People, I hang my head low as it’s been four weeks since my last blog. Oh my, this is sounding incredibly like the intro to a confession! My level of shame at not delivering the content at the promised rate is high right now. Although, in balance, equally high is my level of excitement at being back at the laptop and tap-tap-typing again. To be honest, I have never been far away from being able to come up with the subjects to write about. The problem since the beginning of March was the need to focus on our house-to-boat move. It should have taken place on Saturday 28th March but due to the current coronavirus lockdown, the UK are in, it has been postponed.
A bold move
Our move from three-bedroomed house to 40ft narrowboat life is, in some people’s eyes a bold move. A brave decision, to step away from the security of a ‘proper’ house with reliable warmth, storage and neighbours we know, into a world of gentle bobbing, closeness to nature, tranquillity, small spaces, slow living and simplicity. It will mean that I will be closer to my mother – to arrive at her house ready to help her, with my own thoughts clear and alert; body and mind rested and only an hour’s journey. Not such a long trip to wear me down but also long enough that I can collect my thoughts or listen to my favourite podcast of the day.
Only a crystal ball would have helped
The coronavirus, the novel strain of which we are currently concerned with being COVID-19, has thrown a whole new curveball into our plans. I realise we are not alone, as it has for many millions more, besides. My husband and I should have moved to the boat in January but we held back because there was still more work needed at the house, in order to be able to rent it out. We both wanted to avoid any extra pressure being put onto Mike, so we decided it wouldn’t cause any harm to wait a little longer. Now, in the wake of the official enforced confinement, people shop like ants – regimented and orderly, maintaining a strict two metres distance apart.
Along with those wearing disposable gloves and others who are lucky enough to have acquired a face mask, we scuttle about the shops, avoiding and moving around each other strategically, like playing pieces in a human game of chess. How could we have known we would be experiencing travel and movement restrictions, rationing (of sorts) and a growing, tangible public unease about this virus pandemic that has spread across the globe like a wildfire?
Work, as we know it has ceased
Having been on lockdown for a week now, while reorganising our mostly empty house to make it liveable for us to camp in (which is not unlike glamping I suppose!), it has given me more opportunity to think and consider how I feel about this new ‘normal’ we have been thrown into. It would have been so easy for me to sink into a deep pit of despair; wailing out my tears about how unfair life is, how anxious I feel and ruminate about how we will cope. As a supply teacher, I am no longer working. Mike, who is self-employed is now on recommended self-isolation due to being ‘at risk’, so is not working either.
Our empty house would have had a new tenant as of last Saturday. The virus forced him to close his business, which left him financially unable to move. Our holiday cottage was up for sale, a potential buyer found and progress was being made. The potential buyer has now stepped back due to the financial climate, as a result of COVID-19. The lettings aspect of the cottage is now also closed for business. All the bookings for this period have been transferred to dates much later in the year. There is no money coming in yet we, like so many others, will learn to make do and survive. That is what we are good at.
There are positives
Inside all of these tatters of our ‘normal’ life, what do we have left? Actually, I’m pleased to say there is a heap of positives. I have learned over the years that to recognise the good in people and in all situations, is a solid coping mechanism. “Out of every adversity comes a benefit to an equal or greater degree” – Lyndon Barry taught me that one thirty years ago and I have never forgotten it. Thanks, Lyn! Apply this rule to EVERY negative, sad, scary and unpleasant scenario that you have ever been faced with. For those of you who struggle with this concept, I challenge you to sit for a moment and consider this. Try to find something positive out of a past, terrible situation you may have been in. I am absolutely certain you’ll do it, though it may be difficult to find anything at all in, to begin with. Even with something as terribly sad as a death, there is usually something good that comes as a result of that – whether it be a message or lesson you learned or the reuniting of family members who have been out of touch for many years.
Apply this rule to our Corona Days and instead of seeing the bigger picture of our life plans as a total car crash, I can begin to break each day down into manageable segments by searching for the good in each day. Think of it like a chocolate orange – you could never digest a whole, solid chocolate orange in one mouthful – not even the biggest chocoholic or sweet tooth could do that. It is simply impossible. HOWEVER, if you spend time tapping the chocolate orange to break it down (this is the thinking) and then separate into individual segments, the task of digesting that whole orange becomes much more palatable. It works through a gentler process of a system of thinking (tapping) and popping one segment into your mouth at a time. It tastes sweet, is much more manageable and the rest can, if you wish, be left wrapped up to one side to deal with at a later time.
The other positives are, and without meaning to sound cheesy – we do at least have one another. I realise there are many people who are self-isolating who have no-one living with them and perhaps only a few visitors. I would hope that there are caregivers visiting and that neighbours who used to pop in once in a while might be able to telephone instead. We are lucky to have some super neighbours around us – one couple in particular brought us a bed yesterday so we could at least see out our lockdown with a bit more comfort than a blow-up bed! Our next-door neighbour works for a large, well-known DIY store and today he gifted us a stack of house and garden plants which were being given away to staff, as a result of the enforced closing of DIY stores across the country. This will fill our immediate life with colour and an excuse to go out into the garden to weed and plant. As long as I am still living here, I have my garden and I can tend to this as I feel the need. I absolutely appreciate the benefit this gives to me, both physically and mentally.
At least we CAN go outside
Other positives: we have not lost the opportunity to go outside to exercise and can do this once per day. Let’s just put that into perspective – if this was a war zone, we may not be able to go out AT ALL. Importantly, we have the blessing and gift of TIME itself, to stop and appreciate the spring flowers and the birds, the skies and the sound of the trees is a huge luxury I have not been used to for an immensely long time. It used to be called listening, or meditating… now it’s mindfulness and recognised as an important activity to keep us mentally healthy.
Each day throughout these Corona Days, I have promised myself I will keep a journal. This is proving to be hugely helpful, especially as I have made the conscious decision now to start and end each entry with something I feel grateful for. Even if it was a hard day, finding the good in that day is a more positive mindset on which I can drift off to sleep. If I am writing in the morning, it’s a much better way to springboard into the rest of the day. It also gives me a sense of routine and routine is most definitely key to keeping our spirits up and our minds busy.
The book of lists
Lists have proven to be helpful too – not just an endless list of things I should be doing (although I do have this too!) but a Book of Lists. I attribute this idea to my daughter, Laura, who has been keeping a Book of Lists for about four years. This type of list-making gives you the permission to sit and think about ‘all the bands you’ve seen’ or ‘best books read’, ‘a festival kit list’, or ‘summer holiday to-dos’. Laura said it was interesting for her to look back over these lists and discovered that for four years, she had been repeatedly writing ‘make curtains’ on her list. It was a recurring pattern of writing it down and never having time to actually do it! Last week, she finally made those curtains.
The power of satisfaction and a positive approach
There is a powerful sense of satisfaction that fills us when we succeed in completing a task on a list and I’m pretty sure it releases good chemicals into the brain too. There is a part of our brain that is kept busy while thinking about, compiling and writing those lists… instead of worrying about coronavirus or whatever other angst fills our days currently. We cannot change what is happening in the world at present. We, therefore, have to fulfil our responsibilities of being safe and keeping others safe and then simply accept that without the power to make any changes, we have to shift our mindset to a more balanced and positive approach. Those around you will thank you for this outlook too.
There is a prayer that I’ve heard crop up, time and again recently and find it so pertinent towards prompting us to make those positive changes in our lives.
“Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.”
12 Steps to help you cope with your corona days
- I urge you to seek help through any means possible – private message, text, telephone or a face-to-face chat with someone – yes, even at two metres distance if necessary if they do not live with you.
- Do try to get outside when you can, if you can. It will make some difference within your daily outlook. Walk, run, cycle and consider sleeping in your garden – in a tent, under a tarp or in a bivvy, if you have one. We did and it was wonderful medicine!
- Keep to a routine, like actually getting dressed and not lounging around all day! Try to do certain activities at the same time every day.
- Create yourself a list of activities to fall back to, particularly for when your mind is racing and you feel unable to think of anything.
- Create a mind-map or spider diagram to help sort and prioritise the thoughts you are having.
- Consider drawing, colouring or painting as a great meditative activity and often with a beautiful end result as a bonus.
- Keep a journal, diary, blog or simply create a daily social media post, perhaps with a photo.
- Make sure you wake up and go to sleep consciously thinking about what you feel grateful for.
- Take a look online for people offering free courses in creative, physical or spiritual areas. There are lots out there at the moment.
- Get started on reading those books you just have not had time to pick up for years!
- Think of others who you know are suffering or feel isolated currently. Send a notelet or postcard to a different person each day or each week. The act of writing will help you out and receiving the card or notelet will give them a boost too.
- Take a look at my post ‘How to Lift a Mood When Injury Strikes Pt 2’ – there are lots of ideas on here about how to deal with enforced confinement. This was written following my ‘ski-knee’ accident in April 2019.
A temporary situation
This current environment we find ourselves in is temporary and one day, we will be able to return to our usual routines. We may even be better equipped and more socially and emotionally intelligent as a result of our lockdown experiences too.
As I close for this week’s blog, remember my metaphor from earlier; these times are like dealing with a chocolate orange. Don’t try to handle it all in one go… one piece at a time is far better for you and much less painful!