‘I’m Alright, I’m OK’ – Mental Health in the year of Covid 19

When someone asks you if you are all right, what is your normal response? Okay, thanks? Good, thanks? Not too bad, how about you? Something like that, I suspect. I usually say ‘I think so’. I started doing this a while back because things were shifting for me and I didn’t know how to answer the simple question. Of course, when people ask if you are okay, they expect a simple answer and they usually expect a yes. It’s not really a question of how you are – it’s a form of greeting. Hi, you all right? Hi, how are you?

We don’t really expect people to be honest. We don’t really want people to tell us the truth. We want a quick, yeah I’m fine, what about you? We don’t want them to tell us that they were just sat in the car crying, or that they haven’t slept properly in ages, or that the scars from the past have not healed and they are really just pretending the whole time.

For some reason, I always say ‘I think so’ and sometimes this makes people laugh, as if they think I am being funny. I’m not – I just don’t know the answer to the question and although I don’t want to burden them with the many ways in which I am really not okay, I also don’t want to grin and bear it and say the predictable, yeah, I’m great thanks, you?

Because the truth is, I don’t know if I am okay. Does anyone? So, I give the honest answer in that moment. I think so.

The other answer would be; ‘I’m trying to be.’ I might use that one next time someone asks me.

In the year of Covid 19, we’ve been asking each other how we are even more than usual and this time, we mean it. We don’t just say it as a greeting. We mean, are you all right? Are you doing okay? And this translates to; have you been furloughed? Have you been made redundant? Have you had the virus? Are you scared for your loved ones? Do you understand the latest government advice? How are you coping?

I expect that more of us are now answering ‘are you okay’ with, ‘I think so’ or ‘just about, yes.’ The thing about ‘okay’ is, it’s not great. It’s not awesome. It’s not bloody wonderful. It’s just…okay. Hanging in there. Surviving. That’s all of us about now, right?

‘Okay’ is also not bloody terrible, awful or about to fall apart. It’s just…okay.

Most days I am okay, I am all right. Some days I am very far from okay or all right. But something struck me today and made me want to write this post.

A few days ago I was very far from okay and it had nothing to do with the virus. It was because my perimenopausal hormones are completely insane. Short story – the next day I was better. The day after that better still. Today – okay. All right.

I went for a walk today with my beloved dogs and instead of walking them down the lane, I walked the other way along the road which flanks my back garden. Through the hedging and trees you can just about glimpse my garden and my life. You can see the washing hanging on the line. You can see the house and it’s windows and roof. You can see the lush, green grass which has grown too long. You can see the trees – the buddleia, the Oak, the sycamore and the apple trees. You can even see the fat round apples hanging on them. And this made me smile. I thought, if I didn’t live there and was just walking past, I would want to live there. And this is not an unusual thought; I think this all the time. I rent my house but I love it. It’s the best place I have ever lived in. I have always been grateful for it and I always smile when I place my hand on the wooden gate when returning home. I love returning home.

My house and garden reminded me again dring lockdown how fortunate we are. We have space to run, to hide and play, to climb trees, make dens, grow food, and keep chickens and ducks. We played The Floor is Lava for PE during home schooling, we had assault courses and obstacle courses. We built an army style survival den at the bottom of the garden and had mini fires there. We went on bug hunts, made mini habitats, built stone cairns, moulded clay faces onto the trees, chalked on the walls and the drive and made many, happy memories. I smiled when I saw my garden and my life from afar and I remembered those days in early lockdown, when everything closed and everyone stayed at home, when everyone was scared but brave, when another way of life was forced upon us.

And we did okay. It wasn’t perfect. It wasn’t always easy. But I was okay. I was all right. And now I seek to remind myself of this every time the dark days consume me. I survived that. I can do it again. ‘All right’ and ‘okay’ are not perfect either but they will do. Feeling okay is good enough sometimes. Maybe these are not the days in which to expect anything more.

Maybe these are the days in which we just survive, one way or another. Day by day, one day at a time. In England, we are undoubtedly approaching a second wave, just as we have been encouraged back to work, school, shops and the pub…Cases are rising again rapidly. We are also about to be forced off a cliff with an increasingly likely no-deal Brexit. We are all facing catastrophic climate change devastation if we don’t change our ways. It’s no wonder most of us are struggling to be more than just ‘okay’.

I’m a fan of the band Mother Mother, and one of my favourite songs is ‘It’s Alright.’ For me, it’s a song about mental health and not feeling too great. The verses are made up of anguished claims that suggest nothing is okay for this person…then the chorus chimes in with the refrain; ‘it’s alright, it’s okay, it’s alright, it’s okay…’ I’ve always found it comforting and I listen to it whenever I need to calm down. At the end of the song, the singer announces; ‘I’m alright, I’m okay, I’m alright, I’m okay…’ almost as if he has listened to the chorus and believed it. It’s just a nice calming song and I am going to constantly remind myself that being ‘okay’ in the year of Covid 19, Brexit and climate chaos is about all I can hope for and in its own way is a bloody miracle.

If you are just about okay, just about all right, you are not alone and all things considered, you are doing well. I don’t think we should be too hard on ourselves or expect anything more.

It’s Alright by Mother Mother – (https://youtu.be/G5-KJgVsoUM)

(Image by Engin Akyurt from Pixabay)

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.

When Writing is the Cause of and the Solution To Anxiety

For a lot of people, writing can be incredibly therapeutic. It provides an emotional outlet, a chance to say what we think and feel, the opportunity to have a voice and be heard. Whether we publish our work or not, there is no doubt that writing provides an emotional release, as well as a creative one. Throughout my life, I have often turned to writing to soothe and comfort me. I’ve used it to combat and work through feelings of anxiety, loneliness and anger. As a young child, I wrote a diary religiously, and I still have them. Piles of notebooks filled with my inner thoughts and emotions, as well as my hopes and fears. There is no doubt in my mind that writing has helped me in my life and provided a kind of therapy when needed. For this reason, I would recommend it to anyone who needs to vent, to explore their thoughts and frustrations, or to find a way to be heard.

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But weirdly, writing has been having a different effect on me lately, causing something close to panic. It took me a while to work out what was going on, but now that I think I have, I wanted to blog about it and talk about how I am handling this.

It started a few months ago I think, though it’s hard to pinpoint exactly when. You know that feeling you get before you do something scary? That lurch in your stomach? That tightness that feels like butterflies? I can only explain it as being similar to that.

This would happen at random times, for no real reason. I’d get that feeling strongly, sometimes so bad it made me feel like I couldn’t take a proper breath. Very weird. Even weirder, is that I had nothing to worry about.

Everything in my life is the same. My kids are all fine; I’m not unduly worried about any of them at the moment. My husband and I get on just as we always have. Our finances are never great, but they haven’t changed at all, so it’s not that. Everyone in my family is happy and healthy. There is nothing I can pinpoint that would come out of the blue like that and make me feel winded.

So, I’ve narrowed it down to one thing, one thing that I never thought would cause me anxiety. One thing that has actually been the solution to anxiety and fear and anger and any other negative emotions in life. Writing.

I’ve said before that writing excites me and it still does. If I’m walking the dogs, and I know that when I get home I’ve got some writing time, I get that lurch in my belly. But I know that’s genuine excitement. I like it.

This other feeling is more like a feeling of dread, which I cannot for the life of me understand because I still love writing, I still get excited, I still think it is the best thing ever. Writing dominates my mind more than anything else.

So, I started thinking, what is it then? I want to write, writing makes me happy, writing is so many things to me. Why is it suddenly making me feel like I cannot breathe?

I’m still not really sure. Writing this blog post is my way of trying to figure it out. I’m wondering if any other writers have ever experienced anything like this?

One thing I can tell you; the feeling goes away when I’m writing. By the time I’m at my desk in the evening, tapping away, whether it’s going well or not, I’m happy. That feeling is not there.

So why does it plague me throughout the day?

Like I say, I really don’t know. There are several possible reasons, which I’ve listed below, but to be honest, I’m not sure it is any of these. I just don’t know.

  • too many projects on the go? It could be this. I have two books I am ready to release, but I’m waiting on further rejections from publishers for one, and beta feedback on the other, and then there will be the whole book-launch thing to get into…perhaps it’s the unfinished, unreleased status of these two books that is causing the churning feeling?
  • too many projects waiting for be done? I know this bothers me, but I try to keep it in perspective. Having ideas for future books is a good thing, and I think I’m lucky. I keep track of the ideas on a page in this blog and some of them I am already working on when I can, but maybe this feeling of impatience and anticipation is adding to it, I don’t know
  • not enough time in the day? This does cause anxiety, it’s bound to. I know everyone feels like this to some extent. Busy lives leave little time to get things done, and to-do lists get longer, and it can all feel overwhelming at times like you will never ‘get there’. But I keep reminding myself that everything changes next year when my youngest child starts school. I will have plenty of time to work on my books and my community interest company
  • the community interest company? I do worry about it sometimes. It pops into my head that I’m crazy to be trying to do this. That it’s too ambitious, bound to fail, etc. I want to do it, I want to inspire and encourage my community to write, and I’ve already come this far; turning the writing group into a CIC, planning two projects, getting some funding, applying for more. I’m learning lots and I’ve got big plans, but every now and then I just wonder what the hell am I thinking? This is not me! Someone else would do a much better job of this! So, I guess it’s there as a worry.
  • general indie writer panic? This is a thing. I panic that I will never have time to write all the books in my head and get them all out, but I also panic that I will never ‘make it’. I’m not sure what I think making it means, to be honest. I guess a publishing deal and steady sales would be a thing to aim for. I don’t spend a lot of time worrying about this. I just keep writing and plugging away at my platform to grow my audience. But I think a panic is buried there somewhere, a panic that this will all turn out to be fruitless, a waste of time, and I’ll look an idiot.

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But I honestly don’t spend a lot of time worrying or thinking about the things listed above. I know they are there, and they come and go, but generally, I’m a really upbeat positive person who gets easily excited about life. I’m not looking for a great big happiness, I’m just happy with the beauty of ordinary life.

So, how am I dealing with this? Well, I’ll tell you.

  • by carrying on. Because I know that every word I write is a step forward, and that helps. Because quitting is not and never will be an option.
  • by forcing myself to switch off and relax at the end of the day. I write once my littlest is in bed, and I should really write through until bed-time, but I’m not doing that now. I’m writing for an hour and a half, maybe two, and then I’m joining my eldest child to watch Supernatural on DVD.

(I have avoided TV over the last few years, because with young kids, I knew I had to give up something in order to get the time to write. So I gave up TV. Just recently though I’ve relaxed my strict no TV rule. I got hooked on Hannibal and Breaking Bad, and after lots of begging from my daughter, I finally gave in and started watching Supernatural from season one. Now I’m hooked and it reminds me that when I was a kid, I wrote loads but I still had time to relax and watch TV. I think it’s doing me good, and it’s like a little reward after writing is done. After Supernatural I read before bed, and I feel great.)

  • by remembering that Rome wasn’t built in a day. This isn’t a race. Nothing in life is a race. It’s all about the journey and what you learn along the way. Yes, setting up my own company is scary but I have to accept that I will make mistakes as I go along and I will learn from them, just as I have in every other part of my life. A few years from now things could be very different
  • by trying to focus on one thing at a time. And by that, I mean whatever is the most pressing thing. I panic when I feel like I have too much to do, so I have to separate it out, deal with one thing at a time, and always the most important one comes first.
  • by rewarding myself. I nearly always do ‘work’ things first when I get on the laptop. My to-do list contains work-related things and writing related things. I make sure I have ticked a few off the ‘work’ list before I reward myself with actual writing, the writing that calms me down! I also reward myself in other ways, such as having a nice snack or glass of wine waiting for me to enjoy the DVD with after writing.
  • by remaining hopeful. Life as a writer can be crushing, soul-destroying even. I truly think being a trad published author is just as tough as being an indie but in different ways. It’s not easy for anyone. Earnings for most authors these days are diabolical. Getting reviews is like pulling teeth. Getting visibility means allowing yourself to be sucked into social media when all you really want to do is write. There are without a doubt, a lot of downs, and a lot of frustrations. But I tell myself, where there is life there is hope. So in other words, while I am still alive, who knows what could happen? What could be around the corner? I will always remain hopeful of better sales, better visibility and success. Always.
  • by taking a break from blogging and social media so I can just concentrate on writing. You might have noticed my blogs are thin on the ground lately. I haven’t tried to promote my books at all, apart from sharing reviews. I just get tired of it sometimes. I just want to get the next books done.
  • by never giving up. I might fail. I might never earn much money, I might never get a good publishing deal, I might never be well known or have my dreams come true. I might not make a success of my company either. I might give it all I’ve got and then have to call it a day in a few years time. But one thing is certain, I will be able to say that at least I tried!
  • by using negative feelings to my advantage. By this I mean, in my writing. The weird feeling of dread, the sensation of not being able to breathe, I can write about that. I can use it. It helps to know how my poor tortured characters feel most of the time!

I think writing this blog has made me feel better about the whole thing. I’d love to hear your thoughts though. Have you ever experienced feelings of dread, without really knowing why? How did you deal with it? Please feel free to comment and share!