Week Four – cabin fever sets in.

Week four – cabin fever sets in. 

Four weeks of shielding. Four whole weeks. That’s a long time to not leave your house when you’re used to being busy. Cabin fever set in this week. I didn’t know that was an actual thing, I thought it was a flippant phrase people used. But no. It’s a thing. And it properly makes you go a bit crazy. If you look at the Wikipedia page about it you’ll see that cabin fever can make people do risky things. Like leave their homes in a pandemic. I did it myself last Thursday. I. Had. To. Leave. The. House. So I got in my car and drove down to the car park near the local river. And before you start tutting at me it’s less than ¼ mile away and I can see it from my house, but obviously due to shieling I couldn’t walk there like I normally would. Anyway, I wanted freedom. A change of scenery. Some time alone. Time out. Whatever. I had succumbed to cabin fever. But leaving the house was horrible. The short drive down was filled with anxiety. I freaked out that I might break down or maybe crash. Then I sat in my car down by the river with the windows firmly closed and I held my breath every time someone walked or ran past. (And a lot of people walked or ran past.) It wasn’t relaxing or comforting and all I wanted to do was go home. The some hideous human stood in front of my car and blew his nose onto the road in front of me. Well that was it. I was sure I was contaminated with the dreaded virus and I HATED myself for having left the house and putting everyone in danger because I selfishly wanted some time alone. Some release from the mundane groundhog-ness of every day life. 

Never again. This week I toyed with the idea of sitting in my car on the drive with a flask of tea and a good book instead. I haven’t done it yet, but I might. 

And what did this experience of fleeing the safety of my own home teach me and make me think about? It reminded me that I am privileged. That I get to stay at home and be safe. It taught me once again to be so bloody grateful for those who don’t have the choice of whether to stay safe at home or not and I want to thank each and every person who is on the front line or is a key worker for putting themselves in danger and their families too. I am in awe of their bravery and resilience. Their selflessness at a time when no one would forgive them for hiding away with their loved ones is to be hugely applauded and I will be stood at my window clapping like hell for them all again later. 

It also made me think of people whose lives are like this all the time, pandemic or not. Miranda Hart has been doing some chatty rambles (aka chambles) on her Instagram account and she talks about this and hidden disabilities and illnesses far better than I could. Go check them out. 

It also made me think about all the fuckers who are ignoring this whole thing and getting in their cars unnecessarily and driving a lot further than ¼ mile down the road to their second homes or holiday lets. If this is you and I find out, consider our friendship done. 

So, what has this fourth week brought aside from cabin fever? (And apologies if I am repeating myself in these blog posts. I’ve decided not to read back over the previous ones to check what I’ve written as I’m worried that may affect what I write today or skew my memory of this week’s thoughts/feelings/experiences somehow. And now my blog is part of a research project at Swansea University – I know! – looking into how people react to a pandemic/social isolation, I want it to be as authentic as possible.)

  1. Control. It is no surprise to people who know me that I like to be in control. I like to know what, when, why, how and if I don’t know these things and I can’t find them out then I hate it. I like making things better, solving problems, finding solutions, fixing things. But I can’t fix this. And I can’t control it or how it affects us and that’s been hard to let go of. So instead and as a way of coping I decided to control the feck out of what I can – and that, for this week at least, has been food based. Sourcing online delivery slots, even when you have someone in the house registered as extremely vulnerable, is a challenge, but one I have nailed this week. Coming up with new recipes from the bizarre mishmash of foods we have has been a challenge and one I have relished. In the kitchen I am in control. So if like me you’ve struggled with lack of control recently then find something at home that you can control the hell out of. For me, right now, being in charge of food, both its sourcing and cooking, makes me feel in control. And gives me a purpose, which brings me nicely on to…
  2. Having a purpose. Much as I like to be busy and in control I also like to have a purpose. I need to achieve and sitting on my arse doing bugger all is not something I am comfortable with. Not that I don’t do it, but I want to be able to choose to do it, not be forced if that makes sense. I hate to think I’m wasting a single minute of the day and put a lot of pressure on myself to achieve something daily. Well, obviously in the middle of a pandemic I have struggled with this. I haven’t achieved anything, or so I think. I’ve had a go, but my brain hasn’t wanted to create, so novel number three is very much on hold, even though I keep thinking now more than ever I should have the time to be cracking on and writing it. I ought to make extra effort to sit at my desk and work. I must at least try. And I’ve struggled with my job and so have lost the purpose of supporting others, for now. It’s hard for me to achieve nothing. I feel like I’m not moving forward. I’m not making a difference. I’m wasting precious time alive. This may sounds daft, but I have always been brought up to do, do, do. Plus that’s how my brain works, I like to do, do, do. But during an epic meltdown yesterday I was reminded by a very good friend that I don’t need to achieve at the moment. And in fact, surviving everyday IS an achievement. End of.  I need to lower my expectations of myself and notice what I am in fact achieving. No shoulds, oughts or musts, which ironically is what I tell pretty much every woman I support through my job. Those words are now banned! And if all I achieve in a day is feeding my family (control!) or making sure they feed themselves then that’s something!
  3. Sleep. I was quite surprised that so far in this pandemic my sleep hadn’t been affected, but that changed this week. I can’t drop off easily anymore and I wake more often during the night. On top of that, although undoubtedly inked, I’m sleepier during the day too. I’m told this is normal and often think to the Big Brother house where after several weeks living in there all the contestants started sleeping a lot more than usual. I’m sure there’s something scientific to back up my theory that this is all perfectly normal, and napping during the day may in fact be a healthy way to help cope with it all, but to be honest I banned myself from Googling anything even vaguely health related a while back so am not going to start reading up on how sleep, lack of it or too much of it might impact my health now. What I will say is that I think going with the flow and listening to your body on this front it probably best. Don’t panic if insomnia strikes (easier said than done, I know) and if you need to nap then go for it. I certainly am. 
  4. Time. I think I wrote last week that there still weren’t enough hours in the day to get everything done. This week there are too many. The afternoons in particular are dragging. Maybe because that’s when I hit peak  ‘I should’ve achieved something today’  time, and then realise that I can’t and there’s nothing to do. Or I haven’t got the energy or motivation to do it anyway. God I sound miserable. But it’s hard because the time I do have is making me think more, which is not always a good thing with an over active imagination like mine. I find myself worrying about all of the people who are unwell at the moment and all those out helping them. Worried about women and men in violent relationships or children in unsafe homes. I think about all of the smear tests that are being missed as well as bowel screenings and the knock on impact of how some people’s illnesses won’t be picked up early enough. I worry about people’s mental health and resilience, about how many of us will become agoraphobic and too scared to leave the house every again. I worry I’ve forgotten how my friends smell. (Yes I know this one is weird, but it felt huge yesterday.) Time = too many thoughts for me, many of them I recognise as unhelpful. Like my best friend said to me yesterday – we could be in a world where there were no worries and I’d be like, ‘hold my beer.’ I’m trying to learn to enjoy this time (and I do enjoy of a lot of it, I promise even though it might not seem like it in this post today!) and to appreciate the long, hot days in the garden with my children instead of wishing we were at the beach in Cornwall like we were meant to be right now. Time is a gift. My children will hopefully remember this as the time when we were altogether at home for weeks on end having fun together. The beach will still be there when this is all over. 
  5. Information. I’ve learnt to go with the flow on this one and I’m pretty sure I’m repeating myself here. Whilst I still stand by reducing your exposure to the media and the news I’ve come to the realisation that some days I want to know nothing, whereas on other days I need ALL THE INFORMATION. And I’m learning that on the days when I devour every news article going and watch the daily briefing and look at the statistics and scour twitter for information I’m going to feel a little more shite about the whole thing. 
  6. Music. Ending on a positive. Music is really amazing and can change how I feel in an instant. My latest obsession is the new album by Dua Lipa as every single song is upbeat and makes me want to dance around my kitchen, whilst cooking and convincing myself I’ve not lost all control. Or hope. 

Stay safe people. And stay at home. 

Oh, and as my best friend very wisely says… it’s okay if now is simply a time to survive, not thrive. 

xx

Week Three – and so it continues.

Hello again. How are you? It’s all getting a bit real and stressful now, right? But you’re all staying at home and saving yourselves, others and the NHS, right? (Unless you are a key worker, obvs. And if you are THANK YOU!)

Yes, Jen, you say. 

Good. 

This week, our third at home, has dragged in places and sped by in others. I actually can’t believe it’s Thursday again already. As always there have been ups and downs and tears – but the good news is that the 18yo is now in isolation just down the road and will be home in 9 days and counting. I am calmer knowing she’s locked away – whilst she doesn’t have the same rare disease as the boys, she is asthmatic – and that she will be home with us and properly safe soon.

Also this week my middle one turned eleven, and celebrated a very different kind of birthday. (He said it was awesome!) Although, it’s worth pointing out, that it wasn’t his worse, as that was his sixth birthday when he was into his third week of a hospital stay having all sorts of investigative tests to find out why his lung was collapsed and he was having recurrent chest infections. Every silver lining and all that…

So here’s what have I learnt in the last seven days that I haven’t learnt already during this time, although there may be some repetition… every day’s a school day…

  1. Ask for and accept help. Yep, that’s right. You’re not putting people out; you’re making them feel like they are doing something. And there is no shame in admitting there are some things you cannot do. I’m historically very bad at asking for and accepting help, but this week I’ve had to. From having prescriptions picked up, to pints of milk being delivered, to help with dog walking, to seeds being posted through the letterbox, to strawberry plants being left on my doorstep, to daily messages of links to ideas online for me and the boys to do, to housing my daughter and then driving her so she can be put up in an annex and in a friend’s back garden, to popping down on your daily exercise walk to drop of cards and banners and gifts for the birthday boy… thank you for all of it. (And apologies if you’ve helped me and I’ve missed it out, I shall come on to memory loss later!) THANK YOU. THANK YOU. THANK YOU. I am blessed to have the most amazing friends and neighbours who will do anything for my family and I. I owe you all BIG TIME and when I can I will return all of your amazing favours. I PROMISE. 
  2. There still aren’t enough hours in the day. Sounds daft, but it is true. I still cannot get on top of the washing, or get my children to regularly clean their teeth even though I’m at home 24/7. There are still dirty dishes on top of the dishwasher that needs emptying and I thought by now I’d at least have painted and decorated one room in the house. But no. No, no, no. I have sorted some jigsaw puzzles. And I have baked a cake. And I have achieved some other things, but there are texts I haven’t had time to reply (or have forgotten about) to cups of tea left to go cold on the side. But, you know what? I’ve learnt to let it go about it and not worry. At first I was extremely frustrated that I wasn’t achieving more each day. I hadn’t done any writing or been creative or anything. And I had all the time in the world, so why wasn’t I able to Get. Shit. Done? I thought that I must be a failure, blah blah blah. But bollocks to that. I’m surviving. I’m feeding my children and doing the best I can. And that’s enough for now. The fact that there aren’t enough hours in the day is a god thing. It means time for once is not dragging. And for that I am grateful. We’re in this for the long haul and so there is still plenty of time to get shit done. Or not. 
  3. Wiser food choices. A positive! We are wasting less food. And we are eating a wider variety of foods (sounds glamorous, it’s not – I’m just throwing random things I can find together instead of going to the supermarket and getting whatever I fancy or cooking whatever I know the boys will definitely eat) We are more careful with our portions and because of this there is less waste. The children are actually clearing their plates – they appreciate their food more – because they know we haven’t got as much food as normal or as easy access to it. (I’ve registered the boys as extremely vulnerable with the Government after getting the letter through for them, but still we have no delivery slot) I’ve recognised that it’s good for my mental health to be more creative with what food we’ve got. And I’m enjoying the challenge! 
  4. Family time. Another positive. We are eating together more as a family. With my husband here it’s no longer me cooking one meal for the boys and then another one later on for us after he gets home from work. We are sitting down together and eating the same food and it is lovely. We chat, we laugh, we talk about what things we will do when this is all over. One of which is to sit down for family meals more often! 
  5. Trigger time. I have noticed that mentally, anxiety wise, I’m generally okay during the day – as long as I avoid the news and certain social media apps. But as the sun is setting I feel unsettled and anxious. I mentioned this on Twitter and a lovely doctor I know mentioned Sundown Syndrome. I had no idea it was a thing, and haven’t Googled it, but it made sense. I can keep busy during the day and keep my mind occupied. But then once everyone is fed and the boys are doing their physio and I might catch the news or start thinking about tomorrow, I remember what is happening outside the safety of my home. Now I know that this is my triggering time I make sure I’m doing something to keep busy, or I simply recognise the feelings and say to myself that this is my bad time, and in an hour it’ll be okay again. And it always is. Know your triggers, know the times of the day when you are more vulnerable, and understand that how you are feeling during this time will pass. Feelings aren’t facts. Fact. 
  6. On that note, I’ve also learnt not to pick up my phone as soon as I wake up. Those early moments where I wake and forget what’s going on are precious. They remind me of what it’s like when you’re grieving. When you wake and fleetingly everything is temporarily forgotten, before it all comes flooding back. Not reaching for my phone delays the rush of reality and allows me to be a bit more mindful and present and calm. It’s a nicer way to start the day. I’m not being ignorant or wanting to be in denial, I just want to protect myself that little bit longer before getting up and getting through another day. The news will still be there later. I just don’t need it rammed in my face as soon as I open my eyes. 
  7. Hair. I’ve learnt that I don’t have the kind of hair that looks good unwashed, or washed and then left to dry naturally. The less said about this, the better. 
  8. Memory and concentration. This has deserted me this week. I forget what day it is. I forget to reply to texts or emails. I forget words for things. I can’t remember what conversations I’ve had with my husband – yesterday I said the same thing to him five times. I guess it’s because my mind is either so full of holding it all together that it doesn’t have time to remember the little things, or that it’s had enough and can’t be bothered anymore. Either way, if you’ve messaged me and I’ve not replied this will undoubtedly be why. Sorry. Also, now I think of it, maybe I’ve mentioned some of these points in a previous blog post and have forgotten. But who cares, right? If I’ve repeated them here then they must be important, so sod it. 
  9. Mindfulness. I’ve never really got on with this before, whenever they told me to focus on my breathing it would have the opposite of the intended effect and make me start to hyperventilate. But this week I thought I would give it another go and downloaded the Headspace app. I am now on day 6. I do it at bedtime, but first thing in the morning would work well too, although that would involve reaching for my phone. Anyway, I think it’s helping. It’s nice to have five minutes to block everything out, be in the moment and remind myself that in that very moment we are safe at home. 

And that’s where I’ll end this post because it is an important point and a mantra I keep repeating…

We’re not stuck at home; we’re safe at home.

xx

Week Two. Shielding.

Hello again! How are you?

It’s fair to say week two in isolation hasn’t been as Mary Poppins-esq as week one, but I’ve still learnt a lot and several people have asked for me to carry on writing these posts weekly pointing out, quite rightly, that this helps me too. 

Last week, I’m not ashamed to say, I was manic. I knew I was. I wanted to be everything to everyone – the best mum, ‘I’ll worry so you don’t have to children,’ the best teacher, ‘I was a primary school teacher, I’ve got this,’ the best wife, ‘Darling, it’s ok, you work work work, I’ll take care of everything else, ‘ the best cook, ‘ here have some nutritious goodness I have cooked from a mangle of shit in my freezer,’ the fittest person, ‘I will exercise every day, twice a day, I am an Olympian,’ the best friend, ‘are you okay, no I’m fine, what about you, what do you need?’ And everything else… the list could go on, you get the picture. I knew I was manic, but I didn’t care because I felt good. 

Safe to say it was never going to last. 

And this week, after a phone call from the hospital confirming that the boys were very high risk and we had to stay at home for twelve weeks, I crashed. I wasn’t frustrated. I wasn’t angry. I was terrified. Most of the time I can carry on as normal and to a certain degree forget that my children have a life-threatening rare disease. But it’s at times like this, when to be fair I could really do without any extra stress, that the differences between them and their peers are highlighted, and that they are about to have harsher restrictions put on them.

So, although this week has been harder than the first (still trying to get 18yo home, she’s in Bristol now at her amazing Godmother’s, so she’s getting closer!) I have learnt some things I think it would be handy to share, both for mums of healthy children and for those of not so healthy children, because… in the words of High School Musical… we’re ALL in this together. 

  1. Emotions. Who knew there was such a range? Anger, fear, elation, mania, sadness, joy. I think I have felt them all over the last week and have at times switched from utter despair to complete elation within seconds. (discovering Baywatch is on Prime might have had something to do with this!) Ands what I’ve learnt is that all of these emotions are valid and important to recognise. We’re allowed to feel all of them. We’re allowed to sit and quietly sob for a hour on the sofa as well as dance like crazy in the garden. We’re human and we have not been here before, so there is no way of knowing how we are meant to react. For now I am riding the rollercoaster and going with it. At least I am feeling something. Each emotion serves a purpose, whether it’s telling me to slow down or to speed up. Be kind to yourself and to others no matter how they are reacting. We are all dealing with a lot of shit at the moment, chances are how people are behaving isn’t about you. 
  2. Saying no. Boundaries – we all have them, but sometimes we are just not very good at putting them into action. Last weekend, when I was in full on Mary Poppins/Florence Nightingale/Wonder Woman mode, my in-laws did a call out for food. They are in their eighties, but not vulnerable as such, and had no bread. So I baked them a loaf, cleared out my freezer to give them some chicken breasts and a lasagna and drove down to drop it on their driveway. We stayed in the car and they took the shopping out of the boot (blue surgical gloves on and everything.) We smiled and waved and drove home. Then yesterday I had a text: Jen… we’ve got no milk. And I freaked out. I was worried that they were now reliant on me to fix this and every other food related emergency they might have and that I couldn’t. I had to send a message to my mother in-law saying that I was sorry, but she would have to source her own milk. Then I went on Twitter to ask for support groups in the area and Facebook to find someone to help. In the meantime – she’d taken control of the situation and sorted it all. Bread. Milk. Veg. The lot. Me saying ‘no’ had helped her take control and she is now as a result far less anxious than she was before. As am I. But I still felt so guilty that I couldn’t help, before I realised that in a weird way I did help anyway. Saying no is ok. There are so many different ways we can help people, but we (okay, I) need to learn to help ourselves as well. And sometimes that means saying no if you need to, which brings me on to…
  3. Watch your social media time. And I don’t mean Twitter and Facebook etc like I mentioned last week – I mean Zoom, House Party, FaceTime etc Ironically I’ve been more social over the last week than I have been for a long time and whilst it has been lovely and I am eternally grateful we have the internet and I have awesome friends who want to see my face online and have a chat, I’m exhausted! And it’s no surprise that Coronavirus is all everyone is talking about and that in itself can get very draining, well for me anyway. If you need to, say no to the group chat and then join in the next one. And don’t make the mistake of scheduling three for one evening. But of course (it should go without saying) if you can’t get enough of socializing online then carry on, but at times for me last week it was all a bit much and it also meant I never saw my husband because I was ‘out’ every evening. I know this is going to be the only way I can socialize for the next twelve weeks, but I decided that I don’t need it all in a week. Stay connected yes, but if you need a bit of a breather and some time out then that is okay too. It’s about knowing our own boundaries and tolerances and needs and doing what is right for us. I’ve scheduled in from 3pm – 4pm every day as ‘me time’ where my husband will take no conference calls and be with the boys. And I will upstairs with a book and no phone. 
  4. Look after your eyes. See above point. If you have glasses for reading, wear them! We are all staring at screens or reading etc possibly more than we would normally, so be kind to your eyes and save yourself a headache or three! 
  5. Breathe. Keep doing it. It was important last week and it’s important this week. But I’ve forgotten to take time to breathe this week and have needed regular reminders to chill for five. Breathing is simple. It’s free. It works. Keep doing it. The weather has been so lovely I’ve been heading out in to the garden and breathing in the warmth and vitamin D. 
  6. Learn to let go. Of guilt. Of ‘I should be doing this,’ or of  ‘I ought to be doing that.’ Of trying to be everything to everyone. Of trying to control stuff you can’t control. No you shouldn’t and no you oughtn’t and no you cannot control what is happening outside the four walls of your home at the moment. And sometimes you cannot control what is happening inside them either. It doesn’t mean you are failing or doing something wrong. I promise. 
  7. Alcohol – it can be your friend and your enemy. For me, and there is no judgment here, I’ve discovered that hangovers and the depressive side of drinking doesn’t always help me cope with shit like this. You’d think I’d have learnt that by now, but no. I’m trying really hard not to drink every night. It’s tempting, but I’m one of these people that can’t really stop at one glass, so it’s better for me not to have one at all. On the nights I drank in the last week my sleep was poor and I woke up far more anxious on the mornings after. For me, it wasn’t worth it. 
  8. Exercise really does help. I’m not a doctor so I won’t go into the mechanics of it, but doing some exercise burns off all of the extra adrenaline stress and anxiety causes. The body holds stress just as much as the mind and it really helps to get it out. Shake it off like Taylor. Dance the night away. Do the Wham rap. Swear at Joe Wicks when your legs are burning and he shouts for parents to get off the sofa and join in again. I don’t care how do it, just get moving! (okay I do care, social distancing etc etc!)
  9. Be selfish. And no, I don’t mean stockpile toilet paper or go to a party in the park. I mean know what you need and tell people. Do what is right for you; heck maybe even put yourself first for a change. As long as you are not neglecting or hurting anyone in the process then do whatever it is that you need to do. And in doing so if people are being pissy because they can’t pop round and see you (I have heard this happening) or are annoyed that you’ve cancelled an event or are refusing to go to one, you can quite rightly tell them to fuck off. We have been advised to stay at home for a reason. So do it.
  10.  Start a wish jar. We did this today. ALL of the things we’ve taken for granted or that we miss doing are being written on paper and put in a jar and then we are free again, I’ve set a timer for us, then we will DO THEM ALL. It’s giving us hope and something to look forward to.
  11.  Following on from point number 1 – your child or children’s moods might change this week. Again, this is normal I think. Mine are moodier, more lethargic, less enthusiastic about any sort of directed learning.  I can’t decide if Joe Wicks (brilliant though he is) is a fab way to start the day, or if he’s tiring my children out and depleting them of all their energy resources by 9.30am. My seven year old is finding the change and isolation the hardest. Luckily we had all the stuff needed to make a sensory bottle, which is helping him, but we’ve also made a safe space for him to escape to if he needs some time out. It’s hard not to snap, but for me I find letting him get it out of his system best before I then go in for a hug. I validate his emotions, he is allowed to feel angry and frightened and overwhelmed and everything else, but he’s not allowed to hurt anyone or break anything because he is feeling that way. You know your children, and you’ll know what works for them. Here, at the moment, it’s a sensory bottle and some time alone to let the emotion pass. Then a hug and a chat about it. And an apology if needed. Failing that bribery and corruption all the way, fuck it. As I’ve said, we’ve never been here before; we don’t know the right or wrong ways to handle this. Just survive!
  12.  Remember to take it one day at a time. I became overwhelmed when we were told we had to stay on for twelve weeks. It seemed so long, and that period of time is when all of my children’s birthdays fall. I was sad for all of the things we had to cancel. I couldn’t even begin to think about when this is all over because I was terrified that for us it would never be over. It all became too much and I had to remind myself and listen to everyone who said, one day. Just take it one day at a time. And if that is too much then just one hour at a time. Breakfast. Go outdoors. Lunch. Break it all down to manageable slots. One day at a time is doable and realistic in a time when things can change so drastically in a day. 

I hope that all makes sense. This week feels more muddled, and my mental health has certainly been all over the pace, rather like this blog post I suspect. 

Hang in there everyone!

And as the famous quote goes… 

If you’re going through hell, keep going!