A very dear friend gave me this a few weeks ago. She’d drawn it especially for me.
I absolutely love it.
What a wonderful thing for a friend to do and, indeed say!
I’ll be honest. I didn’t recognise that person in the picture as me.
Perhaps partly because I don’t have much in the way of self-esteem.
But also because it doesn’t even come close to representing who I am right now.
I’ve had a particularly challenging time of it during the past 12 months.
Add in a terrifying, global disaster and I have been, understandably, a mess.
To boot, I certainly haven’t had a figure like THAT in a VERY long time, hahaha!
Rewinding to my last post four weeks ago, you may remember that I decided I wasn’t going to be a pandemic prisoner anymore.
I was determined not to let anxiety win.
I had to get my wonderful old, spirited self back.
In short, I knew that I wanted to look at least a little bit more like the girl in the drawing.
Around about the time I wrote my last post I had a moment of clarity.
I came to the conclusion that being an adventurer isn’t about the places that you happen to visit. It’s not about city breaks, island hopping, long-haul flights, back-packing, museums, street-food, throwing yourself off a cliff or white-water rafting.
No. Being an adventurer is all about attitude.
Being an adventurer means being an explorer – not just of the world but of life too.
I decided that, despite these terrible times, I was going to let life back in.
Yes, yes, I know it sounds corny! But cut me some slack and allow me to tell you what has happened during the past four weeks and how it has led me to the place where I currently am.
Okay – first off, and most importantly, I have left this flat EVERY SINGLE DAY for the past 28 days in a row.
Most notably I’ve done a few social things with other people.
Ever since March I’ve been talking on the phone with a very close friend every week. She’s a wonderfully lovely, gentle person who has been there for me through thick and thin. I only wish I could be as good a friend to her as she is to me.
On one of our calls I was quite cheeky; I invited myself to sit in her garden on an afternoon. I’m not one for pushing myself on people and, truth be told, I felt pretty terrible asking her if I could pop round but, as strong as I am, I’d got to the point where I just needed to do something which felt part-way normal.
I’m glad it asked because it was absolutely delightful – well, for me at least! The sun shone and there was tea and the most gorgeous lush green grass and wasps and chatter and all the things that there used to be. I may have overstayed my welcome but for that hour and a half, sitting in a chair in a garden, Covid-19 was the last thing on my mind.
A few days after that I also had a distance walk with a pal from work. I drove to her house and we took a wander through some nearby woods while having a really good natter. I don’t know her that well but I know that she’s a nice person. Our family lives are rather different but we seem to have similar values and opinions on things.
The woods were absolutely beautiful and we were so busy yakking about four months of family and work gossip that we didn’t really take much notice of where we were going. We were lost for a while but five miles later we finally made our way back to where we started.
It was a truly great evening.
I’ve also seen my family a couple of times. Once for a distance cuppa. Another time we met mid-way between them and me. I saw my nephews for the first time in months and months and we devoured distance ice cream. I had a Chocolate Magnum; they had Screwballs. Funny how Screwballs are still a thing. In fact if you think about it, ice cream hasn’t really changed that much at all over the past 40 years – Cornettos, Fabs, Cider Lollies. I still owe them the big trip to an ice cream parlour that I promised them instead of an Easter Egg. Yep the sprinkles, flake and strawberry sauce are still on ice (cream).
So I’ve had some fun times out in the past few weeks.
But aside from them, as fantastic as they were, I’ve also been finding my own way.
It hasn’t always been an arctic expedition.
Some days I’ve only gone to post a letter or to sit in my car on a rainy lunchtime.
But at the very least I’ve opened the flat door and ventured out to the world to do something or other every single day for four weeks. It might not sound like a massive thing to you but being stuck in a flat with no garden and crippling anxiety I consider this a massive achievement and one of which I am very proud.
Here are some of the things I’ve been up to.
I’ve been to the park quite a bit.
I’ve taken my coffee there in a morning before work, basking in a patch of sunshine and listening to the birdies bringing in the day.
I’ve taken my lunch there, dodging low-flying children and people who got a little bit close to me for my liking.
One evening I had a picnic there.
I’ve walked for miles and miles and miles exploring the many footpaths and fields, woods and water that, it turns out, are literally minutes from my door.
Before the pandemic I was walking 20+ miles a week and had set myself a goal to walk a thousand miles in 2020. That isn’t going to happen now. However I’m still pretty active – admittedly I puff and pant up hills a bit – and I feel strong when I’m walking, despite having gained a stone in weight during the past few months.
Once back indoors I’ve stopped watching TV and films and started reading more. I had come to the conclusion that I wasn’t able to read effectively because my concentration was shot but it turns out I’ve just been reading the wrong kind of books.
White Teeth is a brilliant, funny, incredibly observant, informative and occasionally dark read. I highly recommend it.
While I have reduced my screen time overall I have started to pick up again virtual events for which I had started to lose my appetite. I joined a couple of on-line talks/interviews with The Guardian newspaper – more to come in the next few weeks.
I’ve also seen my beloved Slow Readers Club in virtual concert a couple of times. Once at at Manchester Arena’s 25th Anniversary event. They played to a completely empty space. It was quite overwhelming and I don’t mind admitting that I had a bit of a cry when I saw it.
I also saw their live streamed gig from The Met in Bury. It was slightly strange, given the lack of audience, but it gave me the chance to have a drink and dance which I haven’t done in a while.
Concerts over I got my ass back in the kitchen.
I have baked bread.
Not bad to say it’s my first attempt since school and I was without any of the proper tools I needed for the job.
Of course, I’ve also bought MOUNTAINS of fruit and vegetables!
Also bread and honey and plants and sweeties and pizza and cheesecake and fish. The market seems to be going from strength to strength at the minute and it’s definitely my favourite ‘safe’ thing to do.
In my last post I said I was going to have another attempt at growing herbs. That I haven’t done. However, I did buy cacti. And I haven’t killed them. Yet!
I have also taken up the hobby that I was supposed to start in April.
Don’t judge me, okay. Listen out.
I’ve started painting pebbles. Pudsey Pebbles. I collect them on my walks and bring them home and daub them in paint.
I started with a few to put around the bottom of my plants.
And now I’ve started trying a few basic designs.
Of course they’re pretty juvenile – heck it’s something that an infant could do! I am possibly the least artistic person on the planet but I’ve come to the conclusion that is that it’s totally not necessary to be brilliant and gifted at something so long as it makes me happy.
I’ve discovered that putting on some gentle music, and using a brush to slop some paint about, getting it all over my hands, is incredibly relaxing. There is also, of course, something completely cosseting and comforting about doing something at age almost-50 that you used to do when you were five years old!
None of this probably seems that ground-breaking to you but for me all these tiny things have helped me to understand that I’m still the resourceful, resilient woman I always was.
Of course it hasn’t all been plain sailing. It’s a constantly changing and terrifying world at the moment.
The pubs reopened. I haven’t been in one but, anecdotally, I understand that situations are very different, depending on where you go. In some cases it’s a terribly civilised experience where the guidelines are being adhered to. In others it’s a free-for-all. I suppose on a personal level it’s just another one of those things that makes me feel like I don’t belong. Single and bubble-less I’m unlikely to venture to a pub or restaurant as things stand and instead I spend my Friday nights reading on Facebook about all the fantastic nights out my friends are having indoors and outdoors. No Prosecco and pizza or family barbecues for me. I’m okay with that, however. It mirrors real life.
Okay, here’s the big one.
Mask-wearing in enclosed spaces is now mandatory. This was something I struggled with until only a few days ago. Not because I was ‘anti-mask’ – far from it. Anything at all that protects ourselves and our loved ones can only be a good thing. If everyone wearing a mask saves just one person’s life, someone’s mum, dad, brother or sister, then it is absolutely worth it. I have taken my responsibilities during the pandemic very seriously – sticking to the rules, being overly-cautious in some cases. And I will continue to do so.
However, I was experiencing severe anxiety about the thought of wearing a mask. I had put one on and looked in the mirror and I felt nothing short of abject horror and panic.
I tried a reframing exercise.
I told myself that it would hide my multiple chins, that I’d save on lipstick, that I could mouth swear-words at people and they’d never know.
None of this helped very much at all.
So in the end I decided I just had to DO IT,
My inaugural outing was on Thursday of this week. I took the bull by the horns and myself off to Sainsburys Local to buy some lunch.
Two things helped.
Firstly, I sprayed the mask lightly with some of my favourite perfume. I had read that a comforting smell would help to ease anxiety.
Then I put on the mask and refused to look at myself in the mirror while I did it. This way I had absolutely no concept of how much of a fucking freak I looked.
I walked in to the shop and kept my breathing long and slow.
Long and slow.
Long and slow.
The perfume smelt good.
I was on this. It was fine.
And it WAS fine.
Better than fine. It was actually my least stressful outing of the past four months.
I ate my sushi and cut-price fruit salad in the car, getting black sesame seeds everywhere and spilling pineapple juice all down the front of my dress. It was just like old times!
The following day I had to go in to work for a meeting. The arrangements at the office were fantastic. I was talked through the new safety procedures by a manager and given a copy of a risk assessment which had been carried out. Signage was clear and there was plenty of space for everyone. I felt safe.
In fact I felt so safe that after the meeting and on my walk back to the flat I put on the mask and dropped in to a deli to pick up a sandwich for lunch. Again, well organised, no drama. I actually ended up with something I didn’t order – falafel and cheese and salad in a flattened panini?!? – but hey, who cares about the details. I did it. I went in a shop and ordered food while I looked like I was going to rob a bank and the world didn’t stop turning, such as it is at the minute.
You would think these things would be achievement enough, but oh no, I was on a roll!
Buoyed by a few small positive experiences, yesterday I ventured out again.
This time I went to Screwfix to collect some replacement tools which I had ordered in the hope that I might need them when I eventually leave this flat and have to put plugs on things or nails in walls.
I’ve only ever been to Screwfix once before, virus or no, mask or not, and it felt quite traumatic at the time so in effect this experience was really no different.
Tools safely in my tote bag, I then want on to do the bravest thing I’ve done in four months. And it felt like a MASSIVE adventure. Which in a way it was.
Ladies and gentlemen….
I WENT TO LIDL.
Not even Leeds.
Yes, I’m wetting myself in excitement because I went to fucking Lidl.
Now the reason why such a seemingly insignificant act felt like an amazing adventure to me is three-fold:
- I’ve only ever been in Lidl once before in my life and it was during my lunchbreak from work and I headed straight for the one particular item I had gone in for i.e. gin – to be drunk at Christmas (not that afternoon).
- Lidl is situated right on the edge of my town in a part I haven’t been to before. Walking in a new place felt good – almost like exploring a new city.
- It somehow reminded me of some of my more ‘authentic’ travels – when I’ve stayed in self-catering or private accommodation. I always find going to a foreign supermarket absolutely fascinating (what IS THAT?!) and although there were some familiar brands I was also amazed at how many things on the shelves made me feel like I was hundreds of miles away from home.
I’ll be honest. It wasn’t the most positive experience – very little signage, the hand sanitiser had run out and people weren’t that great with their personal space. However, I went late in the afternoon so it wasn’t too busy, the guy on the checkout was really super-lovely (told me not to stress when I got in a fluster packing my shopping – thank you so much, mister!) and best of all, when I got home with my bag of goodies – I discovered the bill total was only £20.00! WHAAAT?! Surely a mistake!
Going back to what’s worrying me. Most frighteningly of all, it seems that people think that social distancing is no longer a thing. Walking up a busy high street continues to be very daunting and pavements are ever a battle of wills. There are local lockdowns bubbling up here and there – most notably in my neighbouring beloved Bradford. The talk every day is of a second wave; I find this particularly disturbing because in my mind the first wave isn’t over yet.
And on a personal level some days it’s absolutely a total struggle just to step foot out of the flat.
Sometimes I am crippled with self-doubt and worry about the future.
How long will this last?
Will I ever be able to hug anyone ever again?
Will there come a time when I can pluck up the courage to go for a much-needed hairdo?
What happens when my work contract ends in a few weeks?
Will I ever travel again?
I’ve had nights where I have clutched my pillow and sobbed my heart out until I’ve fallen asleep.
I’ve had mornings where the dread has been so heavy I haven’t wanted to get out of bed.
I’ve had days of brain fog; my mind has point-blank refused to work and I’ve sat staring in to space, unable to move, paralysed with fear, doubt and self-loathing.
Despite all of this, it does feel like I am finally starting to dig myself out of a very deep hole and beginning to dust down and get polishing that person that was once me.
To close this post I’d like to tell you about a book I’ve just bought.
I’ve never owned anything quite like it before. It’s a book of blessings and it gives spiritual meaning to every day events as well as those which might only happen once or twice in a lifetime.
It’s the kind of book that you dip in and out of.
But the things within in that I have read so far are incredibly powerful.
I’d like to share this with you:
“Try, as best you can, not to let
The wire brush of doubt
Scrape from your heart
All sense of yourself
And your hesitant light.
If you remain generous,
Time will come good;
And you will find your feet
Again on fresh pastures of promise,
Where the air will be kind
And blushed with beginning.”
This blessing – and my experiences of the past four weeks – have started to make me much more like the girl in the drawing.
Right now she looks a bit like this:
I’m going to end this post with another quote from the wonderful John O’Donohue:
“Gradually, you will return to yourself
Having learned a new respect for your heart
And the joy that dwells far within slow time”.
Thank you for reading this belly-button gazing nonsense.
Better times are just around the corner, of that I am sure.
Much love to you all – particularly those of you who have my back. I only wish that I could be as great a person to you as you are to me. You know who you are.