Mindfulness, Well-being

A month without FaceBook

Just over one month ago I took the decision to de-activate my Facebook account.  Sadly, I couldn’t totally delete facebook because that means you also lose messenger, and like it or not, it is a great way of keeping in contact with people.  So I did the best I could and de-activated my account.

Why?

Because I’m not really all that sure that it’s all that good for my mental health.  The problem isn’t the pretty pictures of other people who are living fabulous lives that might be more fabulous that mine.  No.  It’s the adverts.  The sneaky adverts.  Especially adverts for things like planners, or based on spirituality, or a quick fix for mental health.  Then I’m off down a rabbit hole, researching, reading, buying another book, trying to work out what this person can do to help me, that the last one couldn’t, when in actual fact none of them can help me because I’m stuck in this rabbit hole and actually just need to come up to the surface and take a breath.  Take a look around.  Take a rest.  Just be myself for a bit.

So.  Facebook went.  And what have I learned?

I learned just how much time I spent on Facebook.  How many times I just reached for my laptop and before you know it a good hour or two had disappeared into oblivion and I had achieved precisely nothing.  There are still some days, especially after lunch when I do still sit and wonder what am I going to do now – how am I actually going to fill this eternity of time that is ahead of me. I no longer have the Facebook drug and I’ve come to realise that I used it in much the same way as you might alcohol, or shopping, or cake, or chocolate. Something that fills the void, something that papers over the cracks. I’m starting to spend more time peering in to the cracks and acknowledging what’s there.

This month has also seen me travel back from Portugal to Bristol for the Christmas holidays.  I wanted to spend them here this year.  So for the first 10 days or so of my Facebook detox I started to take a walk in that post lunch slump. The time when I am most likely to reach for the laptop and peruse Facebook  The weather was still beautiful but cooler and so all activity no longer had to be crammed into the first two hours of the morning. So I walked, not far, but far enough to get out and have a change of scenery. Since we have been back in Bristol, this has taken a bit of a back seat and I do still find myself reaching for my laptop after lunch. Getting out for a daily walk is definitely an activity I need to re-introduce as it keeps me sane and perks me up in the afternoon.

Walking in Albufeira

As ever, I’ve read a book ‘Love Yourself Like Your Life Depends on It’ by Kamal Ravikant. He recommends using a mantra that you repeat to yourself over and over, during meditation, while you’re out and about, when you’re in a sticky situation. I chose ‘I trust and love myself’. I’m not sold on this, but happy to give it a try! Besides that he recommends:

(a) simplifying everything (and boy do I need to simplify) and stop overcomplicating life.  Life doesn’t need to be anything like as complicated as I can make it.

(b) being consistent (not a strength of mine). Pick one or two things to do each day, but do them, every day, consistently. Stop hopping from one thing to another in the hope that it will magically resolve everything in an instant.

(c) Focusing on the self as a means to heal, I suppose.  Not in a selfish ‘all about me’ way, but from the point of view of if I feel good then I feel well enough to get out there and take on the world, without being dragged down into the rabbit hole of doom. So for me that means getting out for a daily walk, going to Nordic Walking classes, turning up for online HIIT sessions, listening to music, eating as well as I can, not going onto facebook.

(d) Ask yourself in the moment, or before saying ‘yes’ to a request, ‘Is this something I really want to do?’ ‘Is this something that will build me up and make me feel fulfilled?’ ‘If I really do trust and love myself, would I choose to do this?’ If the answer is no – then don’t do it! I am a nightmare for saying yes, then thinking ‘nope, bad idea’. An example of this is I recently applied for a temporary Christmas job at Next. I knew by the end of the first shift that it was a really, really bad idea – but I’d been swept away by the excitement of it all. If I’d just taken time to think things through and really considered ‘if I trust and love myself would I choose to do this?’ then the answer would have been no.

Throughout the month I have found myself in the moment thinking ‘why am I doing this’, whatever this was.  If I really do trust and love myself, would I actually do this?  Would I eat this cake? Would I drink this wine? Is sitting on my laptop achieving nothing for an hour a good use of my time? Facebook would have gone into the no bracket.  So, there have been some things that I have thought, no, not really and others that I’ve thought, actually, yes.

And what were those things?

– I like to listen to or watch something whilst ironing and had taken to listening to podcasts based on fixing myself (still down in the rabbit hole of doom).  Instead I watched Dirty Dancing, Chesapeake Shores, Modern Love.  I have a thing (much to husbands chagrin), whenever we hear ‘that’ song from the end of the Dirty Dancing playing in the bars in Albufeira (and we hear it a lot) I have a bit of a dance up the street!  So I had a bit of a dance whilst I ironed.

– I’ve started to eat a bit of fruit every day.  I’m not a fan of fruit, but do appreciate it is good for me, so I’ve started to make the effort to eat an extra bit everyday.  

– I’ve been doing some crochet.  I’ve actually designed, made and published patterns for two winter cowels, using wool I found in Poundland of all places. If you’d like to try making the patterns they can be found here.

– I’ve read a fiction book.  I can’t tell you the last time I read any fiction.  

– I’ve started listening to music more, and I’ve ordered some sheet music to practice with my clarinet. Music always makes me feel better.

Two cosy cowls

There are elements of Facebook that I do miss.  I miss seeing what certain friends who live a distance a way from me are up to and it does have value in finding out what is going on in and around Albufeira.  It is the way that many ex-pat groups promote themselves and share valuable information.  One aspect of Facebook I thought I would miss is groups that I was a member of.  There were two in particular that I loved being a part of.  But as the month has gone on, I can see how they were also feeding my need to be fixed and were also a part of the obsessive behaviours around health. Only this morning I was wondering again, would it hurt, really? Would it hurt if I just reactivated my account and had a sneaky peak? In that moment, I had to remind myself of the reasons I had deactivated it in the first place and did some crochet instead!

I do think that at the end of this first month I have started to regain some balance in my life.  I’ve had time to focus on things that I do enjoy, without constantly thinking I should be doing more.  I realise just how much I was using Facebook to avoid doing other things and using it as an excuse to explain why I wasn’t doing them. I’ve started to notice a little more those moments where I am slipping down the rabbit hole of doom and been able to understand a little more what’s causing them and how best to resolve them.

I am starting to see a light at the end of the tunnel and I have two fabulous new cowls to show for the month. It’s a long time since I had something concrete to show for a month of my time.

Mindfulness, Well-being

Angelica Anxiety

This past week hasn’t been one of the best.  Equally, it hasn’t been one of the worst.  But as the week wore on, it became more and more apparent that the only way things were really ending was with a bit of an anxiety induced meltdown.

In the end it turned out to be a really positive experience, as the wealth of support and knowledge that was directed my way was amazing.  So many friends reached out to offer support and to share their experiences. Which I suppose is why I am so honest about my experiences – it my help someone else along the way to understand that whilst they might feel completely lost and alone, the reality is somewhat different, there are so many people who are willing and able to help.  

I posted about my experience initially on Instagram and Facebook.  Almost immediately I received a message from a friend with a link to the NHS mental health website which offered a range of techniques to help manage anxiety.  Some I’d tried before, some I hadn’t, some just didn’t do it for me.  One I had tried during the week was breathing. Constantly breathing, follow the breath, in out, from the heart, radiate good feelings, find the good feelings, why can’t I find the good feelings, back to the breathing.  At which point the technique designed to combat the anxiety was creating its own form of anxiety.  

There is an 8 minute Yoga Nidra practice on the NHS ‘Every Mind Matters‘ website which I decided to give a whirl.  I’ve tried Yoga Nidra before but only in the yoga studio, so I admit I was a bit sceptical.  I didn’t actually realise the 8 minutes was up, as I was so busy concentrating on relaxing the various parts of my body, so in the end I’d probably been lying on the floor for nearer 20 minutes.  So, I interpreted that as a positive result.  Unfortunately, the Yoga Nidra was followed by the breakdown.  I’m not sure if the relaxation had just released all the pent up emotions, or the kindness of a friend or why it happened then, but the meltdown I had worked so hard to avoid all week eventually came.  By the bucket load.  But I didn’t want the meltdown.  I didn’t want to be anxious, I wanted to fix it without reaching that point.  It turns out that, as ever, the meltdown was required for me to move forward.

Another technique recommended on the NHS website was to keep an anxiety diary.  Sort of ‘What Angelica did today’.  I’m not generally a fan of this as I feel I just end up with a really negative journal, a list of everything that is going wrong.  I can see the rationale behind it, but I don’t think it’s really for me.  Increasingly though, I think it needs to be for me and I need to try to find a way to make it happen.  One of the first books I read about mental health was Ruby Wax’s ‘Frazzled’ and in that she recommends naming the different beasts that invade your brain – hence Angelica Anxiety – but to go further than that and give them a persona.  What do they look like?  How are they dressed?  In my head Anglica has wild curly, untamed hair, with the look of someone caught like a rabbit in the headlights.  That slightly startled, terrified look of someone who doesn’t know which way to run.  The idea is that you start to spot the arrival of this beast, Angelica, and so you can start to smooth her down before things get out of hand.  This is where the diary comes in to play.

I started to think about where this particular bout of anxiety had originated.  In the moment, I blamed the fact I was doing Sober October for MacMillan Cancer and I didn’t have the alcohol to mask the symptoms.  But it dawned on me that this wasn’t really true.  I don’t drink all that much alcohol – so whilst I might occasionally use it as a distraction it’s not that much of an influence.  As I looked back over the past month or so I could see patterns – that if I’d kept a diary I would recognise by now.

We came back to Albufeira in late August and since then it has been pretty full on.  I would say every week people have been visiting the town on their holidays.  Some we knew about, some were pleasant surprises.  We are incredibly fortunate to have a wide variety of friends that we enjoy spending time with and quite frequently they are only visiting Albufeira for a short period of time and so we like to catch up with them as much as we can.  None of them stay with us and appreciate that we live here and so make very few demands on our time.  The problem is that I feel we should do all we can to meet up with them and I do have very bad FOMO! Unfortunately, it reached the point where I was struggling to cope with the number of times each week we were going out with other people and the cracks started to show – but at that time I didn’t realise it – or if I did chose to ignore the signs.

When I was a teacher, I worked in a school with two deputy heads who had two totally different approaches to work / life balance. The first appreciated that on a week to week basis he had very little control over the direction his week would take and so the last thing he wanted was additional commitments outside school.  He wanted to be able to go home and enjoy that time with his family.  The other was determined that school would not get in the way of their out of school activities.  So, she could be found at the swimming pool at 9:30 at night, because she liked to swim every day.  Or would carry on going to a weekly evening class, even though she was shattered, because school was not going to stop her enjoying her beloved past-times.  I tend to fall into this camp.  So, whilst all of our friends have been coming to visit I have done very little to alter my life to make allowances.  I have continued to meet with other ex-pats for lunch, I’ve taken up bowls, I’ve continued to walk a minimum of 10,000 steps a day, I’ve started to do online fitness classes and even dabbled with swimming in the sea – I’ve even tried to set up a Nordic Walking Group, alongside starting another Open University module.  It doesn’t take a genius to work out this was going to end badly.

I know, more than anything, that I need to exercise and eat well to feel good about myself and that it is a major contributor to maintaining my mental health.  So that is non-negotiable.  The exercise is happening.  Thereafter I needed to start to say no.  I needed to start to prioritise my own health and to be more selective about how often I went out and which other activities I carried out.  Had I kept a diary about my anxiety I would have noticed at this point that I was starting to get ‘fraught’ and a little bit panicky about how I was going to fit everything in.  But I brushed it under the carpet.  I don’t want to be that ‘anxious’ person who can’t keep up – but the thing is I am and the best way to handle that is to learn to say no.  To learn to spot the signs of impending meltdown and put my health and the sanity of my husband before other people.  I’m not very good at that – so say yes to everything – then end up bailing on arrangements we’ve made anyway because I am just too exhausted.

In an attempt to tackle the increasing anxiety, I decided to take part in Sober October.  In my head, I decided that this was going to solve the problem.  But it didn’t.  I was still going out just as much as I had been previously, probably 4 to 5 days a week.  The only difference was I wasn’t having a glass or two of wine.  So, I’d actually gained nothing and still wasn’t addressing the primary issue of over committing myself.  I was just doing too much and placing the needs of others before my spiralling anxiety.  By this point Angelica was getting a bit more shambolic in appearance and definitely needed a good hair wash to tame those frazzled curls.

One of the tell-tale signs for me that my anxiety is out of control is playing Candy Crush.  The time I was spending doing activities that are both productive and calming reduced.  The time spent on the games increased.  I know this because husband was asking ‘Are you still on that game?’  I know that once he’s started noticing that I’m on the games the situation has got out of hand.  And I was spending hours at a time on the games – playing them up until bedtime, which then disrupted my sleep, which then meant I was tired and anxious the next day.  Eventually I spotted that I was doing that and deleted them off my tablet.  This is a recurring situation.  The anxiety increases, I download the games, the amount of time I spend on the game increases, I delete the games as a means to control the anxiety that I’d wanted to control in the first place!  

So, as I look back, I can see the triggers were there and I can also see the mechanisms I use to avoid admitting it were there.  Had I kept a diary I might have been able to address the arrival of Angelica sooner, more effectively and avoided the meltdown situation.  If I’d just written down ‘Downloaded Candy Crush’ I might have recognised that the situation was starting to get out of hand and the other techniques recommended on the NHS website might have worked.  Breathing might have worked.  Going for a walk on the beach might have worked.  Talking to husband might have worked.  I’m going to give keeping a journal another try – I just need to find a way to jazz it up a bit and avoid it being too morose. 

Happiness, Mindfulness, reflection

Evidently, I’m angry.

Over the weekend I had a row with a neighbour over the bins.  Admittedly we had parked in her parking space, which is always annoying, but despite apologising and moving the car straight away she wouldn’t give up with the shouting.  So, in true grown up fashion I shouted back.  About the bins.  About the fact that the people who rent her AirBnb apartments use the wrong bins.  All. The. Time.  But that wasn’t enough.  I kept replaying the conversation in my head, finding ways to prolong the drama.  I knew I was doing it, but I just couldn’t stop myself.  I could see the negative behaviours, and I could feel how it was affecting me.  

So I turned to a friend and asked her, is it enough just to spot the behaviour, or is there a way of working out why?  Why did it happen? Why was I feeling that way? Her response, “Is there a part of you that wants to lash out at something / someone else and you don’t feel safe to do so”?  And there it is.  Hit the nail on the head.

We’d just returned from visiting friends and my parents’ and we’d hired the car.  I don’t like driving but wondered is it the driving that’s the problem or the destination I am driving to.  I fill my time around my parents with visits to friends, anything to avoid staying in the family home for longer than is absolutely necessary.  

My childhood wasn’t completely awful.  I have some good memories.  But there were some aspects that just weren’t that great.  They have never been addressed.  We’ve papered over the cracks and moved on, whilst pretending to the world that we have a loving family.  It’s a home filled with arguments, bitterness, jealousy, blaming others and worst of all boxes.  Mental and physical boxes, that I’m expected to fit in to, because we must maintain the public image at all costs.  That of the loving family that we are.  But we aren’t and I feel the contrast between my family home and that of my friends.  I feel it to my core.  

So yes.  When I came back from the visit I was angry.  So very angry about everything and I needed to lash out.  But I cannot lash out at the people that I want to.

  • I feel guilty about not living nearer to my family home – I used to and believe you me, it was much easier.
  • I feel guilty about not caring about the fact I don’t live closer to my family home.
  • I feel guilty that my parent’s neighbours are doing their shopping and mowing their lawn because I don’t live closer.
  • I feel angry that those lovely people probably have thoughts and opinions about me not being there to do those jobs.
  • I feel angry that my parents are more than likely going along with that and playing on the sympathies of neighbours who only see the image that has been so carefully curated over the years.
  • I feel angry that I still can’t be myself in the family home.  That I’m still expected to fit into boxes.  Appropriate boxes.
  • I feel angry that my parents blame the world and his dog for the fact I rarely visit rather than accept or acknowledge any responsibility.
  • I feel angry that I didn’t get the family experience that I see my friends have with their families
  • I feel angry that the benchmark of success is what you have and not who you are.
  • I feel angry that I feel guilty
  • I feel angry that they can’t see how their behaviours have impacted choices I have made throughout my life.
  • Mostly I feel angry that I can’t tell my parents any of this and that it still impacts my life today.

You can safely say there was something / someone that I wanted to lash out at!

I’m generally very happy now, I have found my contentment with the world, so these flare ups do stand out more so than in the past when I was just plain angry and scared.  The thing I am noticing increasingly is the effect that this tension has on my body. I’ve been in Bristol for the past three months and have cleaned up my act.  I’m exercising daily. Doing exercises to help keep my body moving.  Eating and drinking better.  I have a belter of a physio who is peeling away the onion layers that is my body.  I am pain free.  

During this past week my body started to cease up again.  The soreness returned to my back.  My left-hand ribs are so tight I’d begun to wonder if I had a problem with my bowels.  My diaphragm is tight and needed massaging to release it.  I know myself that when I tense-up I suck in my chest and lift my shoulders. When I don’t deal with these minor things they progressively get worse and I end up in pain.  But at least now I can feel it happening and respond before things go too far.  I’m reading a book called ‘Bliss Brain’ by Dawson Church.  In fact. I’m only one chapter in, but one passage caught my eye,  ‘When your body knows it will be listened to it can speak quietly.  A little rumble here.  A slight pain there.  We hear the message and take care of its needs’ (p27).  

Slowly, I am beginning to hear what my body is saying and to understand how the tension and stress is impacting what it feels.  I can notice the tension building and have some strategies to deal with it, a better understanding of what does and doesn’t work.  I still need to find ways to deal with the anger, to not let it simmer in my body and find ways to release it more effectively than shouting at the neighbours, but finally I feel like I am starting to make progress and to join up the dots.  I don’t know that I will ever resolve some of the issues that are making me angry – but with time I hope that I can lessen their impact and move on.

Alternative Therapies, Healthy living, Mindfulness, reflection, Well-being

Three Months to 50!

Photo by Polina Tankilevitch on Pexels.com

In exactly 3 months time I will be turning 50.  I understand now what people mean when they say that life slips by in the blink of an eye.  On the whole, I am very happy with where I find myself on the approach to my 50th birthday.  I’ve experienced all kinds of things during those 50 years, travelled to more places than I’d imagined given my dislike of flying, ticked several things off my bucket list and achieved far more than I’d ever imagined I would.  That’s the great thing about not being a goal setter – any achievement is a bonus!  There is just one thing during those 50 years that hasn’t quite been as tip top as I’d have liked and that has been my health, but I’ve tried really hard not to let it stop me.  As I go beyond this milestone, though, I would quite like to see the end of the niggles and embrace life with vigour and verve.  I quite intend to grow old as disgracefully as I can.

I am a big believer in using alternative remedies and diet to manage health conditions.  Obviously, not in place of allopathic medicine, especially in the case of severe ill-health, but for the every day, not so great niggles I do believe they have their place.  This time last year I was in a position where I struggled to walk for any great period and was in pain for most of the time.  Having had every test known to man the medical profession was none the wiser and popped me off with some painkillers.  During one of the consultations with my GP he asked me what was I doing to manage the situation myself.  I love it when I GP asks this question.  So I reeled off all the things I was doing:  yoga, meditation, walking and he recommended that I keep on doing those things.

Fast forward a year and I have maintained a daily yoga practice.  It is only 10-15 minutes per day, but it is daily.  I have reached the point where I can walk 3-4 miles a few times a week and not be in agony and be able to walk the following day.  I have also maintained a daily meditation practice.  But there is still that last bit of pain.  What I have found interesting is that during periods of lockdown the pain levels have been significantly lower than when I was out of lockdown – when I put my party hat back on and let it all go.  Don’t get me wrong I am significantly better, to the point that I have been able to come off the painkillers and it is a minor inconvenience, but for once, I would just like to know what it feels like to be pain free.  For a whole day.  And if that could be for multiple days then that would be even more amazing.  

So.  I have three months to achieve my goal of pain free living!  Apparently if you believe things hard enough they can happen – thoughts become things.  I have a bit of an outline.  I’m not great with plans, so no point making one of those as I won’t be sticking to it!  But I am going to try my very best to:

  • Not drink alcohol (again).  I’m not very good at this!  I tend to get swept along in the moment, but I am really going to try not to.  I just want to see what happens if I don’t drink for 3 months.  Obviously, this is helped in part by being in lockdown and so socialising at bars isn’t happening at the moment. Will it make any difference to my pain levels?  It may, it may not, but if I don’t try I will never know.
  • Cut out sweet treats.  This is a real killer for me, but added sugar is really quite bad and it is an inflammatory food.  It may be that I treat myself to one cake per week, just to keep me sane, but again, if I don’t cut it out, how do I know if it does or doesn’t impact the pain that I feel.  I have a strategy for this.  Each time I feel the desire to eat something sweet I will get a piece of fruit to eat instead.  I’m not a fan of fruit, so suspect that the majority of times I’ll have nothing!
  • Try to increase my activity levels.  During March I am going to attempt 500 sun salutations and am going to try one or two full length exercise classes per week.  And I will continue with my daily walks.  At the end of the day, it’s not like I am short on time and in general, the more I move, the less I hurt.  It seems to be sitting still that causes the most discomfort.

But I guess the key thing is that I believe it can work.  Husband isn’t really onboard with all the voodoo joo joo to quite the same degree I am, but he understands that I think it works and with many things, that is half of the battle won.  I’m going to try using affirmations.  I’m going to try turning negative thoughts into positive thoughts.  I’m going to try living with an attitude of gratitude.  I’m going to try going into each and every situation with an attitude of love rather than fear.  We’ll see how this all pans out, I may well be mad as a box of frogs, but at the end of the day, I’m willing to give it a try and embrace the idea of pain-free living.  Wouldn’t it be exciting if by my 50th birthday it had actually worked and I could dance the night away with no fear of how I’m going to feel the next day.  

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.