Darker months ahead

Here in the UK, coronavirus cases are rapidly increasing again, and as a result it was announced last night that more restrictive measures will have to come into play once more. I was talking about it this morning with my partner as I tried to choke down my anxiety with my coffee and get off my arse and into work.

Quite honestly, I’m struggling. When we went into lockdown in March, we all retreated to our homes, closed the doors and waited. Together. Collectively, we battened down the hatches, and we waited – some with more good grace and patience than others. Both my partner and I are counted as key workers as he writes and maintains software for food production, and I work in education, but for six months we both carried on doing our jobs full time at home. My stepchildren were also with us (as well as my first born, the cat) and although there were moments of frustration at not being able to get out and about quite so much, and I missed seeing my parents, for the most part, in our home at least, it was a pretty happy time. It was safe. My panic attacks and anxiety dwindled to almost nothing – a revelation in my adult life.

This week, I had finally reached a place where, on Monday and Tuesday this week, I managed to regulate my fear at going out of the house all day and being surrounded by people to the point where I wasn’t actually in tears before going out to the car. And now it’s Wednesday, and although we are back up to high alert and there are stricter penalties and rules, my working situation will remain as is: I need to be on campus every day. In theory I’m in quite a low risk setup as I’m in a static office, but fear isn’t rational or easily reasoned with. I know I’m far, far lower risk than frontline health and care workers, teachers and PAs. I am in constant awe at the stoic, steady courage in the face of a threat still largely unknown. I’m still scared, though.

I am planning to look at an online circle in the next few weeks, so watch this space. Time to light the fire and scare the horrors away ­čÖé

The tipping point

With a subtitle of: “All things in balance”….

Today is the autumn equinox, where day and night are equal, and the point at which we tip over into the darker season here in the northern hemisphere. It’s also my favourite time of year – partly because of the very visible and immediate (and often magical) changes in our physical surroundings, but also because I absolutely bloody HATE being hot! And so, rooted in my need to find a bit more harmony and calm in my own body, this time of year makes me feel a lot more balanced out and comfortable too.

Anyway, I was thinking as I was driving into work this morning how the idea of balance might actually have changed for a lot of us. Autumn, despite being a season of things starting to die away, is also symbolic of a new start for many of us here in this part of the world, as schools, colleges and universities mark the start of the academic year, and so many of our work settings fall in line. That is certainly the case for me this year, both as someone working in an education setting and as one going back to academic study (I started last week). And compounding that, this year, is of course the fact that a vast majority of us will have just spent the best part of six months in lockdown, in our homes. I can’t help but think that many people will find the concept of balance a bit different to their previous understanding of it. Certainly that’s the case for me; six months of working at home in my own space has caused me to have radical shifts in my thinking about what is and is not acceptable for my own balancing of all the different things that I do. Simply put: I don’t want to spend so much time away from my home and family (and very importantly, THE CAT) – physically, or emotionally, any more. So if there is one thing the pandemic has taught me, it is that I don’t have to be frantically slogging away in a martyr-like froth away from my home and my little gang to be of value – and that has been the beginning of unlearning a lifetime’s worth of never feeling good enough and an innate belief that discomfort and distress = effort.

So, I am going to attempt to embrace it fully this year and allow myself to dig myself a little burrow of comfort to share from, and to allow myself to rest a bit more so I can be more present with my gang at home and my team at work. As the prospect of another lockdown and further restrictions on our movement looms, I find myself more fearful of being away from home than of being in it, which is something I feel a quiet sense of relief and joy in, as well as terrible and overwhelming sense of gratitude for having a safe place to land, physically and emotionally. It has not always been so, but I feel that going forward I might finally be able to make it so.

How can it be normal when we don’t know what it is?

I was thinking earlier today about a conversation I had just had with a very close friend about how we’ve hit – I think – a bit of a pivotal moment in the proceedings. This is the week that many people have tried to go back to ‘normal’ – either voluntarily or because they’ve felt obliged or because they’ve just flat out been told they HAVE to. And I think it’s worth noting and holding onto the fact that just because we are all trying to do the same thing, it doesn’t mean we are all succeeding, or even that all of us want to do it.

I looked around at my colleagues this week as we came back together for the first time in many weeks. We were relieved to be together, I think, but worried about the consequences. Excited to be sociable, but having to be antisocial. And for those of us who are still fearful – and I am one of them – it’s been particularly difficult to match up our reactions and responses to some of those of our peers, friends, and loved ones.

Is someone being callous, deliberately ignorant, foolhardy or selfish to be desperate to get back to work, kids back to school, back out to the pub, planning a cheeky getaway at Christmas as a reward?

Is someone being stubborn, lazy, paranoid, a hypochondriac, gullible if they’re feeling anxious, not wanting to launch themselves out there, keeping their mask on, continuing to distance as much as possible?

No – not for either. The reality is that we still don’t know. I fall into the second camp, but yearn to feel brave enough to participate with the first. Really, I do. I miss my friends, I miss hugs, physical intimacy, cosying up with my friends, kisses, grabbed hands. I miss going to the cinema (I’m still too scared). I miss leisurely shopping (I’m still too scared). I miss it, I miss it, I miss it all.

But none of us are wrong, or right – we are all just humans. This isn’t something we should apply moral values to as long as we do no harm. Those of us who are scrambling frantically to get back to normal are likely feeling overwhelmed by this prolonged liminality, and those of us afraid to jump back in the saddle and push back to how things were before are afraid of making things worse. They are all valid fears and they don’t make us bad, good, or anything else, but they might just cause hurt feelings and dents in loving relationships where they don’t need to.

So as we wane gently away from the crazy of the full moon this week, maybe we could take a deep breath and try and remember the old adage that everyone is carrying their own burden, even if they don’t care to admit it. Let’s carry on loving each other and saying what we need to say. Boundaries are going to change and need to be redrawn. Pressure will get put on in places we don’t expect it, and it’s okay to ask for it to be taken off so you can gather your thoughts and say how you’re feeling. We still need to look after each other as much as we have through the prolonged period of lockdown and isolation, so let’s try and do it.

To everyone who went back this week and loved it – I’m glad for you. To everyone who went back this week afraid, I see you and I know. For everyone who just wants it to be OK again – I know, I know, I know. I know. Let’s hold each other up. Things will be OK, but only if we are all as OK as we can be, which can only really happen if we’re still able to rely on each other. Hold steady.

The lost art of getting it wrong

I’ve been thinking about this a lot just recently, especially in the context of the global pandemic and all that. When did it become so compulsory to get everything right, every time, first time? Why is it such a failure to not be absolutely perfectly correct and flawless? I am sure it wasn’t always so. Perhaps it’s as we’ve got so much more public and permanent. It’s insidious, though; I work with young adults and teenagers and I often hear people my age (40s) muttering darkly about ‘the youth’ and so on – but it’s not just the digital natives. It isn’t. It’s a significant majority of us. Somewhere, a shift happened and whilst there are older folk who don’t feel compelled to share their lives or make comment on things in the online world, that number seems to dwindle. Again, that’s nothing I have any particular feelings about or hold judgement over, but it’s an observation; I wonder if the fear stems, in part, from the constant knowledge that we are being recorded and preserved, for any potential errors or misjudgments or miscommunications to be chewed over, revisited and pored over again, and again, and again.

It’s no surprise that this creeping fear is just that. Look at how we consume our celebrity lives. Look how many are famous for a short time and then vanish once all the interest has been gobbled up and regurgitated a finite number of times for our entertainment and interest. It’s no wonder that in the backs of our minds we start to get the idea that perhaps we wouldn’t like to have to endure such a Prometheus-like punishment for any tiny perceived shortcoming.

Anyway. Media or no media, permanent public display or no, there’s a sense of shame in not being right and it’s something that we learn. At one of the very first circles that I sat in, I had a real epiphany which was ‘how would it have felt for me to learn things without feeling ashamed that I didn’t already know them?’ Now where did that illogical feeling about the acquisition of knowledge come from? What a terrible burden of pressure to be under.

Anyway it’s just food for thought, for me at least – a little nibble. Perhaps it’s the end of a noodle that I might be chewing my way down for a while. I’ll report back.