The Lockdown diaries – Day 36: performance pressure

With over a month now in quarantine, our lives and minds may or may not be adjusting to this strange part of humanity’s history. People all over the world are making this snippet of their story their own, in whichever shape or form is doable. The media, be it big newspapers, news channels or social media seem to be giving us various choices on how to tackle our newfound existence:

1) The “Chill Out” Option – sit in front of your TV, put your feet up and wait for all of this to blow over.

2) The “Get up and Go” Option – learn something new, do something new, take up a new hobby, do exercise, work out every day, lose weight, tidy up, declutter the house, renovate your home, landscape the garden, read to your children, teach your children, learn from your children, cook, bake, wash, clean, iron, mend, stitch, work, Zoom, write letters, send emails, explore, dress up, yoga here, Pilates there, go, go, go!

3) The “Mental Health” Option – take it easy, don’t do anything that would compromise your well-being, gently does it, and breathe!

You’d think we’d all be clever enough to go for Option 3, calmly tuning into ourselves and listening to what we really need (no, not another glass of gin). I personally find myself under immense pressure to be a dance monkey to the tune of Option 2. I had embraced lockdown with all its strains and silver linings, and saw it as a golden opportunity to make use of time I would surely gain, idyllic lunch times with my children and long chats in the evenings with my partner. In between that, I would work, home school, study, write, cook, bake and clean the house. I would also sign up for online courses and classes, because, you know, there has never been a better time to engage with strangers and learn new skills. I’d leave the gardening to my partner because, please don’t judge me, I don’t like it. Naturally, it all went a bit pear-shaped after a couple of weeks. I don’t really have anyone but myself to blame as I am an adult and make my own choices. I didn’t even take it slowly during the Easter holidays. I went for complete and utter stimulation overload, not only planning and structuring each and every day for myself and the children, but also taking over managing my partner’s business, allocating his time, writing his to-do list and facilitating online classes. Busy is good. Busy means growth. Busy means never standing still. You already know this won’t end well.
My self-inflicted activity overload didn’t introduce itself to me until yesterday, when I sat in front of my laptop, talking to my dissertation supervisor and found that I was close to bursting into tears, utterly exhausted from frantically trying to keep up with everything. My supervisor looked at me and told me to rest. Wise words, given I am 6 weeks ahead of my deadline but no one likes to break her own records more than I do. But the knowing smile of my professor, her gentle nudge and the uncomfortable question what I was so worried about did force me into a moment of just thinking and taking stock.
Admitting to myself that I had to give up something in order to preserve what is left of my isolated sanity was a difficult step to take, but I evaluated what I needed least at this moment in time and let it go. Another training course I had organised for next weekend will also be cancelled. I doubt I’ll spend the time relaxing in bed with a book, but I can invest it into something that needs my immediate attention. One of the most positive outcomes I have taken from this is, that I don’t see myself as failure, just because I had to quit one thing. This learning is invaluable and certainly a first for me.

Relief is knowing you made the right decision, but it also means that, when you let go of something, you don’t necessarily admit defeat that you couldn’t stick with it. Letting go of something that does not serve you at this moment in time offers you an opportunity to refocus and take a deep breath. Ironically, I had ordered myself to sit still for 10 minutes each day last week, in a desperate attempt to do exactly that: keep motionless for 600 seconds, focusing on nothing but my heart beat and breath. Unsurprisingly, I have managed to mess up this task royally – doing “nothing” just doesn’t fit into my overkill-schedule. Having given up one of my responsibilities has given me a chance to take back some of my time which, in return, could be used to do lots of other things, like getting ahead with my research and submitting more writing to magazines. However, possibly, the universe may like to hand this time to me in form of rest and recuperation, as ordered by my supervisor. I may be a controlling and obsessive workaholic. But even I have reached a point where something’s gotta give.

The lockdown diaries – Day 30: Juggling home schooling, work and life

Monday after the Easter holidays hit and I felt a little relief. A new school week, tasks set by teachers for my oldest in addition to the piles of worksheets and books I had collated in a panic before lockdown. I was grateful for some structure after two weeks off at home doing not much of everything, keeping everyone entertained within the limits set out by the lockdown. It got me thinking about routine and why we as humans love it so much and, even if we don’t love it, a lot of us very much need some kind of order in our lives. It means certainty, it creates knowing and understanding what happens next and there are less surprises and ambiguities. Generally, if I have my duties, such as work in place, I get more done, I am more likely to stick to a plan I made and I feel in control (an important thing for me). I love weekends and holidays, don’t get me wrong, they are the best reward for working hard, but sometimes I seem to float around on a cloud of wishy-washiness and I feel like I am doing either too many things at once or nothing properly. Lack of routine also never works for my children. Eventually, they just go a bit crazy and feral, and I struggle to identify which of them is the puppy and who are the humans. Order is good, rules are good, right? We are surrounded by them from an early life and most of our existence on earth is based upon restrictions and certain structures which has been constructed by society and history over time. Especially now, rules and regulations have never been more prevalent whilst we are all fighting the virus. And thank goodness for them.

Back to my home life, my gratitude for the new/ old routine didn’t last long though. Our new normal in the abnormal has us working alongside one another through most of the day. We start our mornings with Joe Wicks. As a child I hated physical exercise because one of my PE teachers compared me to a sack of potatoes (I wasn’t a sack of potatoes, I just took longer to get into a headstand than my best friend who did gymnastics in her free time), so it is so important to me to instil a positive attitude to exercise into my children. The mental exercise thereafter is a little more challenging, at least in the sense of co-ordinating home schooling and working from home at the same time. As a teacher, some may believe that home schooling comes natural to me, seeing it’s what I do for a living anyway. Believe you me, it is not. First of all, I teach teenagers in a speciality subject. Second, teaching your own child is generally more challenging than other peoples’ children. Expectations are higher, emotions run deeper and patience wears thin a lot quicker. Third, having other little people in the house whilst home schooling and working from home resembles a merry-go-round gone rogue. You can’t get off no matter how badly it is spinning out of control. There is screaming, there is squawking, there is yelling and crying, throwing, hitting, biting and falling off chairs, spilling drinks, crunching crisps and spitting out bits of apple. There are constant questions, incessant toilet and snack breaks, puppy-cuddle breaks, stroppy moments and major meltdowns. Take that and combine it with keeping an eye on over 100 other students remotely, whilst planning ahead, answering emails and trying to concentrate on writing two coherent sentences, and you have a cocktail of confusion, exhaustion and exasperation. Regular breaks with hot drinks, leftover Easter chocolate and homemade cakes certainly help but within those breaks the normal work of a household creeps in. Cooking, washing, cleaning, tidying, a quick phone call with a friend or a colleague bring back some sanity at times but often they remind me even more of how much is expected of us at the moment. There are lots of letters from schools and articles telling us that mental health comes first and that learning, education and work in the conservative terms are allowed to take a back seat. I am fully aware that my daughter will not be illiterate later because I didn’t teach her Set 568 of phonics or let her play with dice instead of hiding a frozen pea in jelly (where on earth am I getting jelly from in lockdown, unless I queue up for 3 hours outside a supermarket…). But the pressure is still there. It comes at me from all sides. From the constant “ping” of my emails, from the web portal where I set work for my students, from my personal email, from my social media feed on Facebook (pure evil) and forums of parents who apparently have this lockdown malarkey figured out down to a T. I know I am not alone. The other night I rang one of my friends. We don’t speak often as we both work stupid hours and are, despite challenging jobs, sensitive and overwhelmed by too many outside influences. But when we talk, it’s pure love from a connection that can’t be easily found. She told me how tough she found it to work all day whilst also keeping her two young children entertained. Her husband also works full-time from home, and neither of them get a break. “I can’t do it”, she snaps, not at me, but at life. “We play, we go outside, we learn as we go along. But I can’t sit down and teach them. Not when I am expected to be working at the same time.” Her account rings familiar and I tell her I hear her. Exhausted, tired, overwhelmed and stressed out parents everywhere: I hear you, I feel with you, I stand with you, I sit with you, metaphorically holding your hand and passing you a glass of wine. It’s an emergency. It’s a crisis. The norm doesn’t apply anymore. Normal doesn’t exist. It’s all gone a bit Pete Tong. And you know what I realise whilst writing? I am done with trying to do it all. Because I can’t. I am pretty super but superwoman, I am not, neither have I got any ambitions to be her. I am human, I am anxious and I am doing the best I can. My children are loved, are safe and will learn as and when. My students know how much I care and I am always there to listen and help them. But even with them, my main concern is their mental health and well-being, so why am I giving myself such a hard time? What is it with us trying to be everything to everyone and striving for sheer work-overload?

I am turning my emails off. I am muting Facebook. I am ignoring the unhelpful and patronising email I received earlier from someone without children, trying to tell me how to do my job. I am leaving my desk to go outside to help my boy put on his shoes and my daughter to find magic shapes and creatures in the garden. Normal doesn’t exist. Neither does perfect. Go and have a rest. Get off the merry-go-round. It’ll keep spinning without you, too.

The lockdown diaries – Day 27: Fear of Going Out

In my last blog post I talked about life after lockdown and how I am enjoying the absence of FOMO. Feedback from loyal readers was confirming that I was not the only one feeling relief that I did not have to keep up with the Jones’s anymore or feel bouts of inadequacy because my social life sucks and I can’t be bothered to hit the nightlife because a) I am so tired ALL THE TIME and want to be in bed well before midnight; b) I can’t drink anymore since having kids, and a sniff of half a glass of wine sends me to sleep (cheap date) and c) I feel highly anxious and apprehensive in large crowds and gatherings, which is not a reason to be explored in today’s post, but nevertheless a valid reason. I am OK with being at home, obeying the rules and working hard to make the best out of this abysmal situation, some days better than others. I exercise daily, I make sure we live in the garden if it’s nice and I put so much veg in our dinners that I am sure we may be sprouting some bell peppers and broccoli out of our ears any time soon. Leaving the house may no longer be a spontaneous event, but it is a right I have not passed on once since lockdown started. I do raise an eyebrow when I see people making up their own rules as they go along, loosely interpreting social distancing with “it’s in the open air, it won’t hurt” whilst standing far too close. But I am not terrified, I am not scared, I don’t feel anxious about leaving the house. I am a teacher and before lockdown I was surrounded by hundreds of students every day – in minuscule classrooms, where even the students at one stage pointed out that the 2-metre rule was a joke when they sat no further than 15cm apart from one another (no kidding). I saw a minimum of a third of students in all my classes go off sick or self-isolate and I watched one of my colleagues frantically disinfecting our staff room after another colleague coughed when making her coffee (said colleague was ill the next day). Despite this, I came out seemingly unscathed. No symptoms, although I am fully aware that I could have been a carrier. But – the Corona Virus didn’t make me ill whilst working in a relatively risky environment although I feel a lot calmer since the school shut down. Don’t misquote or misunderstand me please: I don’t feel invincible or superhuman. I know the dangers and have made sure I did not go anywhere apart from a walk or run for the first two weeks in lockdown, making sure I wouldn’t pass on anything I had picked up at school. What I am saying is that I am not scared to leave the house. I am fine with it. And, until I spoke to two of my peers, I thought most people would be “just fine” with leaving the house, too.

As it turns out, not everyone is. FOGO, or fear of going out is real and it is all-encompassing and exhausting. One of my readers opened my eyes to something I had not experienced. She revealed that going out made her fear awkward social situations when the path wasn’t wide enough to stay the prescribed 2 metres apart or feeling that she was in someone’s way. She also noticed that, although lots of people are being friendly and greeting each other, there is a more serious side to interacting with strangers – a stare rather than a smile or a stern look whilst passing. “I guess it’s people’s fear coming out.”, she opines. I recall my own experience from a few days ago when I went shopping and some customers walked past me no further than 50cm away because they couldn’t wait a few seconds behind me. I remember briefly feeling panicked because I thought: ‘That’s breaking the rules!’ (I am German. I love rules).  Then, slightly bemused yet also slightly bewildered I muttered under my breath how great it was that Covid-19 only attacks from front and back – don’t worry about breathing on me from the left or right, its inbuild virus navigation system won’t know how to attack me from the side – I considered briefly to start wearing a scarf round my face, to protect myself from such idiocy (if anything, I don’t have to witness it…). My friend, however, can’t find any bemusement in such careless behaviour.  Trips to the supermarket these days are a systematic cleaning operation thereafter, with everything, from shopping bags being disinfected, to clothes washed, to her partner being ordered to shower, to any possible surface being scrubbed within an inch of its life. To many of us the virus is invisible and therefore we may even forget about it.  To my friend, it is everywhere, lingering in the air she breathes, in the should-be-safe-comfort of her home, on her food, the floor in her home, on herself. 

For another reader FOGO takes on a different perspective, that of coping with past traumas of infections during pregnancy and having to go through the hell of watching her newborn getting infected. I get choked up when she tells me her story and gives me an insight into what life with an all-surrounding fear of infection feels like during Covid-19. Whilst she is not always terrified of going out and sometimes wants nothing more than to leave the house, her fears are more complex than that: “The silly part is that if you ask me whether or not I’m worried that the girls will catch Corona Virus or if it’ll make them really poorly then I’d say I’m not worried really, because it isn’t tending to harm children, but it’s having the idea rammed down our throat that we constantly need to clean everything. I know that’s perfectly reasonable and for a good reason at the minute, but it’s terrifying when your mind already works that way. Plus there’s all this talk of statistics and which surfaces germs can live on and how long for etc., etc., which plays right into my anxieties.” To cope with this, my reader relies on keeping herself busy, and, BC (before Covid), was glad to go out as much as possible.  Now she can’t. “In short”, she tells me, “the Corona Virus has done two things: Validated my crippling fear of germs, contamination and the need to clean everything and it also made me feel that I am very much trapped inside four walls with my own horrific thoughts. So there is [the fear of not having] the option [to go] out for any length of time to distract myself and [also] FOGO because of all the ‘what ifs’”. 

Opening conversations with two fellow women has underlined what I already anticipated: Life in lockdown may, on the surface, be the same for us all.  The same rules apply to all of us and none of us will be going anywhere anytime soon.  However, this exceptional new way of life is also highlighting that we are all so different.  This experience forms and shapes all of us individually – none of us can have the same experience.  Our past is unique, our fears, or mental health all vary and so what feels good for one is the worst possibility for another.  Therefore, so I believe, the most important lesson we can learn from this is to be kind to ourselves.  Whichever way we get through this day by day is up to you, not prescribed by your mate who posts 500 activities on social media (that is no criticism, but comparison is also highly dangerous at this stage).  Kindness and understanding of others’ fears and ways to cope is also a must. Don’t try and fix.  Just listen and accept.  No one is crazy.  We are different. All our feelings matter.  The aim is to get through this in one piece.  Mentally, physically and spiritually.  Whatever gets you through, whatever you have to do. Do it. And don’t forget to breathe.

The lockdown diaries – Day 24: A tough day

As the government has (quite rightly) extended the lockdown by at least another 3 weeks, I wonder whether this is the perfect ending to a day I’d rather forget. To be brutally honest, it was a shite day. On the surface it was lovely: sunshine, a walk, a socially distant conversation with a friend we met in the park, time in the garden, meals together, family time. Bliss. Only it wasn’t. In my head, it was hell. Doubts about myself and others, returning to normal life, staying locked up, it was all a big, scary, chaotic and scrambled mess. The familiar lump in my chest and stomach resurfaces, it spreads its claws comfortably around my organs and renders me unable to think straight or to see sense. I try to work out if this is related to lockdown, or if there are other demons at work. I think it is both. The fears and doubts have been there a long time, but now are magnified by a world that projects fear and cannot be a safe place for us right now. I try and rationalise my thoughts and talk myself through what I can and can’t influence. I listen to the conversations in my head and weigh them up. I counsel myself and know that the shrink in me is right and wants to kick me off the imagined couch, but I am not ready to leave, not prepared to say: Yeah, I am fine now, thanks for the session. My thoughts are as stubborn as the monster inside my body. Normally I would schedule a meet up with one of my closest and most trusted friends. Such things have to be talked about in person. But I can’t do that. I would probably also start doing lots of things to distract myself. But today I can’t do that either. All the dinner is cooked, there is no more food to cook because the fridge is empty, I had my daily exercise and colouring pictures with my daughter gives me more time to think than I can handle. I tentatively tell one of my friends via text and it helps, she is understanding and downright fabulous. She doesn’t try to fix things for me. She is just there. I can breathe more easily. And then I just do something I read the other day by Glennon Doyle: Sit with it. Sit through it. Experience it. And let it pass over. It’s a bit of a challenge to sit in peace when you have two kids crawling and climbing over you and a puppy chewing on your clothes. But I sit, and I allow myself to feel crap and I endure those feelings of inadequacy, loneliness and anxiousness. And I survive. I still don’t feel great and am far from being a bundle of positivity, but those inner restraints have loosened a little. I am aware that lots of people will be feeling up and down during this time, and many are feeling like this all the time. I also know that everyone’s experience is unique and personal and definitely valid. My feelings may seem ridiculous to some but they are real for me and I have the right to those experiences. That doesn’t make me weak, stupid or unloved. I am strong – I will get through this day and others; I am knowledgeable – I am aware of my mind and I know that not all feelings are real but they can seem so; and, most importantly, I am loved – not by everyone and that is ok, but I am no less worthy than the next person. This has been a deeply personal account of what is going on inside me, and I know that I have made myself more vulnerable with this than ever before. I am never dishonest in my blog posts, but there are many things I do not share as freely as others. Whilst I am always scared of repercussions, I am not afraid anymore of revealing a bit more. We are locked up, but we are not silenced. And I have been silent for too long.

For those of you who read my blog for some light entertainment and are put off by this change of scenery, I can assure you that this is not the new tone of the blog. We all have good and bad days. But from now on I will be more willing to openly share the good and the bad, without holding too much back, in the hope it will speak to people and know they are not alone.

The lockdown diaries – Day 22: The Afterlife

As we are entering week 4 of the UK’s lockdown, articles of some countries loosening measures whilst debating if those plans are sensible at this point surface and, so I imagine, invoke hope and visions of life after lockdown in many people. Questions of how I will react to being allowed out again and what I will do first have entered my mind, too, but there are also other things that I ponder over, especially since a recent conversation I had with a very dear friend. We spoke about the fact that her and her partner were not going anywhere, had food delivered by their daughter and vouched to stay home until all this had blown over. We said how strange it still felt and how life had changed so much so quickly. I mentioned that I had seen some people either struggling with the new guidelines or openly disregarding them – I recounted the last Friday before lockdown, when social distancing measures had already been enforced but the local pubs had been heaving with people, spilling out onto the streets, squeezing next to one another on the pavement, clutching their drinks, laughing, seemingly without a care in the world. Part of me got it – a cool drink on a mild night in a local pub is lovely – when there isn’t a virus around, mind you! The other part was baffled. Was this disregard for social distancing really worth the risk? Will people change after lockdown? Will they understand? Will they have learnt something? Or will they jump into their newfound freedom and get up to some questionable things? I told my friend, laughing, that the reasons for not significantly missing evenings out and having lots of trips and events in my diary are that there aren’t really ever that many in my life anyway. The days of partying and spending three evenings in a row in a pub have long gone since being pregnant with my first child, and the urge for having to constantly go somewhere and to be seen and heard has also calmed down. My friend agreed. “I really think I won’t want to go out anymore after this”, she opined, and I noticed that I completely got it. Part of me, probably the part that feels FOMO (fear of missing out) every time a friend posts a glitzy picture on the Gram or Facebook from a night out or a lush evening in a restaurant, can’t wait to put my best skimpy dress and a pair of heels on and meet my lovely friends at a bar. However, the other part of me, the one that yearns for a weekend alone at a Spa, surrounded by nothing but quiet, some books and a notepad with a pen, feels secretly very content with the lockdown. I don’t have to go anywhere, and no one else is either. I am not expected to have a buzzing social life, I can stay at home, read, write, cook, bake and indulge in quality time with my family. I feel a little apprehensive of everything going back to normal and I am not sure if I will be embracing large crowds and the hustle and bustle straight away. I also don’t think I will be alone in feeling like this. Some of us are more comfortable with solitude and calm than others. I believe that I and some others will have to adjust to business as usual, the same way we had to get used to lockdown and social distancing. And I think that is OK. We are all different and need different things to make life work for us. There is no right or wrong. Whatever works for you. Take it easy if you are overwhelmed by too much noise. Go for it if you need a lively and busy surrounding to make you feel good. And if lockdown has changed you then be gentle and accept it. As long as your mind, soul and body are feeling it, too, then roll with it. Who is the judge of “normal” and how you are supposed to be feeling? Exactly. Do it your way.

The lockdown diaries – Day 19: Let’s talk about change

I recently read the book “Who moved my cheese?” by Dr Spencer Johnson. It had been a present by one of my former bosses, who gave it to me on my last day working for the company. I hadn’t looked at it in years, I am unsure why I never picked it up and read it. At the beginning of this year, in a moment of severe sleep deprivation and feelings of anxiety and dread of what the future might hold, I grabbed the slim paperback and started reading. “Who moved my cheese?” is a short read; I finished it in under an hour, and it really resonated with and encouraged me. Whilst I would highly recommend the book to anyone, for those of you who don’t want to read it, here is a short summary: In a fictional or some may also call it a metaphorical maze, there are stations of cheese (also metaphorical) where someone places cheese to be enjoyed every day (we don’t know who puts it there, it is irrelevant to the story). Also in the maze are two mice, Sniff and Scurry, as well as two people, called the Littlepeople, individually named “Hem” and “Haw”, all of who are running to the cheese station each morning to eat cheese. One day, there is no more cheese at the station they had been going to. The mice scurry out into the maze in search for more cheese, disregarding their former, now empty cheese station. The Littlepeople, scared what lies in the maze, keep returning to this empty station every day, waiting and hoping that, at some point, more cheese will appear. When it doesn’t, Haw takes a leap of faith and runs into the maze, searching for more cheese. He doesn’t find any at first but he carries on regardless, feeling empowered through the process and taking action. Hem remains where he is, miserable and grumpy. In the end, Haw finds more cheese he could ever have wished for. He also finds the two mice again (who found the same cheese station, a lot earlier, obviously). Nevertheless, Haw doesn’t grow complacent this time. He enjoys the cheese but ensures he regularly “sniffs” it to ensure that it is not going off and he isn’t faced with a sudden cheese-less situation again. He is ready for the cheese to be moved, and it doesn’t scare him anymore.

The story is obviously about change and how we can all fall into the category of one of the four characters, or, maybe, find we are a combination of two or more of them. I certainly recognise Hem in myself when faced with change, however, I have never been Hem, as I adapt and move on more or less quickly, whether I like it or not. Sniff and Scurry adapt to change most naturally, as if instinctively – not a quality I would attribute to myself. I probably see myself most in “Haw”, initially sceptical but quickly realising that the only way to move forward is to move with the change unless you want to remain rigid and stuck, avoiding growth and new experiences.
I have come across situations of change often, be it within organisations I worked for or in my personal life. I don’t know which is more stressful; I guess it depends on the kind of change. One of the biggest changes for the whole world has certainly been Covid-19, turning all our lives upside down. We all have had to adapt, rework and rethink, some of us quicker and better than others, and some may still be working out how to best cope with this as yet indefinitely continuing situation. I know of people who have jumped at new opportunities, thought outside the box and found a way to make life in isolation work for themselves. I see them as the mice in the maze. They instinctively know what to do and go for it. I have also heard of and seen people who just carry on as normal. They are the Hems of the story. Reluctant to adapt, carrying on stubbornly. Either ignoring warnings and new measures or just in denial of the severity of the virus. Whichever social scenario you want to apply Dr Johnson’s story, I believe that there is truth in it may fit all of us. My personal view on the matter is, as a result of experience and having lived through so much change myself, that it’s advisable to embrace the change and move with it, or jump into action and change your own behaviour and that of those around you.

Change can be an unwelcome aspect of our lives, but if we learn to accept it as a natural process that can also open doors for us or show us different paths to navigate on, then it is something to be embraced and cherished, as well as a possibility for personal growth and maybe even new ventures and success. I am not suggesting lockdown and isolation are easy. Far from it. But we can change how we view it and accept the challenge to live through this experience and make the most of it. What would Haw and the mice do?

The lockdown diaries – Day 16: Where is all the broccoli?!

Today, when I stepped outside my front door I found a delivery by one of my most wonderful friends: two heads of broccoli! On a recent video chat I had mentioned to her that I had not been able to find our favourite veg for weeks now (good old kale is glad it doesn’t haven to play second fiddle anymore).  I know that the issue of the missing midget tree (thanks Joe Wicks) is a first world problem, but I mention enough how grateful I am for every little thing so let me indulge in this broccoli-gate a little more. Conversations going back a few weeks with friends, colleagues and a supermarket store manager who I always talk to highlighted that many people were suggesting the same thing: Stock up, buy more, we’ll go into lockdown and won’t get anything. I laughed at one comment that a friend had eaten her “Brexit” stock pile and was now buying more for a possible Corona emergency. I brushed the comments off. “They (the government) wouldn’t let us starve!”, I exclaimed passionately, but quietly checking the store cupboard when I got home. We were fine. We always have a few cans of this and that around and wouldn’t go hungry any time soon. In the coming days it turned out that “they” certainly wouldn’t let us starve, but that fellow human beings quite certainly would. Pictures of people queuing to get into supermarkets early and then leaving with multiple trolleys, bulging over the top and to the sides with food, questionable essentials and the much debated toilet paper made tabloid and news fodder, nearly rivaling the hourly updates about the virus itself. The German term “Hamsterkauf” (you can look that up yourself, you’re welcome to that little bit of linguistic exercise) became a well-known expression even in Britain, whilst the German chancellor showed her dismay quite openly about people’s panic buying and clearing shelves in a televised speech. Aside from the fact that a year’s worth supply of bog roll won’t be any comfort to you whilst battling the virus (unless you get the trots later for half a year), the panic buying mentality that seemed to go on for weeks and has still now left shelves bare of certain supplies, showed humanity in it’s most selfish, unkind and pathetic light. 
A little childhood memory from many years ago came back to my mind, in which I witnessed some people’s attitudes to food they had to share with others. It was my mother’s and mine first holiday abroad as a duo. Just me and her, on a beautiful, relatively quiet Spanish island, in an ugly high rise building as a hotel with too many rooms to count. The large restaurant on the ground floor was always full of people, and the broad buffet counters equally filled with the most delicious food at breakfast, noon and dinner time. Whilst sitting at our table, enjoying our careful selection of delicacies, we noticed that many others approached the all you can eat self-service buffet in a different way than us. The guests returned to their tables with at least two plates, full to the brim, stacked up high with anything edible that would fit on it. Had they devoured it all with gusto and burning hunger, we would have shrugged and smiled about it. However, soon after sitting down and taking a few mouthfuls of food, they left, leaving behind barely touched food which landed in the bin when their tables were cleared. My mother, who knew what it meant to go hungry and not have enough to eat, was outraged and left a furious review and suggestion with the hotel, to please put up signs so that patrons would only fill their plates as full as they could manage to eat. “There is enough for everyone. If everyone takes a little bit and tries everything, there will be plenty left. You can always have more”, she said in her sternest voice, her brows furrowed indignantly. I still use the last sentence with my own children, when they greedily eye up their favourite food and want to have more on their plate than they could possible wolf down. I also make them share their pudding. An ice cream cone cut in half may seem laughable for some but in my eyes it teaches them that they can cope with less luxury at any time. I am sure my mother was fully aware that food eaten up or thrown in the garbage in the developed would not have an impact on starving children in Africa – and I am fully aware of it, too. What does have an impact though is that stacking up your own plate, your own shopping trolley, your own fridge, freezer, pantry, store cupboard, leaves a little less for everyone else. And if you are that selfish with your tins of canned veg or packets of pasta and rice during a time where starvation will not be the reason you will die (whilst going out and not practising social distancing will certainly help spread death a little quicker to those that are most vulnerable), how selfish, I don’t dare to think, would you be in a real emergency situation where sharing resources was the be all and end all of survival of as many as possible? Don’t get me wrong, it’s not just the British. My brother has struggled to get toilet paper for his household, because he just reached the natural cycle of “being out of stuff”. Luckily, after already debating what other bits everyone could use to wipe their behinds, he was able to find some. Lots of my friends have had similar struggles, not having stocked up in advance, because, why would you? I myself haven’t seen handwash in weeks, and am dreading my son or daughter needing Calpol any time soon – because we are out and the shelves in the shops are bare. I also refuse to go to multiple shops to try and find everything I need. That, in my eyes, defeats the object of keeping away from everywhere as much as possible. So, when I will see some handwash and Calpol, for your info, we won’t be buying two or three packs of it. No, we will  stick to the one. There are others out there who may need some, too. Don’t be greedy people. There is plenty to go round. And you can always have more. 

No toilet paper was stock piled here!

The lockdown diaries – Day 13: All the rainbows

On a recent walk around the extended neighbourhood of our side of town, my little girl took great pleasure in pointing out the flowers, blossoms on trees and bushes, gleefully shouting: “I didn’t see that yesterday!” I carefully pointed out that we had indeed walked past those flowers and trees the day before and if she didn’t remember. She looked at me thoughtfully and then exclaimed: “Yes, but not all of them. There are loads of new ones every day!” As we continued our walk I didn’t just feel the sun warming my face and body, but I also felt a growing heat from the inside, a mixture of pride that my daughter just taught me something so simple yet valuable, and a little bit of sadness that I, as an educated and well-read woman had failed to see things in the best light they were meant to be seen. She perceives things totally differently. For my little girl the daily walk, the same path we go is never dull or mundane. She spots the fresh, young leaves on trees, she notices ladybirds, butterflies and bugs, she points to the birds in the sky and every single cloud there is. Her eyes and mind are wide open, her curiosity never satisfied and her questions endless. I wondered why we lose this glorious “superpower”, that insatiable thirst for magic and mystery when we grow up. I didn’t get much time to dwell on this, as she had a question for me: “Mama, why are there all the rainbows?” I took time to answer, knowing this question was important to her and deserved a reply that would fill her mind with happiness and security. I had overused the word ‘virus’ with her, bluntly explaining to her why she couldn’t see her grandparents, her friends, her family across the Channel. She seems to get it, to accept it, and move on. But I don’t want this time to become as clinical for her as it feels for a lot of us. And so I said: “Rainbows remind us that everything will be fine again. Think of times when it rains, and it’s grey and wet and we don’t go outside much. Well, a rainbow only appears when the sun shines during or after rain. One can’t be there without the other. So the rainbows remind us that after this difficult time there will be light, hugs and gatherings of humans again, and it also tells us that we can still have good times during these strange days.” We carried on our walk pointing out all the rainbows in the windows, big, small, messy, neat, with clouds and raindrops or rays of sunshine. Life in lockdown can be challenging and exhausting. It’s easy to mope and focus on the negatives and become overwhelmed by the everyday grind that has become more confining than usual. However, the biggest, most colourful resource during this pandemic is the child that wonders, explores and asks. In times like this, our kids can teach us more than we do whilst homeschooling them. 

The lockdown diaries – Day 10: Groundhog Day

It has been over a week since BoJo announced lockdown on our society, and waking up last Tuesday will always be one of the surreal memories I will take with me on my life’s journey. In our household we have had a variety of experiences, events and emotions, some of which I will cherish forever, other I’d like to stuff, together with the bloody virus, where the sun don’t shine.

From social media and phone calls with family and friends I know we all have a variety of days that resemble the good, the bad, the crazy and the downright hideous. Throw in some school aged kids, some toddlers and adults trying to work from home, and you have the recipe for an interesting concoction of life. As a perfectionist and slightly neurotic overthinker this situation is a blessing and curse at the same time. It’s a blessing because I can live my ultimate dream of working from home, watching my kids grow up and having enough time to write and keep control over the house and everyone’s life in it (in a nice way, I am not a bloody dictator!). It’s a curse because, I mean, have you ever tried to work from home, keeping tabs on over 100 students whilst home-schooling a 5 year-old, whilst preventing (or trying to prevent) a 2 year-old from sabotaging any attempt of working and home-schooling whilst also wading through the chaos of discarded toys, unwashed dishes and clothes, half-eaten snacks and knocked over drinks? You think I am kidding? I kid you not my friend, I don’t. Ciara would hang her head in shame if she saw the devastation a week of lockdown and isolation can cause, fabricated by the fair hands of two little children (and two bamboozled adults).

In addition to that, in a twisted fate of our privilege to stay at home, I am losing track of the days of the week (and believe you me, it IS a privilege: We have shelter, food, Internet, entertainment, fresh air and transport. Millions of others in this pandemic don’t.) Lately, I have been thinking of one of my favourite films, Groundhog Day and how, slowly but surely, days have started resembling our own version of the comedy, scarily blending into one big chaotic mess of colouring pens, cuttings, worksheets, craft supplies, bent puzzle pieces (the destructive toddler is at work again), five o’clock glasses of wine and recorded episodes of Paw Patrol (the most annoying programme on earth if you want my opinion on this, too). If it wasn’t for the puppy shitting into various places of the kitchen floor, I would start believing that I am reliving the same day over and over again. I very much doubt that I will resort to the extremes Bill Murray’s character needed to use to get through his new state of life, and I know that it is up to me to shape and form life during this bastard of a virus. Groundhog or not, there is a lot I will take from this; maybe I won’t be able to play the piano like a pro but I will try and search for the novelty in everyday life and to live in the now a bit more. If not for me, then for all those souls that haven’t got the opportunities I have.

The lockdown diaries – Day 6: A looming meltdown.

Ok, so here comes an almighty whinge and moan: I have had enough. Already. Weekends, my usual sanctuary and blissful escape from the mundane every day slog have, this week, turned into a nerve-testing and patience finding exercise that had me fall onto the sofa in exhaustion by 4pm, not wanting to get up anymore, not one bit interested if the screaming from the kitchen was because the puppy nipped the children or the children bit each other, if the puppy pooped on the floor or if the toddler had taken off his trousers again and was whacking his sister with it (we do not condone violence in our house, this is, so everyone tells me, normal toddler behaviour…). I had to turn the Internet off again – a post telling me to chill out because Anne Frank managed to stay quietly in a small flat with hers and another family during World War 2 had the opposite effect it probably intended. Having read her diary multiple times and having stood in the back of a dimmed classroom, quietly wiping tears from my face whilst watching the film with students, I feel like a total failure for not handling this not going out malarkey. And then I get really mardy because I find it highly insulting (to Anne Frank) to drag Anne Frank into this. We are comparing apples and pears here. Our situation may feel like a war to us, a war against a virus and an infringement on our usual freedom, but comparable to World War 2 it is not. The intent may be to put things into perspective to us, and, when you look at it like that, then it certainly makes you feel grateful that you are simply being asked to stay at home. However, and I am going back to something I said in a previous post: Negating current feelings and experiences, just because someone else somewhere else is having a worse time is unhelpful and unkind. It is OK, in my opinion, to feel pants and be restless and irritated. Accept and acknowledge those feelings and make peace with them. As long as you don’t let them rule your existence and work on making things better for yourself, you are allowed off-days. Everyone has them.
How do I get through days like this? Well, without sounding like yet another advice board, here are the things I do:
– I run – every day. Not for hours, but even a quick 20 minute jog around the neighbourhood, come rain or shine, is a little mini therapy session.
– I drink lots and lots of tea (preferably herbal. I can’t hack too much caffeine).
– I tidy and clean. Highly unexciting but it calms my nerves.
– I put the TV on for the kids. I normally don’t like using the big box as a babysitter but when I need some headspace I give in.
– I write. One of the most therapeutic things I have ever done, it never fails me.
– I cook and bake. Again, it keeps me busy, I have something to do and it gives me a purpose. Plus, when I feel calmer and better, the fridge is full of wholesome meals. Bonus.
– I put on music. Music has been a part of my life since day 1 and it is much more soothing for my frazzled soul than deafening silence.

Whatever works for you, do it. Don’t beat yourself up. Your feelings matter and it is not a competition of who is the best at this isolation and lockdown business. Stay away from people and media that make you feel like crap. Chances are, those claiming to have it all figured out are secretly flapping and panicking themselves. They just hide it better. So keep going, you beautiful souls out there. Stay safe, sane and healthy. And if you do lose your marbles, then let them roll around for a bit but don’t forget to gather them up again and practise that all-important self care.