‘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)

It’s Ok To Ask For Help

I’ve never been very good at asking for help, and I blame my parents for this. With the best of intentions, they brought us kids up to be polite, and not ask for things. It was one of the most repeated mantras of my childhood. ‘Don’t ask for anything! Wait until you are offered!’ I can see why they drummed this into us. They didn’t want their children to be brattish or demanding. They thought children who marched into someone’s house and asked for an ice lolly were rude. I can clearly remember playing in the garden at my Nan and Grandad’s house on various hot summer days. We knew the ice creams were kept in the chest freezer in the cellar. We knew our doting Nan would give us one if we asked, but we didn’t dare. We kept egging each other on, urging one of us to go and ask for an ice cream. I expect we worked up the nerve eventually, but it definitely took some time!

Not asking for things in sweet shops and toy shops was the norm. My mum would have given us ‘the look’ if we had ever dared. She always said it was much nicer to give a child something they had not been expecting. But the trouble is, not asking for treats becomes translated by a child into not asking for anything, including help. Take me in the classroom, all the way through my education, too scared to put my hand up for any reason, including going to the toilet!

I’ve had a problem with asking for help my entire life. I hate asking anyone for anything. If I have any kind of problem, I will do everything I can to try to solve it on my own, before I give in and reach out for a helping hand. It really is quite ridiculous. I can’t help assuming that asking for help annoys the person you are asking, puts them out, or means they will begrudge you.

This has also made things harder as an indie writer. Indie writers cannot do it all alone. They just can’t. But in the beginning, this was how I approached things. I struggled with so many aspects of indie publishing, from formatting, to cover design, to marketing, to gaining reviews, and I was absolutely rubbish at asking for help! I truly didn’t want to bother people.

Fast forward four years and six books later and I am beginning to change my mindset. For my sixth book, The Tree Of Rebels, I actually had a book launch.  I wasn’t quite brave enough to do a real life one, so I opted for a Facebook one and thoroughly enjoyed it. I was amazed by the response and the positive results of sales, reviews and follows. I’ve also started asking for help more by sending out ARC’s for the first time ever. I would never have done this before, but now I am trying to live with the mantra; ‘if you don’t ask, you don’t get!’ Out of the 45 people I asked, 31 responded positively, and I have received 18 reviews on Amazon UK and 6 on Amazon US. This has without a doubt given this sixth book a far bigger kick into orbit than the others have, and I will learn from this and do an even bigger and better book launch next time!

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Learning to ask for help is not easy when it has been indoctrinated into us to be polite. Last week was a really hectic one for me work-wise. I had all the normal bits to do and a rather big dog walking/sitting job as well. I love my day-job as a dog walker and sitter, but I’ve only gone back to it fairly recently as it was too tricky to combine with my youngest when he was first born. Last week I was so busy walking back and forth, that my blog post didn’t get written or posted and I only managed to scrape in an hour or two of editing Elliot Pie each day. There was one day in particular when I had a lot of walking to do, washing to hang out, a parcel to post that had been sitting there for weeks, washing up to do and God knows what else. Instead of trying to do everything myself and then getting grumpy, I reached out to the kids and got them to help. Two took the parcel to the post office and one hung out the washing, and wow, what a difference it made just having those two jobs crossed off the list! I felt I could breathe again and calm down and it made me realise how rubbish I am at asking for help at home too.

I do what my mum used to do. I do everything myself get worn out, feel unappreciated and then moan about it! I must stop doing this! I have four children and the oldest three are more than capable of helping out. If it involves the animals, they jump at the chance anyway, so why the hell am I trying to do it all by myself? Again, I think the reluctance to delegate chores goes back to being told not to ask for things as a child.

I don’t want my children to grow up unable to ask for help, so I am trying to set them a good example now. I’ve told them all about the amazing response I had when asking for help to launch the latest book. I want them to see that asking for help doesn’t make you weak, or needy, or annoying. Yes, you should strive to be independent and proactive, but when you genuinely need help from others, you should not feel ashamed to ask for it. And it makes such a huge difference!

Have you ever found it hard to ask for help? How did you overcome this? I would love to hear from you! Please feel free to comment and share.