Exercise, Healthy living, Well-being, Women's Health

Getting fit for free

This past week or so I’ve been getting a bit deflated, I’m not going to lie!  There seems to be a price for everything.

My inbox and Facebook feed has recently been filled with sale after sale after sale.  Buy a mindfulness course, buy a neuro-science course, buy a spirituality course, buy a yoga course, buy a Qi Gong course, buy a meditation course.  But then it suddenly hit me, why do I have to pay for all of this stuff, surely there has to be enough out there for free.  And so, I set off on my google search and sure enough there is plenty that is available that’s free of charge.

As you know, I have this mad fool dream of paddling across the sea on my paddle board, and there has been some progress as I have had a swimming lesson in the sea.  Sadly, since the aforementioned lesson I have been without a car, so have been unable to go for a second one, but believe you me, as soon as I can I will be going for a second swimming lesson in the sea as I progress towards my goal. The other thing that really needs to be improved in order to achieve my goal is to strengthen was is currently a very weak core, in a safe manner appropriate for a woman of a certain age!

You Tube is always a great place to start if you are looking for anything.   I already follow:

  • Yoga with Adriene
  • Yoga with Kassandra
  • FemFusion Fitness

After a short while searching I also came across:

  • Videos by Women’s Health Magazine
  • Walk at Home by Leslie Sansone
  • PopSugar fitness
  • The Body Coach – although some of his workouts are a bit beyond me at the moment

And since when did you need to pay money to meditate or pray, at the end of the day it involves sitting quietly on a chair or a school with a timer going, dependent on how long you wish to sit there.  You don’t have to download a fancy app with a million different types of meditations.  I’ve been reading ‘Untamed’ by Glennon Doyle and I read recently that Adele accredits the book for her dramatic recent shift in outlook on life.  Glennon herself says she started meditating by just sitting in her closet for 10 minutes a day, and after a while it became easier and she could sit for longer.  No fancy app, just sit.  

Another quote I read in ‘Untamed’ was ‘This life is mine alone’.  I am the only person on this planet with these skills, these talents, these people.  I am the only person living this experience, in this body, that’s this shape, with these health problems  – so what is the point in trying to be like someone else?  Of trying to make an exercise programme that’s designed for somebody completely different fit me as best as it can. There is absolutely no point at all, because I am not the same as everyone else and they aren’t the same as me – what suits one person is not going to suit another and a one size fits all really just doesn’t work that well.  Obviously, I am prone to over thinking and this set me off thinking about that old saying ‘keeping up with the Jones’.  You could have exactly the same things as your neighbours, same car, same house, same tv – but you can never be the same.  Ever.

You can apply this to everything – social media, marketing, exercise, everything.  The whole kit and kaboodle is based on us all being the same!  Where’s the point in that!

I found this to be incredibly refreshing!  

So, I have decided that I am going to try and get on to my paddle board for free!  Just by using free apps, or programmes, or pins on Pinterest and rather than just pay someone to tell me what to do I’m going to try to put together a programme that works for me.  A diet that works for me.  Not doing what someone else tells me I should be doing, especially as I am mindful of a weak pelvic floor, a need to build up my core and the ever-present fibromyalgia.  There are also so many opportunities for exercising free of charge in Portugal, walking, cycling, swimming, exercise equipment in the parks and I don’t have to worry about poor weather stopping me getting outside into the fresh air.

Having said that, I will still pay for swimming lessons in the sea – they are a need to get me on the paddle board, and I will still pay for yoga lessons, as this is also a social activity for me and having contact with the other members of the class is beneficial to my mental health.  I am sociable by nature, so I do need to have some human interaction.  I also appreciate that I am in a fortunate situation in that I already have trainers, a good sports bra, a bike and access to technology to do the online exercises, so don’t have to spend money on bits of equipment to get going.  Beyond that, I am going to reward myself with a €1 a day for exercising and will spend that money on equipment should I need to replace anything during the course of the challenge.  In an ideal world I would complete a Personal Trainer instructor course so that I can safely advise other women of a certain age, how they could add exercise in to their lives in a safe and consistent manner, but that’s just out there for the universe to decide at the moment so in the meantime, I shall just share what I’m doing and the progress I am making.I’m just off to unsubscribe from all of the sales emails in my inbox and am quite excited by the challenge of finding new and different ways to improve my fitness, without creating a huge hole in my bank balance. 

Happiness, reflection, Spirituality

How Deep is your Faith?

To use the words of the fabulous Robbie Williams, ‘I sit and talk to God’.  On a fairly regular basis to be honest, passing the time of day, discussing what’s going on.  For a long time I have avoided this topic as I know it turns many people off. But, as part of an online course I’ve been doing, I’ve been encouraged to speak my truth – just put it out there – because what’s the worst that could possibly happen?  Much like my Grandparents, I have a deep, rich faith that guides me in everything that I do, like a core of steel that runs through my middle.  I will also admit for a few years now I have tended to avoid it, and pretend it’s not there, and treat it as an inconvenience, not something to be cherished.  I have reached the point where I want to own it and share it.  I’m not going to stand in the middle of the town with my microphone pretending I’m on speakers corner!  I must admit, and I probably shouldn’t, that some of the best comedy moments in the centre of Bristol occur as a result of such speakers.  There is normally an avid audience of drunk, surprisingly knowledgeable homeless people sitting watching and giving their thoughts on the various points raised.  Nor, am I going to try to convert anyone!  For me faith is a quiet, private thing, that just fills my being, makes me who I am and influences how I live my life.

There have been various moments in my life when this has been evident.  The main one was in November 1997 when I found out it was highly unlikely that I would have children.  I knew in that moment, with a certainty right through my being that this was meant to be.  I don’t think I have ever been so certain of anything in my life.  (The day I met my current husband probably ranks up there as well, but that’s a whole other story).  I was never offered IVF, nor did I request it, but I’m afraid I knew and still know that there is a reason for everything and whilst I’m not sure I will ever know the reason why, having my own child wasn’t going to be a feature of my life.  Obviously, not agreeing with IVF is a difficult path to tread and so I tend to steer well clear.  As the saying goes ‘different strokes for different folks’.  But when I got asked the question, which I frequently did, as to why I didn’t have children and why I hadn’t gone for IVF, I got more than a few raised eyebrows when I said I didn’t believe in it!  Yes, I know I could have adopted too – but it’s not quite that straight forward and at the time when I was of an age where I would have considered it, I wasn’t in the ideal situation to adopt, further evidence that for whatever reason, children weren’t meant for me.  My favourite discussions on this topic were with children I taught.  I never shied away from the facts of why I wasn’t a mother but the best thing I ever heard from a student was ‘Well, that’s a shame Miss, you would have made a great mum’!  Unfortunately, as the years have gone by I have begun to doubt my initial reaction, with the constant questioning (because apparently, as a woman, the only thing in life that matters is having children) the constant bombardment of family focussed living, the numerous friendships that ended because our lives were headed in different directions – nobody’s fault, it’s just the way life is. Gradually as I found myself increasingly isolated I did begin to question my faith and my initial certainty that being childless was meant to be.

There is also the issue of having a purpose in life.  I won’t be leaving my mark on this world in the way most people do – that of having a child or grandchildren to remember them by.  This is where a lot of my seeking and searching stems from, that I must leave my mark on the world.  Like it or not, there is still so much pressure on people who don’t have children – people say there’s not, but 9 times out of 10 they have children.  So much of life today seems to be based on making your mark, making a difference, having a purpose, achieving your true purpose in life.  I have probably tried my hands at most things since I stopped teaching in 2015, trying to find that ‘thing’ which will give me a purpose in life.  But when you don’t know what that might be, it all becomes a little bit tricky.  If you add in very bad FOMO and raging impatience it all becomes even harder!  !  I struggle with trusting and waiting.  I want to know now!  I want to know why I didn’t have children, I want to know what my life’s purpose is and I want the answers now.  So, I seek and seek and seek a bit more to try and find the answers – rather than just sit and trust and enjoy where I am now.  I start a million things, but finish very few. I do very much fear that I’ve missed out on having a purpose, I might have already done it – maybe teaching was my purpose, maybe it’s yet to come – who knows, but I really, really would love to know and find trusting that I will know very difficult and incredibly frustrating and exceptionally slow!

As a consequence of not having children I’ve had to develop other ways of engaging in conversation with other people. You know how the conversation goes. ‘What’s your name?’, ‘Where do you live?’ ‘Do you have children?’ ‘No’. Oops, drawn a blank, move on. So, I can now talk to anyone, about anything and it doesn’t have to relate to children.  It’s not really a skill I realised I had until I was chatting to a friend recently who said, ‘It’s all right for you, you never had children, you can talk to anybody about anything’.  Whilst I ignored the ‘not-so-subtle’ slight at the start of the sentence it did make me realise that actually, I can do that, I can chat to anyone about anything and I am not particularly intimidated by walking in to a room full of people where I know no one.  Handy hint, football gets you a long way in this world and if you listen to the headlines on Radio 5 you will find out all you need to know about what’s current in any sport!  I have also done so many things that I wouldn’t have done if I’d been a mother – I wouldn’t have been a teacher, I wouldn’t have competed in triathlons, or run half marathons or visited any of the places that I’ve been fortunate enough to go to.  I wouldn’t have learned to make my own way in the world.  I have had to face up to my fear of the world every day and just get out there and get on with life.

Before we left Bristol for Portugal I gave the Coffee Boys who had kept us going through lockdown a thank you card.  Husband commented at the time that not many people would have bothered with that.  But I felt it was important that they understood the difference they had made to us at a difficult time.  The Coffee Boy was a bit bemused when I gave the card to him, but then after I’d explained what it was, his face lit up.  There was another chap that went to the coffee hut occasionally.  A lovely chap, and in keeping with my ability to chat to anyone, one day I asked him if he’d like a cup of coffee.  He was so shocked that a stranger would offer a cup of coffee and bizarrely I was the second in that week – so he clearly had something about him!  But sometimes that’s all you need in a day, a stranger to talk to you, to offer you a cup of coffee, just to know that someone noticed you that day – it turned out that he did live on his own and he came to the coffee hut, just to get out and see somebody different.  We spoke to him regularly after that, but I never did get to buy him a cup of coffee – but he did give me a thank you note which I stuck in my journal.  I also wrote letters to people during lockdown – so they had a nice piece of post coming through their letterbox to brighten their day.  

Perhaps that is my purpose in life, just to make someone smile every day, and do you know, I’d be happy with that.   Perhaps it doesn’t have to be grand at all. I also need to trust more, trust myself, trust that everything does happen for a reason and that I am in the place that I am meant to be.  Trust in my faith, trust that it will stand me in good stead in both the good times and the bad, and I also trust that when I do talk to God, he doesn’t laugh at my plans.  I just wish he’d be a bit quicker with the answers!  Although, as a friend of mine recently said, ‘God does seem to work to tight deadlines’.

Happiness, reflection, Spirituality

Should Says …..

Should says many things.  We live in a world of should and over the years the words of should have echoed in my ears and constrained the way I have lived my life.

  • I should try harder
  • I should work harder
  • I should be a mother (sadly I’m reaching an age where I should be a grandmother)
  • I should be quiet and I should also be louder or at the very least I should speak up more
  • I should sit still
  • I should grow up
  • I should be a good wife / daughter / sister
  • I should put the needs of others before my self
  • I should have a bigger house, car, TV, better phone
  • I should want more yet at the same time I should be content with what I have
  • I should be more ladylike
  • I should behave appropriately whilst I should also let my hair down a bit – I’d probably be more fun if I did
  • I should exercise
  • I should be thin
  • I should be on a diet
  • I should drink less and I should also drink more
  • I should expect less whilst I should aim high
  • I should have a successful career but I should also be nice
  • I should be a senior leader
  • I should be outstanding
  • I should be faster
  • I should look a certain way. I should have long hair. I should wear longer and shorter dresses.
  • I should get a tan, get a bit of colour
  • I should let go a bit, let my hair down, have a good time
  • I should be on social media. I should post 3 times a day for optimum engagement.
  • I should have more money of which I should donate more
  • I should get a job and I should volunteer
  • I should care less what other people think

It’s that last point that brings me to where I am today.  I’ve wrapped myself, no, I’ve bound myself, with all of these ‘shoulds’ that have bombarded me, and sadly, are becoming bigger and faster and more frequent in this modern world and I’ll be the first to admit myself that I’ve struggled to work out what matters and what doesn’t.  I have tried so hard to be everything I should be to everyone I should be.  Over the past month I’ve been doing a course with an Intuitive Guide that I found quite by accident at the beginning of lockdown and I find myself at this point, where I realise that in by focusing on should I have actually neglected who I am and what matters to me.  I’ve reached the point where the ‘shoulds’ that have bound me have been torn apart and my heart is poking through to say hello to the world.

I can name on one hand those people who have made it through the binds that wrapped me up so tightly.  The people who have laughed with me, cried with me, run, (cycled and swum) slowly with me, drunk soft drinks and Prosecco with me, sworn with me, eaten cake with me (and often encouraged me to eat more cake), talked with me, filled my head with fascinating facts and discussed things with me, explained things to me when my maths brain couldn’t cope, travelled with me, who haven’t cared if I was fat, thin, tall, short, that have encouraged me to be more, do more, aim higher, have more of what makes me smile.  Those people who’ve taken the time to find out more, to understand more about me, to go beyond appearances and dare to find out what it is that makes me tick.  Those people who’ve seen me at my worst and at my best.  Those people who really don’t understand what goes on in my head at times, but are still there, regardless.  Those people who’ve shared the best and worst of their lives with me and who still continue to inspire me every day.  

For a bit there I taught sociology to A Level and I will never forget the words of Erving Goffman who talked about the stages that we perform on throughout our lives and that we are never truly alone.  There is always someone that we are performing to and if we are not performing we are rehearsing for our next performance or critiquing our last performance – so even when we are alone we struggle to be ourselves.  The world of should feeds this and with the onset of social media and the internet, we are bombarded with a constant stream of ‘shoulds’, even down to how clean your house should be and things change so quickly, so regularly, life is temporary, throw away. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to be yourself, or stand out from the crowd, or even disappear from the crowd!  The props of life seem to be getting more and more and at the same time seem to be increasingly more important that life itself. 

So, what happens to a person who doesn’t want to live in a world of should.  I shall tell you. They are ridiculed, they are made to feel lesser than and bullied, as if there is something not quite right with them.  They are encouraged to change, to be more normal, to fit in a bit more, not draw attention to themselves quite so much, reign it in a bit, essentially to stop being who they are – primarily because it makes life easier for other people.  I remember I was running with some friends once, we were chatting away at the back of the pack, but careful to be in front of one woman who we always had to be ahead of and a chap commented that if we stopped chatting we could knock minutes off our times.  But where’s the fun in that?  Why should the only reason for entering a race be the result, why shouldn’t it be about the chit chat, the good bag at the end, the cup of tea and the cake!  The most fascinating people I know and have met along the way are those who quite regularly put two fingers up to should – who dare to be bold and dare to live life on their terms – and how often I’ve wished I could be more like them, but the bounds of ‘should’ were wrapped so tightly I couldn’t quite see how I could ever break free.

I’ve set myself a challenge.  To step out from the world of should, to let my heart shine, to do those things that make me smile, that truly make my heart sing and to finally stick two of my own fingers up to ‘should’.

  • It will be noisy and quiet in equal measure
  • It is both exciting and terrifying
  • It will involve the sand, the sea and the stars
  • There will definitely be music and dancing and laughter (and probably the odd tear or two)
  • There will be a yoga mat and a meditation stool
  • There will be swimming and cycling and God willing a bit of very slow running
  • There will be science and spirituality (although my brain will more than likely be a bit challenged by the science bit)
  • There will be writing and making and creating accompanied by swearing
  • There will be dreaming and twirling
  • There will always be cake

But most of all there will be more of me.

 

Happiness, reflection, Spirituality

Surrender

During lockdown I underwent a bit of a spiritual journey.  I’ve always been a bit inclined towards the spiritual, as I have mentioned before, but lockdown provided me with more of an opportunity to read and to reflect.

I’ve read about Archetypes, received Intuitive Guidance, Intuition, Yogic philosophy along with some science based, meta physics theories such as the Heart Math Institute.  I’ve always been a bit of a seeker, which according to Caroline Myss in her book ‘Sacred Contracts’ refers to a person ‘who searches on a path that may begin with earthly curiosity but has at its core the search for God and/or enlightenment ….. in search of wisdom and truth wherever it is to be found’.   This clearly explains the books I have read, picking one up, reading it, then reading something else on a tangent, each time trying to find the answers – to what exactly, I don’t know. The shadow of this archetype me describes to perfection, especially since I finished working in 2015, ‘the ‘lost soul,’ someone on an aimless journey without direction, un-grounded, disconnected from goals and others’.  

I guess there has been a part of me that has been looking for a purpose, for answers, for direction, for a lightbulb moment that would tell me I’m on the right path, but equally I have been looking for a quick fix and rather than get off my increasingly ample backside and put some effort in to something I’ve continued to seek to find the answer somewhere else.  It has not gone unnoticed, that If I’d actually put some effort in 5 years ago, rather than trying to find the easy solution I could well be a millionaire by now!

I have found one piece of evidence in my defence.  In Yanik Silver’s Cosmic Journal he brings up the topic of books – that certain books arrive on your radar at certain times and they themselves lead you on a voyage of discovery.  Whilst one specific book might not be the one for you, it leads you to read another book, which might be more of interest to you.  I am clinging on to this with dear life, as I have read some belters recently, that really aren’t worth re-visiting!

Essentially, they all boil down to much the same thing.  That any decent person, worth their salt, approaches life from a perspective of love rather than fear and is conscious of the role that their ego, and the egos of those people around them play in every day life.  It does become quite an enjoyable past-time as well as giving you space to breathe and consider your own response to a situation as it unfolds.  For example, you might be the victim of road rage.  We’ve all been there, we may even have been the road rage champion, I know I have in the past!  You are driving along quite happily and then for some reason you are been beeped at, or on the receiving end of an obscene gesture.  Rather than responding in kind, just take a moment, step back and consider the ego of that person.  What is happening in their day to make them this unhappy and fearful?  What is happening in their home lives or their lives in general that they consider this is an appropriate way to behave?  Whilst it may appear a little airy-fairy, it does genuinely help in the moment to stop and consider that.  If you can throw in a bit of Ho’oponono as well, then that’s even better! 

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

But I digress!  Whilst I’ve been doing all this reading and seeking the same thing keeps coming up time and time again, just surrender, just let it go.  Husband is regularly asking me ‘Why does it matter?  Why does it matter how somebody else is behaving, it has no impact on your life, so why do you care’?  Last week I went to a meditation class here in Portugal and at the end of the class pulled a card from ‘Whispers of Lord Ganesha’  and the card I picked was surrender, again.

Part of the problem is I don’t know how to surrender.  Surrender to who?  Surrender to what?  How do you even begin to surrender?  Whilst I whole heartedly believe in the universe and that there is something bigger than me out there – I’m not in a position as yet where I am ready to call it God.  God Consciousness is about as close as it gets.  I listened to Russell Brand interviewing Ricky Gervais earlier this week and felt I was in a similar boat – for me God = organised religion = indoctrination and doesn’t reflect my beliefs in the slightest.  As I look back on my life, however, I can see a consistent inability to surrender to anything.  I’m the bull-at-a-gate type.  Jump in with both feet first, guns blazing and then stop to think.  Anger first, stand your ground, don’t give in, fight your corner.  I realise that I am continually tense, continually expecting the next battle – assuming everything will be a battle rather than just taking things as they come.  I’m constantly anticipating the next crisis, getting involved in the latest gossip, trying to muscle my way in to things to have some level of influence, some level of control.  I’ve always been like this, as a child, my sister used to ask me ‘Why can’t you just let things be, why do you always have to cause an argument?’.  I suppose I was trying to stand my ground, fight my corner, especially in the face of what I perceived to be an injustice.  I was much the same as a teacher, constantly fighting for my students – for some reason I have turned life into a battle – my ego in overdrive and this has become the norm.  Fighting is my normal.  So, this is where I need to surrender, to stop the fighting and just let go, just be, let people behave the way they want to, but I don’t have to turn everything into a battle, nor do I have to be involved in everything.  Even when I do a full body scan meditation, I have no feeling in my arms, it’s like they are constantly prepared to fight.  I also know, from research about my physical body that being tense is no good for you – it causes inflammation in the body and all sorts of minor ailments that build up to a bigger whole over time.  I’m fairly confident that my fibromyalgia / back pain is actually down to my pelvic floor being too tense and as a consequence the muscles in and around my lower back just aren’t functioning or moving as smoothly as they might.  

Photo by Ylanite Koppens on Pexels.com

I also believe that I am a ‘victim’ almost of the western lifestyle.  I should be successful, I should be earning money, I shouldn’t be content to just be a wife, I should be working hard, I should be achieving, and so I am constantly seeking, striving for something more, something better – but I don’t have any idea what that might be, so I am just feeling my way through the dark just hoping that something will come up that gives me purpose, that gives me direction.  There are so many things I love to do and make me very content – but they aren’t the types of things you ‘should’ be doing in life and they are certainly unlikely to generate an income any time soon.  My own ego is totally wrapped up in being successful, but in my heart, success for me is just being content and happy with what I have, but it seems to be increasingly at odds with the world around me.  Only this week, Body Shop have announced they will be launching their Advent Calendars on 25th August – what’s that about?  Since when did we even need a Body Shop Advent Calendar, let alone in August.  So, I battle with myself – between my ego which is wrapped up in should and have, and my heart which is just content to stay at home and crochet. In my heart I really do struggle to understand the desire to have more and more ‘stuff’ as evidence of success in life. What’s wrong with just being content with what you have.

So, I have to try to surrender, which sounds a bit odd and like I am even turning this into a battle ground!  I am trying to surrender.  When I feel myself tensing up or getting ready to fight, in the instance I do the Micro Method from the Institute of Intuitive Intelligence to identify the fear and turn myself from a state of fear to love.  It’s amazing how much in life is carried out from a position of fear, but the ego thrives on the drama of fear.  I try Heart Congruence, I try to turn the situation around and see how I might approach it from a place of love rather than fear.  I find Ho’oponopo works really well, especially when applied to a large group of people behaving in a way that I find challenging, such as the continual queue outside Primark, or the madness that is Christmas, or the skateboarders who seem to revel in destroying the environment around them.  I try to understand why it is I am so enraged in the first place – it always stems from a place of fear, of learned behaviours over time, so that fighting has become my norm, even in situations where there is absolutely no reason.  I guess the key thing is I am learning to find ways to turn off the anger switch and just consider, for a moment, that there might be an easier and better way to navigate through life and that I can’t actually solve all the problems in the world.  There comes a point where you have to surrender, and just let it go.  Or, as Adriene Mischler would say, from Yoga with Adriene, ‘Just trust the process’.  

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.