Exercise, Healthy living, reflection, Well-being

March in Review

Another month closer to 50!  Two more months to go.

At the beginning of March I set myself three goals:

  1. Not drink alcohol
  2. Cut out sweet treats
  3. Try to increase activity levels

It would be fair to say that I achieved mixed results!

With regards to the alcohol, I did manage to cut down the amount of wine that I was drinking.  As I’ve mentioned before I’m not a great wine guzzler, but I don’t handle it particularly well.  I wanted to see if it did have that much of a difference on my general health and pain levels.  It does definitely have an impact.  Does it cause my pain?  I don’t think so.  But if I am in pain, it really doesn’t make things better – it makes painful days more painful but it’s not the sole cause of the pain.  It also makes hot flushes hotter!  During the two weeks that I had no wine at all the hot flushes didn’t stop – but they were noticeably less intense.  We are also heading into summer here in Albufeira and I do know that I don’t manage wine with the heat, I get very dehydrated very quickly and so would say that from here on in, I am unlikely to drink much by way of wine. Equally, if I am going out for an evening for a meal with friends, I won’t totally avoid wine, but drinking wine for drinking’s sake is at an end.  One thing that I have realise is how much sitting still causes pain, particularly through the night.  I suspect in the past I have blamed the wine – but in actual fact it is sitting still for prolonged periods that is the main culprit.

Cutting out sweet treats was an epic fail.  There is no other way to describe it!  On top of the odd twix here and there, I also did some baking during March.  I do love baking but find eating it all a bit overwhelming.  This month, however, I had the opportunity to bake and share my offerings which made it all a bit more manageable.  As we leave lockdown, I expect the opportunities to bake will stop – but having said that, the fabulous cake shop in Albufeira may well re-open and it would be a shame not to partake!  So, I am going to try a bit harder this month to cut down on the number of sweet treats I eat.  Obviously, it is Easter this weekend and so I will have a chocolate egg to savour, but once that has gone, I will try really hard not to snack on chocolate so much and save it for special occasions.

Increasing exercise was a bit of a mixed bag.  I did complete the 500 sun salutation challenge, which was a real plus considering I only managed 10 last year.  I’d like to say I enjoyed it, but that would be a lie!  I’m not even that sure I learned all that much about myself either.  By the end of the month, I was finding breathing with the moves easier and I am definitely a bit more flexible, but that’s pretty much where the benefits have ended.  Having said that, I may well carry on doing 10 a day for the next while just to see if there is a difference over time.  I did find that doing 10 sun salutations in the afternoon is a great energy boost and lifts you out of the post lunch slump really effectively.

I’ve also maintained 15 to 30 minutes a day of yoga and started doing the Lift Program for prolapse with Fem Fusion Fitness.  I have had a prolapse for about 3 years or so and am in a bit of a cycle.  I do the exercises and get to the point where I feel really well, then don’t bother with the exercises, the prolapse gets worse again and so I return to the exercises!  I should just learn to carry on doing the exercises!  It does also really help my back as it also strengthens my core.  Not in the six-pack version of core exercises, but the deep core muscles that help to keep the pelvis stable.  I’ve reached the point where I am doing 30 to 60 minutes of exercise a day, including the yoga.

Earlier in the month, I did have a bit of a set-back.  A week where I just wasn’t really able to motivate myself, much beyond the sun salutations and the 15 minutes of yoga in the morning.  It wasn’t until I started to come out of the slump that I realised quite how bad it had been.  But I did keep on going with the sun salutations, which I am quite proud of and I didn’t totally give up.  However, my daily walks did go out of the window and I haven’t started them back up as yet.  Hopefully, during April I will be able to reintroduce those and get back to achieving 11,000 steps per day on top of my other exercise.  It’s taken me a long time to reach the point that I am able to accept set-backs and to listen to my body rather than force it to complete things that it just isn’t well enough to do.  I suspect many of the problems I have with my back are exacerbated by running in the past, as I forced my body to compete in a sport it wasn’t really capable of!

Besides that, I have made progress in other areas and as I leave lockdown, I am very excited about what lies ahead of me.  In the past I often said I would just like the world to stop so that I could get off and rest for a while.  Covid has allowed that to happen and I feel in a much stronger place mentally as the world opens up again and I have a better understanding of what matters to me.

I have started another degree with the Open University.  I’m currently doing an introductory module with a view to studying Classical Studies, however, I might change that to English Literature as I am enjoying that aspect of the course far more than I anticipated

I have also just started Portuguese lessons.  My language skills are fairly ropey, but I am quite determined to learn and hope that hearing the language on a daily basis will help me to pick it up sooner rather than later.  

Finally, I am hoping to start doing some voluntary work at a local charity shop.  It’s taken quite a while for me to reach this point but finally I am starting to regain the zest for life that has been missing.  There is so much I want to try and get involved with and slowly I am making steps in the right direction.  

I am very excited to see where I am by the end of April!  

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.  

Happiness, Healthy living, Well-being

De-Activating Facebook

This past Saturday evening (19th September 2020), I de-activated my Facebook account.  I’ve been wanting to do it for a while, but was doing an online course that had a corresponding Facebook group and I wanted to see that through.  It’s not been an easy decision.  I am a member of several groups that are excellent sources of information and that have become my go to reference points, particularly about life in Portugal.  Then there are the friends that I have known for many years, some I’ve known in real life, some I’ve only met through Facebook, but these are all people that I have been able to keep in touch with, which is important for me as I live in a different city to many of the people I am friends with, so it means I can maintain a connection with them over a longer distance.  People ask ‘Well, why can’t you just go straight into the groups and ignore your feed”?  This brings me nicely to the negatives!

The constant adverts, the ‘click-bait’ that seems to roll around the FB feed.  Then there’s my issue with the feed you actually see.  I’d go and look for friends because they’d been quiet for a while and it turns out they hadn’t necessarily been quiet, but I’d not had their posts on my feed, because the algorithm had decided for me what I was or wasn’t interested in.  I’m not having a pop at the algorithm here – I don’t know enough about how it works, but all I do know is that I wasn’t seeing pictures and posts from friends that I would have really liked to see, whilst seeing a whole heap of ‘stuff’ I really didn’t care about.

Then there is the issue that Facebook was essentially designed for people like me!  Those that do say ‘Oo – look at that lovely red blob in the corner, I wonder who’s posted today’?  Those that do click on the adverts because “those shoes are pretty”.  Those who get sucked in to chatting to people and realise that a good hour has passed me by – achieving precisely nothing.  I know, I know, doing nothing is good for you – but I can think of a whole heap of ‘doing nothings’ that are actually more enjoyable for me.  I had done as much as I could to be rid of Facebook in my life – I had deleted it off my phone that I couldn’t use it when I was out and about, but still it ‘called’ to me!

This next negative is all about my head!  I still have in my head that I should be earning money, that I should be making a living and so many people seem to use social media to get ahead.  The vast majority of crochet designers have beautifully themed Instagram and Facebook pages which they use to display their creations.  There are a few issues with this – I can’t crochet that quickly and to be frank, I can’t really be arsed with taking all the photos!  I love taking a photo – but rearranging the furniture to get an arty looking backdrop to take a picture of my crochet to post to the world to say ‘look what I did’ ….. I just can’t be arsed!  I have a certain sympathy with my parents.  There are oodles of pictures of my sister as a baby and a toddler – when it was my turn, very few were taken.  And then there was my Nana who believed that photographs removed your soul and so should be avoided at all costs – so all in all my photographic heritage is a bit hit and miss!  So, every now and then, I get a great idea, a burst of energy to photograph my work, or the things I am doing with my day, or my sustainable life, or things I am doing to keep fit, but after a week, the novelty wears off.  Obviously, there is also the problem of the more you post, the more time you spend on FB, so the more you get sucked into FB land and the more of your day / live goes down the FB plug hole.

So.  Back to this past Saturday night.  I decided to go for it and de-activated my account.  It took my very clever, sleuthing sister precisely 24 hours to spot this and message me.  What occurred as a consequence of that message?  I spoke her her, in real life.  Result!

The first 24 hours were a breeze.  I did loads of things, I cleaned, I crocheted enough to fill a feed for a good week, I chatted to husband, I wrote in my journal.  It was fabulous and evidence if it were needed that I did not need Facebook in my life.  Day 2, however, was not quite the same.  Instead of being on Facebook I played Two Dots.  So now I’ve had to delete that too.  I picked my laptop or tablet up at various points of the day, looked at the news, played Two Dots, looked at my email (yawn) and generally whiled away time doing nothing in particular – generally being bored.  It was like I just had to have the tablet in my hand, because that was going to be the answer to my boredom prayers.  I was also so incredibly tired.  I don’t know if the two things were connected, I very much doubt it, but I was so very tired and for me that’s precisely the time that I would spend on Facebook.  When I’m just too tired to contemplate anything else.  

I appreciate that sometimes doing nothing is the thing you should be doing, but not all the time.  The daft thing is, there are a million things I could be doing instead:

  • Yoga
  • Meditating
  • Reading or doing an online course for fun (yes, I do that)
  • Sewing
  • Crochet
  • Writing a blog post
  • Walking on the beach
  • Astronomy GCSE
  • Learning embroidery
  • Chat to my husband whilst drinking a cup of tea
  • Write a letter!

This list does bring to mind Glennon Doyle’s book ‘Untamed’ where she discusses having a ‘reset’ list.  There are all of those things we could do, that are easy and so accessible – like sit on Facebook, play Two Dots, go and get a sneaky stick of chocolate from the fridge.  But in the long term the easy things don’t bring about the joy that the things on your reset list do.

I do even have specifics at the moment!  I have bunting to make for a friend’s granddaughter and a seat cover to make for another friend’s garden bench.  But even that couldn’t force me out of my reverie.  But the truth is, that for some reason, I just can’t be arsed.  To. Do. Anything.  In the end, I decided to write about my experience during the first 48 hours.  I have been quite shocked at how often I just reach for my laptop, followed by the dawning realisation that it’s not there.  My quick fix is not there.  I am really hoping that as the days go by, I become more inclined to do all the things on my list and less inclined to sit and reach for my lap-top in the hope it provides me with a quick fix.

Day 3.  Oh my goodness.  I don’t know how many times I trotted off to the fridge/cupboard to look for something to eat to fill a big 2 or 3 minutes of my time!  I had multiple cups of tea!  Today was definitely about filling the time doing anything – I read, meditated (twice), did yoga, did some work on an EFT course I am doing, read emails, looked at the internet, did some crochet – anything other than just sit still.  I am very surprised, to be honest!  I had thought in my mind that I had given social media a break in the past, but clearly, just deleting it off your phone whilst still having it on your laptop isn’t the same.  I am really quick shocked at how difficult I am finding this.  I also found husband very irritating and felt very irritable all day.  I was dying to go out for the evening, just to do something different to fill the time, as just sitting was really, really difficult!

But then….. Later on in the day Boris did a televised speech about re-tightening rules regarding lock-down in England.  Because I had de-activated my Facebook account I could not go on to Facebook and could not get wound up by people deliberately mis-interpreting the rules to suit themselves, or the raging conspiracy people, or just the general chit-chat surrounding the whole situation.  So I could prepare for bed with a light heart, without a million voices fighting for attention in my head.  What a blessed relief!  

Day 4.  A much better day!  It started in a park doing a yoga class, a bit of sunshine and a bit of rain, and the highlight, opening my eyes after savasana to see clouds floating across a blue sky through the leaves of the tree.  What more could you want.  The day continued with a positive theme; I sat and chatted to husband (I even got a chance to sit in the manchair), drank a cup of tea whilst doing nothing else – that’s it, I just sat and drank the cup of tea and let the world pass my by for a few minutes.  I wrote a pattern for a crochet submission, possibly the most tedious part of crochet design!  I still struggled with snacking, but the desire to pick up my laptop or phone to fill time was greatly diminished.  I believe I may have turned the corner!  

Day 5.  Today didn’t really count.  I had a raging headache and took to my bed for a significant portion of the day!  But other than that, it was the first day when I didn’t think about Facebook or looking at it.  This has continued for the remainder of the week.  There have been the occasional moments when I’ve picked up my laptop, read the news and then gone on to type facebook into the search bar, only to remember I don’t have an account any more – but that has happened once or twice over the course of 3 days, so definite progress.

So, what have I achieved this week other than ridding myself of Facebook?  I have finished off a crochet shawl that I have been working on for a few weeks.  I have started another crochet project, just for fun and not one that is going to be sent for submission as part of the crochet diploma.  But more importantly than that, I have felt so much more content and relaxed, I’ve read more, definitely chatted to husband more, looked out of the window aimlessly a bit more, and actually started to enjoy my own company again.  I’ve started to listen to and hear my body.  I will admit that I have missed seeing the photos of friends, along with the opportunity to comment – but I know they are at the end of a phone call or a message.

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. 

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.