How to live with yourself as you really are when you can’t escape anywhere

Alternative title provided by Badgerman: ‘when you can’t get your kids off the Switch and the neighbours are building a human pyramid’

NB: I wrote this yesterday in between aimless web-hopping and listening to the girls playing video games with their dad, and now I can’t be bothered to figure out how to rewrite the first sentence, so here goes:

I had to remind myself that today is Tuesday and that we’ve just had Easter weekend; the days are definitely merging into one. I’ve had a look at the calendar and I am on Day 26 of the lockdown which is also how long it’s been since I last physically left the house. To be honest, it has not been as difficult for me as I know it has been for others. I’m not sure what I expected, especially after an emotional first weekend, and I know I have it easier than the majority of people with my house and garden and no person under 5 living in it. So yeah, it’s been ok so far all things considered. So I’ve been thinking about that, about the psychology of being stuck with yourself when there are no distractions like work and other places, and how we are all continuously learning about ourselves and it’s not all rainbows but we have to make do, and also why we really REALLY need to give ourselves a break right now.

Knowing yourself is super important and other really obvious things

We’re all trying to cope with the lockdown as best we can and being stuck is highlighting who we really are as individuals. This is neither good or bad… as long as we are honest with ourselves about the findings. At the end of the day, nobody is perfect and you’re more likely to survive in close quarters with family if you don’t behave as if you are and you don’t expect others to be perfect themselves. I don’t think it helps to pretend that you are coping better – or worse – than you are.

Natural temperament obviously plays a part. I don’t mind not going anywhere and not seeing anyone. Literally. I also know myself well enough to know what would make a bad day worse so I don’t fret as much over what I should or should not do with it. This is not something I knew in my twenties when I was trying to be the best person everyone else wanted me to be.

Now is probably not the time to ‘try harder’ at being someone you’re not

I’m naturally introspective so nothing I’ve discovered about myself so far during this strange time has been completely new. Nonetheless the less savoury parts look even less good in enforced close quarters. I know there are areas of my life where I could do better in a lot of ways however I don’t think now is a particularly good time to work on it, because there is no quick fix for changing habits and patterns. It takes time, and the shortcut we tend to take is to try harder at pretending to be someone we’re not – like new year resolutions, or trying to stop smoking by sheer force of will. It doesn’t work.

Over the last fifteen years I have had to face some of my limitations and I have learnt to accept who I am – and who I am not. I’m not saying that I don’t sometimes wish I were more of something else, but when it comes to a challenge like the one we are facing right now, the aim is to make it as easy as possible for myself as I am and not as I wish I could be. Hopefully it will also make me easier to live with! It is far better to try to find a rhythm that works for you than to think you need to ‘fix yourself’ by being more like other people and then find it only makes you miserable and stressed.

It’s OK to feel things

We’re spending more time on social media at the moment and it’s a challenge when the green goblin of comparison turns up. It is stressful to feel lots of unwelcome feelings on top of everything else. I find my brain exhausting at times and wish it would just give it a rest. Then I remember this: feeling things is normal. Feeling negative things is normal. Feeling the things, good and bad, is also very much involuntary. It is neither healthy nor helpful to pretend you aren’t having these negative emotions. They tell you something about yourself; they may be a reflection of where you are at but you are not your feelings; they do not define you. What you can control is how you act or don’t act in reaction to them. So I give them a wave – hello feelings of inadequacy and jealousy and wishing I had more capacity – and then I let them go. I literally picture myself waving them away like a mosquito. You know that these feelings likely have something to teach you about yourself but right now may not be the best time to be having a big go at them (unless you’re already doing this and your therapist is on Zoom).

What I know about myself and why it helps to face the warts

Now is the time to find non-harming ways of not making a bad situation worse for yourself. It will look different for everyone. I should have been less surprised to realise that some friends’ ways of coping would likely fry my brain if I tried them! My more extroverted friends are packing the day with activities and looking forward to the day when they can see people in person again. I’m mostly longing for quiet.

I miss seeing people in person of course, especially colleagues because argh, working from home every day is a drag, but I could actually go on like this indefinitely. Literally, doing all the same things I’m doing right now only alone and not with the cackling sisters sitting next to me. It appears that my kids Never. Shut. Up. As soon as there’s a lull in the noise levels, they start humming or singing in a made-up language whilst jumping on the sofa or doing hand-stands. I really just want a bit of quiet. This said I am THERE for the banter when they are competitively playing video games. The sass is unreal. ‘I won, like I always do, with a bit of booty shaking’ – verbatim quote – whilst the other one is humming Frozen 2 ‘Into the Unknown’ at maximum goat voice – it’s a thing and you don’t want to hear it. Youngest takes the credit for her sister’s wins at least half the time so the levels of outrage are high and then they try to kill each other ‘I got 60! No you didn’t you poo, you got 16 you diarrhoea chops*!’ All. Day. Long. *actual insult I heard today.

As a nerdy introvert with an inclination towards laziness (studied over many decades) and a cap on my energy levels (because of the introversion) I don’t like to fill the days with lots of people and doing things. There’s not a day that I can’t find a half-hour to read a book. I also get little satisfaction in cleaning and tidying up so you will never find me busy bee-ing around the house at the best of times. In the current circumstances, things take a turn downward towards apathy and ‘one more game/level/page and I’m done’ syndrome. I have to actively make myself do things otherwise a whole day can go by where I have moved from the computer to my book on the sofa and back again and that’s it.

It is going to sound pathetic to people for whom self-motivation and self-discipline come naturally but I do much better with a list or set goal (ideally set by someone other than myself) with a time frame: the magic of deadlines and paychecks is how I get shit done. Now there’s a big black hole of nothing and it is a massive struggle to make myself do stuff so I have to find a hook and look for smallish activities that are fun but not elaborate, easy to set up and with minimal mess. Blogging is perfect as long as I have a topic to write about, and I have rediscovered how much I enjoy drawing and painting, as you might have seen on my Twitter and Instagram. I have a small stash of art supplies that haven’t been touched in years and they have been an absolute godsend. Cooking and baking are also great. I try to get the kids on board but if they don’t then I just do things on my own. Otherwise, I am a really hands-off mum. The girls are mostly left to their own devices and I expect them to entertain themselves, unless they say they are bored and then I give them options to choose from. At the moment, it’s the holidays and they spend a lot of time online or playing games and watching movies but seriously, this is a crisis and forcing the kids into a routine that I then have to fight them over is a hill I am not prepared to die on. They don’t need me more stressed and anxious over an arbitrary thing that I decided. So trial and error is the way forward.

Anyways, that was a lot of words. I am not qualified to give any advice past these observations about my own life and how I process it. Hopefully it will land with some of you. Otherwise, well, it was rather cathartic and it filled nearly a whole day so yay for that!

Things I’ve loved this week

I did a live-tweet of Jesus Christ Superstar. It was fun and confusing and I gave it an 8 on a scale of Joseph & the 70s Carpetcoat to Phantom of the Opera.

I am in love with this lady’s Shayda Campbell‘s watercolour designs, her tutorials are just at the right level for me and I am following them assiduously on her YouTube Channel.


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.