Summer seems to be on its way out, the nights are creeping in a little earlier and the other morning, when I ran with my dog, the air was chilly and bit my legs, turning them red. Although I love summer, its warmth, the long evenings and the air of holiday and adventure, freedom and fun in the air, I adore autumn in the same way, embracing the colours of the leaves, the cooler breeze, the grey skies and the first frost at dawn. It seemed that, when lockdown began, as did summer, as the sun graced us with her presence day after day. Then the summer holidays prolonged our time far from a routine, making it the longest period in history spent at home with our kids.
Now, as the rest of the country returns back to school, the weather has turned, too, welcoming autumn and the countdown to festivities which really aren’t so far away anymore. As much as I loved the time with my children, I am now glad for some routine, some purpose, some regimented duties day in and out. The cooler weather seems to be waking us up, pinching us, pushing us to rise from our slog and telling us to get on with it. And with that, I am up and running. Juggling, as before, grasping at new opportunities and realising that all those things I thought impossible are actually totally doable.
Lockdown was great to rethink some of our ways and create some new rules and boundaries. It helped some of us to take stock and weed out the old and start afresh. We evaluated and did some soul searching. Now, so it feels for me, all that thinking and searching has to be put into practice. Despite all this newfound enthusiasm for a new start, I am well aware that this crisis in not over yet, as the new restrictions remind us of. Many of us are still scared, frightened and worried. I have those moments, too, but I won’t allow myself to dwell because I have a job where I have no choice but to turn up. Therefore, for what this strange time has taught me is to roll with it. To do what I can do and to stop fighting what I can’t change. New things spring in front of us, even if everything has been quiet for a while, and we can emerge from this stronger, wiser and more resilient.
So how is this afterlife shaping up for you? Is it taking you a while to get back into normality, whatever that looks like? Have there been monumental changes? Are you excited for some new opportunities? Are you struggling and feel you need help? This was all very different for all of us and whatever you need and have to do to get out of this to be you, to feel ok and to gain strength again, do it. There is no shame, no embarrassment, no need to hide. AC – after Covid is a personal journey, as personal as everyone’s experience during quarantine. You do what you have to do. Try and make the best of it.
How a break from the same four walls has revived my heart, brain and soul
Lockdown has been tough, hasn’t it? First, we weren’t really allowed to leave the house unless it was for our daily exercise. And even when the restrictions lifted slowly and we could venture out further, it still didn’t quite feel like it did before: fearless, uninhibited, carefree, and, for some of us: safe. Going on holiday is something that a lot of us have decided against, especially going away abroad. Some people see it as their right to travel further afield, others decide it’s not for them at the moment. We fall into the latter category, and have cancelled our trip abroad now twice, well, we have postponed it. It was sad, but it would not have felt right for us.
After a few weeks of summer holidays and trying to make the best out of being in the same place for most of the time, as well as getting slightly fed up with day trips, we decided we needed to get out. Not just for our sake, but also for the kids’ sanity. My oldest had been up in arms when she realised she wasn’t going to see her beloved German Oma this summer, so the least we could do was to offer a little adventure outside our own four walls – and get her excited about it. After a few days of scanning Air B’n’B we finally settled for York, the beautiful historic city up North, where neither of us had ever been before.
Similarly to my cleaning operation before our night away from the kids, my rituals before holidays are quite similar, albeit a little less frantic. I start packing days before and write lists that I can tick off or, even better, put things on the list I have already done and then immediately cross them through. There is nothing more exhilarating that satisfies my geeky, controlling and slightly obsessive little heart than planning and prepping and being organised. The house has to be spotless by the time we leave, as well as completely tidy. My boyfriend once joked whether I was tidying up for the burglars (God forbid, I don’t need any other compulsive and crazy thoughts in my head!). To be honest, he has since come round to the idea of returning to a clean and spotless house, rather than a place that looks like it has been ransacked by us before we left.
When we finally left it took me a good two hours of driving (so, most of the way), to chill out and put every anxious thought in my brain somewhere far away. Letting go and being truly in the moment is something I have never really been able to do, so going away isn’t completely relaxing for me from start to finish. However, once we arrived in our little holiday home and had put some food in the fridge and the oven, and I had a glass of wine in hand, holiday life seemed to look up. Exploring an incredible place like York will always sort out my crazy though processes and when we were meandering through the quaint little streets past the timber-framed houses and the never ending City Wall, having a picnic at the steps of the York Minster, I was already head over heels in love with the place and my time away from home. Spots of rain and whiny children couldn’t dampen my spirits. I was on vacation, and I was free from rules, norms and the daily grind. For me, the beauty of spending time somewhere else is exploring and seeing things and places I have never been to before. Whilst this may seem logical at first, think of all the times you have opted to go back to the same restaurant, the same park, the same tourist attraction or even the same place on holiday, just because you liked it and wanted to go back to it. I have been like this for many years, settling for the known, for the comfort of the predicable. No more. Lockdown has evoked feelings of adventure and seeing as many new places and things as possible. And so we explored. We dug deep into history, we went on nature walks and felt like we were in a different world. We listened to the crackling of a hot wheat field, ate wild blackberries and held stripy caterpillars. We fought our way through stinging nettles and brambles, stumbled over tree roots and splashed in ice cold rivers. We had ice cream and quick oven dinners, went for evening strolls and stayed up far too late. My personal highlight was, apart from the extraordinary nature of Yorkshire, the glorious morning run across York’s historic stone wall. I could have stayed up there forever, soaking in the early morning sunlight and taking in the rugged charm of this astounding city. Whilst I wasn’t too sad packing back up and leaving our miniscule abode, leaving the North made me grateful that I was able to experience such beauty with my family and even had moments of being close to feeling at ease and being carefree. Whilst my phone and social media in the form of Instagram didn’t have much of a break, I didn’t do any writing or work and my laptop remained firmly shut. Life had to wait for a while whilst I took a breather. I read and finished a book, I made some notes in my journal and I did a lot of thinking and talking, but that was it.
When it was finally time to go back, even an hour long standstill on the motorway couldn’t dampen my spirits. We had cake from a detour to Bakewell and plenty of water, so the summer sun and a good sense of humour as well as gratitude for good health and no accidents were our companions whilst we waited for the motorway to open back up. Now, back home and with a new week ahead of me, I can feel those anxious thoughts and nervous motions creep back in, but the memories of our short break as well as flicking through countless photos keep the magic of having a break alive a little longer. Whatever you decide, wherever you go, know that getting away for a bit does you the world of good. It certainly shook my world up for a bit, and all for the better.
On a recent walk with one of my friends, also a mum, who co-parents with her ex-partner, we had a heart to heart about parenting and the ups and downs of being a mother in this modern day and age. We are both immigrants in this country and don’t have family around. Our experiences are quite similar but also very different, but the thing that unites us it that we are generally just utterly exhausted and worn out from being Mama, working full time and managing everything else in our and our children’s lives. I confided in my friend, that, whilst my children are the most precious and wanted things in my life, they also cause me huge bouts of guilt about all sorts of stuff: that I am not being a good enough mother, that I am often working more than I see them, that I am totally behind with any jobs in and on the house and that I have an ever simmering feeling of missing my own life which is racing by with lots of fabulous opportunities, most of which I can’t tend to because I am a mother. This cocktail of guilt and frustration isn’t a good mix, let me tell you. Whilst a lot of people don’t understand my complaints and even some other mothers, whom I have shared this with, reacted surprised, my friend totally got me. “Of course! You do need some time to yourself. It’s important that you do. You need to look after your own needs. If you are happy, your kids are happy.”
As so often in life, coincidence or maybe even some higher entity, decided that I had been complaining enough and that help was on the way. A friend of mine (let’s face it, she’s more like family) text me out of her own accord and offered to look after the kids whilst the boyfriend and I stay at her place over night. I had to read the message twice and rewrite the reply three times, from asking “Are you sure?”, over to tentatively toying with the idea, to happily accepting and starting to plan what to do with hours without the little people. My friend popped over for dinner and we chatted about her stay at ours, and by that time the kids were already so excited, they were ready to move us out and her in there and then. My friend has numerous nieces and nephews and knows a thing or two about parenting and staying with kids, and recounted an episode from her sister who told her that parents often shy away from having a night away because of all the prep work that goes into it. I nodded and mentally added cleaning and tidying to my to-do-list which was getting longer by the minute. By the evening before our night off, I was cleaning, scrubbing, washing and dusting in places that hadn’t seen a cloth or duster for months, and by the morning of THE day, I was so frazzled with all the last minute jobs to do, the things to pack and the notes to write, that I burst into tears on more than one occasion. Granted, it didn’t help that my youngest spat smoothie all over the freshly mopped floor, the dog dug up half the garden and trotted back into the house covered in gunk and grass, and my oldest decided to put on a fashion show and pull out each and every single one of her dresses. Sadly, when you are on a schedule, being upset isn’t incredibly helpful, and so, as I sat, for the second time that day, on my bedroom floor in floods of tears, all I could think of was that I didn’t really have time to cry, as the dog needed walking and the holdall was still waiting to be packed.
By the time my friend arrived, I was neither packed and ready nor in the right frame of mind to go, but as always, throwing in the towel isn’t an option. Also, my kids would have never forgiven me, had I deprived them of some quality time with such an important person in their lives. After my friend nearly chucked us out the house, I felt so tired I could have gone to sleep there and then. Luckily, a delicious take-away and the thoughtful prep of my friend at her house provided a much-needed pick-me-up and, after a sip of Champagne and another cry, confessing to my boyfriend how tough I found it all, the evening started looking up. We ate our food hot and without having to take someone for a poo. We talked without interruptions and finished a conversation without wiping up a spillage, having to feed one to the kids or remind them that shoving pasta up your or anyone else’s nose is not acceptable table etiquette. We drank (maybe a little too much) bubbles knowing that no one would wake us up either during the night or at half 5 in the morning. We went for a walk at night because, well, we could. And the next morning we stayed in bed until 10am, no schedule, no duties or little people in sight, only hot cups of tea and some toast, a mooch around the house and a chuckle about my friend’s message, telling me that our son had done the most colossal poo for her.
Now what’s the moral of the story, you ask me? Well, even though the run up to our first night together as a couple away from the kids in over three years was rather quite stressful and chaotic (through no fault other than my own), the actual time was absolutely brilliant. We didn’t do anything ground breaking and were home by lunch time the next day but we felt refreshed and calmer than in a long time. I realised that I really missed my kids (and the dog) but also just quite how much of my life they take over. I observed that I could still let go, have fun and be just me, despite being responsible for two small humans along the way. Most of all, I confirmed to myself that I would never stop working hard for my own dreams and ambitions, and that being a mother doesn’t cancel that one out. However, and it is a big HOWEVER: having time for yourself is not easy as a parent, yet it is so very important and precious, and if you don’t have that regularly, things can get tough and you’ll end up, like me, crying on the bedroom floor. So, if you have family around you who can help out – grab that help with both hands so you can get a breather. And if you don’t, like me, then never ever say no when one of your trusted friends offers to lend you a hand. I used to struggle accepting help and I am still quite proud and too scared to reach out. But our short break from everyday life showed me that I am, indeed, worthy of such time and don’t love my kids any less. I don’t ditch them off every weekend or any opportunity I get. And generally, wherever I go, they go. But Mama needed a break, and Mama got one. It was great. Mama feels better now. Mama will have another break, hopefully one day soon. Because, you know, I am bloody worth it (and all the Papas, too, may I add!).
The other day a friend of mine and I exchanged a conversation around books and what we read. They introduced me to a fabulous sounding read which I swiftly added to my Amazon basket and then jokingly mentioned to said friend that my to-be-read pile was growing higher and bigger by the day. What a shame I didn’t have more time to read. The friend’s response was blunt: Why do you not have time to read?
My initial reaction was to confront them, socially distant-slap them with all the books on my to-be-read pile and then rub their face into the other piles in my life: piles of ironing, piles of unwashed clothes, piles of washing up, piles of toys, piles of jobs upon jobs in the house that need doing but haven’t been done because, you know, life and kids … .
Then I remembered a moment around 6 years ago, when I was still childless and a little less bogged down with lots of responsibilities and duties. I messaged my really good friend, asking if she could sew a new pillow case for me as one of mine had ripped. She is fabulous with all sorts of crafty stuff and a whizz with things like that. She also had given birth to a little baby 5 months prior and seemed quite frazzled lately. Her message was apologetic but clear: “I would love to but I can’t. I honestly don’t have time to even brush my teeth, let alone my hair. I just can’t do it.” I was taken aback and a little disappointed but I accepted it and asked if I could help her. No, it was ok, but she just couldn’t do anything apart from concentrate on her baby. I remember it well. The rejection and the disappointment. What was the matter with her? Why was she being so dramatic? It was only a baby!
Fast forward one year and I was holding a screaming baby in my arms. No, not my friend’s, it was my own. Contrary to all my previous thoughts and fears, I was able to give birth to a little girl within a matter of a few hours. Of course, that was where the simple life ended. My baby screamed and cried, she never slept anywhere apart from in someone’s arms and, if you are, like me, living in a country far away from your family, you and the baby are just that: alone. No one to help, no one to have the little mite for a couple of hours to give you a break, no one to take her for a walk in the pram whilst you have a shower in peace or clean the house which resembles a jumble sale scene invaded by a pack of locusts. I thought of my friend and knew: She was on to something. And I felt deeply ashamed for grumbling about her gently telling me that she was unable to sew a fucking pillow case for me! I had known nothing. I had been ignorant and totally oblivious because I had no scooby doo of how difficult it was to have a little human being around you all the time. No, really, ALL THE TIME!
Skip ahead a few more years and I have not one, but two of those little things we call the future of our species. Heaven knows what possessed me but here we are. They are the best thing I ever created, they are my life and I would die for them in an instant but bloody hell they are hard work! Throw in isolation, working from home and home schooling, plus a post grad degree (again, self-imposed, I get it!) and you have a cocktail for disaster, something that is a debacle waiting to happen. When I say my kids are my life, then I don’t just mean they are my No.1 priority and will always, ALWAYS come first, yes, even before me. I also infer that they take over my life. Sorry kids, but you do. From the moment I wake up, to the point in time when I tuck them into bed and sing them a German lullaby, they are a hurricane twirling through a rollercoaster ride. I can’t do anything, and I mean this, I can’t do ANYTHING without being interrupted. Brushing my teeth and having a wee: “Maaaaaaaaaammaaaaaa! Can you read a story?!” Making breakfast and talking to the dog: “Mama, he’s done a poo, and can you please get my dressing up box down for me?” Sitting down to check my emails at 8.30am in the morning: “Mama, I want some chocolate. Mama, I want to go out. Mama, I want to read a book. Mama, I need a wee. Mama, Casper just bit me. Mama, I love you. Mama, I need a drink. Mama, where is Papa? I WANT PAPA! Mama, what are you doing? Mama, there is a spider. Mama, kill the spider. Mama, I need some loo roll. Mama, I want to go on the computer to do some Mandarin. Mama, she hit me. Mama, he hit me. Mama, I want to watch a film. Mama, I want to play play d’oh. Mama, I need a poo. …” I assume (oh no, you should never assume…) you get the gist? This is my day. Constant questions, demands, requests. If I fall onto the sofa at 8pm and still have it in me to talk to my partner then that is a miracle, but most of the time I work or send emails or write or catch up on correspondence.
You see, parents don’t have a lot of time for themselves, unless they have or hire help. No one expects any sympathy or pity from anyone, because most of us made the choice to have kids on purpose. However, it is not ok to assume that we are just being awkward and lazy and disorganized and have no timing at all. We have a ridiculous amount on our plate and any gasps of outrageousness are highly unhelpful. The reasons I can’t read 15 books in a week is because I am organising and sorting the lives of 2 additional people to me. I am not jealous or resentful or wish my single and free days back, because no one forced me to become a mother. But the same as I completely sympathise that you don’t want to hear about me moaning about yet another sleepless night and total wipe-out because of the craziness of parenthood, as well as high-fiving you because it doesn’t take you 3 hours and 5 different bags to leave the house, I also would like a teeny tiny bit of thought from you, to recognise that things are, at the moment, a tad different for me. And I say that with more love and compassion than you could imagine. We’re all different, as are our lives. This is mine, and you don’t have to “get it”. But a little bit of empathy and understanding goes a long way.
As the city of Leicester goes into lockdown again, here is an article I wrote for a magazine, which should serve as a reminder that we’re not out of it yet and that we could all be back in lockdown if we don’t take good care.
As the UK is emerging from what feels for many the longest lockdown in history (and none of us have really experienced anything like it before), a lot of us are keen to get back to the old normal and forget about what had become the “new normal”. Some of us may feel less excited about the prospect of having to get out of our bubble and resume our daily tasks, commute to work and go back to an office. Others still carry fears from an invisible force that threatened not only the lives of many loved ones who are vulnerable or elderly but also jeopardised jobs, livelihoods and future plans made. Many expressed that isolation had evoked heightened feelings of anxiety and anxiousness in them, staring into a dark hole of mortality, uncertainty, feeling lonely and cut off from close friends and family, social lives in tatters, yearning for human closeness, hugs and intimacy. Cancelled weddings, parties, festivals, proms, holidays – most of us can tell a story of what we had to postpone or give up during these strange times.
Looking back, the time in lockdown was, certainly for me, a roller coaster of feelings, or, what others often referred to as a “corona coaster”. Part of me embraced imposed quarantine and its restrictions on movement, spending more time at home with my children instead of rushing out the house and leaving them behind. Family time certainly has been the biggest upside of lockdown with joint meals, picnics, lazy mornings and sunny hours in the garden. I will cherish those days forever, alongside long and meaningful conversations over the phone, long emails, Zoom calls with family and friends and even the odd letter and card sent, going back to communicating in depth, showing appreciation and love and acknowledging that we as humans are deeply sociable and need connection with one another as much as food, water and, it seems, toilet paper.
However, there were also moments when I struggled – a lot – but was reassured by conversations with friends that I was certainly not the only one feeling like this. Being at home a lot is lovely for a homebody like me but the added pressures of working remotely whilst home-schooling, keeping the kids sane and stopping the house from looking like it has been burgled have taken their toll at times, combined with the fact that no one could just quickly pop out or have some me-time. I also failed to find the extra time many people were talking about, searching desperately and in vain for a moment to myself, for time to read a book or to do some renovation on the house. It was as impossible as locating some flour and eggs in shops.
All joking aside – I know I was lucky and privileged to have experienced lockdown in an environment that was safe, we were healthy, fed and watered, and were never alone or lonely. Not once did we have to go without luxuries – we even had an Easter Egg hunt and a big cake for my daughter’s birthday. My appreciation for life as we know it has never been greater, but it has also turned into a wish for change. Covid-19 should have been a wakeup call for all of us, making us realise how fragile life can be, that we are not invincible and neither is the planet we live on. I have hopes for a fresh start, not just in terms of emerging full of drive and energy to commence normality as it was BC (before covid). Life AC (after covid) could be an opportunity to change for the better – our lives, our relationships, our planet. What are you going to do?
Do you practise self care regularly and what does it look like for you? How often do you take time for yourself, focusing only on you as in a single person, doing something you love and that makes you feel like you are alive? I am not asking for a friend, I am not ashamed to ask. I want to know because self care is something I am notoriously struggling with.
Looking back over my life I have always had issues with just lazing around and doing nothing. Probably instilled by my mother and my grandmother’s work ethic, doing nothing is frowned upon and relaxing only allowed after you have done something truly purposeful. Reading and having a good time before your homework is done? Forget it. Going to see friends or have them round for a play date? Not before all the school tasks have been done, and done properly and with great care. Some of this has certainly helped me to prioritise and make sure I always work hard, no matter what I do, but sitting here, on a weekend, just relaxing on the sofa, watching a film with this kids is not something I can easily do. I have to do something else at the same time (like writing or online research or shopping or reading), otherwise I will get restless.
Another thing I have a problem with is guiltlessly taking time for myself and truly enjoying it. The daily half an hour run is plagued with bad feelings of neglect for my children who are staying behind with my partner (who, by the way, does not mind me going for a run, ever). Still, I feel bad. Run as fast as I can to be back, have the quickest shower in history so I can be available to be Mama again. Mum guilt is something I believe a lot of mothers experience, and I would assume many fathers, too. Somewhere along the line someone told us that having kids is the ultimate privilege and feeling anything but grateful for every moment of our waking and (not so sound) sleeping lives. Before you start tearing into me and calling me all sorts of nasty things, bear with me: Of course I know that this is not the case and of course I know that most of us parents acknowledge the incredible ups but also the exhausting lows of modern parenting. Nevertheless, that niggling feeling that I should just shut up and be bloody happy with my lot doesn’t go away. And hence the guilt. Which naturally follows that I very rarely ever practise self care. Have a long hot bath and indulge in a book? Once a year, maybe. I tend to read far too late at night, cutting my own sleeping pattern, just so I can have a little bit of time to myself. Have a long walk all by myself, an afternoon off, an evening out, dare I say, a weekend away? Barely ever or never. Most attempts of such events are sabotaged by my guilt and lack of time I want to allocate for myself just to relax and unwind.
Before you start feeling sorry for me (or maybe you just find me and my lack of making time for myself pathetic) I do find great pleasure in writing and squeezing in snippets of losing myself in words and sentences, notes and jotting of ideas throughout each day. I often have my nose in my phone typing in the notes app or penning down my next blog on my website. My boyfriend has given up trying to have conversations with me during those moments as I just can’t listen when I write.
I am confident that one day, maybe when the kids are a bit older and more independent, I will find myself searching for that me-time, and, more importantly, granting myself that time, letting myself be, guiltlessly. For now, I am learning to live with the guilt, telling myself that self care is important and that those half hour runs in the morning are my absolute right. We can’t do it all and be it all. One thing at a time.
How’s the multi tasking going? Are you still, like me, juggling many different tasks, home schooling, working from home, side projects and keeping the house in some kind of order? Doing lots of things simultaneously is something we as parents do every day, and we do it in jobs, too, but, if like me, you have recently been feeling the strain of being everything to everyone and that you may want to ask an octopus for some of his arms, then questioning the validity of multi tasking is a reasonable thing to do.
A wise woman and friend of mine, Nicky Masson, who has set up her own coaching business to help business owners achieve better results, recently revealed in a talk of her Make It Happen Membership group that multi tasking is a myth which, despite being heavily featured as an attractive bonus on CVs, is totally unachievable and also unhelpful. I am guilty of calling myself a successful multi tasker on a CV in the past and I probably can juggle a lot of things at once. Am I going to do a good job though? No. For example, if I am cooking, looking after the kids and simultaneously writing work emails, then I will either burn dinner, one of my kids will break something or the house will descend into chaos, or I will lose focus on my work. I can do it all – badly. Or I can do one thing at a time – well. Nicky talks about setting time aside to do one task, concentrate fully on it without distractions – and do it well. Then move onto the next task. I think back to previous jobs I have done, doing dozens of things at once, never having a quiet moment, being interrupted all the time and never seeing anything quite through to the end. No wonder that little mistakes creep into the work of the best of us – I am not bragging, but I am quite efficient and can handle a lot on my plate but get frustrated when I can’t do it really well.
Hearing that multi tasking is an unachievable myth was a revelation for me, something so liberating I will forever be grateful for. I have been feeling like a failure for so long, but we were never meant to be able to do it all. Not as mothers, not as bosses, not as employees, not as human beings. The sooner we take those unrealistic expectations from us, the better.
There are some articles I write with ease, taking about ten minutes or less to pen down, typing faster than an experienced secretary under pressure. This is not one of them. There are a lot of things I would like to say but, quite frankly, they are not for me to say, so I am left with expressing my incredible sadness by being quiet and, at the same time, charge my willingness to stand up and change. But let me start at the beginning.
Some of you may have heard of “Weltschmerz”. Some of you haven’t. For those unfamiliar with the untranslatable (in one word) German expression coined by Jean Paul, a German writer of the late 18th and early 19th century, Weltschmerz aims to describe, according to the Internet, “a feeling of melancholy and world-weariness”. Someone feeling this can struggle with either their own inadequacy within the world or find it increasingly difficult to come to terms with the failings of the world itself, the way things are and the state of being created by humans. The Brothers Grimm additionally called it a deep sadness for the shortcomings of the world. If you are looking for an English synonym, you will find a list as long as your arm, starting at unhappiness, over to melancholy, next to depression, anxiety, indisposition and doldrums. None of these really get down to the bottom of what “Weltschmerz” really entails, because it is so much bigger than any of those words and carries so much more meaning.
Whether you have come across this unique German word or not, many of you may have experienced Weltschmerz at some point or another. I deal with it regularly, unable to close myself off from other people’s and the world’s suffering. If I somehow hadn’t learnt (probably an instinctive survival method of my already overloaded brain) to shut everything down and stop thinking, I would most likely find myself in a constant state of mourning for what we as humans do to each other and our beautiful planet.
I have probably always been able to notice other people’s sadness and taken the troubles of the world to heart, being appalled by injustice and getting myself into trouble more than once for speaking up. I have certainly never won a popularity contest by speaking my mind and the recent event of Brexit has certainly shown it, where some people told me to be quiet as this was not my country. As a child I struggled to understand poverty when all I could see was food in abundance – so why did other children go hungry? For years I gave up my Christmas holidays and walked the ice cold streets in Germany, collecting money for less fortunate children as part of the “Sternsinger” project (go and look up “star singers” at Wikipedia, it will give you a brief summary). I don’t want acknowledgement and praise. It’s what I did and I believe everyone should do during their life, to give up their time to do some good. American activist and author Alice Walker once said: ” Activism is the rent I pay for living on this planet.” It really hit me the other day. Because, of course, she is so right. Sadly, being active and doing good did and does not cure my tendency to experience “Weltschmerz” and recent events in the world have fed it to the extent that I broke down in tears on more than one occasion the other day. I can’t fathom that there are still people in the world who seriously believe they are better than others because of their skin colour. I can’t understand that there are people who believe their lives are more precious because they have more money than others. I am upset by images showing mountains of discarded rubbish in beautiful open spaces. Instead of taking care of our already broken planet, some of us are just dumping their garbage wherever they go. In one of my other posts in the lockdown diaries I acknowledged that, as a human race, we can’t go on like this anymore. Enough is enough. Something has to change. Sadly, to me it seems like the changes happening are going in the wrong direction. Maybe it is the pessimist in me, maybe I am, as the Internet suggests, in the doldrums. But if the likes of Trump and Putin can legally be in power, phrases such as “grabbing her by the pussy” have no consequence and we still haven’t understood that the pigment of our skin does not determine how valuable we are as humans, then I feel we are way behind as a so-called superior species as human beings.
So, I believe, it’s time for me to change. My actions have to, because I have been inactive for too long. I will have to do some soul searching and learn to be brave, stick away criticism and start speaking up. I will have to keep learning, listening and realise my own mistakes and how I may have contributed to the state of the world. I know I won’t be able to do it all perfectly. But I will try. I will try hard to put my Weltschmerz to good use, take the pain and turn it into something good. It’s not about me. It’s about all of us and our planet. Don’t give me any sympathy because I feel low. It’s not important and that doesn’t help me or anyone. Start working on yourself and how you treat yourself, others and the planet. And on those matters that I don’t have the right to speak out, I will stand with you and guard you and protect you, so your voices are being heard.
This article was written for and published inEmotional Alchemy Magazine
During a recent conversation with my boyfriend discussing the lockdown and how people will cope with having to live next to one another 24/7 without a break provided by work and a buzzing social life, my wonderful other half suggested that there will probably be a baby boom starting towards the last quarter of the year. I laughed and replied, my cynical side taking over: “Yes, either that or a hell of a lot of divorces!”
My flippant comment has no intentions of wanting to predict the future, but it got me thinking about relationships and friendships during this peculiar time. Many of us are so used to living busy lives, jetting from one meeting, task, to-do list and duty to the other, that we often lose track and focus of what the other people in our lives are doing. A fleeting kiss – hours after returning home, doing chores whilst the kids are in bed, like passing ships at night, or a quick phone call with the partner who works away: many of us co-exist, muddling our way through frantic lives, barely touching ground to check how we are. All the reasons for why we first wanted to be together drowned by responsibility, accountability and due diligence that society thrusts upon us every day. The sudden change brought upon by covid-19 turns routines and formed habits upside down as we find ourselves in the company of those we wanted to be with in the first place. Some will embrace this new way of life, enjoy the togetherness and closeness, celebrate partnerships and family time, rediscovering each other and the things that brought them together initially. Others may find it trickier, yearning for the freedom, change of scenery and variety that a busy and varied lifestyle brings. With no place to hide, run to or go to, relationships will be tried and tested, pulled and stretched, some to their limits, others to new and better places.
Closeness is beautiful but it can be tough, it can test us, it can provoke and question. Enforced closeness can be even stronger than that. Maybe you will rediscover what you loved about your partner or spouse in the first place, perhaps you will find the new arrangements limiting and claustrophobic. I read about people who have to live with their ex-partners, because the corona virus did not have the courtesy to check about timings but sprung upon them during their already challenging time of a break-up. I also heard of separated couples with shared children, having to rethink their dealing with one another. Some use this pandemic to assert their power over the other, denying the ex-partner access to a child or children. Some are learning to do things a different way, re-engaging in a more pleasant way as fellow human beings, putting the mental well-being of their offspring first. My personal belief is that, no matter what the eventual consequence of this current way of life is, that you get through it with love, dignity, tolerance and understanding, remembering that you are in this together, whether you will remain that way or not. Of course, all this is easier said than done and when emotions run high, love and compassion may be the last thing on your mind. I am no relationship expert and my views are personal, but one thing that works most of the time is communication: open, honest, heartfelt talking about what goes through your mind and how you feel. None of us are mind readers and last time I checked using crystal balls was frowned upon. Talking is free and the best way to nurture tolerance, understanding and, maybe even acceptance.
Whilst some of us are being talkative and are zooming it across our family and friendship circles, others may go quieter. I recently saw a post on Twitter that exclaimed that now was the time to see which friends really cared and are there for you. I was still pondering over this when I scrolled across a reply that scolded the comment for being too self-involved and ignoring the fact that many people stop communicating when they struggle and are less likely to verbalise their anxieties, for a variety of reasons. I stopped and thought for a moment about my own friendships, near and far. Communication has stepped up with some and slowed down with others. I find that I am particularly verbal with my “mum-friends”, vocalising my ups and downs and the new chaos that is home schooling whilst also working full time. I also chat more to those who I know won’t mind a little rant and won’t judge me because I have had the worst day and am close to a major tantrum, rivalling that of my two-year-old. I know my friends, and I know to whom I can talk to when and about what. That doesn’t make those I don’t talk to for a while less important or valuable. However, I do believe that covid-19 could have the ability to shed light onto our friendships in a different way as the enforced distance bans us from being close to those who form and shape our lives outside of our homes. Being apart may also highlight that some friendships are not working for us anymore and it may show us, so I believe, who is worthy of our time and headspace. A friend of mine recently wrote an article about how she reconnected with her former best friend. They had been inseparable but fell out a couple of years ago, no longer speaking and losing touch. The virus made both re-think what mattered to them, brought back reasons of why they had loved each other in the first place and subsequently reignited their friendship.
Such outcomes from the virus are heart-warming and reaffirming, showing us what is really important. It can make us reflect on those friendships that make your heart sing and highlight those who you will want to hug first, once lockdown is over. I spoke to a colleague of mine who felt increasingly agitated that he couldn’t see any of his friends in real person anymore. “Talking on the phone or via Zoom just doesn’t do it for me. It lacks warmth.” He also told me that he jokingly suggested to his wife that they have friends over to sit 3 metres apart in their garden, sipping champagne and catching up. His wife was not impressed, reacting to his idea as if he had suggested an orgy. Whilst anecdotes like this keep me amused and uplifted, I realise there may be a very different outcome for some friendships. I believe that the lockdown may weed out those who have not fulfilled their roles as indispensable humans, who have caused us more disappointment and distress and have left us feeling empty and drained after we have been with them. Distance often makes us discover ourselves and others anew and detachments can provide clarity and the power to make necessary changes. It will show who gives you that fulfilling, warm feeling after a phone call full of natter, giggles, snippets of their thoughts, an intimate chat, a meaningful conversation, an insight into their life and soul. You may notice that drama kings and queens, game players and those who always like you to second guess everything have no place in your life. Because life is too short to be wondering if you are worthy of their friendship and time or not.
My thoughts on relationships and friendships during quarantine have been evoked by a new normal that is confining us and makes us think differently, not only about the safety of our loved ones but also about how much we rely on human interaction, especially the kind that we have been used to all our lives. The invisible force of a virus has turned what we know upside down and revealed new challenges surrounding human closeness and intimacy.
The silver linings of lockdown and isolation may well turn out to be some reformed and reshaped relationships, rediscovered and discarded friendships and within all of it, hopefully a better and more gentle relationship with yourself which, in return is beneficial for those we hold dear and close to our hearts.
How’s your phone doing? Battery life draining faster than the water from your freshly unclogged plug hole? Deleted the screentime monitoring app? Ignoring the fact that every time your phone bleeps you grab it relieved, knowing there is a chance it is a sign of life from the world out there? From another human outside of your household? Sound familiar? Welcome to screentime and social media addiction and overload in lockdown.
A few weeks before lockdown hit, I had installed a screentime monitoring app on my phone. I wanted to see how often I really picked up my phone, how long I spent staring at my screen. Competitive as I am, I embraced the challenge to prove to myself that I could co-habit with my small device having minimal contact. I did well. Really well. Only twenty minutes on certain days was spent using my phone. I didn’t even have to charge it at night. I was doing just fine.
Fast forward a couple of month and we are in the thick of lockdown. My phone has become my constant companion, I have it with me all the time and I am terrified more than ever to lose it. Gone is the screentime monitor – I don’t need that kind of negativity in my life. The first few days, adjusting to our new normal, I turned my phone off a few times or disabled the Internet. I couldn’t bear the influx of grim news on BBC and the increasing aggressiveness and gutter language on Facebook. Everyone had an opinion. Everyone was an expert. And dare someone point out the logic of actually listening to experts. All hell broke loose. After a while though, as the Internet and my head calmed down, I started looking for human connection and lost any shame for drained batteries and being stuck to my phone for a large part of the day. I now speak to my friends regularly, we video call each other, I participate in groups online, watch webinars and send emails to newfound people. I broaden my circle of acquaintances past my immediate circle of friends and listen to new opinions, new ways of doing things, share stories and have small conversations that are no less meaningful that longer heart to hearts. I marvel at our uniqueness and am amazed by how similar we are in many ways. One of my favourite moments so far is, apart from getting to know some fabulous people from all over our planet, when I open up about disliking something I thought was merely one of my oddities. It rang true with so many others and created further dialogues which lit up my days, otherwise filled with selfdoubts and anxious thoughts. I let go of my mobile phone guilt and embraced social media for all its plus points. And for those odd messages that are too intruding, there is always the Block button.
I don’t know when I will go back to “normal” life and what it will look like. Of course, I am not going to forsake friendships forged face to face for an online only platform of communication. But, once again I am grateful for the positive aspects of the Internet, the elimination of time and space, which allows me to have meaningful conversations with people from all over the world. These connections are important to me; reaching out beyond my own four walls and interacting with others despite being confined to home, learning, wondering, sharing. I certainly will forever be grateful for this.