Sunday, 15 November 2020

I am too scared to write.

I am too scared to write. I am too scared to sit down and type something, anything, out. Writing makes feelings and thoughts come out that you were trying to avoid. I am trying to avoid feeling things other than a) neutral or b) happy. I am feeling happy a lot at the moment, actually. But I can sense things lurking and I don't want them to visit me.  

I am too scared to write because I feel anxious. I think that's the word that would best describe it. A vague but definite sense of almost panic. The fear of what happens when I do that, or this, or when I sit down to write. What happens then? What is lurking in me that I don't want to feel? 

The truth is I know exactly what is lurking in me. I know where it's coming from, and what it's about. But I don't always want to confront it. Not now. And that's what writing does, if you let it. 

I am too scared to write, but I wrote this. I almost confronted feelings. I certainly faced a fear. And that's enough, for now. 

It's funny, the way something so irrational can get all up in your head. 

Saturday, 7 November 2020

Lockdown part II.

Lockdown when the days are shorter. Lockdown when it's cold and dark and meeting with friends for warmth and support is limited to the outside when the sun is shining. This time there is less uncertainty (all things considered), and more freedom. Still this time round I am safe in my home, with my family who are healthy, we have food, we have warmth (when the heating's working), we can sit in front of the fire watching Netflix. The Indian food van in my local town is still selling the Best Samosas Ever. 

Still, I think, with all of those things in mind, it is okay to be frightened. It is okay to feel down. It is okay to fear the long, dark nights ahead. It is okay to feel angry and frustrated. It is okay to acknowledge that undercurrent of anxiety running through us all. It is okay to feel scared on behalf of others, scared for their businesses and livelihoods, scared for their health. 

It is okay because to ignore those reactions and feelings would be to bury them. The idea of spending the next four weeks trying to push that all away is actually more frightening to me. That's how you spiral, that's how you get lost. 

It is okay to acknowledge that mustering the courage and the spirit we had the last time round is perhaps harder now. No one wants to do it again. It is no longer new and the energy it took to get through the first one has been spent. 

Some people will enjoy this time, and that's okay too. But to feel exhausted at the prospect of going through all of it again is not something we should be beating ourselves up for. 

I am going to have to practice a lot of self-forgiveness in order to get through the next four weeks. I am going to have to be really, really kind to myself. And that's okay. It's going to be okay. Deep breaths. 

Monday, 26 October 2020

Thanks to the cat.

I have that underlying feeling of anxiety today. A sort of hum beneath my surface. I go to do almost anything and I get a little jab in my chest, my brain jumping to something sad or unpleasant. My shoulders rising to my ears with the tension I keep holding. 

It is okay. It won't last. Perhaps by the afternoon it will have faded away. I know why I feel this way. Time of the month. Global pandemic. Climate change. Incompetent, self-serving government. The lingering remnants of a heartbreak, almost vanished but still there. 

Whenever I feel this way it is often my cat that restores a sense of calm. God knows what I did in the days before him. 

Today he stepped in from the garden and, as cats often do, immediately decided to turn around and go back out. But when I went to open the door he sniffed my feet lovingly before looking up at me with that imperious manner as if to say "it is time for a cuddle." 

I sat down on the floor and crossed my legs. He circled me slowly. I picked him up. He settled on my thigh. We sat looking out into the fresh morning, the sun warming his fur and my face. 

For a moment I felt so still and so calm, that anxious hum fading away. It was just me, the cat, and the sun.  

What a deep pleasure it is to be chosen by your cat for a moment of shared stillness. 

Sunday, 4 October 2020

Simple pleasures.

I have a routine now. Thank god. For three days a week I commute into London to train at a drama school.  It is completely delightful. 

The sense of purpose in itself feels like a huge relief. The movement from one place to another, the ability to leave my house for the day and see something new and different each time is a privilege I'd never have thought to be so thankful for. 

Perhaps the commute is unusually enjoyable because there are so few people on the trains. There isn't that bizarre bustle for the last few remaining seats, nor is there any need to sniff in a stranger's armpits as we are packed like sardines into the tube. Although I long to be near other people again, and I can't touch or hug my new friends. 

I love a routine that makes me feel like I am going somewhere, literally and figuratively. I secretly love the hustle of getting past bad drivers in their Chelsea tractors on their way to dropping small children at school. I love the feeling that everyone has somewhere they need to be getting to. How strange it was for us all to be standing still. 

I am not writing one of those Dettol adverts that attempted to romanticise the soul destroying office work that we will all be glad to see the back of. I just like the busyness, the energy lifting up again, the ability to see other humans in all their shapes and sizes. 

I love that one morning I stood at the platform and across the tracks I saw a young mum and her son share a moment of pure bliss, their love radiating all the way to where I was standing. He pecked her with a kiss, and another, and another and I was witness to their lovely, happy moment. Now every time I see them across the platform I smile to myself, my mood lifting with the memory. 

Some mornings I hear James, the station master, speak into the tannoy. "Hello, Mollie" he says. I wander over to the office and we speak through the glass. He asks how I am, how my mum is. He tells me about the leaf fall timetable changes, and the holiday he is going on. He'll see me in November, he says. 

I love the feeling of going somewhere. Of seeing other people going somewhere. To be slightly over the top it puts a spring in my step. 

It is a simple pleasure, and I am extraordinarily grateful to have it. 

Sunday, 13 September 2020

My little sister.

I dropped my sister off at university yesterday. I didn't think much of it before but now it's one day with her gone and already I am finding myself thinking "oh, Hannah's not here." 

Being the older one I haven't felt this before. I was the one moving away to new horizons, not thinking too much about how my sister might feel without me in the house. She might not want to admit it but I know that she missed me when I was at university. 

My sister is one of those people who always comes across as very capable. She can be very pragmatic when she needs to be. So I didn't think much about leaving her on her own for the first time. I hadn't realised that she has never been away from Mum, Dad or me for longer than a couple of weeks. I haven't felt scared about leaving home for a while now, I forgot what that might be like. But when I was watching her set up in her new student home I suddenly felt both protective and proud. I could feel and remember the fear of thinking that by the end of the day our parents and I would be gone and that big house and that big town would be hers and hers alone. 

Some days she might feel like she rattles around in it. Sometimes she might feel a little lost. Sometimes, most of the time actually, she will feel like she is on top of the world. She will feel free and excited and brilliant. 

There will be streets in her new town where she can point out the places she cried, the places she met new friends, the places she laughed so hard she couldn't stand up. She will own those streets forever, even when she is one day very far away. She will become herself in those streets. 

She may feel very frightened at the beginning, or half way through, or even right at the very end. But she will never be alone. I am only a drive or a train ride away. Her big sister, watching her flourish, ready to catch her if she falls. 

Thursday, 20 August 2020

This strange way of life.

I have found the weeks going by like I am living through a cycle. There is very little to break up each day, let alone each weekend. I know that this is a temporary lifestyle for me. I know that very soon there will be new places to go, new people to meet. I have realised that these are the fundamentals for feeling renewed and alive. 

When this pandemic is over, in whichever way it will end, I don't think I am going to sit still for very long ever again. I enjoy puttering about the house, being quiet and still for a few hours, taking in a slower pace of life. But when it is enforced, when it is for the sake of everyone's health to reduce your entire life to a small bubble of places and people, it is like living in some version of Groundhog Day, The Truman Show and somebody playing The Sims all mixed into one. 

I am surprised every time the night comes along because it felt like no time at all. I get confused as to what happened (not a lot) on which days and how much time has passed since the week began. My heart sinks when I'm reminded how many weeks and days and hours have been and gone since lockdown began in March. 

Even so, I have very little to complain about. I have a job, I have a beautiful home, I have a close family who I only want to kill about once a week. I have my garden, I have the local common to meet friends at and drink pints from the pub, I have my neighbours who have plied me with wine every time I knock on their door on a Thursday or Friday evening, and their children who have spent Saturday mornings with me doing crafts. All of these things in themselves have become part of the routine. The light relief, the escapism itself, has been swallowed into the repetitiveness of our current daily lives. This is not to say that I don't love all of these things, that I am not deeply grateful, but when I imagined being twenty-two, so young and carefree, this way of life was not in the picture. 

I suppose this is a way of airing my grievances, of which there are very few legitimate complaints, but I am also still surprised when I think about what we are living through. Every single person around the world has had their lives changed in some way, big or small, at pretty much the same time because of a shared human problem. It feels enormous and strange and scary and almost inconceivable all at once. I have adapted to a different way of life, and I have become used to it, but I don't know when it will stop feeling weird. 

Monday, 3 August 2020

My body and my mind.

I have always known that my mind was closely interlinked with my body. We often separate the two in their own rights, forgetting that every though and feeling coming out of your brain is as much a biological process as the heart pumping blood up and down arteries and veins. We think of thought and goings on of the mind as ethereal, unknown entities separate from any physical matter. But every thought and every feeling we ever have comes out of a lump of biological material sitting inside our skulls.

When I was younger I engaged in a type of therapy called Mickel Therapy. I was taught to recognise every physical symptom such as nausea or stomach ache or fatigue and link it back to an event in the day which may have caused my body stress. Everything my body did was connected to something going on in my brain. I was not suffering from a purely psychosomatic illness, but my body and my brain were sending messages to each other in response to certain things throughout each day which resulted in physical illness and exhaustion. This therapy changed my life and made me better.

I am pretty sure I have experienced PMS every month since my first ever period at the age of 11. It got so bad when I was 17 that I felt severely depressed every time my period was about to happen. I went on the combined pill to help regulate my hormones and for a long time this helped me feel better during my cycle. It helped so much that often I didn't really notice symptoms of PMS at all, apart from feeling a bit more stressed or down or confused a few days a month. What has fascinated me over the last few months where I have been experiencing a lot of emotional stress and grief is how much it has heightened my awareness of my hormonal cycles.

I hadn't paid much attention to the emotional part of the monthly cycle apart from feeling rubbish during PMS. I listened to a podcast with comedian Aisling Bea (it was an episode of Jameela Jamil's I Weigh, for anyone who's interested) where she talked about period shame. She spoke about the fact that researching the effect that the menstrual cycle has on her body throughout the entire month, not just the week and a bit at the end of each one, has changed her life for the better. Before this I had never heard of the 'rise' phase or the 'shift' phase. I knew vaguely that ovulation happened somewhere in between but never considered the effect of hormones in that particular process.

I have learnt that during the 'rise' phase I feel absolutely amazing. I feel positive about everything going on in my life, I feel that I can manage anything that comes my way, the future looks bright, the sun seems to be always shining. I now know that this switches in the course of 24 hours when I enter the 'shift' phase and I become gradually more upset, exhausted and unable to deal with anything emotionally right through to when I get my period.

Weirdly, I have been able to monitor this closely due to the emotional impact of a breakup. If I feel generally okay about the situation and able to focus on moving on, I know that I am in the height of my 'rise' phase. When, and it can be literally the next day, I suddenly feel deeply upset about the whole thing and like the sadness will never end I know that I have started my PMS.

This has helped me to understand my body and my emotions even better than I did before. It has helped to know that even when I do feel catastrophically upset everything will improve dramatically in the next week. It has helped me to forgive myself when I suddenly feel like any emotional progress I have made is erased during the height of my PMS, because I can now understand it as a completely natural, intrinsically physical experience and not something that I have made up in my head.

Living in any body is a privileged, unique experience, particularly when you have a very healthy one. Understanding that everything my mind and body does is an interlinked, biological experience both makes me appreciate my corporeal vessel even more and allows for greater mental health. This doesn't mean feeling on top of the world every second of every day, but it does help in not beating yourself up for those inherently human, completely natural and forgivable moments or days of feeling  less than okay.

It is also important to add that, for anyone who has a menstrual cycle, every single experience is different and getting to know your own quirks and tendencies is a healthy process. As a bonus, it is also a step towards smashing that socially accepted shame surrounding the daily physical and emotional experience of over half of the world's population.