Saturday, October 10, 2020

World Mental Health Day during a pandemic


It's a while since I've walked down by the canal - or anywhere, come to that.  Life has taken over.  Probably nothing all that different from what is happening to everyone else but the effect on my mental health has been noticeable.

Until recently there were really only a couple of people I talked to about how I was feeling, because what's the point when everyone else is feeling much the same.  I realised, though, that I wasn't talking to quite a number of my closest friends.  Why not?  Eventually I realised it was because so much had happened since I last spoke that the first question might be "why didn't you say anything?" and I didn't really have an answer.

The other reason was that for a few weeks now my life has been filled with anxiety for half of the day while I do things, make telephone calls, arrangements for and speak to my parents, and they are both having a tough time at the moment.  When I did tell anyone about what was happening, the anxiety returned.  Better to say nothing, then.

I got round it eventually, in one case by demanding 5 minutes of a friends' time because I was relaxed after a glass of wine and wanted to tell her when it didn't make me anxious.  She graciously gave me 15 minutes while her husband sat poised with a paused box set at a crucial stage in the denouement.

Gradually, I've talked to or messaged most people.  It's better.  Several of them have sympathised.  Several have said they don't mind me letting off steam, even people I hardly know.  

So on World Mental Health Day I have a message.  It's my usual message, actually.

Talk to people!

Whether you feel anxious, depressed, sad, isolated or happy, relaxed and ready to go, talk to people either about how you feel or about how they feel.  There are too many people in society still not doing it.  

For those who've been following any of my ramblings, my garden is the thing which brings most contentment in this most hideous of years.  Everything seems more difficult with a pandemic, except gardening.  I know this isn't true for everyone, but I feel really sorry for anyone who would like a garden but doesn't have one.

Monday, September 7, 2020

Days of lockdown, part 4 - the wider picture, sort of.


How has my mental health been coping with lockdown?  Am I losing friends, as a report on Radio 4's Today programme recently suggested would happen with friendships when you don't see the other person for more than three months?  Am I being too extreme in my approach?  Not careful enough?  How has my life changed permanently due to Covid-19 rather than the sort of changes I might have expected normally?

My mental health was absolutely fine during the first few months of lockdown but gradually and more recently I have been struggling from time to time.  I love living on my own but I am quite a social person so I've missed going out for coffee with friends the most.  As restrictions have lessened, people who live with someone else can fairly safely go out to restaurants, pubs and cafes but people who live on their own who are not in a bubble with another household can only go on their own.  

People who live with someone else can go on holiday together.  People can do some kinds of holiday, e.g. camping, with friends they don't live with.  People with grown-up families can take holidays with them in places like rented cottages.  I, on the other hand, have been self-isolating for two weeks before visiting my elderly parents and their live-in carer.  The final tin lid on that was that I planned a week of 'holiday' when I came home, to enjoy sitting in my garden, meet with friends for coffee and Cake (which I normally avoid mid-week) and other social things.  Instead, we had a week which was mostly wet and windy plus two sets of my friends that I would otherwise have seen went on holiday.  Life became a bit grim for me and I was been periodically depressed.  

Depression in my case usually involves anxiety and a sense of being out of touch with myself, amongst other symptoms.  On at least two occasions when I did encounter other people (online and 'live') I realised afterwards that my anger was influencing my reactions and behaviour in a way I felt I needed to apologise for.

I started to question why I was self-isolating before visiting my parents when their carer has resumed some of her social activities and went out to lunch (eating outside) with friends, travelling by car (wearing masks but still three or four in a car) and popping into small shops when she goes out for a walk.  There doesn't seem the same point in my not doing that for two weeks before visiting them if she's doing it all the time and before I go again I'll assess the situation carefully and decide at the time how careful I need to be.

I don't think I'm losing friends while not seeing them but then I have friends I rarely or never see anyway.  There are a few local friends I have not been seeing but somehow I think my belief in real friendship still holds good - that it will stand any amount of absence and on seeing the person again it will only be a short while before you are back where you were with the relationship.  I'm fairly confident that friendships will survive.

What I've been experiencing is isolation and some loneliness.  And I've been really grumpy about it all.

Friends say they can't meet for coffee on a particular day because they're doing something with someone else.  Well, you're much better off than I am, then.  I don't have 'someone else' I'm doing things with.  I don't say anything.  But maybe I should?  Friends probably don't know I have any problem if I don't say.  I know there are many people much worse off than I am, however this is about my mental health - and I'm "just sayin'."

The wider picture for me is coloured by the knowledge that autumn is pretty much here, bringing an end to meeting outside and the implications of all of that.  Fortunately, after five months, my acupuncturist has resumed working and I have begun  to feel more like my old self.  I've lost most of the anger.  I've also been mentioning how I feel to people I know, even those I don't know well if they live on their own.  Most people who live on their own seem to think the same way as I do.  This is interesting and makes me wonder if living with other people insulates you in some way against being over-careful.  

Maybe I have been over-careful.  I'm thinking of asking my cleaners to come and clean while I'm at home.   Other people, including my parents, have been doing this.  As autumn approaches I am looking ahead at the things I like about autumn and winter - open fires, good tv to watch, closing out the world once it's dark.  A friend and I have worked out a strategy for safe socially distanced watching of films with a takeaway (or cook-in).  We have a similarly careful attitude and are both happy to move about the room out of each other's way, put on masks when necessary, etc.  And I am getting some nice, mild days so I can eke out a bit of summer living and adjust to the autumn.

As for the wider, wider picture, the national view, world view, politics and social issues and, and, and, and .....  I'm afraid for now I'm unable to give my attention to it.  I do what I can for people I'm closest too.  You really can't do more than your best and that's my best for the time being.

In case you missed it, I'll just point out the pun of the wider view of my vegetable garden above!  And to finish off, we, like everyone else, have had some spectacular sunsets recently and I now have a working camera to record them.

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Days of lockdown Part 3 - my position

My position, like most people's, is probably unique to me.  Others have similar views but we are in different situations.  This is mine.

Before lockdown began, I could see it coming.  I stopped using public transport at the beginning of March and didn't go anywhere I wasn't prepared to stay shortly after that.  I visited my parents for what I expected to be the last time for months.  After I'd had time to do all of that, eventually we were in lockdown and my 100 days began.

I wore a mask whenever I went out, which to begin with was fortnightly to shop for food for me, and for a couple of months for a friend who was shielding.  A friend who mows my lawn would have a cup of tea on the patio and we used wipes for things we were both handling.

People were talking of lockdown being for a few weeks, or returning to normal, or variations on those but I was never expecting that.  The history of pandemics, I was told by my historian friend, is that they usually have a second wave which is worse than the first.  Then there's our government and the decisions it makes.  Nothing our government was doing was encouraging me to think otherwise - everything was decided at least too late and sometimes insufficient measures were introduced.  To say nothing of the confusion ...

Gradually lockdown was "eased".  People started doing things they hadn't done for months.  I haven't been to a pub or restaurant and don't intend to for the time being.  I'm still wearing a mask when out and in shops and now - quelle surprise! - we're being told we have to.  For a long time, shopping was the most risky thing I could do and now people are waking up to that.

I haven't hugged anyone, not even my friend who had her cat put to sleep.  I have once had coffee outside a cafe with a friend and once in a garden and I've had one set of friends and one family visit on my patio, with food and drink, which we all accessed separately.  Before that I was becoming depressed about how almost every person I know was managing to do something in the way of a holiday with family or friends and I didn't seem to have anything ahead to look forward to.  Yes, I could go away on my own to a safe location, but the point isn't the going away, it's the 'with people'.

I am now self-isolating for two weeks prior to going to visit my elderly parents for a week.  I will enjoy that as it's always good to see them and as they have a live-in carer, I get to talk to three people whenever I want.  I phone them every day but I know my occasional visits are an emotional lifeline for them.  When I'm there I do hug them.  After 14 days of seeing nobody and feeling exactly the same, it's unlikely (though I admit possible) I have the virus so it's a tiny risk to take.

The observant amongst you will have noticed that the title of this post, although it's Part 3, is "Days of lockdown" without the 100.  This is because lockdown is not over, it's only eased.  Many people seem to think everything is ok now and we can relax completely.  It's not ok now and we can only relax slightly.  

Many of my friends think the same as I do but they all have tales to tell of their friends who don't.  I really don't understand where people's head are at.  Hundreds of new Covid-19 cases every day in the UK and many deaths EACH DAY.  Occasionally you get a low day, 9 or 12, but often it's still over 100 deaths in a day.  

So are there any plus points in my new normal?  Yes.  I've had my house repainted on the outside.  A flash of inspiration about how the colour would show the garden to its best advantage now that I'm able to spend more time there, and now here is crocosmia in all its glory.

Secondly, I've not been anywhere or done anything to interfere with my weight-loss regime so have been able to stick to eating very strictly four days a week and relaxing completely at the weekend, with the result that I have already exceeded my annual target of losing 7lbs during the year.

Thirdly - and this is not as incompatible with secondly as you'd expect! - I have discovered that after all fresh yeast is so much better than dried.  For a long time when lockdown began, dried yeast (and flour of any sort) wasn't to be found anywhere but our healthstore had fresh yeast and strong flour.  We had no shortage of bread but I decided retirement was as good a time as any to resume making my own bread.  It's been a great success and I've branched out to focaccia, and almond croissants (see top photo) which are a favourite of mine.  All delicious.

And that's it.  There have been other positives in my life but they either haven't been as a result of lockdown or have been second-best alternatives to seeing people regularly.

The next post in the series will broaden out, I think.

P.S.  I see I used the picture of the almond croissant before.  But I'm leaving it, because it was that good.


Sunday, July 5, 2020

100 days of lockdown - Part 2, patterns

When I began to write "Things to be thankful for" I knew some days they would be very little things because nothing in particular had happened.  I managed to find something positive every day even when things were bad and that with one exception I managed to find something different every day.  At times things were bad too - how do you feel thankful when the world is constantly spinning and you can't lie down to sleep?  But I managed it.  For which, I guess, I'm thankful!  Here's the summary of categories.  (Some things came into more than one category, before anyone does the maths!)

  • There were 21 things related to my garden and 4 to do with wildlife.
  • There were 17 things that were directly related to Covid-19 or lockdown.
  • There were 15 things related to people.
  • There were 14 things related to food and drink.
  • There were 9 things related to weather and 5 which were specifically about rain.
  • There were 6 things related to shopping or treats I'd bought.
  • There were 5 things related to my health.
  • There were 15 things that didn't fit any of the above categories.
  • Although I spent several days thinking I mustn't mention bees again, I found I hadn't actually mentioned them once!
The list is quite interesting to me because I think it might relate the amount of time I spend thinking about all the different categories.  Undoubtedly my garden is hugely important to me and I spent a lot of time in April and early May working in it.  I'm pleased to find that people figure quite highly because people are important to me but sometimes I fear I get distracted by other things going on in my life and don't spend as much time with or on my friends.

Food and drink - well, considering how much time I spend thinking about food and drink it's surprising that I only mentioned them 14 times.  

The list also shows that I haven't gone overboard on comfort buying and don't dwell overmuch on my health.  I'm not sure about the accuracy of these two.  I have actually spent a lot of money during the past three months but much of it has been on equipment for making silver clay jewellery, having decided that's the direction I want to go in at the moment.  And as for health, well I do spend quite a lot of days thinking about my post-viral fatigue and whether I need a nap or not as well as the various injuries and aches and pains I have.  But I suppose I don't tend to talk about these very much as I think I would soon bore people.

I'm very glad I did this and glad that I maintained every single day for 100 days.  It would have been easy to miss the days without anything obvious but my list sometimes made me think carefully about what was important and sometimes it took my focus away from things I needed distracting from.

Lockdown isn't over.  The news describes it as "eased".  However, I knew I needed to set a finishing post, for one thing because I really was going to be repeating myself sooner or later and for another I wanted to concentrate on other types of post and forms of writing.  It's good that I've been prompted to blog, which has been increasingly neglected over the past two years or so.  

And finally, coming to the end of writing my 100 things seems to have coincided with my starting a new direction for my creative work.  The last post I wrote before lockdown was last December, when I wrote about retiring.  I'm quite excited to find something I want to do and am now going to get on with it.

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

100 days of lockdown - part 1, the list.

 On 23rd March I began posting daily “things to be thankful for” on Facebook.  I didn’t know how long I’d go on doing this but eventually decided I’d stop on day 100.  That day is today.  This first post is simply the list of each thing I’ve been thankful for during the first 100 days of lockdown, mostly without the explanations that often followed.

2.      The osmanthus is smelling wonderful.
3.      Lunch outside in March. And this lovely soda-glazed bowl by Lansdown Pottery
4.      I treated myself to new pyjamas, for loafing about in after baths.
5.      My local stationers, James and Owen, while shut are still answering the phone and for minimum order of £10 are delivering while they have stock.
6.      It's my birthday, in case you hadn't noticed 
7.      I have a garden.
8.      My local garden centre is doing deliveries.
9.      There is a peacock butterfly in my garden most days.
10.  Birthday daffs. Arrived as buds so had no idea they were going to be double blooms.
11.  I'm still able to do my own shopping at Waitrose. 
12.  Roger has found a way to upload photos to Instagram on the PC.
13.  Roast beef this evening and I found some Yorkshire puddings in the freezer!
14.  It still hasn't rained! Allowing me to make slow but sure progress in the vegetable garden.
15.  A neighbour I didn't really know brought me a gift way out of proportion for giving them some seed trays.
16.  I bought more and different tulips last autumn than I remembered and now they're coming into flower.
17.  Saw an orange tip butterfly in the garden.
18.  BT OpenReach, who sent someone immediately to investigate my disconnected phone and established exactly where it's disconnected
19.  My life is so easy compared to many. I'm aware that this could be transitory, so I am living each day as best I can.
20.  My cousin's wife is happy to do my parents' shopping so their carer doesn't have to go out.
21.  I am discovering the benefits of WhatsApp groups.
22.  My beetroot have germinated and are visible above ground.
23.  I have lots of sparrows in my garden.
24.  My landline is fixed!
25.  Amazon.
26.  Rubbish tv
27.  Rain, for the garden.
28.  The mahonia smells so strongly of honey, even when I'm 6ft away the other side of a fence.
29.  Butternut soup for supper today.
30.  My friend Anne, who not only collected my prescriptions this morning but also went back this afternoon for the one they'd forgotten and topped up the bird feeders as well
31.  I've just slept for 45 minutes without neck pain.
32.  I am able to sleep lying down!
33.  My GP, who really didn't seem to mind my asking for another telephone consultation.
34.  Today I am feeling better than yesterday, probably back to how I was the day before, so I have had a shower and brushed my hair!
35.  A nice day where it wasn't expected, so I was able to walk around the garden taking photographs.
36.  Another rain-free day when I managed a few more outdoor tasks.
37.  Rain, for the garden, which was fairly desperate for it and my usual firm of gardeners, who are still at work.
39.  have yet to be bored!
40.  I have lost 60lbs since I began to take myself in hand at the end of 2011.
41.  I'm learning to live more slowly.
42.  I find that I am interested in work again. I wasn't sure I would be when I retired.
43.  My knees are almost back to where they were, following falling down the stairs in November.
44.  These beautiful Californian Poppies, which are annuals but overwintered in my garden.
45.  My zoom 'socials' with crafty friends.
46.  Not one but two friends sat 2m away from me on my patio and had a drink today, at two different times.
47.  Brassicas have been in the garden 24 hours and so far not eaten by anything.
48.  Even on low days there are friends I can phone.
49.  A good audio CD to listen to while doing boring dressmaking.
50.  Not all my brassica plants have been munched and none so badly that they won't survive.

52.  An unexpected phone call from a cousin.
53.  The garden centre has re-opened and I had a lovely drive over the common to reach it.
54.  I have rediscovered fresh yeast. It is *so* much better than dried.
55.  Had such a nice day doing 'stuff' that I almost forgot about this!
56.  All day breakfast for supper tonight.
57.  A new CD arrived today, though I haven't had time to listen to it yet.
58.  Pea plants went in yesterday and so far un-munched.
59.  My parents (91 and 92) are on the Waitrose priority booking list at last.
60.  The ice-maker in the door of my new freezer. I've always wanted one.

62.  The recipe for carrot cake that is from a magazine and in my recipe folder. It's the best carrot cake there is.
63.  Four weeks after being chopped down to 1ft high because of two years' of terrible aphid infestation, my forty-year-old honeysuckle is sprouting again.
64.  Another pleasant day.
65.  Got all my veg planted out now.
66.  The Californian poppies (that Joy gave me the seeds for) have been the star of my garden for weeks and weeks.
67.  The bed we ordered in February, for my parents' carer, has finally been delivered.
68.  After quite a long time watching videos and taking measurements, have a mask pattern that really fits me nicely.
69.  Six rather nice bottles were delivered to me yesterday, as a gift.
70.  Ten weeks and I'm still here.
71.  My parents; ageing all the time but still themselves.
72.  I have some lovely friends.
73.  Rain.
74.  Wine
75.  Home-made cream tea.
76.  I find it so easy to make meals that everyone likes.
77.  Managed to get out of the bath at parents'.
78.  Sweet peas are blooming beautifully.
79.  First veg of new season for supper tonight: spinach.
80.  Sunny photographs are good to look at on a dull day.
81.  Watching a squirrel searching for the nut feeder which had been there earlier was really entertaining.
82.  New Logitech wireless keyboard and mouse just worked perfectly straight away.
83.  Helped a couple of people feeling low today.
84.  Picked blackcurrants and a few red gooseberries this weekend.
85.  I'm still sticking to my eating regime and losing a little weight here and there.
86.  A really good day today.
87.  I had a nice tax rebate, which more or less paid for the new laptop which was delivered today.
88.  Day 2 of a 3-day almond croissant recipe. This has given me something interesting to do with food but which I can't eat yet!
89.  A new Dylan album.
90.  Walnuts keep well for 11 years in the freezer.
91.  Rain made the vegetable garden soil extremely easy to pull weeds out of without the aid of any implements.
92.  I can't follow the post I shared this morning with something I'm thankful for because it would seem incredibly petty, whatever it was.
So today I'm just thankful.
93.  Today some purple crocs arrived that were the right size.
94.  Gloucestershire has an R rate of 0.6 at the moment.
95.  Had a wonderful one-to-one tutorial with Amy Surman Jewellery - Home Jewellery School this afternoon.
96.  Though it's not the whole story, I seem to have got my creative mojo back.
97.  My friends are all sensible. They, like me, take a long view of Covid-19.
98.  Winning a game of chess.
99.  I don't do a job where I have no choice whether to be inside or outside

100.    I've survived 100 days of lockdown without serious
           health problems, physical or mental.