Today’s been a hard day. I miss normal life. I miss not being afraid. I miss people and talking and going out. Nothing particular has happened, I’ve just been tearful and lonely all day. I fought off the temptation to switch off, go back to bed and hide and I’ve just tried not to show it to the girls and be normal.
We had an ‘inset day’ of sorts. The girls started the day with a drawing tutorial and did some maths. They chatted to friends on Zoom and watched a lot of TV and YouTube videos. We didn’t do any PE, we didn’t bake any bread as I’d planned. I did some work and listened to an audio book.
In the afternoon, as I was feeling particularly sorry for myself, a friend knocked at the door to deliver a thoughtful care package of French brioche and biscuits, which was lovely and kind and I’m feeling tearful again just thinking about it. We had a quick chat from a respectable distance and that’s the first chat I’ve had with someone not from my family in a week so that was nice. I’m an introvert and a pretty poor friend in general, not keeping in touch with people very well, and I felt grateful and overwhelmed. And now I’ve also tried a Welsh cake for the first time and enjoyed it, and I’m feeling tearful again because man, this is the longest day. I can’t wait to wake up tomorrow in better spirits. I don’t have any good words, and I am not going to give you any words of encouragement or put a brave face to it. Today’s been sad with a touch of sunshine. I am grateful for the sunshine, and I am sad and scared and grateful for friends.
Sending everyone hugs and kisses from my living room xxx
Yes I am going to be super creative and totally unique and keep an isolation diary so you can all see inside my tediously mundane life. One day we can all look back and observe the gradual unravelling of my consciousness into raving madness as it is ravaged by the relentless demands of bored hungry kids. You’re welcome, and see you on the other side.
Day 1 – yesterday 21 March 2020
It’s the weekend so we are doing nothing at all as per the usual. What bliss, let’s do it again tomorrow, and the day after, and the day af… Dear god what hell have we plunged into.
Let me start with a disclaimer: I myself can do nothing without a routine. Without routine, I will just plunge into an endless cycle of reading and tv bingeing occasionally interspersed by guilt. Without routine, I am aimless and utterly without self-discipline. I know this; I’m not proud of it, but it is what it is. The only thing that makes me actually bloody good at my job is the prospect of money (and also that I like helping people but let’s face it, money and the fear of getting sacked are really strong incentives). We are starting strong and I am going to RULE at this social distancing working from home with kids stuff.
I decided to switch off social media after lunch because it was driving me crazy and I settled on the sofa to read. Badgerman revelled in the fact that he might also get some reading done, unprecedented scenes people, this is unknown territory. He is shitting it though, I can tell. Uncertainty does not sit well with him at all, although of course I am guessing this because he is keeping it all very close to his chest. Being a maths’ teacher in secondary, he’s got to go in on Monday to support children of key workers, but it might be his only day in, and he will do remote teaching for all of his classes, with so far zero clue as to how it’s all going to work.
I sent the girls out to the garden to clean the trampoline and pick up broken twigs and branches leftover by the various storms we’ve had since before Christmas. It’s a bright sunny day, but freezing cold and windy and they are over the novelty of it in 10 minutes but would also like to do some planting. I defer for when it’s warmer and we don’t risk all our seeds getting blown away – soon please god let it be soon amen.
I’m working out a loose plan of action for Monday when I am supposed to do 7.5 hrs of work remotely with the girls roaming in the house far away from the office. Maybe something like this:
7.30 am – 8.30 am: get up / breakfast / brush teeth / hair / get dressed
8.30 am – 9 am: chores – make bed / tidy bedroom / laundry
9 am – 10 am: PE / yoga / trampoline – make this last as long as possible
9.30 – 10.30 am: reading / writing / maths – no electronics (I’m hoping the school will give me some clue so I can just assign them some exercises)
By the way, E has made a 42-day drawing challenge – suitable for ages 4 + and all abilities. It’s fabulous and you can get it for free onmy Facebook Page.
11.30 – 1 pm: TV / Lunch / do whatever you want
1 pm – 2 pm: stuff with electronics – research / project / Hit the Button / Times Tables Rock Stars / BBC Bitesize / Horrible Histories / Blue Planet type documentary
3 pm – 5 pm: gardening / walk to the countryside if we are still allowed / Zoom and emails with friends / daily journal / 1 family board game
5 pm – 6 pm: free time so probably Roblox and YouTube videos
6 – 8 pm: dinner and movie
8 – 9 pm: kids wind down/get ready for bedtime
9 pm: gin and tonic / wine / icecream
We can laugh together when it all crumbles to nothing in the next 48 hours.
Day 2 – Mother’s Day
My anxiety has been all over the place this last week. It’s fear pure and simple, and it crops up here and there and there isn’t really anything for it, for one thing it’s not irrational fear so what’re you gonna do? Tiredness has been particularly high so I stocked up on Floradix tablets (vitamins and iron) but I still found that by 6 pm my entire body was starting to seize up from sheer exhaustion. Don’t underestimate the power of stress to affect your body at every level. My main advice here is: don’t ignore your body. Listen to what it’s telling you and look after it.
I’ve booked myself into a free online social media marketing course, and I’m joining into a yoga class, a singing warm up group and an exercise class to musical theatre routines. If I don’t fit in some fun things to do for me, I am going to turn into Ms Trunchbull and things are going to get ugly, and let’s just say there are so very random things on offer online at the moment.
It’s a bright and sunny day again today, Spring is finally here. I was treated to loads of beautiful cards and bacon and egg muffins. The girls are out playing limbo hop. We are going to get through this.
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.
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!
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.