‘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)

Guest Post #2; Dreaming Of Another World

Dreaming of Another World is a brand new feature on my blog, inspired by a piece I wrote a few weeks ago. Following on from my post Dreaming of Another World, I wondered if other creatives felt the same as me, that another world is possible and could just be glimpsed during lockdown. I reached out to other authors, wondering what their reactions to lockdown were in terms of the future. Has it made them want something different? Has it made them change the way they are living, for instance? Do they have daydreams, like me, about a different way of life? Each week I hope to post a response to these musings from guest authors and bloggers. This could be stories, poems, essays or personal pieces. This second piece is from author Lily Hayden. To find out more about Lily click on the link at the end of the piece.

Dreaming of another world- Lily Hayden

Headphones in and eyes down, I spent my commute dreaming of a world where I didn’t race from a school run to jam myself aboard a packed and late train that spilled us out at a hectic station. My head would be full of all the things I would do ‘if I had time’ as I was swept up in a sea of commuters like a dull, drab shoal of fish swimming past the now-familiar rough sleepers and brimming commercial bins, dodging the puddles from cleaners hosing down the pavement outside the strip of bars and restaurants until I reached my office to sit at a desk for nine hours exchanging eye rolls with my colleagues as we counted down the days to the weekend with the same lethargic lack of enthusiasm; “Ugh, Monday!”, “How is it only Tuesday?”, “Happy Hump day.”, “One more day!” and finally “Thank God it’s Friday!”.

My head, like the commuter fish around me, would be full of all the wonderful things I could do if I wasn’t a slave to the rat-race.

“I’d love to go vegan,” I’d lie to myself as I inhaled my fourth coffee before midday. “I just haven’t got the time to meal plan!”

Same for exercising. Not a chance could I fit gym time in amongst juggling work, writing and raising four children and numerous animals.

“Love the concept of zero waste!” I’d shrug as I clicked through an Eco page on Instagram in my lunchbreak. “But who’s got time to go searching for all that? I can barely manage one big shop on the weekend.”

“We should do more with the kids,” I’d say to my husband as we flopped down exhausted on the sofa on a Friday night, feeling the familiar pang of guilt as they all disappeared off to their rooms once the takeaway had been devoured. “If only we had more time!”

And then suddenly we had time.

“This is so strange,” we would repeat to various neighbours that we only ever saw in passing as we all flew from school runs to work on a never-ending hamster-wheel of rush, rush, rush.

We played games in the street at a social distance and went for walks in the woods that I’d never set foot in despite living on their doorstep for thirty-seven years. We baked, and we gardened, and we sat in the sun. We made little schedules for the children, and the big ones helped the little ones with their schoolwork. We skimmed stones in the river and explored the fields and the forests. We went from driving every day to once a week, and I thought about the carbon footprint reduction.

80,000 people commute into Cardiff every day for work with an average commute of 19 miles taking 48 minutes according to various sources. That’s 1.5 million commuter miles on train, bus and car pumping out tens of thousands of tonnes of CO2 every year.

“Did you know Cardiff is the fourth most polluted city in relation to size?”

“If half of those commuters worked from home, imagine the impact to pollution!”

Imagine! The world could start to repair the damage we’d done to it!

We had enough time to watch the news, to really watch it and talk about it, rather than scroll past on our way to work, the gym, drinks, dinner with just an apathetic ‘how awful’… And we had time to take to the streets chanting ‘no justice, no peace’ when we woke to the reality of the cycle of oppression that we had been complicit in. Strangers united to topple statues of terrible men who did terrible things in the name of profit and power.

We clapped for the nurses that work gruelling shifts putting their own lives at risk to care for others, but all they wanted was fair pay and protective equipment to keep them safe. Of all the people in powerful positions, a football player was the one to convince our Prime Minister that while schools stayed closed to the majority, children would go hungry without their free school meal. The staggering reality of poverty in our country felt like a dirty, little secret had been exposed.

But not everyone could stay home and breathe. A hotchpotch of roles were marked as essential alongside the obviously necessary ones as businesses interpreted the loose rules to suit their pockets, and instead of question the necessity we ordered takeaways, and everything from Amazon, we queued to buy paint from B & Q, and the country sold out of hot tubs.

And then we began to grow bored of entertaining ourselves. By nature, humans are sociable creatures; we missed our friends and our family, and worried that the children needed the routine of schools. By the end of June, mixed messages teased of our ‘playgrounds’ re-opening, and we craved our postponed holidays, desperate to jam a facemask on to jet off to foreign shores the minute the planes took off, or gather outside the pub to clutch that first ice-cold pint or queue to fill a basket in Primark. We were chomping at the bit to get back to ‘normal’.

The emotional need for normality was exacerbated by the very real fear that there would be economic repercussions of the wheel not turning and millions of worker bees furloughed; businesses would fold, and jobs would be lost forever. With fear in our hearts, we will jump back on the treadmill as soon as the whistle is blown. It’s likely that we’ll never have this chance to collectively stop again in this lifetime.

Imagine though if that was the last chance that the world was willing to give us.

On Monday I could be back on that train, headphones in and eyes down; the only thing that would have changed would be the facemasks we are wearing, and wouldn’t that be a horrible, horrible waste. Over forty thousand people have died, and tens of thousands are still recovering from a very serious and debilitating illness.

We cannot let this be for nothing.

I know it wasn’t just me on the train dreaming of having the time to be better, having the time to care, to educate myself, to read, to share, to connect, to donate, to question the morality of the society I live in. I don’t want to go back to seeing my own children for just a hectic hour each morning and evening, missing their lives so that I can pay to keep the roof over their head. My husband took over sixty business flights last year, we drove maybe twenty thousand miles of car journeys. I don’t want to contribute to the destruction of our planet anymore. I don’t want to be shocked when I read that over one million children in the UK rely on free school meals or scroll past news of more racial injustice because I’m too exhausted to be angry. I know that it’s not just me on the train dreaming of a slower pace, more time and deeper connections.

I dream of a world where we learn from the lessons we’ve been taught.

Thank you so much to Lily for this wonderful and thought-provoking piece. If you would like to find to find out more about Lily’s writing, please follow the links below! And if you would like to contribute to this feature with a non-fiction or a fictional piece do please get in touch!

Link to author page and bio: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Lily-

Hayden/e/B07CR8KF7D%3Fref=dbs_a_mng_rwt_scns_share

Dreaming Of Another World

On the 17th of March 2020 I was sat in my car about to go into a primary school to run an after-school writing club. I checked my phone and found an email from one of the other schools I work at, stating that schools would be closing at the end of the week and all clubs were cancelled. I felt a whoosh of fear and shock and checked my news feed for more information, all of which confirmed that the government were closing schools and putting us into lockdown due to the outbreak of Covid 19. It was probably the most surreal moment of my life. I went into the school and ran the club and I haven’t seen those children since. I haven’t been able to work since either, apart from a few bits online. I can’t yet go back to the libraries, museums, halls and schools I normally work in.

At the end of that week, life changed for everyone over night, just like that. I blogged about it almost instantly because it was just so strange, so historical and unprecedented and because writing about it helped me to make sense of it. Here’s the link to that post; https://chantelleatkins.com/2020/03/18/and-just-like-that-everything-changed/

And then, being the highly adaptable creatures we often forget we are, we all just got on with it. We worked from home, or we didn’t work, we home schooled our confused children, we stayed in, we entertained ourselves, we thanked fuck the internet existed and we very slowly but surely got used to a new normal. Humans are adaptable. We’ve proved that. Perhaps we’ve all realised how resilient we are capable of being. At the start of this, I blogged about how everything had changed over night, I blogged about the ups and downs of home schooling and I blogged about how weird had become the new normal, as well as the positives I hoped could come out of the pause in our lives.

Life is for many of us, slowly returning to normal. At the start of lockdown, it was eerily quiet in our garden, with barely any cars sailing by. Instead we had a constant flow of walkers and cyclists. Now it’s back to normal and that’s a bit sad. But I’m one of them now, aren’t I? Doing the school run again.

And I can’t help feel a bit lost and sad. Don’t get me wrong. I want all of my children to return to their normal lives and I am desperate to get back to my writing clubs and workshops. I just can’t help comparing the stillness, the silence, the gentle creep of Mother Nature reclaiming what is hers, at the start of lockdown, to the way it was before Covid 19 stopped us all in our tracks.

But the return to everything else makes me feel sad. Driving here and there, constantly in traffic and adding to the fumes that are heating up our only planet. Racing against the clock to get it all done, pick everyone up and get everyone where they need to be, dreading getting up and it all starting again.

What we were doing to the planet before Covid 19 was wrong. All of it was wrong. And we knew that…yet we couldn’t or wouldn’t change. And then lockdown… clear skies, grounded planes, silent roads, birdsong, sheep playing on roundabouts and deer walking down the streets, dolphins in the canals of Venice…so many beautiful, beautiful sights. And in our homes, we became creative. We sought out more and more ways to entertain ourselves and our children. We got into gardening! And self-sufficiency! We worried about where food came from and whether we could get any. Our eyes were being opened and we found we were not helpless. We had power.

I’ve always been into gardening, with varying degrees of success. I think it is actually one of the most therapeutic and simultaneously rebellious things you can do. It’s hopeful. To believe in a garden is to believe in tomorrow, they say. And that is so true…. On my darkest days, when life weighs so heavy I can’t breathe…I need my garden, I need fresh air and grass and dirt under my nails. If I plant something, I am optimistic. I am hopeful. And I am clawing back power. We used to feed ourselves; we had that power and that connection with Mother Nature, and not even that long ago. But we’ve lost it, moved so far away from it we forgot it was even possible.

And to care about this planet we have to feel connected to it! We have to feel part of it, part of everything and we have to believe that everything has a right to be here, to be treated with respect and dignity.

And during lockdown, the most amazing things happened. People started growing again. There was a massive increase in people buying seeds and plants and greenhouses. I was overjoyed to see this, even among my friends and family and social media contacts. People were discovering, many of them for the first time, how addictive gardening is. People were getting excited about growing a lettuce or picking their own strawberries. There was also an increase in people getting chickens for the first time. And undoubtedly, there has been an increase in people exploring their local wild places and perhaps fully appreciating the natural world for the first time too. Pond dipping, bird watching, identifying trees and leaves, bug hunting, walking and hiking and playing in rock pools. I have seen so much of this going on and it’s absolutely heartwarming.

But what now? Do we all go back to our ordinary lives and forget any of this happened? I really hope not. I really hope people continue to think about where their food comes from, continue to grow some of it themselves, continue to make ethical consumer choices, continue to do their bit to fight climate change, continue to respect animals and wildlife, continue to walk and cycle if they can and so on. Because I don’t know about you but I am constantly dreaming of another world.

Another world where we are connected to wildlife and nature, where we respect and value and protect it above all else. Where money and wealth are not idolised or deemed more important than human happiness and dignity.

Sometimes I go there in my mind and wonder if I can make it possible, even just for me and my family. It’s perhaps not realistic, but something I can’t stop thinking about it. I call it my basic life. Because going back to basics is what I crave. In my basic life, I live in a log cabin in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by trees and rivers and streams and meadows. I grow all my own food and keep ducks and chickens and perhaps a few goats.

I have solar panels, wind turbines and a well. I have orchards. I go out each day and forage for food. I cook everything from scratch. I only go to the nearest town once a month for other supplies. I only have limited access to the internet. My kids are home schooled and spend their days swimming in rivers, climbing trees and learning survival skills. We sit around the fire outside at night under the stars, swapping stories and jokes.

I spend my time growing food, tending the animals and the children, writing, reading and listening to music and we are all at peace and at one with the Universe. Did I also mention our only means of transport is a battered VW campervan?

Haha, just a pipedream, but I like it. I go there in my head at night. I try to build up little parts of it in my real life, such as extending my vegetable plot so I can grow even more next year.

I dream of my basic life and another world while fearing and grieving for this one.

What about you? What do you hope changes when this is all over? Do you think this will ever be over? What do you think should change? Will you be changing anything in your own life? What kind of other world do you dream about?

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