From a distance that seems safe, I wave ‘hello’ to a neighbour. ‘How are you?’ we ask each other. We both say ‘fine’. These days, ‘fine’ is what we want to hear. Small, daily interactions are not meaningless these days. We have all been stuck behind closed doors and isolated during lockdown, with upsetting and frightening news seemingly assailing us hourly. Heartbreaking scenes have played out before our eyes via the media. So when we hear ‘fine’ we relax a bit and feel thankful because we care. We care because life has become so fragile all of a sudden. And when we hear someone isn’t fine, we feel concerned for them, and also for the risk it poses generally.
Strangely, when things are easing a little, and we can get out and about a bit more, I have found the enormity of things hitting me again. Seeing the garden centre looking, well -different. It seems strange and unintentionally neglected, with its slightly straggly plants, and rather unkempt appearance, so different from normal years, and feels slightly eerie with fewer people who have to keep their distance. People look wary and nervous, not wishing to step in the wrong place, or do the wrong thing (mostly).
It may take us all a while to adapt again; to do things we once did without a second thought. Lockdown has given us a certain security, a knowing that being in our own homes brings safety and freedom. It is familiar and comfortable. When we know that our loved ones are in lockdown too, we feel relief because we know where they are.
But now we are starting to take the very first small steps towards a less restrictive way of living. Deprivation has hurt us. Uncertainty and scarcity, fear and , in some cases, separation, have taken their toll, but perhaps soon we can tap into some of the precious parts of life we knew.
Who knows what will happen over the coming weeks? There are so many who long to heal, so many who grieve and so many who long for life to be as it was before.
We think of cancelled holidays, cancelled weddings, jobs lost and so much more. Many people’s lives have been broken. Who knows how long it will be for lives to heal, physically, mentally and financially?
All I can say for some comfort, is that this has been a time to listen to every bird singing its heart out in the beautiful spring sunshine, a time to examine every bud on the rosebush, every sunbeam and every shadow. A time to cook up imaginative meals, read books we may not have read. I have experienced lovely acts of kindness, such as a friend sending little gifts and notes in the post. We have learned some things we may not have learned. Learned to say how much we miss each other. Learned to say ‘I love you’ more often.
Hopefully, we are now edging to a post-pandemic situation and a time when we feel more ‘normal’ again. Can we stay as we are in some ways I wonder, even though we move forward? Can we remain flexible, keep the ‘gung ho’ spirit even when we are anxious, and remain resourceful? Let’s hope so.
You may have already read this piece but I felt I wanted to add it here:
‘And the people stayed home. And read books, and listened, and rested, and exercised, and made art, and played games, and learned new ways of being, and were still. And listened more deeply. Some meditated, some prayed, some danced. Some met their shadows. And the people began to think differently. And the people healed. And, in the absence of people living in ignorant, dangerous, mindless, and heartless ways, the earth began to heal. And when the danger passed, and the people joined together again, they grieved their losses, and made new choices, and dreamed new images, and created new ways to live and heal the earth fully, as they had been healed.’
Attributed to Kitty O’Meara
The above words are wise, thought provoking and beautiful.
But how do we steady ourselves today? The news is factual but dramatic. Of course we need to be informed but it is hard not to feel unsettled and anxious, even frightened.
At the moment we have to listen to the advice we are given and try and keep calm.
Here are a few things helping me feel calmer:
I have been watching the rooks building their nest for a while now. High in the trees and way above the rooftops, they are going about their business. Whatever the weather they come and go on a regular basis – dipping into our garden to help themselves to the bread on our lawn and flying backwards and forwards with twigs in their beaks to bolster up the nest. No matter what is happening on the ground onwards they go…
A selection of houseplants are arranged on my kitchen windowsill and whenever I look at the perky green leaves and tendrils I feel better. There is a softness in the natural colour. Above hangs a crystal which catches the sun and throws a rainbow of colours round the room and spreads healing energy.
Photographs are arranged on the shelf and I look at pictures of my wonderful sons, their beautiful wives and all nine of our adored grandchildren. I can imagine my hands on theirs. My arms around their shoulders. I can send them love, and love knows no boundaries.
As I write this I am listening to some music recommended by my daughter-in-law in America. She plays this to our youngest granddaughter every night. The music is peaceful, spiritual, harmonious . It helps to think that even when we are all apart, we can still share beautiful things.*
My husband is in the garden. I can hear him turning the soil with the fork, preparing the garden for the next season. The smell of newly mown grass is drifting in through the door. Tending the land is good for the soul and connects us to the earth.
I have been cooking. Chopping, blending, seasoning and then filling and shaping Cornish pasties just like my mother and grandmother before me. Home cooked food nourishes the soul as well as the body.
I have cleaned and tidied the house. There is something comforting in making our surroundings as pleasant as possible, especially if we have to stay in for while!
Looking for the silver lining helps – we may be frustrated because we cannot do a lot of the things we normally do without a second thought, but we are being given the gift of time. Time to have conversations with loved ones, time to reach out to neighbours who are grateful for our help, time to catch up on chores we have been putting off. Time to remember who and what is really dear to us. Time to put trivia aside and concentrate on what really matters. This is the time we wouldn’t have had if we were rushing around meeting deadlines.
I end by saying let’s encourage each other. Let us not isolate ourselves emotionally even if we have to physically. Find ways to relax. Stress does more damage than anything. Love and kindness matters. Let’s get through this scary time together.
*Hidden in My heart (A Lullaby Journey Through Scripture)
Sometimes all it takes to change things is a shift in perspective.
As I was out walking today I looked at the trees as I often tend to do. I thought about time and how long some of the old oak trees must have been growing there. I noticed that the old and gnarled trees had a certain beauty and graciousness about them; they had stood the test of time.
Beauty is a concept that is often revered for the wrong reasons – the reasons why it matters and what it means. Often parts of life aren’t beautiful – they are marred by anguish, trauma or pain. When we think of beauty we may visualise glossy magazines, fabulous homes with perfect interiors or top models gracing the catwalk. We think of something that can be prized or given awards.
But I have learned not to see beauty that way. I have learned to accept my scars and even see beauty in them. Just like my trees they show I have survived my various battles.
Some scars are visible and some are not. We all carry them in one way or another. We have emotional triggers, maybe faded injuries, broken bones or broken hearts. However our scars manifest we should embrace them.
There was a time when I felt sad to look in the mirror; I felt the world could see that I was going through a deeply stressful time. I piled on the makeup and tried to cover how I felt. I was afraid that people could see I was struggling to cope with life’s trials. Now I view these emotional scars as life’s stories. A life lived and traumas survived.
There are happy scars too. I remember when we as a family were preparing for a wedding. It was a special time and we were in the midst of dressing ourselves and the children. My lovely daughter- in-law was trying to do ten things at once and left the hot curling tongs on my dressing table, scorching the surface. She was mortified but I wasn’t – these things happen, and now, whenever I sit at my dressing table and look at the indelible mark, it reminds me of a wonderful day, full of love and new beginnings. I wouldn’t want it to be polished out. Another scar I look at with pride is the scar I wear on my body from a Caesarean section. Without that scar, my baby who has brought me so much joy may not have been born safely in his haste to enter the world.
It is beautiful to have lived and survived some traumas along the way, and to have the marks to prove it. It takes nothing to dress up in a fabulous outfit, but to face the world looking less than perfect, that is indeed beautiful.
Sometimes when we are struggling with emotional trauma or anxiety we lose our sparkle. If we stop feeling beautiful inside it shows on the outside however we try and hide how we feel. To look beautiful we need to feel good inside. Once we accept our scars and take the power away from negative emotions, accept that we cannot change our past and instead, look forward, we can be beautiful again.
I think of Kintsugi, which is the Japanese art of precious scars. By repairing ceramics with precious metal like liquid gold or silver, it’s possible to give a new lease of life to pottery that becomes even more refined thanks to its ‘scars’. It teaches that broken objects are not something to hind but to display with pride. Now that is beautiful.
‘Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars’. Khalil Gibran
Do we try to get off the merry-go-round of life from time to time?
I read an article recently where the subject was about settling for a mediocre life. At first, I thought ‘hmm, this is going to be negative,’ but as I read on I realised what the person was trying to say. Sometimes in this tumultuous and changing world we just want to settle for a quiet life. We don’t want to strive and put ourselves out there and scrabble around on the ever rotating ‘hamster wheel’. We may not want to rush around trying to improve our minds even though we seem to be instructed to do this on a regular basis. Sometimes we may yearn NOT to have to strive to meet targets, not to keep up with the latest fashion or the latest upgrade in technology. Maybe we even want to escape the ‘health police’.
If we are prone to anxious feelings, feeling we have to adhere to all sorts of ‘performance rules’ may not do us a lot of good. When we are trying to get by and working at being positive we don’t really want the extra burden of guilt – the sort of guilt that comes from somehow feeling we are not doing all we can to help our well-being.
There seems to be a lot of judgement about, whether it be fiercely or kindly meant it can still unsettle us. I once listened to a medical person talking about diabetes. His theory was that diabetes 2 was largely brought on by neglect and leading a sedentary life, and that it should be renamed ‘the non-walkers complaint’, or something similar. In other words, he seemed to be saying most people brought this ‘complaint’ on themselves by following an unhealthy lifestyle. He may be right in certain circumstances, but I feel this is a dangerous sort of judgement to pass on a person who may have reached a distressing state of health by all sorts of circumstances. Who knows what leads any of us to a state of ‘dis-ease’? Do we start banishing patients from the hospital waiting room if they don’t meet certain criteria or if they have put on a few stones in weight? Most of us like to eat a healthy diet when we can, and take some exercise, but do we need to become so engrossed in studying the latest health craze that we forget to enjoy our food? The media bombards us with information about what we should and shouldn’t eat, what vitamins/shakes/woo-woo berries we should consume, the mantras we should chant and the mindfulness we should embrace. Most of the time I find it interesting but sometimes I want to run away crying ‘show me the chocolate cake’!
Some days I long for calm. More and more I think about peace and ‘going with the flow’. I imagine a new sort of shop that plays gentle soothing music as I buy my groceries or my new jeans, instead of playing mindless, loud music that grates on the nerves. I think about walking in the woods instead of driving on the M25. I think about putting my feet up instead of going to sit in a draughty hall where I am shown how to contort my body and put my leg behind my right ear.
There seems to be too much going on around us for us to spend time worrying about how we should be living our lives; whether we should conform, expect our children/grandchildren to excel in every walk of life, live in the most stylish house, travel the world; whether we should be swinging from the chandeliers every night, (great if you have the energy!) and generally leading an exemplary life.
It’s interesting too, to notice that one can be too religious for some, and not spiritual enough for others. I find this crops up quite often in my life. I have come to the conclusion that everyone forms their own opinion of me and will stick to it whatever I do. So I just have to be myself. And do my best. Besides, sometimes I feel very spiritual, other times I want to question every belief I hold dear. But mostly I get by. I want to change my mind sometimes too. I want to be able to be objective, see all points of view. Not always easy but worth aiming for.
I used to be a nurse, and I count myself lucky that I was one once. I learned that everyone in life has a story, a past, but not always a future. It is easy to forget this in our busy world. And it is sometimes easier to forget than think of it. I am grateful that most of our carers and medical staff that treat us look at us as a person needing love and care and on the whole do not judge us, for how would that help?
When we weigh up everything, and come to the conclusion that searching for the quieter life sometimes, following the calm and slower path sometimes, and taking time out sometimes, leads us to appear mediocre, then I am all for it. Besides, we will have more time to spend loving our family, and what could be better than that?
‘Sometimes it’s in the quiet that we hear the loudest things’. Anonymous
I was out walking this week through the sodden November fields. The air was damp and misty, the tacky soil clung to my wellies and the brambles in the hedges were shrouded in sodden dead leaves, the luscious blackberries of autumn already a distant memory. It didn’t really feel like the best day to embark on a five mile walk. But I continued on enjoying the faint smell of woodsmoke drifting lazily across the fields, and a feeling in the air that promised of glittering frosts to come.
Walking on the edge of the field I could see the tracks left by a tractor, the soil ploughed and turned leaving deep furrows and ridges, old crop residue buried beneath the fresh soil and left to feed the new crops in the spring. This made me think about the circle of life – and my mother, who always loved the sight of freshly turned soil in a garden.
I thought about remembering and looking back, how we see things, and I realised that most of the time we think of a person as we see them now, or, if we have lost elderly parents as I have, as they were in their latter days. The wise gurus advise us to ‘live in the now’ and I agree that is important for now is what we have. Just this very minute is all we have for sure. But that doesn’t need to stop us remembering once in a while, remembering the past and our people; our family and friends who have made us who we are today, for better or worse.
We, and those around us change over the years, it’s inevitable. But it is interesting to note that when we are with someone regularly we often don’t notice any subtle differences until they are completely obvious – perhaps due to illness or dementia. Dementia is a huge and heartbreaking illness when it strikes and is sadly becoming more prevalent, but what do we make of the gradual changes, the natural ageing process that creeps up on us and those we love unannounced ?
It is easy to put people into compartments; perhaps refer to stereotypes, label people. When you hear someone referred to as a pensioner what vision does that conjure up in your mind? Not someone energetic and vibrant that’s for sure. And yet many people at pensionable age are certainly more nimble and sparky than the word suggests! Even if someone doesn’t have the energy any more to hop around the place or run marathons it doesn’t mean their thoughts and wishes are necessarily slowing down. They are still the same people inside that they always were.
At the end of her days, my mother had never really lost her determination, or her interest in her family, her cooking and her home, but it is hard for me as her daughter to shake off the memory of her fragility and frailty towards the end. It wasn’t until recently when I was going through an old suitcase full of her old photos and keepsakes that I began thinking about her as a young woman, full of hopes and dreams. She had kept so much through the years, from 21st birthday cards, my dad’s letters to her, full of love and care, wedding telegrams, cards and letters celebrating the births of my sister and me, and much more. There is a picture of her at the age of 21; she had a tiny waist, lustrous dark hair, styled with waves that were the fashion of the day, and was wearing a classic pencil skirt, a twinset and pearls, and staggeringly high heals. She looked the height of the fashion of the time, beautiful and stylish. What did she do that day? Did she have a party? Paint the town red? I wish I could ask her. To us she was mum and granny and she loved being that, but once in a while she liked to remind us about the glamorous young girl she once was.
But this isn’t so much of a trip down memory lane. It is more about looking at life and those around us with more than a passing glance or an assuming manner. It’s about looking beyond what is in front of us. Sometimes all is not what it seems, or once upon a time things were different; life was different. There is a lot of information and guidance hidden within our lives and experiences . When you turn a light on in a dark place you illuminate the things that were there all along but you didn’t see. To ‘see’ takes time. Life moves fast and we move fast through it. We see the normal everyday things but not always the incredible richness that is there. If we look more closely, there are patterns , textures, edges and roundness. And if we engage our intuitive awareness beyond the patterns, we can sense energies. And if we look at a person with fresh eyes and listen with renewed awakening we can reach below the surface. In turn we can engage more with those we love and reach a better understanding. And sometimes it is worth remembering that looking at the past helps us to understand each other better, and helps us see more clearly when we look at those we love.
I first wrote this blog a few years ago. Re-reading it, I realised it is probably even more relevant today when there are many anxiety inducing factors around. Unstable political parties, global warming, over-stretched health systems…I could go on…. More than ever, we need to stay grounded, to remember that most of us just want to do our best; to be peaceful, calm and happy, and go with the flow. Peace is high on my list for sure. I am determined to switch off regularly, to step out into the frosty clear night and look up at the stars. Somewhere out there in our amazing universe lies the answer to all our questions and fears if only we could trust in that….
It’s the time of year when there is a lot to think about. Perhaps more than usual. If you are prone to anxiety, the thought of coping with Christmas plans can add to your anxious feelings or to the feelings of someone you love. While for many, Christmas is nothing but exciting, this is not always the case for those who suffer from anxiety, depression and conditions such as OCD.
Do you find yourself caught up with the stress of the pre – Christmas rush? The build up seems to start earlier each year and before we know it we are bombarded with all sorts of smart advertising containing supposedly endearing stories and mini films with the ‘ahhh’ factor, that are really there to entice us into spending money in the big, well- known stores. The media paints a picture of wonderment and happiness; we would all love this of course, but for some people this is not how Christmas is for them. The world is not perfect all of the time and we need to hold on to that thought and remember we are not the only ones who get anxious this time of year. For some, loneliness can be a real problem, perhaps because of the loss of a loved one, and the sadness of loss can certainly feel desperately raw at this time of year.
Christmas parties, whether it is with colleagues or old friends can be hard to cope with at the best of times, but add anxiety to this and before you know it you may dread the social scene. You can be out of your comfort zone having to speak to people you don’t know well and worried about having to impress – maybe a new boss or confident looking colleagues. With parties closer to home, it may be a case of meeting new neighbours or friends you haven’t seen in a while.
Food shopping is something else to negotiate – for some reason we feel the need to buy massive amounts of extra food this time of year; ok we may have people coming to stay or extra mouths to feed at Christmas Day, but even if not we tend to buy stuff we wouldn’t normally buy – think big tins of biscuits, the Turkish delight, the boxes of dates and the mountains of Yule logs and mince pies. I know it is good to have a treat this time of the year, but perhaps we do get tempted to buy too much. Then there is the alcohol too – would we dream of drinking chocolate liqueurs and mulled wine (often not even worth drinking) or egg nog any other time of year?
Apart from the fact we end up spending a lot more money on food and wine this time of the year resulting in a negative effect on our bank balance; eating and drinking extra calories and rich food this time of year can make anxiety levels worse and again have a negative effect on us, this time on our health.
Buying presents is something most of us get concerned about. Of course, we want our loved ones to have something they like to open on Christmas Day , especially the children, but for an anxious person, the results of spending a lot of money in a short space of time can seem very scary and worrying. Money aside, the crowds, loud jarring music and queues can make Christmas shopping seem unbearable.
So okay, the above situations are those which most of us have encountered at sometime in our lives and I am painting quite a grim picture of what should and can be a magical and completely enjoyable time of year. Because it really doesn’t have to be such a stressful time of year. Who makes it that way? And why?
Going back to the advertising, we are taught from quite an early age what we can expect Christmas to be like. But it cannot apply to us all. We are not all the same. And we are all coping with our own personal situations. What may be wonderful for one person may not be right for another. What do most of us remember when we look back down the years? Piles of presents around the tree, huge amounts of food and big parties? Or do we remember the excitement of hanging the stockings at the end of the bed and the thrill of opening the small gifts in the early hours, so lovingly and haphazardly wrapped by a caring parent. Or sadly, there may be memories that are not quite as happy, and that may be another reason Christmas evokes pain and stress.
Maybe this year – with still some time ahead before Christmas is really upon us, we can decide to take a different view and look at what is really important. One thing that always strikes me every year, and I always comment on to my husband without fail every year, is that the build up to Christmas is huge; we all rush around trying to get things done, caught up in the whole rush and excitement and then suddenly we arrive at Boxing Day and hear murmurs and mutterings of: ‘well that’s that for another year’, and: ‘where are you going for your holiday this year?’ It seems to be indicative of the society we have become: always looking for the next thrill, the next celebration or occasion before we have had time to enjoy and digest what has just occurred. So this year how about making a decision not to get too ‘wrapped up in Christmas’? Have a year where you do not make too many commitments. Be honest with people and say no in the nicest possible way if you don’t want to do something. Do most of your present shopping online and do it in your own time. Book an online food shop well in advance if it suits you, and apart from the convenience you won’t be so tempted to buy lots of unnecessary goodies (which aren’t really goodies at all). Also, explain to everyone that your Christmas this year may be a little more low key and that includes your present giving. Offer loved ones time instead. Time is the most valuable gift of all.
Decide a few things in advance to help keep your anxiety at bay. Plan to eat healthily and avoid too many stimulants like caffeine and alcohol. Have plenty of rest and not too many late nights. Cortisol is the body’s most powerful stress hormone. It causes a number of changes in the body, including increasing stimulation and the perception of fright. Getting regular good rest and sleep can keep cortisol production to a minimum and reduce the feelings of dread.
If you reduce your expectations about the holidays you will not be disappointed when things don’t always go according to plan; likewise if you are feeling calm you will be more able to enjoy things and ‘go with the flow’. Good things that do occur can be received with joy and thankfulness. Do things you like to do too, like walks in the clear, crisp night when the stars are out and the world is peaceful. Spending time doing the things you love and want to do is a great way to celebrate the Christmas season and you will feel better for it. This isn’t being selfish but just being your true self. Having healthy boundaries is essential when you are prone to anxiety.
A good tip is to think and act a bit more like a child at Christmas – have you noticed how children don’t run around getting stressed about Christmas? Far from it! They just enjoy the time while it is there.
So now that the lead up to Christmas has started remember that every day is special and also has it’s own challenges and delights. When the events of the holiday season threaten to overwhelm you, breathe deeply, take time out until you feel calmer, and look forward. Look forward to celebrating in your own way and until then remind yourself there are no rules to follow for a good Christmas break!
For those days when the worry monster lurks in the shadows….
There is no doubt that we live in a time of doubt, fear for the future, uncertainty and economic frustration. I worry about the state of the world and indeed our country. But most of the time I can cope with worry from outside because although it gives concern (and is even totally baffling at times when one sees the behaviour exhibited by those who are supposed to lead us!) it is possible to shrug my shoulders, offer a few expletives, close my door, light the fire and feel secure in my own patch.
Sometimes, though, the sands shift beneath my feet. When someone close to me is suffering and I can’t find a way to make things better, I experience doubt on a gut level – the kind that can punch hard and bring me down. So one thing I have to remember is when I ache to my very bones with stress, I have to find a way forward. Negativity is contagious but I have to remember that we cannot take care of others if we don’t look after ourselves and look forward.
Remembering we have love and we have hope is so important, especially when things seem a bit grim. When we are consciously keeping a loving heart we can share it with others and help make both theirs and our own immediate world better.
These are some guideline I try and follow when things are getting me down. Hopefully, they can help you too:
If you make yourself keep going, even when it is the last thing you feel like, you will eventually get stronger and closer to where you are heading.
Remember what you have. We all have something or someone to love. Even when I am fearful I know I have wonderful things in my life. You do too I am sure. Write down tonight all the things you feel grateful for.
Change your words. It is easy do be dispirited and make remarks like ‘ I knew this would go wrong’; instead, how about saying ‘ah well, maybe that wasn’t the best result but next time will be better’.
Be kind to yourself. Don’t blame yourself when things go wrong. You have tried your best and you will continue doing your best. If you do make a mistake, own up to it, learn from it but then put it behind you. Very few of us actually want to treat anyone or anything badly and those that do can’t be our concern. Continue doing your best.
Let misconceptions go. Look at things differently. Try not to be governed by past ideals or be ruled by others who want you to continually fit into their expectations of you. I really struggle with this one. It is natural to want to please people but sometimes you just have to be yourself, and that takes courage.
Celebrate your accomplishments. Think of all the good things you have achieved. Trust me, it is a lot, and often it is the smaller things, the gentle kindnesses or actions that don’t always propel you into the limelight, but are more important than anything famous and showy.
Remember how words affect others. Sometimes when we talk, less is more. Listen, then choose your words carefully when advising others.
As usual I will mention the outdoors. Any worry will lessen slightly when you are outside and at one with nature. Breathe deeply. Look at the trees standing strong and firm. Shred the anxiety of the day, even just for a while. There is a natural world out there which can take us away from the laptop for an hour or more.
There is always a but….
As I am writing this I think there are times when any advice can seem trite. So many times we hear well-meaning phrases trotted out. We are supposed to nod sagely and take heed. It isn’t always what we want or need. I am aware that there are days when sorrow gathers round like a heavy cloak or fear takes over. Those are the times we may just need a hug or just to sit quietly with someone we feel really understands. I do not want to make light of anyone’s pain and how can we ever know entirely what another person is going through? All I can add is that somehow, at least for me, onwards and upwards is the the only way. And the odd bit of advice may just be enough to allow a little glimmer of light in.
Whatever you are going through, you are deserving of love and care. Take it easy out there. In the never ending love of this universe, you are a small, yet very precious thing. You are worth everything.