Time to Dig Deep

It was predictable but here we go again – heading into another lockdown in England. Like a lot of people I’d been expecting this for some time as the rate of infections has been accelerating since September. I know there are divided opinions on the best approach to tackle the dreaded Corona Virus, but I’d class myself as falling into the ‘I don’t want another lockdown but if it saves lives, okay then,’ camp.

The announcement came on Saturday night and today it will be voted through Parliament with the lockdown starting tomorrow, Thursday. It will not be as strict as last time, (which does make me wonder whether it will even work…) with schools, colleges and universities remaining open and essential shops, as well as DIY and garden centres staying open. The advice is work from home ‘if you can’, which will no doubt mean for a lot of people, life will go on as normal. Which again, makes me question what impact this will have on the spread of the virus…

For me, I once again cannot teach my writing clubs and groups in person. Instead, I am forced back online, and I suppose the only good thing about it this time is that I am better prepared. Last time, I just could not act fast enough to what was happening. I think my brain put me in survival mode and for me that meant looking after my kids and ignoring everything else. As the time wore on I did give in and purchase Zoom and I have been holding regular adult writing groups online in this way. There is no reason why my other groups cannot go online, but unfortunately children seem less keen to do this, and I have not had a good response so far to my proposed Zoom clubs.

The other positive is that having predicted this would happen, I undertook a Copy-Editing and Proofreading course and at the moment I am providing these services for free to a few authors with the agreement that they will write testimonials for my website. Editing and proofreading their work is also a great experience for me. The plan is my CIC Chasing Driftwood Writing Group will soon offer extra services to authors in the form of editing and proofreading. I hope eventually this will bring in some money to help replace what I have lost. In the long-term it gives me an income stream that can be achieved working from home.

A few days ago I felt intensely unsettled and anxious. I’m sure a lot of people did as they waited to hear whether their place of work would have to be shut down this time or not. For me, it is the uncertainty that makes me anxious. As soon as I know what is happening, I feel better and I can deal with it. I felt sad driving home from dropping my youngest at school and gave in to a few tears while alone in the car. His school have asked parents to wear face coverings during drop off and pick up time, and of course everyone has complied instantly and without complaint. But it was sad to see all these faceless parents dropping off their children and I could not kiss my son goodbye properly, which really got to me. I thought about the virus and how it has made so many things miserable and joyless. Shopping, mixing with people, moving about and now even the school run. I had my tears but I am over them now. Today I am sat here feeling thankful and positive.

I’m thankful because the schools have not closed so while that remains the case, I can get tons of work done at home without disruption. I’m thankful because I have a new business partner at last to share the load and really push Chasing Driftwood in the right direction, despite the pandemic! I’m thankful because I live in a beautiful area with glorious walks right on my doorstep. I’m thankful that so far my family and loves ones are all happy, healthy and safe from this virus. I’m thankful for my pets and my kids and my garden and all the ways I have to distract myself if I start to feel down.

Last time around, the weather was beautiful and we threw ourselves into gardening. It was a real family effort, transforming areas of the garden and making the most of what we had. It was a life saver and I know it had a massive effect on my moods. Being a woman of a certain age struggling daily with the mood swings of the perimenopause, the pandemic has been an eye opener with regards to mental health.

I am better when I am busy, and I am even better than that when I am outside getting my hands dirty. I was fascinated watching the wonderful AutumnWatch the other day, where they explained the science behind nature elevating our moods. From being near water, walking among trees and even spotting birds, all aspects of nature release mood enhancing hormones in our brains. In particular there is a microbe (Mycobacterium vaccae) in soil that when inhaled by us increases the levels of serotonin, lifting our mood and helping us to feel relaxed and happy.

I can testify to this, because whenever I spend any time gardening I finish off feeling as high as a kite – no kidding! It makes me feel amazing, it really does.

Last lockdown saw a huge rise in people growing fruit and vegetables, tending their gardens, attracting wildlife and so on. This will be harder as we enter Winter but not impossible. I have set myself a challenge. To help me through this uneasy time of reduced income and increased stress, I aim to spend at least half an hour every day in my garden. There is still plenty to do out there and I will not let the cold or the rain deter me. I need it!

So, my advice to anyone with a bit of dirt near them is to dig deep and keep digging. Gardening is productive, positive and rebellious. It reminds us where we came from and links us to our ancestors and their ways of life. It connects us to nature and to wildlife and elevates our mood, making us feel happy and content, despite the crazy world we live in right now.

We are all feeling on edge as the virus increases again, as we worry about our health and the health of our loved ones, as we isolate from the rest of humanity, cover our faces and keep our distances, as we fear a reduction in income and living standards, as we fear so many things….We got through it last time so we know we can get through it again. Talk to each other, help each other, speak up when you are feeling lost and afraid and dig deep, even deeper this time to find the resilience we are going to need to get through it.

(Image by Goumbik from Pixabay)

Guest Post#13 Dreaming of Another World

Last week I shared what I thought would be the last guest post for my Dreaming of Another World feature but I could not resist adding this wonderful piece from 12-year-old Thea. Thea is a hugely talented young writer who attends one of my children’s writing groups. I think you will agree she has a beautiful way with words. Thank you Thea!

Chantelle’s Blog Series from Thea Anne.

The human race has a tendency to rest. We take a breath. We pause. Replenish the energy that we lose in our hectic, busy lives. Sometimes that makes us feel guilty. Sometimes that makes us stressed. Or sometimes we’ll rest too long, and we’ll stop being productive, stop working on what we love because we forget we love it; or at least that we once did.

However you take it, a rest can change things a lot. When we open our eyes they’ll be fresh, clean and never the same.

I remember, months ago, we talked about how covid-19 wasn’t very serious, it wasn’t the end of the world, a pandemic.

Most of all, I remember wishing I could just take a break.

That’s almost what quarantine felt like at first, a rest, a break, a pause, a breath.

At first.

The roads were quiet, no cars rushing past. Their headlights that somehow managed to slip through the gap in my curtains, their polluting fumes slowly crippling the earth. There were no more packs of school children making their way down the street right in front of my house, tossing litter carelessly into my driveway, or on the road. There were no more aeroplanes in the sky for me to watch go past with a smile on my face, although they too thoughtlessly polluted the air.

All my classes were cancelled, the auditions no longer happening, my mother no longer having to spend hours rushing me and my brothers around, me no longer quite knowing what the loneliness I felt was.

I talked to some of my friends more, even if not in person. Yet some I heard from less. Turns out that sometimes people will only talk to you if they want something.

I started listening to music a lot more, sometimes I’d find myself in another world with my headphones on. Turns out reality is the least pleasing place in which we live.

I started writing a lot more too, sometimes pages at a time, sometimes nothing. It helps me understand my feelings better, by letting someone else feel them, that someone being the only one that understands me. Not even I understand me all the time, but they do.

I expected to still hear children, maybe taking a walk for fun, sport, or exercise. I thought there’d be the sound of laughter and children playing in their gardens. But a deafening silence had embraced my home. It sometimes made me think, what is everyone so afraid of? For everyone did seem afraid. Surely the grim reaper won’t take you just for having fun? Surely when you have a rest you should enjoy yourselves? But everyone locked their doors, and pulled the shutters closed. Hid away.

The human race has a tendency to divide themselves, unity preposterous in the eyes of fear. But surely this is the time to change that?

Surely, for all the lives lost, it’s about time to start living one of your own?

A huge thank you to Thea for sharing the post with us. And that really does bring my Dreaming Of Another World feature to a close. Thank you to all the creatives who took part and shared their experiences as well as their stories and poems. Do stay tuned as next week I kick off a new feature for which I will be needing guests again!

‘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