brave face on as much as they can. But it’s weird that weird has become normal and we are definitely very confused.

See you next time and stay safe xx

Sunshine Through The Fear

We are nearing the end of Lockdown Week 2 and with no idea how long this will go on for, we push on, day by day, tentatively and with hope. I have so many things whirling around in my head that by the end of the day I’m always a bit emotional. As always, the best thing for me is to write about it.

Days have taken on a new reality. A sort of unreality. Surreal and at times confusing. At other times, it feels like the new and established normal. Humans are nothing if not adaptable. It’s hard to believe that a few weeks ago the corona virus was still something we felt we could hold at arms length and generally ignore. Something on the news, something vague and distant. It didn’t take long for the truth to catch us up. It was like hitting a brick wall. There you are then. No hiding under the bed. This is it. The new reality sees many of us jobless and forced to stay at home as much as possible. Unable to mix with our friends or family outside of those in our own houses. Real, normal life has changed beyond recognition. And we all go along with it. Day by day.

I blogged last week about the positive aspects I hoped could possibly come out of all of this and I still stand by those. At the very least, this forces us all to stop. To pause, to breathe, to think. I know I can’t be the only one considering the ‘old’ aspects of my life and wondering which ones I miss and which ones I don’t. But as the death toll escalates at an alarming daily rate, I am also choked with fear.

As my husband leaves the house every day to risk his life, we stay at home. We don’t have to set alarms, so sometimes we lie in. We do PE with Joe Wickes or we run circuits around the garden. We divvy up snacks for the day and my 5 year old sells them in his little shop. We start schoolwork around ten and as my older three are well, older, they sort themselves out which makes me luckier than most, only having to home school one child. And what a child…His light, his laughter, his love, his wide blue eyes and infectious giggles are steering us all through our days.

I work with children ordinarily and used to be childminder so I was never going to struggle too much with homeschooling. The second week has been much easier and we have a good routine now and my little boy has been so good for me. There is far less bribery this week!! I really feel like my little boy is saving my sanity, instead of eroding it as I feared he would.

He soaks up everything I show him or tell him. He whizzes through his phonics and his maths. He loves writing independantly and he told us this very seriously today, pencil poised above paper. I love writing, he said. I could have cried. He completes the literacy tasks sent by school. We usually have our dog walk and exercise around 11am and this always involves pretending to be in a zombie apocalypse. Home for lunch. He loves the forest school, art and science activities the most. We have made natural mandalas, clay faces on trees, sit spots, stone cairns and nature colour wheels. His enthusiasm and his simple, spontaneous joy make me feel like I can do this. And we are doing this. Like everyone else. Day by day. Because we have to.

There are aspects I find tough. I am used to being alone and I love being alone. My normal week would involve a lot of driving around and a lot of running writing classes and groups and a lot of working on the laptop. But I am finding ways around this. I am ensuring I have at least two long baths a week, usually with a glass of wine and a good book. I make sure the little one is entertained by the others so I don’t get disturbed. Trust me, this is essential. I need time on my own. In the evenings, since we signed up to the free Netflix trial I have been indulging in TV time with the rest of the family and so far we are onto Season Two of Stranger Things and loving it. It’s nice to find something we can all watch and enjoy together. Shared experiences are vital to get through this. After that I shut myself away in my room and get on with writing. I edit what will be the next release and then I work on fresh writing in a notebook. It saves my sanity and keeps me me.

The daily death toll is something that my husband seems keen to keep an eye on. Part of me would rather not know. I do not have the news on throughout the day as I do not want to scare the kids. I guess my husband has a vested interest in knowing how bad things are getting due to the fact he is still out there working through this. But it is terrifying. And if I pause long enough in the middle of everything to think about it, I feel the fear like a shard of ice that stops everything. There are death tolls for every country, infection rates, survival rates, advice on how to avoid it. Every now and then it hits you so hard…Everything has changed and will probably never be the same again.

But you can’t let fear rule you. You can’t stay in bed or sit and cry all day. All of us are discovering how resilient and adaptable we are and we should be proud of ourselves. Me? I’m discovering or maybe rediscovering how joyful and positive it is to be around a young child. Working in the garden the other day I noticed all the changes there…The clay faces we moulded onto the fir trees, complete with feather headdresses and stones for eyes…the chalk rainbow on the driveway…the glass jars filled with magical potions… the chalk mural on the wall…the army den constructed around the swing-set…the sit spot at the far end brightened by the primroses we planted up there…the beautiful mandala we made on the picnic table…and I smiled, almost cried if I’m honest. One day everything will start up again…school and work and driving about and there will be less time for outdoor art and science experiments in the garden.

I think the best thing I can do right now is soak up the sunshine from my little lad, from all of my children, from everything bright and green and alive around me and use that to keep going and keep smiling. Embrace this unexpected pause in normality and use it to breathe again, to assess life, to appreciate love and to build it all up stronger than it was before.

What’s keeping you going through these strange and scary times? Feel free to comment and share!

Salainis

I had learned already many of the Outland methods of communicating by forest notes rather than trust to the betraying, high-pitched human voice.

None of these was of more use to me than the call for refuge. If any Outlier wished to be private in his place, he raised that call, which all who were within hearing answered.

Then whoever was on his way from that placed hurried, and whoever was coming toward it stayed where he was until he had permission to move on.

And Just Like That…Everything Changed

I don’t know about you, but I am experiencing such a mixture of emotions right now that it’s genuinely overwhelming. I’ve got fear and anxiety dipping and rising. I’ve got humour coming and going. I’ve got excitement about the challenges ahead and the thought that maybe, just maybe, this situation will somehow bring some good and make us change the way that we live. I’ve got determination and a kind of let’s just get on with it atttitude popping up from time to time. Sometimes I want to laugh and sometimes I want to cry. I am so grateful for so many things and at the same time unable to really absorb all this, let alone plan. The uncertainty is definitely the most stressful element of it all.

For me, the answer lies in writing. Always. Ever since I was a kid I have written to help me make sense of the world around me and the emotions I am feeling. I don’t often really know what I think or feel until I write it down. So, here I am, soaking up the latest news that UK schools are to close indefinitely this Friday due to the Corona virus outbreak.

A few weeks ago I barely gave the virus a second thought. I think a lot of us ignored it. It was like all the other things we were supposed to be afraid of right? SARS and Bird Flu, Swine Flue, Ebola and Zika virus to name but a few. The biggest things worrying me were climate change and the turmoil that would possibly arise from Brexit.

It was something happening in another country to other people, and that attitude shames me now. Because now we realise, don’t we? How bad things can happen to us too. To any of us, anywhere, at any time. We realise now how scarily fragile everything truly is.

Last week, as the virus started to dominate the news, as other countries started to go into lockdown, it still did not feel real. Until I went into my local Home Bargains and could not buy loo roll. I had enough at home but was mildly surprised and amused to view the stark, empty shelves. I wrote about it on Facebook and I think most people were feeling the same. Well, isn’t that a bit annoying and strange?

A few days after that I went to Tesco late at night, figuring that was the best way to get what we needed. My husband works in a frozen foods supermarket and he was reporting empty shelves and panic buying there. That night at Tesco I started to realise how strange everything had become. The shop was busier than it should have been at 10.45pm. There was no loo roll, no medicines, no soap or handwash, no pasta or rice, barely any tins or packets. I still got most of what we needed so I wasn’t too worried, but it did start to sink in. This is not going away. This is just going to get worse. We are heading towards lockdown, school closures and job losses. Oh shit.

Still, Monday morning rolled around as usual. No change there. School run and work. Busy, busy. No sign that anything was going to change too much in our day to day lives. That day I did make the decision to stop my fortnightly adult writing group until further notice. It’s my least frequent group and I make the least money doing it. Enought people had said they wouldn’t be able to come due to the situation, so I decided to pull the plug. I thought that would be it. But by Tuesday afternoon I had recevied an email from one of the schools I run an after-school writing club at informing me that all after-school clubs were cancelled until further notice. My other school followed suit and I then found out the museum I hold two writing groups at was closing, so those had to be cancelled too.

I wouldn’t say I panicked exactly, but I started to stress about the financial side of it all. Would I have to refund people for the sessions they had paid in advance for and so on. The more I thought about it, the more sad I felt. I’ve spent so long building up this little business and it’s really only been in the last year that things have started to take off for me and make some real money. However, I didn’t feel too sorry for myself for long. I started to think about all the time I would now have to read, write, learn to play the guitar and garden.

And then today, the news we had all been expecting. All schools, colleges, nurseries and so on are to close doors this Friday until further notice. I’m not exactly stressed about it. I am actually quite looking forward to spending more time with my children and I am determined that my 5 year old, in particular, sticks to the same school day he is used to. I am determined that he will have fun. It’s going to be a challenge for us all, but the schools have been absolutely amazing, with the constant updates and reassurances and I am sure they will be sending lots of resources our way. So now I won’t exactly have much free time, but it’s okay. We have a new challenge to adjust to and humans are nothing if not adaptable. We also have a remarkable ability to look on the bright side and make light of things. I think we will see alot of that.

I am of course anxious about food and medicine supplies. I stocked up on our asthma inhalers and hayfever meds this week, just in case. Paractemol is like bloody gold dust now! But we are in a luckier position than some. As long as he does not fall ill, my husband’s supermarket job should be secure. He is utterly exhausted though. They are run off their feet and dealing with very abusive customers at times. We live in a semi-rural location, with only one neighbour. We have a large enough house and a very large garden. I am extremely grateful for my hens and ducks who are all laying very well at the moment and I am putting the extra effort into the vegetable garden. I fully intend to put the kids to work out there too most days, as I feel like now more than ever they need to learn these skills, in case anything like this happens again.

It could be worse. We are lucky. The government is talking about help for the self-employed and for renters, so there is hope there too. I am going to be sending out weekly writing prompts to the children who normally attend my clubs and I am going to post daily ones on my business page for the writing company. I hope to figure out how to put online classes/workshops together at some point, but I am now rather stretched for time with the home schooling to get my head around.

My main worry is my 74 year old mother who has a heart condition. Her operation has been cancelled and she is in the vulnerable group. She doesn’t seem to see it that way though and so far has not been too good at isolating herself. This worries me greatly and I have tried very hard to impress the importance of it on her.

Anyway, the way I see it now, our job is to stay calm, stay positive, stay kind. Help each other whenever and however we can and be there for our loved ones. Keep busy, keep active, embrace the arts more than ever, and in my case, write my way through it. If you see more blog posts than normal (I’ve been quiet lately on the blogging front due to the business of life) it’s just my way of working through it and making sense of it. I can’t recommend writing strongly enough for easing stress and anxiety.

My main thought right now is how fragile everything is. How quickly things can change. How suddenly the ground can fall away from under you. It should give us all pause to think, especially if we have ever looked down on those less fortunate than us. Now we are all in a vulnerable position. It doesn’t matter how rich or poor you are, what colour your skin, or how much power you have. This is affecting us all. Because truly, we are all one, we are all connected. It’s just that we have forgotten that and lost sight of it. Maybe there are some lessons to be learned in all of this. That’s also the best we can do, I think. Learn from it. Admit where we might have been wrong. Aspire to change.

That’s all I’ve got to say on it for now, but I think I will be back regularly with my thoughts on this and with news on how my drastically changed life is going! Wish me luck with the home schooling, that’s all I can say!

Stay safe folks. Look after each other xx