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! 

Some self-isolation tips!

Seeing as we’re a little ahead of the game and are week into being at home, just the four of us (I tried to persuade the 18yo to come back from uni, but she’s on a nursery placement and is needed. I’m not happy about it.) I thought it would be helpful for me to write a blogpost about what I’ve learnt this week. Plus it gives me something to do!  I’ve learnt about what helps me stay sane, and what helps my family. I thought that as many of you might be about to embark on self isolation and social distancing – and for how long who knows – that it might be helpful for me to share some of those things… (caveat: we’re all different and in different situations, I know that. This is just what has helped me, a mum of three, two with a serious lung disease and immune issues, and my over active brain that likes to always err on the side of extreme catastrophisation.)

  • Deep breathing is your friend. Sounds simple doesn’t is? Just breathe. But it is something we easily forget when we are feeling overwhelmed and anxious. Deeply breathe into the diaphragm – in for four, hold for four, out for four, hold for four, repeat (there are other variations for this online, but this one works for me.) This helps the part of your fight or flight system reset itself and tell your brain you are not in immediate danger. You can do this anywhere, anytime. Standing, sitting, lying. Whilst you’re making a cup of tea or are on the loo. Lower your shoulders and breathe deeply. Close your eyes if it helps. Do it now.
  • Try and keep to a routine. It’s very tempting to want to stay in your pyjamas all day because you can, but if you usually got up at 7am and had a shower then do the same. If you used to run to and from work go for a run around the block before you start work and when you finish. Have a proper lunch break. Finish work at the same time you would normally. Keeping a routine helps us keep some level of normality in our lives. One of my children would happily stay in his pjs all day, and maybe I don’t make him get dressed for the whole day, but at least for part of it!
  • Get outside. I cannot repeat this enough. Do some deep breathing outside = even better. Social distancing still applies here, but you can go for a walk or a run or a bike ride and steer well clear of anyone else. If you have a garden get in it. If you don’t, open a window and lean out and feel the sun (if it’s out!) on your face. My eleven year old and I are starting couch to 5K today. Do whatever you can manage, but try and get outside at least once a day, even if it’s just to sit.
  • Restrict access to the news. It is very easy to go down a rabbit hole of doom and need to check every update, every breaking development, but it is not healthy. And a lot of what is happening is out of our control, which can be extremely anxiety inducing. Limit your access to news to maybe once a day. I’ve deleted Twitter and Facebook from my phone as well as the news apps and it has been life changing. No, I am not in denial, I am just confident that if I need to know something, I’ll find it out.
  • Donate and do good where you can. I’m supporting the local food bank, as well as a local hospital’s staff in their ICU department by donating much needed toiletries. I’ve ordered goods from friends who run their own businesses and have championed fellow authors etc online. It helps me feel like I am doing something to help even though I am stuck at home. And that I’m not powerless.
  • Be kind to each other. We’re all a bit overwhelmed by this and not sure how to behave. I’ve learnt to have a bit more tolerant this week for my husband who has been working 24/7, upstairs in our bedroom on the phone, to keep his job. When we first went into isolation I resented that I was the one home educating, and cooking, and doing all the boys’ physio and medicine etc etc whilst still working myself. But he’s also playing a vital role in keeping us safe, and if that means he can’t help out practically then so be it.
  • Take the pressure off. We are not all teachers. We do not need to recreate school at home. Our children (I’m talking primary level here as that’s how old mine are, I appreciate it’s different for secondary school aged children) do not need to have daily algebra lessons or spend hours learning about fronted sodding adverbials. Bake. Do some gardening. Create. Watch films together. Go for walks. Play board games. Give them screen time. Whatever. Yes, try keeping to a routine and yes, if they want to learn something more formal then go for it, but don’t set expectations for homeschooling that no one is going to meet. If you want some inspiration I’m posting on Instagram (jenfaulknerwriter) what we’re doing most days. I’m very lucky to have been a primary school teacher for fifteen years, but that doesn’t mean I find this homeschooling malarkey easy. I’m just being guided by my children and am trying to find ways of teaching them through what they are interested in. If you would find a blog post of homeschooling ideas helpful then please comment below.
  • Have virtual get-togethers. Grab a drink, get some snacks, heck put your make up on and a fancy outfit and then FaceTime, or Whatsapp, or Zoom and get together. Social contact is so important and I miss my friends. And it’s the same for my children – my eleven year old is currently enjoying a group FaceTime with his peers who are also off school at the moment. They’re talking nonsense, but it is so lovely to hear them laugh and see each other’s faces!
  • Take time out for yourself. If you can (I know not everyone can) but have a bath, read a book, go for a walk, out some headphones on and dance to your favourite tunes. I crave time on my own and if I don’t have it I can easily feel overwhelmed. Yesterday I went into another room and read a book for half an hour and it was enough. Today I’m on my own writing this. Tomorrow maybe I’ll walk the dog.
  • Keep a gratitude diary. I’ve been doing this religiously since this shitty virus came into circulation. And I have got a lot more to be grateful for than I realised. It’s helping put things into perspective and is taking the momentous fear away. I am so lucky in so many ways and instead of spiralling into fear and anxiety (which over the past week, I have done many a time let me tell you) I now sit back and say what is good about this situation that I have no power over and find the positives. There are always some, I promise.
  • Have a look at all the positives that are happening around the world in response to this. See how people are pulling together. Search the internet as it is full of wonderful people offering support for free. Free yoga, crafts, films, plays, lessons and so much more. And then look at Venice, where dolphins and swans are coming back as pollution there has lessened. Marvel at how the air over China is cleaner than it has been in decades. Mother Nature is benefitting from this hugely.

All I can say is that over the past seven days there have been ups and downs. Moments of sheer ‘holy fuck I can’t do this for weeks how will I cope what if my mum gets it and I can’t go and help her or my daughter what if we run out of food or i have to start wiping my bum with a flannel’ etc but now, I actually, honestly feel very calm and very positive. I’m lucky I love having my children here with me, and I’m getting to know them more, understand them more. I don’t have to worry that they might catch a bug at school or become overtired or unwell. And tomorrow night my husband and I are going on a date to a fancy restaurant (the kitchen) and then to the cinema (the lounge.) and I am looking forward to it as much s I would be if we were going out for real. My attitude has changed in response to my circumstances. This time at home has made me feel better, not worse. Maybe it’s because I am taking the time to look after myself more. I am eating better as I have more time to cook. I am exercising more as I have more time to get out. Plus my house is getting cleaner and less cluttered by the day as I have time to get on top of all the stupid little jobs that have me nagging at me for months. We’ve slowed down and it was just what we needed.

It is going to be okay. Take it one day at a time, one hour at a time if you need to. No ‘what ifs,’ just facts about the here and now. Stay safe. Stay healthy.

This too shall undoubtedly pass.

Change

Change: an act or process through which something becomes different.

I’ve just left my seven year old crying at the school gates. He’s not good with change, even ones he is used to and has done many times before. And neither am I, even though over the years I’ve been forced to deal with many different changes in my life. Some chosen. Others not. September, for example, is always a tricky month for me and I wonder if it stems from forty-two years of September being a period of huge change in my life. 

            You start school in September. Start college, university, always new beginning after new beginning. I left home in September. Found out I was expecting my first child in September. The body remembers what the mind forgets. Feelings I experienced during each and every one of those Septembers haunt me now, whether I’m starting a new venture or not. Sleepless nights filled with anxiety and self doubt, body aches, butterflies, a feeling of uncertainty. September is the one month of the year where I become full of nostalgia and can reach the exact feelings I felt as a teenager. 

            And then this September my teenager, my beautiful, confident and wonderful eighteen year old, left for university. More change. Except, just like it was during the September I found out I was carrying her, I felt like I was facing it alone. None of my peers have children leaving for university. They all have children the same age as my younger two sons, and they don’t even want to think about their children leaving home as it’s too painful and a long way off. But, and yes it’s a hideous cliché, it’s never as far off as you think. Blink and that’s it. Childhood done. Gone. And my god you just have to pray that they’ve listened and they’ve learnt and they can actually function in the world without you. 

            I’ve always been the kind of parent who believes our role is to bring our children up to be independent confident human beings who can survive in the world without us. When my children started nursery I was straight out the door. When they started school I was the first parent to leave them in the classroom. I didn’t cry. This was the order of things, they would go, be confident, survive without me at every stage. And it was the same that very first day for my daughter at university. I was the first parent to leave, on her terms I might add, she asked me to go. But for the first time ever I wasn’t happy to do so. My husband drove the car home because I thought I’d be an emotional wreck. Turns out he spent the entire journey bawling like a baby, whilst I sat emotionless comforting him. (I’m not good at reaching out or being vulnerable, it is not a good quality at times.)

            The next few weeks were tough. People asked me how I was, but no one really got it. Oh she’s only an hour away, they’d say. But they didn’t understand that she might as well be in Outer Mongolia for all the time I was going to see her. Oh you must be so proud she’s so confident and enjoying herself, they’d say. But they didn’t understand that I felt as though my heart had been ripped out and left there with her. Or I spoke to women whose children left a long time ago, and were enjoying all of their child-free time. Oh I love it when they go back, she said. I can do whatever I want now. And so I sucked everything up and didn’t voice how I felt anymore. I didn’t need reassurance it turns out, I just needed someone who felt the same to understand. 

And then I bumped into a mum of an old friend of my daughter’s from primary school, who’s daughter had also just gone to university. And she asked me how I was, and as she did she looked at me with tears in her eyes and said she felt bereft. That she was walking the dog constantly because the house was too unbearably quiet. That she didn’t know what to do with herself. That she felt as though something had died. 

And that was it. Nail on the head. It was grief. I was grieving. Grieving for the relationship I had with my daughter and how it had changed the day she left. Of course I’m still her mum and am there when she needs me, but not in the same way. Not like when she’d fall over as a toddler and reach out her arms for comfort. Or when she’d had a tough time as school and needed some reassurance. We’d never been apart for more than a week before she left. I missed tripping over her shoes in the hallway. I missed telling her to be quiet because her younger brothers were trying to go to sleep. I missed hearing about her day. Sitting on the sofa with her watching a box set together. Cuddling her. Cooking for her. Mothering her.

I often wonder (I like to find a reason for things) as to why her going away hit me harder than I’d expected, and I’ve reached two conclusions. The first has to do with our relationship. When I found out I was pregnant with my daughter her father wasn’t pleased about it and I knew I would be going it alone right from the start. For five years it was just the two of us, until I met my husband. We were close. She is great company and knows me better than anyone.  The fact that other people now know her better than I do hurts a little. As well as the fact that she’d rather be with them than me, even though I totally understand, I was the same. 

Which brings me to the second thing. My relationship with my mum, which wasn’t quite the same. We weren’t as close when I was a teenager (thankfully we are now, my daughter giving us common ground) but when I left for university it was different. I was very close to my dad, who passed away when I was twenty-two. He was the one who phoned every Thursday to see how I was, who came to pick me up when I had glandular fever, who’d write me letters and slip me a tenner with strict instructions that it not be spent on cheap white wine. My daughter going away brings a lot of that back and I am stuck reminiscing about a time of change that wasn’t always very pleasant with some difficult memories I haven’t quite dealt with, but maybe that’s for another blog post.

Change is a big thing for lots of people. Some embrace it, some shy away from it, and some, like me, struggle to adjust. And children are often the source of major change in our lives. 

My daughter has been home for the Christmas holidays for two weeks now, and with her brought more differences for us both to get used to. She likes to stay up Face-timing her friends until 3am. I like to sleep from 9pm. She’s fighting hard to prove how independent she is by driving all over the country to see her university friends. Cooking for herself. Applying for jobs for next term. Not asking for any money. She’s changed. She’s thriving. She is living her best life. And maybe if she hadn’t left for university we might have started to grate on each other a little bit more. It had already started, niggles here, lack of understanding there. Maybe we needed some time apart to find out who we both are independent of each other, before coming back again and forming a new bond. A different type of mother daughter relationship. One where we are both adults capable of looking after ourselves and each other. 

Someone I know recently said to me, ‘wait until they get married, then you really do lose them forever.’

But we won’t think about that change yet. 

I’m still adjusting to this one.