Planning for the end of the world

woman wearing a white mask leaning against a fence at dusk
Photo by Dimitri Karastelev on Unsplash

I don’t know about you but life has been a bit surreal these last couple of days. As Coronavirus cases increase, so does the sense of impending doom. On Thursday in particular as we waited for the announcement coming out of the Cobra meeting, our office felt like that bit in Titanic just before the ship hits the iceberg, or the moment before the ship breaks in two. You know something is going to happen; you don’t know when or what or how but there is a shift in the atmosphere, I think the term is ‘pregnant with expectation’. As it happens, nothing has actually changed, and no one knows yet whether that’s a good or bad thing. As with most things with this government you’re not sure whether their choice to delay the implementation of more stringent measures is the right thing (which is entirely possible) or if they are catastrophically incompetent.

Living in a state of such uncertainty is not comfortable, is it? Most of us are pretty worried even as we try to rationalise our fear by trying to ‘put things into perspective’. I’ve seen the list on Facebook, ranking all the other terrible things that people are constantly dying of, with Covid-19 towards the bottom of the page, cosily nestled between Leishmaniasis (yeah, me neither) and yellow fever. Yep, I feel so cheered up right now, knowing we’ve just added a new item to the top 20 death menu!

All things considered, I’m doing pretty well. My phobia is more directly linked to vomiting bugs so I’m not experiencing high levels of anxiety, just the normal kind for the occasion, not great but better than nearly passing out. I’m not too worried for myself or the children – or indeed Badgerman whose immune system, strengthened by years spent in the midst of dirty teenagers, pretty much guarantees he will get to look after us all should we catch the virus.

If you’ve clicked on the post thinking I was going to tell you how to plan for the apocalypse, I’m sorry to disappoint. I have not been bulk-buying for the end of the world, neither will I start bulk-buying now. It is a terrible selfish idea, so don’t do it. My existing Brexit stockpile however, a small affair I’ve been working on for the last few months in preparation for the worse case scenario of no-deal/end of transition without a working EU trade deal, has showed itself to be a nice bit of foresight, but not quite foresighted enough. Not least because, up to the 31st January just gone, we were well on the way to building a nice little fort of toilet paper around the bog. However, since that date, we have slowly but surely wiped our way through it because I thought it wouldn’t be needed for another few months. Oh the irony.

This said, should things quickly escalate further, aside from having to hunt for the early leaves of spring to wipe our butts, we will be able to keep going at home for a while thanks to the B-Stockpile. We have enough rice, pasta, tinned chopped tomatoes and olive oil to last a few weeks. It’s a sad coincidence but the Covid-19 crisis has been quite informative on this, giving us an insight into the products that might disappear fastest from our supermarkets should the worst come to pass. Aside from the overnight disappearance of all toilet paper, hand-wash and soap, people in my area have also panic bought painkillers, dry pasta (but not pasta sauce) and, to my surprise, antipasti. I never thought tinned sun-dried tomatoes, peppers and artichokes would be the first to go. They are not on my emergency food list, in fact I can’t even picture what kind of emergency list needs antipasti on it “Darling please don’t forget the tinned peppers, you know the tapenade doesn’t taste right without them! I’ve seen the neighbours’ underground bunker and they have a whole shelf for the caviar“. With that in mind, when the threat of contamination subsides and the shops return to normal, I’ll restart the Brexit stockpiling (one extra item in every shop, not bulk-buying – never bulk-buying!) and in addition to starting again with the toilet paper pile, I’m also planning to add salt and flour to the list so we can make our own bread and pizza dough.

You may think it’s all a big over-reaction, and it may be. I know I’d rather play it safe and find myself mid-January 2021 with too many tins of lentils rather than face the alternative. I’m not planning for the end of the world but I am prepping for a few weeks’ disruption. If the current situation has made you rethink your Brexit plan but you don’t know where to start, fear not! Wait until the current health crisis abates then think again. And you don’t have to work it out yourself, thankfully clever people have done it already, like Jack Monroe’s Brexit stockpile post, it covers all the basics and more. 



Brain Dump

Photo by Johannes Plenio on Unsplash

It’s been a long time since I last wrote on the blog. It’s not for lack of time, or even for lack of wanting, at least theoretically, but when it comes down to it, my heart just hasn’t been in it. I haven’t really been able to explain why until recently, when I had a bit of a lightbulb moment during one of my ‘processing stuff at people and do-interrupt-me-with-insight-if-you-get-some’ monologues over lunch with a friend.

I used to love blogging. It was fun and challenging and it was mine. At the heart of it was this life I had carved for myself in the UK and through blogging I expressed my love for it. I shared things that caught my attention and journaled my attempts at navigating the quirks of cultural differences whilst retaining my French identity through, well, food mostly.

Then the Very Terrible 2016TM happened and frankly, I haven’t recovered. One of the most striking outcomes was that for the first time in my life I had issues with my mental health that I couldn’t directly blame on my childhood, I mean, what the hell is that about? At first, when things started going wrong and I lost the momentum to write, I was just too busy living the things. Then when the dust settled, I had a diagnosed phobia and mild anxiety, I was depressed and my brain was a fog – and it’s now been going on for years. In the overwhelm, I’ve tried to find ways to cope and that’s led to lots of reading and watching TV, which worked very well as a numbing protection from the outside world but adversely for the same reason is now a real challenge to come out from.

So my life’s both fine and a complete mess. On the surface, I just go about things in a normal way, the day-to-day with the kids and work are usually good (the ‘shouty dash out the door in the morning, can’t find clean socks, need dressing-up outfit NOW’ good normal). Physically, I have occasional spikes of anxiety because of the phobia that mess up my digestive system for days and disrupt my sleep patterns. I feel slightly nauseous a lot of the time, but at least the stress-induced rash on my legs I had the whole of Spring and Summer 2017 has gone. Small victories!

I turned 40 last month. I am totally fine with that and I suspect I am going to enjoy this decade (from a ‘me’ point of view, the world might still yet descend into absolute chaos). This said, for a while now I have been pondering the fact that I still don’t really know what I’m about as a person. In particular I wish that I had a ‘thing’ that I was passionate about and could see myself running with in the long term that’s not anything to do with my children.

It’s that old chestnut of searching for meaning I guess. I have friends who have found their niche or a new career they love in their 30s and 40s, and I am increasingly aware that I don’t have much to show for myself. I’ve never been ambitious or driven and there hasn’t been anything that has motivated me enough to be proactive about it (apart from leaving church but that’s one rabbit hole I won’t go down here, it’s too way off topic for this blog). I feel like I could enjoy something to do with social justice but only if I could work on it online and not require lots of face-to-face with people because hello introvert people-are-the-worst-but-I-also-want-to-help here.

But back to my blogging hiatus. The thing with the blog is that Brexit has tainted all the things that it was about. It has thrown my identity and my sense of belonging into disarray and in this new precarity, incessant media negativity and endless political limbo, I can’t write breezily about the differences between the two cultures I straddle anymore, it’s too painful and I feel all this loss and nothing is as it was. Much like the author of this Routed article and Riley in the Pixar movie ‘Inside Out’, there is a before and after and my daily experience is all mixed up now with a heavy dose of sadness and loss. My thoughts about England have a weight to them they didn’t have before, and I know that I can’t write as I once did. At least not now. 

So this is where I am: I want to reclaim this space I used to love but it is tangled up in my battered identity and I don’t know how to write in a way that is honest but doesn’t hurt my brain. I’m not entirely convinced that turning it into a dumping ground for processing this new reality makes for compelling reading material – unless you’re really into doom and gloom and in which case relax and enjoy – but I am willing to try.

Trouble get behind me now

hand sticking out of a grey ocean, with the blog title 'trouble get behind me now, trouble let me be'
Photo by Mishal Ibrahim on Unsplash

Don’t you see
That in your bed
I find no sleep
I confess you came because of me
Trouble get behind me now
Trouble let me be

Dave Matthews ‘Some Devil’ album 2003

I’ve been reflecting on what healthy communication looks like and how to ask for help, as part of a vague New Year resolution to be pro-active in getting out of the doldrums where I feel I’ve been stuck for the last two years.

The timing is interesting. It’s not the first time that this two-year cycle has come up in my life in the context of recovery from a particular ‘the shit has hit the fan’ moment. I’ve also noticed that the big ahah moment of ‘ahah! Here it is, trouble!‘ comes not when hardship first occurs. Sometimes, that first experience of trouble is merely the beginning of a journey down an emotional well, one that’s less ‘sudden drop into the abyss’ and more of a very slow trip down to the bottom of a black hole before starting the climb back up.

What I mean is that experiencing difficult emotions like grief or fear at the onset of trouble is expected. The real trouble comes months down the line, when your difficult emotions are not only still here, but they have not diminished in intensity as much as you thought they would, and instead have gone up incrementally and now affect your ability to do normal. It is then that comes the ahah moment, when you realise that you really are in trouble, when the normal emotions born of trauma have taken over your ability to function as you once did, and you suddenly realise that you are at the end of yourself.

Often, that moment of realisation comes as a genuine surprise, and this is hugely important in the context of asking for help. When trauma occurs, be it expected or not, the need for support is obvious. Relationship problems, bereavement, work changes, any such event brings about strong emotions and people understand if you are not at your best. You may not know what you need but friends and family understand your fragility. Less understood is the time it takes to recover from trauma, and the fact that often such recovery will go through ups and downs over weeks, months and years. Sometimes you may find that you are coping better at the onset of trauma than you do months later. It doesn’t mean that you are complacent and wallowing in the struggle, but that it is real and you need to go through that muddy valley of emotion to the point of immersion before you can begin the climb up onto the other side. You need to be able to own that pain and name it before you can start to move on.

You need to go through that muddy valley of emotion to the point of immersion before you can begin the climb up onto the other side. You need to be able to own that pain and name it before you can start to move on.

A lot of people are uncomfortable with the reality that you might not be yourself for years, or even that you may never be your old self again. It’s hard to have patience for the complexity of human emotion that follows no path or pattern but its own.

To use a current example, some people are finding Remainers and EU nationals’ obsession with Brexit disturbing. Everyone is sick of hearing about it. ‘Get over it already’ and ‘What about the real issues going on in our country?’; ‘What about the NHS, and the homeless and the food bank crisis?’ Jeremy Corbyn has turned this into an art form. Whenever an important issue on Brexit is being discussed, he is somewhere else, talking about everything but Brexit.

I jest, but frankly, I am there too. I wish I could stop thinking about Brexit altogether and put it behind me like a bad case of cheese-induced vivid dreaming. Unfortunately, since June 2016, there hasn’t been a single day without some bit of news in relation to EU nationals, be it from the tabloids or the government, slagging off foreigners, blaming the EU, blaming Remainers for the failure of Brexit, blaming EU nationals in the UK for stealing jobs whilst telling us that we should be f*cking grateful for them or go back where we came from, blaming us for claiming benefits and for making the NHS queues longer. Well-meaning supporters tell us that we shouldn’t let it get to us, that it’s not about us but if it isn’t about us, who is it about, this ‘other‘, this mythical foreigner who does all these things because they’re only here to send money back to their backward foreign town. In person, we are told that we are wanted, but whenever we listen to the news or look at the Home Office website, we know that we are not welcome, that we are barely tolerated, a pawn in a government plan to drive the immigration statistics down.

The unwanted emotions all of this causes, well, they have to be managed somehow in the midst of lives that have their normal share of every day trouble. Sometimes they have to be managed on a daily basis. These days I can’t turn the news on without first taking a deep breath, bracing myself just in case Jacob Rees-Mogg comes on the screen and I have to restrain myself from throwing stuff at the tv. There are particular people whose voice I literally have to switch off because I can physically feel the tension rise; I can only watch them on silent with subtitles on (Donald Trump and Theresa May in particular come to mind).

None of this happens overnight, and talking about your struggle to maintain a normal life when nothing much seems to be happening may come across a bit snowflakey, like you’re not trying hard enough, like you are being oversensitive and overdramatic. God know I am not offended by every single thing that has been said in the last few years. It is the accumulation of these now innumerable moments of irritation and disappointment that upsets the balance: it is death by a thousand cuts.

And that’s the trouble with trouble. It takes way longer than you think to name it, and even longer to come out on the other side. It is literally only now, two years since the onset of this ‘accumulation of things going badly wrong’ (the relentlessness of Brexit bad news being only a part of it), that I have enough in me to reflect on what has happened from a sense of having come out on the other side, of having seen the worst of my emotions and being able to look at them and contemplate rising up.

I want to teach my kids resilience

key life skills to teach kids: resilience


I’ve had mental health on my mind a lot this season. My previous post highlighted some personal stuff from the last year and a half, and I also went through a period of burn-out in the late noughties that was only resolved when I had to take a break with maternity leave. Commuting to London for work did not agree with me! These seasons of life have taught me a lot about my own mental health and the need for a balanced life, one that works for me. We all have different levels of stamina both mental and physical, and the modern behaviour of publicising our best selves on social media has emphasised the struggle with comparison and what makes ‘a good life well lived’ ten-fold. Having children heightened that need for me to listen to what my body tells me, if only because I’m an introvert who gets frazzled after hours of being talked at but also because it has made the weight of responsibility to ‘raise my children well’ more, well, weighty.

And it is. As parents we are well aware of the multitude of skills that our children need to learn to grow into well-rounded adults. Many of these skills they will just pick up by observation of their peers and the adults in their life, whereas others need more careful teaching and modelling. I asked myself what key life skill I want and need to teach my children, and it is obvious to me now that this skill is resilience.

Resilience means that when bad things happen, we have mechanisms in place to help us cope, and important things like sleep and eating well are prioritised. Resilience means learning to ask for help. It means knowing that hard things are not necessarily bad things, and  knowing how to handle disappointment and stress. Resilience means knowing that mistakes are not failures and that learning from them without beating yourself up is important. Resilience means being able to spot the circumstances and situations that affect our mental balance for the good and the bad and to have a plan to manage our well-being so we are not caught short. Resilience means not being tossed around by every wind of life but developing a thick enough skin to not constantly live offended or hurt. It means not hiding away from difficult conversations about what life is really like; showing them that their value does not lie in perfection or in trying to be someone they are not but in knowing who they are; teaching them to be prepared to work to achieve what they want and how to manage their emotions.

Resilience means moving on, learning from the bad, embracing the new, and learning to be adaptable and flexible. It is a huge skill to hone over a lifetime and I have barely scratched the surface, but I would rather my kids already had a good grounding to work from. It’s a daunting task to be honest, and really, it does bear the question ‘what the hell was I thinking wanting to have kids in the first place?!!’ Thankfully, it is hard but also fun and interesting and you learn as much from your kids as they learn from you, and thank goodness for that!

A Year of Sour Lemons

citrus lemon and lime

It’s kind of interesting how different people cope (or not) with the same thing in different ways. Everybody has a different trigger point, a different level of resilience. What one person will sail through, another will struggle with as if through sinking sands. Some people have incredible levels of energy that allow them to always be on the go, moving from one activity to another, engaging with people all day and still finding reserves for socialising in the evenings, and loving their life. Others, not so much!

I’ve been suffering with a fluctuating mental health this last year, specifically anxiety, and it has made me realise, amongst other things, that I shouldn’t try to compare my resilience levels with others. I’ve found a lot of people online for whom blogging through their mental health problems like depression and anxiety was helpful and empowering, a form of therapy, whereas my well of motivation dried up like an old prune. The mental exertion of dwelling in deeper thoughts was leaving me feeling more tired and anxious. I haven’t been able to write, despite loving and missing it. Part of my coping regimen, such as it is, has been to relax through reading superficial material (e.g. trashy novels!).

After a year of barely keeping my head above water, I am pushing myself out to be proactive again, in part because winter is especially hard for me and I have to be prepared. I am using whatever reserves of energy I have to plan things I enjoy, that are restful rather than draining. And I would love to be up to blogging again.

I’ve not suffered from noticeable mental health issues before, if you discount a short time in my late teens when I had psychosomatic symptoms from stress. A one-time intervention from a psychologist pretty much purged a whole lot of unhelpful expectations I had put on myself and I never suffered from that type of pain ever again – one of the biggest light-bulb moments of my life. Counselling is so helpful and I highly recommend it to everyone.

Anxiety strikes us in different ways. Some people are well acquainted with it and have had to learn coping techniques early on, with or without medication. Others, like me, find that their personal circumstances change and compound to a level where the body and mind no longer react to events in the way they used to.

These last 18 months have just been a bucket full of shit for us as a family, and I found that things that I would have coped with fine on their own, piled up in such a way that I no longer could. It was unexpected, and it hit me like a ton of bricks. If you want an idea of the things that led to this crisis, they are, in no particular order, the Brexit vote and its implications for me and my family both as an EU citizen and as someone who loves the UK, by extension the relentless bad news on TV, the fall out from the death of a close relative in late 2016, a phobia of sickness and Luciole’s long term bout of sickness – think one sick bug after another from end of November 2016 to late February 2017 – that landed her in hospital two days before Christmas. I did finish my business course with flying colours, but that’s about the only majorly positive thing that’s happened in a year and a half. All of these things conspired to turn me from a well-adjusted adult (so says I, you may disagree 😃) to a very anxious person suffering from all manners of physical symptoms, not sleeping or eating well and generally feeling completely unable to get control of my body or mind’s reactions.

Having got to the point where the anxiety was affecting my daily life, I decided that enough was enough and took myself to the doctor who gave me medication along with a look of  ‘I’m not surprised you’re stressed’ when I explained the last year (the acknowledgement was reassuring). She sent me to counselling via the NHS Time To Talk service, which I am doing for the next little while in the form of self-guided telephone support with a trained counselor. I am also planning activities to enjoy over the winter. Obviously winter itself is a bit of a trigger for anxiety and fear around my sickness phobia, and I get a bit down at this time of year with S.A.D (Seasonal Affective Syndrome) and struggle with the dark afternoons and general lack of light. Planning ahead is therefore key to my success in not taking it lying down.

This said, I’m doing stuff, but not too much; ‘doing’ always tires me out if overdone. I’m also doing some mindfulness and breathing exercises and generally taking each day as they come. So I may blog, or I may not, but my absence is not for lack of desire. Thinking positive thoughts and cutting short negative thoughts is pretty much a full-time job.

But you know what? I’m much more aware of the fact that you literally cannot tell what’s around the corner, you cannot plan for an unknown future and you cannot control everything. The most important is to be present in all things, to listen to your body and your mind, to take note of what they are telling you and to take care of yourself. And not to expect your healing and self-care to look like everyone else’s.