Mindfulness, Well-being

A Journey out of Lockdown

So, here in England lockdown restrictions are now easing.  I’m not too sure what the rules are any more, as they change from day to day and there is very little clarity, but that is by the by.  All I know is that from Monday 6th July restrictions lifted to the point that you can now go and visit other households and stay over with them.  Result.  I haven’t seen my parents since February – just before lockdown as I remember my Dad telling me what a load of old rubbish it was and no-one was ever going to make him stay inside.  We’ve been through a bit since then, including my shouting at them to tell them they had to stay in – whether they liked it or not – and all through the guilt of having their neighbours doing the shopping for them because I live two hours away.

So.  I booked my train ticket from Bristol to Stoke-on-Trent to visit them, before we fly back out to our apartment to Portugal.  I thought it was all fine and dandy.  I thought it was OK for me to go and see them.  I didn’t see the problem with it, nor did my Mum.  I had a good chuckle at the National Rail website which asked me if I was absolutely sure I couldn’t cycle or walk.  I guess I should have realised when I couldn’t hire a car, that things weren’t quite as normal in reality as they were in my head.

I always struggle going to stay with my parents.  It’s not something I particularly enjoy doing and have a tendency to build it up into more than it is and get myself into a dither beforehand at the best of times.  This time I thought I wasn’t doing that.  I thought I was managing it all really well.  I was doing my yoga and meditation every day, I was reading all the right things and I was trying to live from a viewpoint of love rather than fear, I was trying to maintain a high vibration.  Only I wasn’t.  I was actually just going through the motions and papering over the issues and thoughts that I probably knew were there, but I was failing to see them – or I didn’t want to see.   If I am honest, I was conscious that I was getting anxious – all of a sudden the flat was too messy and it had to be tidy and I do recall a moment of clarity when husband said he could see me getting quieter and quieter and was getting quite worried about me.  Sadly, husband has to watch me go through this each time I go to visit my parents as I build it up so much and get myself in such a state.  But what I hadn’t factored in this time was the cherry on the top of the cake that is Covid_19.

I knew I’d been living in a bubble.  I always knew there would come a point when I had to leave the bubble and it might not go so well, but I hadn’t connected that event to this trip – which in hindsight is more than a bit dim.  I wanted to be that person that breezed through the next phase of leaving lockdown without a care in the world.

The trip started out really well.  It was great.  I arrived at Bristol Temple Meads.  Got my water and magazine, found a coffee stand.  I should have worked it out at this point.  There was only one coffee stand open in Temple Meads – there are normally lots to choose from.  I made my way to the platform, which was empty and a bit odd, then got on the train, which was empty.  There were probably about 10 people on my carriage – the dream world of train travel – all of the perks with none of the drawbacks!

A very empty Bristol Temple Meads

Then I arrived at Birmingham New Street.  If you’ve never been to Birmingham New Street then it is normally packed.  There are usually people everywhere.  It’s loud, it’s busy, it’s a challenge to get to the platform for your next train within the time frame just because of the number of people.  There was nobody.  There was nowhere to get a coffee.  Nothing was open.  It was just myself, lots of staff and a handful of other daft people who were thinking that train travel was a good idea.  It was at this point that the panic started to seep in.  What was I doing?  Why was I here?   What was I thinking?

What I was thinking was that I hadn’t seen my parents since February and they were keen to see me and according to the latest rules it was safe to do so.  Why I was here was because I’m off to Portugal at the end of the month and won’t see them in real life for another 4 months or so.  I thought it was the right thing to do.   It was also at this point that I developed a cough.  I have hay fever and often have a bit of a tickle in my throat, but all of a sudden the desire to cough increased tenfold.  My mind was off.  I was taking the virus to Stoke-on-Trent, I was going to infect my parents.  All of the coping strategies I thought I had developed went out of the window and all I could think about was the desire to cough and so I started crochet like a mad thing to keep my mind occupied as much as possible.  For the first time during the Covid_19 pandemic I had a coronavirus meltdown.  

An even emptier Birmingham New Street

I got to Stoke-on-Trent and I could have cried when I got off the train.  The nice lady at the station had let my mum through the barriers so she could meet me on the platform.  Nothing quite prepared me for my mum who is of an age when leaving the house with full make up is a must, standing with her mask on.  It’s probably the first time I’ve ever thought of her being old – and following the rules so closely that she bumped elbows with me.  Although I did have to laugh at all the lipstick smeared all over the mask.  We lost Dad – which is fairly tragic in a 2 platform station, but we managed it – and then it really hit me that he wasn’t ready for me to visit.  He looked apprehensive, and uptight and not at all comfortable with the situation.

Although he denies it, my Dad has suffered with anxiety all of his life and as I’ve become older I can now appreciate that much of what caused his behaviours and actions as I was growing up were due to off the scale anxiety coupled with OCD.  Like me, he also likes to have an element of control – I think we all do, but that means different things to different people.  He really likes to be in control and struggles if he doesn’t.  I now also see that my main problem as a child was that I wasn’t easily controlled and fought against it at every opportunity.  At the minute control for him means cleaning everything to within an inch of its life with antibacterial wipes every day – including inside the car.  Going for a walk every day – just to get out of the house and keep himself busy.  He’s painting every surface in the house that will stay still long enough.  Then he cleans down with the anti-bacterial wipes again.  He picked up on my tickly cough within about 10 seconds.  ‘How long have you had that cough’? ‘What’s caused that?’  I told him it was hayfever, but by this point my desire to let out a hacking cough every 10 seconds had reached crisis point. 

We went for a walk to Trentham Gardens – Dad went for a walk around the Gardens, Mum and I went to look at the shops and had a cup of tea, outside and had a nice chat.  She was so thrilled I was there, an unexpected treat.  But my head was in full on panic mode by this point – there were too many people and I was going to give the virus to everybody – not just my parents.  The thoughts had taken hold of my head and they were rampaging.

I knew it was happening.  I knew it was out of control.  What I didn’t know was how to stop it.  All of the techniques I’ve learned went out of my head and didn’t seem to work.  I tried to ‘bag it’ for later, but it was too big to put into the bag.  I tried Tara Brach’s RAIN technique – but it was far too out of control for that to work.  I tried identifying the dominant fear, but that didn’t help either.  I was out of control – like an out of control train hurtling to the end of a very short track.  There was nothing for it but to crash.  Meanwhile the controlling the cough was becoming increasingly difficult.

The only workable solution was to phone husband, who was still in Bristol.  That isn’t ideal, having your wife in bits 125 miles away, but that’s the only solution I had to hand.  I know that getting the thoughts out helps.  I know that he helps me work through the thoughts and regain some sense of equilibrium – which in this case required some very sensible figures and probabilities around catching and spreading Covid_19 given the current levels in both Stoke-on-Trent and Bristol. Which he did and we decided that the best solution was probably for me to come home after the one night rather than staying for two – what I didn’t consider and probably should have was I could have booked a room at the local hotel, not half a mile away!

I managed the one night.  I managed to get through two lots of my parents taking their temperatures, to check they don’t have the virus.  I got through a night of repeats of quiz shows, where I knew a surprising number of the answers.  I actually slept, which is unusual when I am at their house, I made it through breakfast and another round of wiping down with antibacterial wipes.  I managed to control the cough as much as humanly possible.  The sigh of relief when I got out of the car at the train station was palpable.  Whilst mum was thrilled that I’d been to visit, I’m not sure it was really worth the impact on mine and my dad’s mental health.  He was in cleaning overdrive, and I was not in the best place either.  

So, what did I learn from this?  That I still have my moments when I can’t cope and can’t work out what to do.  But now I can spot the moments, and although I was worse than useless, at least I knew it was happening and that I needed to do something.  I was listening to Eckhart Tolle with Russell Brand on the train, and Eckhart Tolle said that being aware is a great step in the right direction – it shows some level of awareness.  Even if you can’t resolve the situation effectively, being able to see it and know that it’s a situation is a start.  I learned that whilst this did happen, the time between this meltdown and the last one is longer – I can’t actually remember the last time this happened, so I know that I have made progress.  I learned that I still have to work harder on my coping mechanisms in the moment.  This actually sounds more brutal than I mean it to – I clearly have to identify one thing or method that I can fall back on which is more beneficial than others.  At the minute I have too many and none worked effectively.  I learned that my husband is still my greatest supporter and back room staff all rolled into one.  I learned that I need to control the situation as much as my Dad does.  Again, according to Ekhart Tolle, the things that most upset you about other people are the things that are most dominant in yourself.  Whilst my version of control is very different to my Dad’s, I have been controlling my reaction to Covid_19 as much as he has:  I’ve been doing yoga and meditating; he’s been cleaning anything to within an inch of its life, but for both of us, being taken out of that comfort zone when we weren’t quite ready was a disaster in the making.  I learned that life has to be a lot more near normal before I try this again and next time, I will definitely hire a car and stay in a hotel, so we can manage seeing each other more effectively for all involved.   I learned that train travel on an empty train is a dream.  

What of the cough?  The one that was going to kill me and most of the inhabitants of Stoke-on-Trent.  Within a few hours of being back at home, it had gone. 

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