Here’s the age-old question we’ll hear over and over again this month:
“Are you ready for Christmas yet?”
I’d like to think that I am quite organised and I tend to pick up little bits and pieces throughout the year and hide them in various places in the house. It works for me, plus, I don’t have to spend all the money at once. If you like to follow said advice, please be mindful that you also have to remember where you hide stuff. It’s happened a few times that I found Christmas presents when I was hiding Easter Eggs. So, yes, I am nearly ready for the most wonderful time of the year.
However, when I started thinking about what to gift my kids and partner, as well as kids of friends and family, I noticed a niggling feeling that I wanted things to be different from this year onwards. I thought back of all the times I welcomed one Amazon parcel after the next, unboxing Lego, Barbie dolls, Hot Wheels Cars and one year, even a ginormous stuffed dragon, shoving it all in cupboards, wardrobes or the attic. And it didn’t sit right with me anymore. I didn’t like the thought of mountains of more “stuff”, not just because we don’t have an extendable and expandable house and can’t afford to move every two years, just because we have run out of room. It felt awkward because I am pretty sure that there are only ever a handful of materialistic presents you’ll remember into adulthood. In my experience, the things the kids remember are how they felt, the days out we have and the activities and the time we invest in.
After some deliberation with the voices in my head and my partner, we decided to save up small boxes and made a list of all the things the kids had mentioned they wanted to do. They had never been on a bus before (if you don’t count the one that takes you to the airport terminal). They have never been on a train or ridden a pony. They love going to a huge play centre (I don’t quite as much but they have coffee, so…) and their biggest treat is scoffing waffles and ice cream at the ice cream parlour after school. There are oodles of attractions and days out for adults and kids alike, and what better way to spread the excitement across the year? That way, we always have something to look forward to.
Therefore, this year I am introducing the good old boring vouchers under our Christmas Tree. They will be boxed up and wrapped with beautiful bows, but inside won’t just be another toy they really don’t need. Amongst the socks, the new winter boots, the new PJs and gloves, there is the promise of a trip to the local Space Centre and the Great Central Railway. They’ll discover they can “cash in” some treats across the year, be it to a museum, a farm park or a culinary experience like hot chocolate and cake. Their little faces light up with excitement for longer than when they unwrapped that Barbie camper van or that toy tool station. And what is more, it makes them appreciate family time, experiences and memories that last longer than something they will eventually grow out of.
Will I never buy them stuff again? No. But I will be more mindful of what I get and spend my money on. Not only do I owe it to the environment, my bank account and the storage of our house. I also owe it to the attitude and mindset of my kids.
My heart is pounding, my hands are so cold that my fingers have turned purple. I can feel a buzzing throughout my whole body, as if a swarm of butterflies has taken over it. Cold sweat is assembling under my armpits, even though I am shivering and freezing. This is me, nervous. This is me, totally out of my depth. This is me, an hour before a radio interview on BBC Leicester.
I am due to speak with the mid-morning/ early afternoon presenter Ben Jackson. I had contacted the BBC because I wanted to share my story in honour of Eating Disorder Awareness Week, which was the week from 1st – 7th March 2021. I have written a chapter in a book called Love Thy Body Vol 2, which is a collaboration of women who share their story of survival from trauma. My trauma is a severe eating disorder, triggered by some childhood trauma. You see, one trauma comes seldom alone.
I had been speaking with the team at the BBC in the run up to the interview and was amazed by their kindness – but it still did nothing to calm my nerves. I am someone who dramatizes everything, who envisages the worst happening in every situation. Surely, I would trip over my own words, stumble and stutter my way through sentences and probably forget words I have never forgotten before. I would become the laughing stock of the county and those who know me would pity me and whisper behind closed doors (or WhatsApp Groups) of what a complete fool I had been. Why do I do this to myself? Why do I keep putting myself into situations that scare every ounce of warmth out of my body? Am I some kind of masochist? Do I enjoy the self-torture (you could argue I do, since I nearly killed myself twice by not eating)?
The thing is, whilst I always have been and always will be a worrier, I am also a very stubborn and determined lady with a roaring fire in my belly. I do not believe in standing still, I don’t believe in sitting back and let my life pass me by. I am not willing to do nothing and shirk every opportunity that either presents itself or that I can create for myself. As much as it terrifies me, I need that buzz to grow. I need that swarm of butterflies to feel I am doing something that challenges me and moves me forward. I have to do scary things because I know that I will look back when I am really old and I will be so glad and so proud of myself. Jumping out of my comfort zone is exactly that: very uncomfortable. It feels crazy and unsafe and dramatic. My mind and body go into overdrive and take it in turns to manipulate me. One moment my body is calm and breathes normally, but my mind quickly takes over and makes my thoughts race around and creates a disastrous event. Once I have diverted those thoughts and breathe deeply again, my body goes into shock and starts shivering. Distractions such as work, housework or talking to people keep me busy and grounded for as long as possible, but when that dreaded moment arrives, all I need is silence to collect myself.
And then, when it was finally my turn to talk in front of thousands of listeners, calm surrounded me. My heartrate slowed down, my mind was clear, I immediately got up from my safety seat with all the research and notes I had made and never went back to it. I answered the questions with clarity and confidence. The nightmare of suddenly zoning out and not listening to the questions of the presenter were just that: a nightmare. I enjoyed the conversation so much that I was disappointed when the interview was over. When I put the phone down I was shaking again and my mind became flooded with the release of adrenalin and endorphins at the same time. A crazy cocktail of emotions, but most of all endless relief and gratitude that I pushed myself to do something I was terrified of.
I am not suggesting you throw yourself out of a plane to do skydiving if you are terrified of heights or take a bath with snakes when you know it would make your heart stop out of fear. I am talking about life’s situations, its obstacles and moments that either present themselves or are facilitated by what you do. If it scares you but you know it won’t harm you physically and mentally and you are also not harming anyone else, then go for it. It will make you grow as a person, it will enrich your mind and soul and what’s best, you will look back and be so glad you took the leap. Tell me – what will you do outside your comfort zone?
Opening the BBC News App, it’s peppered with updates from COP26, the 26th UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow which ended last Friday. Many have said that not enough has been done and those nations who are already suffering most will continue to suffer, because us richer nations, who have caused most of this damage, are unwilling to do enough to save our world.
Whilst it’s clear that action needs to happen worldwide, worrying about the rainforest whilst spraying harmful pesticides on flowers and destroying local flora and fauna won’t work either. We need to care not only about destruction abroad, but also right in front of our doorstep.
The pandemic certainly opened our eyes and hearts to the beauty of nature around us, in the safe radius we were allowed to move in. We marvelled at the beauty of the British countryside, its flora and fauna and got busy booking ‘staycations’, realising that it’s actually rather quite nice here. Reports from cleaner air in cities due to less traffic, clearer water in rivers as pollution declined and an appreciation for everything local was on the rise, whilst we were waiting for the pandemic to pass. We vowed to change, we promised to love nature and care for it and remember those glorious summer days in quarantine, certain that this was a turning point for humanity.
And then the lockdown ended, and we slowly returned back to whatever normal meant for each of us. We jumped back into our cars, we bought the coffee in the take-away cup, we slipped back into old habits, we started muddling through life because it’s fast-paced and noisy and busy and we need to keep up with demands on us, our social lives and work. However, it’s becoming clear that our lives have to change – we have to change – to make a real difference and to save the world we call home.
Of course, for many of us this may feel frightening and uncomfortable. Others may believe they have no control over the bigger things that contribute to climate change. It’s true that we can’t single-handedly stop a tree being felled in the Amazon Rainforest, however, there are things we can do right here, right now, this moment in time.
A recent article by the BBC suggested that the UK has “little room for nature due to development and agriculture” and that the UK is one of the world’s most nature-depleted countries. In addition to this, the UK’s biodiversity, of which 90% is considered safe from falling into ecological meltdown, has only got 50% of it left. Those alarming figures tell us that we need to protect species and their habitat around us. We need to listen to environmental agencies, we need to stop destroying nature to build more houses. We need to stop killing animals because they don’t fit into our living spaces.
It’s time to change. It’s time to reverse Code Red. It’s time to work together, and do a little bit more, every day. Small changes by many can lead to big progress. There is no time left. Our future, and that of our children depends on it.
Have you seen the inspiring video about Michael Jordon, the über-famous and successful basketball player?
“I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times I have been trusted to take the game winning shot – and missed. I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” Michael Jordan “Failure” Commercial HD 1080p – YouTube
Lately I have been feeling a bit doom and gloom, not so much because I am locked up in a small town with limited radius of freedom, but more about my current questions about myself as a writer, freelancer and creative. Pitches and emails being ignored, limited time as to what I can actually do because of my busy job as a teacher who is also doing a Master’s degree. I want to do it all and I want to do it now and I want everything to go smoothly.
The dark voices of self-doubt, of the inner critic, of that mocking voice of my mother, who never took any creative work I did serious enough as to believe I could do it as a job, they all surface and have a field day in my miserable and confused brain. Being a writer is hard. There are millions of us out there, some better than others, and let’s face it, many people call themselves writers when they probably shouldn’t do so. Many are under-selling the art and make those of us who take it seriously and pour our heart and soul into into the craft, look like extortionate clowns. It angers and frustrates me. It makes me really cross. The lack of respect for proper writing, for taking care of and curating those words and sentences, polishing those paragraphs to the limits of perfection – it hurts my writer soul and makes me want to pack up my laptop and notebook and fly to a galaxy far, far away.
And then I remember why I write. And I remember why I can’t ever give up. And I remember that failure is never a reason to give up. That not getting ahead quite as fast as I had hoped, that little setbacks along the way are only there to test me, not to prove my inner critic right. That people will be people and act unprofessionally, that they will just drop you, not respond, not value your work. Those are not the people you are supposed to be working with. There are billions of people in this world and many of them are my people.
I write because if I don’t, I feel empty. I have to write because it’s who I was always meant to be, from the moment I scribbled those first words down in pencil as a primary school student. Playing it safe was my mantra for many years. It kept me safe but it also killed my passion. Nothing I ever did felt as good as writing. Giving up is simply never an option. Getting up and getting on with it, trying again and again is the only way forward. Like Michael Jordon, failures and setbacks will make me better, it will help me to change my course, my tactics, my strategy and it will pave the way for a fruitful journey.
Most importantly, a setback or slow progress does not make you a failure. It does not define you as a worthy human being. You are still deserving of success, love and good things. Remember that and, whatever has knocked you down, acknowledge it, look at it and then start again, with a better plan, a better course and even more passion that before. You owe it to your people. They are waiting for it. You owe it to yourself. And you owe it to the universe.
I am sitting on my bed, mentally going through the articles I have to write for a magazine. I feel an uneasy lurch in my stomach, a little twist and then that niggling voice in my head. My thoughts then drift to my dissertation, and the deadline for its completion, now less than half a year away. Both tasks seem unachievable, impossible and out of my reach.
Self-doubt has been my constant companion for as long as I remember. Whilst self-doubt is, to a certain degree, quite normal, especially when you are about to start new tasks or try out new skills, I am doubting (no pun intended here) that questioning every single thing about your life and persona is. Since I was a child I analysed friendships and relationships. “Do they like me?” “What do they think about me?” “Was this piece of work good enough?” ” What will they say if I fail?” “What will they say if I succeed?” Those questions jump up and down in my head until I feel dizzy and have spent minutes in a frenzy that twists itself in a rock hard knot. Welcome to an over-thinker’s reality.
Whilst I have those moments regularly, I also have moments of intense clarity and positivity, where I take on the world and get to work with awesome gusto. Ideas bounce in my head and manifest themselves on the page or screen, I jot down ideas and act out my creative dreams as if there is no tomorrow. I thrive, I grow, I let go and I fly. It’s the best feeling in the world.
But then those dark clouds come in, usually triggered by something I read or see online, or life gets in my head and in the way, takes time from me, I lose my mojo and train of thought, and down I fall into a dark and glum place of self-doubt, disbelief and defeat. “You’ll never amount to much.” “You’re a failure.” “Everyone around you does everything so much better.” ” You are nobody.” ” You suck.” Unkind words are not something I utter to anyone, least myself, but they find me anyway, they drill and hack a way into my skull where they wreak havoc until I can’t write, I can’t create, I can’t even find joy in dressing myself; all 3 things that usually come so naturally to me.
Self-doubt is the devil of creativity and success, so, I ask myself: Am I doomed? I am a positive person down to my core, I am a survivor and fighter. Self-doubt may come knocking at my door from time to time but I will never let it stay and reside for long. So, what can you do to pull yourself out from that dark spiral, that freaky merry-go-round, that distorted mirror that makes you look like a warped alien?
1) Acknowledge your feelings but know they are “just” that. Feelings. They are not a true reflection of your capabilities and your worthiness as a person. 2) Learn to let go of your negative feelings. They can become your truth if you let them stay around for too long. Distract yourself by doing something you enjoy. That, in turn will make you feel better and make space for your creativity. 3) Talk to someone. Whether it’s a good friend or, even better, a trained therapist, talking about your feelings will clarify them in your head and help you to shift your focus and state of mind from darkness to light. 4) Go outside. It is my advice for almost everything but that’s because it is an incredible all-rounder and cures many ailments. A change of scenery from your own four walls, fresh air and the big, open sky can remind you that the sky, indeed is your limit and, like the weather changes, good times are just round the corner. 5) Stay away from alcohol. I have never been a drinker when I felt down or in pain, but stress and anxiety often ask for something to numb the symptoms. The day after though is never thankful for that 1 or those two glasses of wine. Not drinking isn’t a miracle cure but self-doubt feasts on it, so better stay away. 6) Finally, get up from that bed or sofa and do what you usually love, even if you don’t feel like it. After a while, those natural instincts that crave joy through creating will come back and before you know it you will have danced, cooked, painted, photographed, written or played your way out of self-doubt.
There is no magical pill or potion to replace your self-doubt with self-confidence and self-belief. As with life, you can’t be happy all the time and it’s not always plain sailing. However, being gentle and kind to yourself and doing small things to divert negativity, help re-direct your brain on a road that lets you see yourself for what you truly are: A valuable human who can offer something unique to this planet.
It’s World Book Day today and I have sent my daughter off in a witch costume, her father plaited her hair and fastened a big bow – Room on the Broom is one of Julia Donaldson’s stories that we keep coming back to over and over again. The rhymes are glorious and catchy, the story so sweet and memorable. I feel very lucky that both my children are bookworms. My oldest, now she can read herself, grabs one book after the other and sits in a corner, reading to herself or to her little brother. He can’t read himself yet, but one of his favourite things is to get out his books from the shelf and just sit there, flicking through them, muttering to himself and then, eventually, asking me to read him a story. Reading is magical, it is wonderful and so good for our brains and, dare I say, for our souls.
My own journey of reading and discovering books is one I always remember. I could read before I went to school and, once I had discovered the school library, there was no stopping me. I borrowed as many books as I could carry home in my school bag and an additional tote. I didn’t care that my way home was an endless hill and I was sweating to get up there. Those stories, those magical, fabulous stories were absolutely worth it.
One of my favourite authors as a child was Enid Blyton. Her stories of the Famous Five kept me hooked and occupied for hours after I had finished my homework. I remember sitting at my desk in my room, a small packet of raspberry sherbet to keep me company as I escaped into the adventures that always included Timothy the dog and lots of fabulous picnics. I loved Georgina, who wanted to be called George and dressed like a boy. I am not sure whether I loved her so much because I myself was usually dressed in jeans and jumpers and had very short hair, or whether I really admired her fiery character and stubbornness. Losing myself in that world, and in the worlds of many other books was a sanctuary that kept me safe and sane and certainly helped me through some very difficult times as a child.
As a teenager I discovered the Harry Potter books and, always a fan of magic and the mystical, I felt as if they had been written for me. I spent hours after bedtime sitting on the floor, pressed against the radiator of my room so I could keep warm, and drink in every single word of those glorious stories. What joy, what utter bliss to be part of this world where so many things were possible but to realise that even magic didn’t make your life easier. I never forget pre-ordering the fifth book in my twenties and again, sitting in bed until the early hours of the morning, because I could not stop reading. I recently bought some illustrated copies of the Harry Potter series, because I want to introduce my children to them. I hope they will, just like me, adore the narrative and recognise themselves in some of the protagonists.
As an adult, reading has become somewhat of a luxury, with lots of commitments, work, study, social life and now also a family of my own. Whilst, for many years, the reading of academic books became my daily reading habit, it also sadly introduced speed reading to me – frantically scanning page after page, taking in as much information as possible in the shortest space of time, noting it down and then moving on to the next book. It messed with my ability to read for joy, to just lose myself in a book and only resurface for some food or to sleep. Luckily, after a few years of devoting my life to academia, I decided I never wanted to live without the lust for reading again, and so I made books and reading a constant companion in my life once more.
I still don’t read half as much as I would love to and I still buy too many books when I have too many I haven’t read yet, but I am able to totally immerse myself in reading once more, the way I used to as a child. So much so, that, whilst recently reading American Dirt, I had sleepless nights and carried the burden of the story with me for days, unable to put the book down and using every spare minute I had to turn page after page – feeling incredible sadness once the story concluded.
World Book Day is a wonderful occasion to celebrate a medium of communication and storytelling that has existed for so many years and also to reflect on our own reading practices and habits. As a new author, I am obviously keen to make sure that my stories get out there, too, and this year’s World Book Day has felt really special. I hope I never have a break from reading for joy again and I hope that I will publish my first whole book soon. World Book Day has certainly given me the drive and inspiration to carry on.
With just over two weeks to go, Christmas is fast approaching, sending us all in a spin of preparations, frenzied ordering of gifts online and hectic trips to supermarkets and shops. As every year, my plans to start getting organized are thwarted by reality and I have to deal with the eternal disappointment of my family that I still haven’t baked any of the traditional German biscuits I make every year. Christmas 2020 is being hailed as a special one, in more ways than one. Whilst restrictions here in the UK still remind us that Covid-19 has no intention of leaving the party early, many have also decided to “go all out” this year, spoiling loved ones with presents, treating themselves to extravagant things and making the best out of a situation none of us could have dreamt of 12 months ago. So how has Corona changed my Christmas? Am I feeling that excited tingle of the Christmas spirit yet? And what am I missing most this festive season?
My Christmas has always been a close family affair. I adore spending the festive days with people I trust, people I feel utterly comfortable with and those that make me feel loved and at home. Since having children, Christmas is all about them, to make their memories special and to have some cosy and relaxed days where, for once, I am not fretting about whether I need to follow a schedule for work, for my business or the kids’ schools. Christmas once lost its magic, in my late teens when I was in a quite dark place and couldn’t cope with any of the enforced happy family affair. Luckily, my brief stint as the Grinch didn’t leave a lasting mark on me and Christmas has since been a focal point of the year for me. Corona changed a lot of things this year and I would be lying if I said I wasn’t worried about a lot of things. My overactive mind had all sorts of scenarios worked out before the first month of isolation was over, but my panic subsided when I realised that, realistically, we didn’t miss out on much at Easter. We had chocolate, we had booze, we had cake and presents. We didn’t go without, bar those Easter egg hunts and social interactions we love so much. I would also be telling a fib if I said I thought we would still be in this muddle by Christmas. I had no idea and am slightly overwhelmed by the fact that, in just over 3 months it will be a whole year that I have not hugged my closest friends, their children or had people over spontaneously. I don’t even want to think about how long it has been since I have seen my family abroad – it breaks my heart. But, regarding Christmas, things are just like they have always been: A relaxed morning with the kids, opening stockings and the first few presents. Lazy breakfast and the first sip of bubbles, going for a Christmas Day walk and then cooking that fabulous dinner I fantasize about months before. A cosy afternoon with a family film and some games, stories and play time. And once the kids are in bed, we have a cheese platter with port. Bliss. Not even Covid can take that away from me, and isn’t that something to be eternally grateful for?
It always takes a while to get into that Christmas Spirit, even though I have started to decorate the house earlier this year than ever before. Work usually goes crazy around this time of the year and now I own my own little business, too, demands are ramping up. The kids need 120,000 things for school by the next day and reminders about this or that keep popping up on my phone. The stress of getting everything for the big day nags away in my head and I wonder why I never seem to be able to get everything sorted early enough, as I rewrite my 10th list for Christmas. Listening to Christmas music and watching some old classic films definitely does the trick, as does the odd glass of mulled wine or a warming hot chocolate after a walk in the cold. The kids are hyped through all the decorations, the extra activities at school and love their advent calendars. This year we also have an elf, which, admittedly, I first of all dreaded, but now actually really love. Having to help him to get up to no good requires extra planning, yes, but it’s also great fun and keeps those creative juices flowing. In just over a week I will break up from work and it’s my birthday soon, too. The anticipation of the big day creeping closer keeps me going and lets me feel excited when I stop for a moment and think. My anxious and overworked brain definitely needs a lot of TLC in order to catch up with that festive spirit, but once I am allowed to switch off from everyday duties, I tend to find that inner peace that Christmas promises and I so rarely experience.
Of course, like with many things this year, I am also missing a few things this Christmas. I don’t live close enough to a Christmas market and, having grown up with them, they do play a huge part in making me feel festive and Christmassy. I will never forget those days and evenings spent in Germany, roaming the most amazing, picturesque and quaint Christmas markets, the air filled with sweet and indulgent smells of roasted almonds, grilled sausages, Lebkuchen, eggnog and mulled wine. Pushing through the crowds with a smile on my face, stopping to drink a warming punch that spreads all the way to those frozen fingertips – there’s nothing quite like the atmosphere of a Christmas fair. Where I live in the UK, the small town has a late night shopping event which is the closest to a festive event I can get, but it’s lovely and colourful and bright and a wonderful time to meet other families, friends and to support some local shops and food stalls. Sadly, this had been cancelled, the Christmas lights had been turned on without the annual ceremony and, whilst the shop windows are beautifully decorated, lingering in a boutique over a festive drink and mince pie isn’t possible this year. During this time I also love to take my little clan out for some festive drinks and nibbles, but it’s also not really possible – Tier 3 and all its restrictions cancelled those little rituals, too. Having Santa’s sleigh come past the house and visiting Santa’s Grotto are all highlights during the Advent season that the kids love and having them as little milestones to get excitement before Christmas is something I will definitely also miss, alongside with those wonderful festive squeezes and hugs from friends and those friendly, extra warm smiles from strangers in shops, on streets or in parks. Most of them are now hidden behind masks or hurry by quickly, with their heads down.
Saying all that, in the grand scheme of things, having things cancelled or re-arranged at Christmas may not be the worst thing in the world and may actually help us to slow down and re-evaluate what this season is really about. Maybe, with all those rules and regulations in place, our own rule can be to take it easy, relax, put our feet up and treat ourselves and those we love to the indulgence of doing nothing, to laze about and talk to each other, make plans and dream of what is to come. What truly matters is our health and well-being. And if we have that and some love, it’s a pretty perfect Christmas already.
Lately I have been reading a lot of stuff online and on social media which, I am sure, with best intentions, tells people to just lighten up and to get over themselves. There is advice of “making the best out of every situation”, “seizing every new day as a new opportunity” and “looking for the positives” because every situation will have a dust of gold for us, as long as we look hard enough for it. People tell others to stop complaining, to stop whining, to stop dreading certain days and situations. Because, you know, nothing is that bad. Clean up your act, woman up, grow a pair, think positive, change your mindset! It’s so fucking simple! What the fuck is wrong with you?!?
Well, bugger me, dear social media warrior turned expert of all walks of life! I had no idea it was that easy! I just have to think differently! That’s where I have been going wrong all my life. Damn it! Why didn’t I think of that before? Change your thought process. Rewire that brain! Simples! I wish I had had that valuable brain wave when, aged 8, my sister was ripped from me, just a year after my cousin died of suicide. So easy. Should have looked on the bright side. Somewhere, there was clearly something positive hidden. I obviously didn’t look hard enough. And my cousin, well, he clearly had no clue either. Silly boy. Lighten up young man!
I am sure all those people with anxiety and mental health issues couldn’t wait for some bright spark to tell them this easy trick. “Change your mindset, dumbass!” That easy! Fabulous! We are all cured! The thing is, such comments, also coined “toxic positivity”, as thoughtless and therefore meaningless they really are, can actually do a lot of damage. They devalue people’s experiences and feelings. Sure, some people do love a bit of drama and tend to fear the worst, but who are we to judge that their feelings don’t mean anything? Believe you me, when I was in a job where I got bullied and was exhausted and couldn’t see the wood for the trees, I tried harder than ever before to stay focused, positive and to learn as much as I could from that situation. I was still fucking miserable though and hated every morning when I drove to work, and cried most evenings on the way home. My mind was always hopeful. But it was also bloody miserable. And no, I couldn’t just hand in my notice and walk. I had and still have responsibilities, two young kids (back then a 6 month old baby and a 3 year old) and their dad who all depended on me financially. I lose my job, or I walk and I can’t keep a roof over our head. But yeah, lighten up woman, don’t make such a fuss.
A few weeks ago a young kid told me, sobbing their heart out, that they missed their grandparent so much. They’d lost them to cancer. On top of that, they felt unloved, unwanted and totally out of place. Do you think I told the kid to “seek the positives” and “change their mindset”? Of course I didn’t! I was honest with them. I told them that we can do hard things (thanks Glennon Doyle) and that things would, one day, get easier. They asked me if I could promise that. I denied. No, I couldn’t promise that. Most likely, they would always miss their grandparent and I also had no recipe for a tough time at school. But I told the kid I was here for them. They weren’t alone.
Compassion and empathy are, so it seems at times, rarities in our society that hides behind a screen and a keyboard. We mustn’t forget that everyone is fighting a battle, everyone is carrying some baggage. For some of us, most days are fine. For others, most days are a total struggle. For example, I admit that most days are really tough for me. The demands from my kids, from life, from my jobs, my self employment, the demands of myself and my vision of what I should do next all lie heavily on my shoulders. I have so many responsibilities, it sometimes takes my breath away. So no, life is not a walk in the park where I jump out of bed every morning and go skipping around, actively looking for the positives. Most days I don’t have time to think. I just do and jump from one thing to the next, because that is reality as a parent, a woman working two jobs, a mature student, a partner, an adult with lots of financial obligations.
So next time you feel judgemental, think again. Next time you want to tell someone to “always look on the bright side of life”, have some consideration. If your life is like that, how amazing! I am really, genuinely happy for you. But it’s not reality for many people. So don’t sit on your high horse and tell us how to snap out of it. There is always much more to it.
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.