Category Archives: Personal

What Works – A Personal View

Dear Readers,  I’m finding the present UK lockdown much more difficult than the first two, and I’m sure I’m not alone. In the Northern Hemisphere it’s winter, and so the days are shorter, and the possibilities for going for a local walk are squeezed into a few hours. Plus I find myself ‘doomscrolling’ on the phone, going from news of the frightening events in the US to the seemingly unstoppable march of the virus, to tales of climate change, extinction and disaster. Some days I am so anxious that my skin crawls. Other days, I feel close to despair.  If I am feeling like this when I am in such a privileged position – no real money worries, no children or family to worry about, a job, a roof over my head and a garden – I can only imagine what it’s like if you have terrible neighbours, children to home school, a job that forces you to go out and expose yourself, no outside space where you can decompress. And those of us who have lost some one dear to them during the course of this pandemic, whether directly through Covid-19 or indirectly, I can only bow my head in sympathetic sorrow – as regular readers will know, I lost my poor old Dad in March last year. He didn’t die from Covid, but the circumstances around it caused a chain of events that led to his death.   So I offer this in all humbleness, and I hope that some of it will resonate and help.

  1. Stop, or at least limit, doomscrolling!

Tempting as it can be to just spend your life on the phone, worrying, I’ve learned that setting limits has helped my mental health enormously. I put my phone on to recharge when we have dinner, and don’t look at it again (usually) till the morning. I had to start doing this when Dad’s dementia meant that he could ring at any hour of the day or night – once he was in the Home, and I knew he was being looked after, I knew that I could phone him back in the morning. But these days, it’s because if I read something particularly troubling it spoils my sleep.

The worst thing about having the whole world come at you through your phone is that it can make you feel helpless. Which brings me to the next thing that’s helped.

2. If you can, do something about it!

As I’m lucky enough to still be working, I donate to organisations like my local foodbank. I sign petitions for things that are happening, especially locally where the numbers really count – we recently got a stay of execution on some ancient oaks in Queen’s Wood in Highgate for example. I am on the Whatsapp group for our street, and have been able to help out with people who are unwell or shielding – without the group, I wouldn’t have know what was needed. You can be an activist without even stepping out of  your front door. There’s nothing to stop us from joining a campaign, writing to our MPs or making a donation if we have any spare cash, and the benefits are endless, not least in making us feel useful and engaged.

3. You are not alone

Well, except in an existential sense of course. But this is one way in which the internet has helped – you can make  connections with people that you can’t currently see in real life, but who can share ideas or a joke or news. I think one positive thing that might come out of all this is that people who used to shun the internet have learned to use things like Zoom and Facetime, and although it’s no substitute for getting together for a chat over coffee and cake, it’s so much better than nothing. Also, I have recently rediscovered the joys of talking on the phone.

Do reach out. It’s very easy for the world to contract, and that’s something that should be pushed against at all costs. Phone a friend! It always makes me feel better.

4. Get outside, but choose your time and place carefully

I love going for walks in Coldfall and Cherry Tree Wood, and especially in the Cemetery. But these places can sometimes be extremely busy, and there’s not much fun in dodging people every five seconds. I tend to avoid the woods at weekends, even now, and was also avoiding the times when children were being taken to school and coming home, as those times were busy too.

However, I have become an even bigger fan of walking in cemeteries, as regular readers might have gathered. If you have a cemetery locally and haven’t visited it yet, do give it a go if it’s open – they are full of interest, both in terms of history and of wildlife and plants, and I find them surprisingly uplifting. Many of them have restrictions due to Covid so do check. I also prefer them at the weekend because there aren’t usually funerals going on, and so I don’t feel as if I’m intruding, though our cemeteries are big enough to avoid gatherings.

5. Get creative

I have spent the past months knitting like a maniac. For me, it’s always something that I’m making for someone else, just because otherwise I don’t have the impetus, but I also love it: there’s something about the rhythm of crafts such as knitting or embroidery or crochet that seems very soothing. Also, it adds steps onto my Fitbit so I usually hit my exercise target :-).

A jumper I made for my Boss’s little boy. I wouldn’t mind one meself.

6. Exercise your brain!

There has been a lot of advice around physical exercise, which I largely get from my walks, but how about our brains? I’ve gone the whole hog and embarked on a degree with the Open University (never one to do things by halves) but there are literally thousands of courses online, many of them free. People speak highly of Coursera but the Open University also do a range of free courses. Plus, if you have some money to spare there are courses in everything from embroidery to cookery to languages (this one is free, and I also recommend Rosetta Stone).

Plus, if you don’t want to study intensively, there are a raft of free talks and lectures out there. I have been reporting on the LNHS (London Natural History Society) talks (which are all free and are also recorded so you can catch up with them even if you can’t watch them live).  In fact I hope they carry on with them after the lockdown is over. New Scientist also has talks, so does The Guardian, and practically every cultural institution has been running at least a few, so there should be something for everyone.

The great advantage of a course or a lecture is that it helps me to look outside my very small world and feeds my curiosity.

7. Read, but carefully

I thought that 2020 would be the year when I really got stuck into reading, and so I did, but I soon learned that I had to be particular about what I read. Normally I read the whole Booker Prize shortlist, but I soon found that the mood and atmosphere of a book could colour my whole day. So, at a time of high anxiety, I would put aside writing that made things worse, or which filled me with dread. Unfortunately that was most of the Booker Prize out of the window for a bit, regardless of the excellent writing! I am a bit delicate on this front, and some people don’t seem to be affected in the same way, so go for it if tales of dystopian apocalypse cheer you up.

I thought I might get into comfort reading (which for me means Dickens or Trollope or Jane Austen) but I haven’t so far. I also normally re-read the Gormenghast Trilogy by Mervyn Peake every few years, but that’s also not cropped up. What I’ve really enjoyed are books by Madeleine Miller based on the tales from the Odyssey and the Iliad, Pat Barker’s book ‘The Silence of the Girls’ about Penelope and Briseis, the women in the Odyssey, and also Emily Watson’s translation of The Iliad. There’s something about Homer that resonates, whatever the age.

Mostly, I’ve read non-fiction, which can also contain some horrors, but which somehow seem more manageable. I read the whole of the Wainwright Prize for Nature Writing shortlist, and wrote about most of them on the blog – my personal favourite was Brigit Strawbridge’s ‘Dancing With Bees’ but I enjoyed all of them. I’m currently reading ‘Wilding’ by Isabella Tree, so expect a review soon!

8. Watch TV for comfort and inspiration

I love watching things like The Great British Bake-Off, The Great British Sewing-Bee and, starting this week, The Great British Pottery Throwdown. I love to see ordinary people showing their skills, and while I’m not the slightest bit interested in things like Big Brother or Love Island, I cannot get enough of reality shows where there’s actually a purpose. I love all the varieties of Masterchef except for (usually) the celebrity one – what’s the fun in watching someone who can’t cook make a hash of a shepherd’s pie?

After Mum died in 2018 I spent hours watching all the series of RuPaul’s Drag Race that were on Netflix (yep, all eleven of them). I found myself not only amazed at the extraordinary transformations, but also moved and inspired by the stories of the drag queens themselves. It was a kind of balm to my soul when I couldn’t move off of the sofa. I had no idea how exhausting grief was. This past few years have been an education.

I also love documentaries, particularly the wildlife ones, though they can be a bit too ‘when animals attack’ for if I’m feeling particularly vulnerable. I somehow don’t need David Attenborough, lovely as he is, to tell me how bad things are at the moment. After all, I work for a Climate Change organisation and am studying environmental science, so I think I have enough to contend with :-).

9. Make Unexpected Connections

And finally, dear readers, I can’t overstate how helpful writing the blog has been for me. When I decided, almost instinctively, to blog every day during lockdown, I could never have anticipated what the repercussions would be. Every day I have to get out of my little bubble of doom to think about what has interested or inspired me. Every day I get to interact with people all over the world, to share your thoughts and observations and to get a feeling for how you are doing. I’ve discovered some wonderful blogs, and some wonderful people. I have learned so much, and am constantly learning. Other blogs might have more followers and might make more of a splash, but I feel that we have built a real community here, and it makes me very happy. So thank you for reading, and do let me know what’s worked and hasn’t worked for you – I might create a page with links to resources on it so we can all share websites that could be useful.

Together, we’ll get through this.