Self isolating is hard, even if you do enjoy your own company and have many activities to keep you occupied - as I do. And the weather has been decidedly off.
This week has been a struggle, so I'm posting fun stuff I did a week prior, to remind myself that a little light relief goes a long way!
Quizzing with friends, creativity and family fun
I am devouring wonderful TV at the moment during Lockdown - The Nest, Call the Midwife, Shrill, The Split, Gameface, King Gary, Line of Duty, Killing Eve, Last Tango in Halifax, Unforgotten, Marcella, Black Mirror, This Country, Liar, Our Girl, Friday Night Dinner, Flack, Bosch, All Round to Mrs Brown's Boys and Luther. As you can see, my tastes range from absolute silliness to beautiful comedy drama to deep despair and darkness. I think this is why I'm currently really enjoying and connecting with the wave of tragicomedy from the likes of Dead to me, Fleabag and Ricky Gervais's After Life because it blends all three of these things into one, big emotional punch. It's raw and unfettered and a ballsy way to address the delicate subject of grief.
It has taken me 6 months to pluck up the courage to watch After Life after friends recommended it. They warned me I needed to make sure I was in the right headspace because of its subject matter. So now, I've almost finished Series 1 and its sheer brilliance is bringing me to my knees and I am in awe, so much so that I had to write about it on today's post. I said to my sisters that if they want to know what life was like for me when I was having my break down, please watch this. The portrayal of grief in all its many crucifying forms stomping on my heart daily and causing the greatest of pain I have ever felt, the absurdity and randomness of life when I truly believed I'd lost the only thing that really mattered to me, and the beauty of Gervais's writing that makes me laugh and cry and gasp for air simultaneously - this is the brilliance I am talking about.
Because the pain of losing your best friend and soul mate is undeniably one of the worse pains of all, powerful enough to crush your body and turn your mind to insanity and you will do anything, anything to eliminate it. And how do you tell that story without making your whole audience suicidal as well? Humour. Injecting just enough lightheartedness in whatever form you choose - romantic, tragic, dramatic - to warm the soul, whilst simultaneously feeling the pain and despair. This is such a fine balance that I would love to be able to portray in my own writing one day.
Like Tony, I remember feeling like a suicidal, invincible superhero (as paradoxical as that sounds) - the worse thing had happened to me so nothing else was ever going to be as bad. I remember looking at suicide as my "get out of jail free" card and the odd sense of peace and comfort it gave me. I remember seriously wanting to try heroin. All of a sudden I could see very clearly how people become addicts. I remember the countless times on my commute home how I almost stepped off the platform as an incoming train rushed through. I remember standing at the tops of buildings, looking down, weighing up the pros and cons of smashing my body into the concrete below. I googled methods of suicide whist on my lunch break, looking at comparison charts rating effectiveness, reading case studies of overdose patients to work out how much I needed of each type of medication, arguing with doctors to give me more sleeping pills, plotting how I could get my hands on benzos and opiods from all over the world, watching videos to educate myself on how to tie a hangman's noose, testing out the dark web to see if I could buy a gun and then, when I realised I wouldn't be able to shoot myself because I read a story about a woman who tried to and all she did was blow her face off, I looked at hiring someone to do it for me. I even considered a euthanasia clinic to end my suffering.
It was a dark, despairing, hopeless place to be in, but, unlike Tony, I kept it to myself. And to this day, I don't know which is worse because the burden he is putting on the people around him is exactly what I didn't want to do. Yet looking back, I would also say that talking about my grief and everything else it was bringing up for me was the best thing I ever did.
When I was in hospital, in the early part of my stay, one of the nurses said to me that I frightened her because she witnessed me laughing and joking around on the ward trying to cheer up the other patients, but my notes said, if I was allowed leave, I would immediately go out and try and kill myself again. It took me a long time to realise that the extent I was going to to hide my pain was not the best of coping mechanisms and I didn't have to smile and laugh and joke my way through this crisis. And the fact I wasn't going to be discharged until I did some real work in the form of CBT, DBT and ACT - all very useful therapies when your crisis has gone beyond the spiralling stage and you've hit your rock bottom - meant I needed to be there to get myself back on track because I'd proved I couldn't do it on my own. Another nurse said to me that it wasn't just about me and happiness is everywhere if I look hard enough and that made me think too. Just like Tony, I had lost myself in my grief and it was exhausting.
I think this is why I can connect so completely and fully with the heart wrenching tragedy, bubble wrapped in the silliness and fierceness of brash and brazen "on the nose" comedy portrayed in the likes of Fleabag and After Life. In my mind, it is a way of tackling those difficult, despairing issues and talking about my own experiences so I can educate people whilst also entertaining them, or, maybe that should read "engaging them" because what has happened to me is not a joke. It was a real and painful, tangible experience which has changed me forever. And now I am thinking about boundaries and how I am still trying to find that line I decide I won't cross, which I know is somewhere in between being the shy, reserved, emotionally stunted child I was to the overly extrovert introvert person I have become. Neither of which sit well with me. But I am working on that!
I was supposed to be flying to Bucharest today - the first trip of 2020 - but that's obviously not happening, as we now know lockdown is on for at least another 3 weeks and no one is going anywhere.
I'm keeping all of the details though because I know I will be taking this trip at some point...
I do have plenty of things to keep me occupied, there is never a shortage. I went full pelt last Tuesday and rightly or wrongly pushed myself physically for most of the day. I chopped up an old bench with a rather heavy axe and then dug, raked and added manure to the garden. I was exhausted by the end of it, but in the Fibro pain management programme hosted by the NHS - more to come on this - I did learn to weigh up the pros and cons of doing extended periods of physical work - and in this instance, the pain and fatigue I had afterwards was worth it because of what I'd achieved. This is not always the case though, so we have to be careful. I knew I had a yoga nidra class (via Zoom) that evening, so I knew I was going to be able to wholly relax both mind and body and, having done this before, I knew it would help the after effects of pushing myself. Such a fine line though and we are all very, very different, with different symptoms and different pain levels and there is no "one size fits all" fix to Fibromyalgia.
Fatigue and the loss of core strength and flexibility are the two things that eat me up with Fibro. The fatigue continues to baffle me and I liken my body core to a crane which doesn't want to work properly - no strength to lift and no flexibility to move smoothly. Through physio, yoga, working with my PT and my counsellor, medication, diet, nutrition and supplements (and it does take all of these things and often feels overwhelming, confusing and exhausting!) I am trying to un-trap my mind and body from both depression and Fibro. It's like learning to drive a car all over again as currently I'm stuck thinking about every move and thought.
Thank goodness for the sunshine, as we enter the third week of lockdown, and being able to keep active and get some natural vitamin D. I've been doing loads of gardening (as well as continuing with the mass decluttering inside the house) - pruning, digging, raking in manure, sowing wild flower seeds, re-designing borders and building up damaged areas of the lawns, all to get everything ready for planting in about 6-7 weeks time. I did realise on Good Friday that I'd overlooked one vital part of all this - buying compost - so I went online (probably not the best day..), but with the horrific virtual queues, I ended up spending about 4x as much as I would in an ordinary, sane year. But needs must! I've got about 400 plant plugs arriving over the next few weeks and they will require bringing on in trays.
We are all adapting, some better than others, in these strange and uncertain times. Technology is a godsend though. Good Friday evening I had a "video watch party" with my older sister and nephew as Amazon Prime were showing the theatre version of Fleabag for £4 and all monies were going to key workers. It was so lovely to be virtually with some of my family at a time when we would naturally all be together for Easter. I did feel a real boost afterwards, just having some social contact. Then the weekend was quite busy with clients rebooking for 2021 - also a boost, as I now know my trip in May to Beirut and Istanbul has been cancelled and I am feeling weird about having no travels to look forward to.
It's funny (and somewhat predictable) how I am still trying to manage all of the different things in my life - even after writing this very same thing when I started this blog back in 2011 - and now living with Fibro and all the issues that raises. I am constantly battling against the To Do list that just keeps going and another long acceptance journey for me is to come to terms with the fact that we are never "done". This week I was trying to put my exercise, stretching and diet plan into an easy to remember format because, at the moment, the stuff I do independent of my sessions is a little haphazard. It is so easy to get sidetracked and my brain has definitely become more "foggy". I have to keep reminding myself each little step forward is progress because Fibromyalgia only allows a certain amount of spoon activity and then we need to rest and recoup and start again the next day.
I think April is my favourite month because it heralds Spring and a re-awakening. Freshness. Newness. Hope. Starting again. It's my New Years, only 3 months later.
In my 20s, I used to take a business travel trip at the start of each April or thereabouts. For every trip, I remember coming into land at Heathrow, after another wonderful adventure, always excited to be coming home, sun (usually) shining on a sparkly, vibrant London, and I would feel truly alive with the prospect of what was to come - better weather, flowers blooming, countryside walks, focus costing up the new brochures at work, long, sultry evenings, fresh determination to complete personal projects... I was brimming with purpose.
This changed for a couple of years when Colin passed away on the 3rd back in 2017. I lost my sense of everything for a while there. This week has been tough with his anniversary last Friday. The first time I have spent it alone and felt ok (and trusting myself!) Despite Covid 19 looming, needing to set up my home working kit, deciding at the 11th hour to rip out the old desks we built together in our "office" almost 20 years ago and replace with a single desk I bought shortly after he passed, and continuing with my physio, yoga and PT and all that these activities entail, I took some time out to visit one of our many, many favourite spots where we both saw our first Duke of Burgundy butterflies amongst the cowslips. I had the site all to myself and it was a peaceful afternoon where I didn't have to dodge my emotions.
Again, remembering back to my 20s when I worked from home quite a bit, I do know I need a proper routine for myself and stick to work hours only. It's funny how we change. Gone are the days I will work in my PJs! I have to get up, shower, dress, make coffee and eat breakfast for sure.
I think now that we as a nation have a better idea of what is expected of us, things have calmed down a lot. Some Tesco delivery slots even opened up this past weekend when I went online Saturday evening to check mine was still coming this morning!
I am certainly managing to stay very focused (although today, apart from counselling over the phone, will be a designated PJ day). I am trying to do a little bit of exercise everyday and some self care - thanks to my PT who has set these as two daily goals on the app we use together, Trainerize. I'm also trying to cook from scratch more, be creative in simple ways and do something useful around the house and/or garden - as there are so many jobs on the To Do list.
One thing I have been thinking about a lot, is the fact the whole world is in this together and suddenly we've all had to stop, take note and adapt in every aspect of our lives. Initially, this scared the hell out of me (as I know it did to most people), but now my fight or flight has calmed down, I see it as permission to Just Be. And the funny thing is, why has it taken a worldwide pandemic to allow myself this permission? In the most bizarre way possible, I am actually enjoying living day to day for the first time in a very, very long time. The freedom of not worrying about the future is a huge weight which has been lifted and suddenly my mind has capacity to think about other, more enjoyable things. Yes, I do feel frustrated that there are many loose ends with my travel plans and trips I was planning to take, which has taken (and is still taking) some time to accept, but, in a weird and wonderful way, I am feeling like it is OK and I am OK.
I'm gradually easing into blogging again. I'm just going to stick with one day a week for the moment.
Things have calmed down a little in the office and feel a little less overwhelming, but we still have thousands of people stranded abroad who we are trying to bring home. It doesn't help that countries like Singapore, Australia and the UAE are releasing information about restricting transits through their airports and then, retracting that information days later, once they have caused complete and utter chaos and cancelled hundreds of flights unnecessarily. It doesn't seem a very responsible move considering the amount of holidaymakers still trying to get home.
Despite Coronavirus, life for me remains very much intact, albeit with some social distancing tweaks. My 10 week Fibromyalgia pain management program finished last week - more details on this excellent course hosted by the NHS later - and has been super helpful in my understanding of this condition and how I can better manage it. A few of my recovery and health activities have been suspended like swimming, the Recovery College course I was doing and my volunteering driving elderly people to their hospital appointments. Some things like my 1-2-1 yoga sessions are going "virtual" with the help of Zoom, and my appointments with my Dr are now on the telephone rather than in person. I still got to let off steam in the gym with my PT on Friday, have a very relaxing and well needed myofascial back massage in the afternoon, and I still was able to see my counsellor today, but I don't know how long these face-to-face activities will be allowed to last in the present climate. I'm just making the most of them whilst I still can!
On the travel and entertainment front, my first trip of the year to Bucharest at the end of April has been cancelled and I was going to see Dame Judi Dench in conversation at the Bridge Theatre, but two days after booking and that also got postponed.
I am not a fan of change. I am also not a fan of being put in a position of worry about upcoming plans and having to make decisions with such uncertainty pressing down on me. It sparks my anxiety, which is something I didn't suffer with until my partner passed away. That first panic attack is a very scary thing. I've come a long way since then, but I have felt very suppressed these last couple of weeks. I've been doing a lot of deep breathing! I think the change in weather has definitely helped me to get back on track and also restricting social media and watching the news just once a day. I have been trying to feel present and in the moment and being in the sunshine and starting to tidy up the gardens is extremely grounding. I am starting to feel calmer and more accepting that what will be, will be and if my plans all go up in smoke, it's ok. Concentrating on my health is another huge focus that distracts me on a daily basis. I am almost glad to have fibro - and I cannot believe I am saying this!
It's Monday morning and I'm waking up to peace and sunshine and a lovely, well deserved lie in. After this I will be waiting for my Tesco shop where I hope I will be brought at least some grocery items (even if they are subs of what I originally ordered for my home delivery) and my all important treat - pain au chocolate to go with my coffee. I saw countless pics on Facebook this weekend of empty shelves in supermarkets in my local area. I'm lucky, it's only me and the cat.. and I don't need toilet roll.
This weekend was definitely the worse weekend ever in my 20 year travel career, unprecedented in terms of the sheer volume of issues arising around the world with our clients and not having the policies from airlines etc in place, as news continually broke like the domino effect, with countries closing their borders or imposing self isolation upon arrival into a destination. The 3 major ones were Canada, the US and Australia, with New Zealand prior to that on Friday. I can tell you, it was like one bomb shell dropping after another, and the phones going crazy in our offices up and down the country. But the adrenaline kicked in Saturday morning and kept me going right through until Sunday evening. However, my body is now fighting back because being in constant fight or flight mode does not help the fibro. I now have two days to rest and recoup thank goodness.
So it has been a while since I last posted on here. It's been a tough journey these last 3 and a half years; one of complicated grieving after losing my best friend and partner of 17 years, watching my mental health plummet into a mire of suicide attempts, debilitating emptiness and desperation and losing my way and purpose for a very, very long time, and then - with this being my only superstition, namely everything happening in threes - being diagnosed with Fibromyalgia - that mystery chronic illness that nobody understands!
I even lost my travelling mojo and didn't turn up for a flight - that is something I never ever thought could happen.
It has taken me a long time to make myself sit at this computer and start writing again. It has been a heavy burden to carry. Somehow I can't find the words as easily as before. But they are coming and my patience with myself is paying off.
I guess my writing and travelling now has taken on a lot more meaning, or maybe just a different kind of meaning and significance. I recently told my doctor and counsellor that the prospect of visiting all 190 odd countries in the world is something that is keeping me alive. I think my eyes have been opened wide to grief and mental health, something I had previously not really given much thought to being wrapped up in my happy little life. I have also taken a long, hard look at my physical health and am trying to implement changes to diet, exercise, nutrition, sleep, fitness and stamina - basically a complete life style overhaul which is both daunting, yet exciting.
I plan to share this part of my journey (grief, mental health, Fibromyalgia) here on my blog, along with my continuing travels (although somewhat restricted at the moment with Covid 19 taking over the world) and my writing life, now that it has finally started up again.
Cheers to being back!
I'll write everywhere and anywhere and so, as we left Bulgaria, sitting in the VIP lounge waiting for our flight, when I was handed the VIP book, I felt it was time for a little poem...
More to follow on Bulgaria!
Blogging is an amazing concept so here I am giving it a whirl. You'll get words. You'll get pics. Sometimes a vid or two. You'll get tongue in cheek, the odd humble opinion and an honest insight into my travels and writing life. Maybe even a few gems along the way. I'll be musing on home turf as I see more and more of the UK and sharing my experiences further afield on holidays and adventurous trips across the globe.