What’s helping now: weekday routines

This is slightly tongue in cheek, because obviously I have failed to add blogging into my routine. As a self-confessed (and diagnosed by one therapist) control freak, I do find feeling as if I am in control of something helps me gets through these strange times.

And I am surely not in control of anything much in the world. But strangely enough I am in total control of my days. I am no longer at the mercy of traffic jams, delayed or cancelled trains, others’ activities impacting my evenings or weekends. What an upside to all of this.

Making constant decisions on what to do is tiring though, so having some very static routines helps me hugely. Waking up with coffee and reading, running, breakfast and sitting down to work at pretty much the same time every day. Lunch time at roughly the same time and always at the dining room table instead of my desk. Dinner back at the table. Finishing the day with a bit of journalling and more reading. All of these have stayed pretty much constant over the past 11 months.

There are definite tweaks to be made though. Adding in blogging and some meditative prayer would be good. I would like to have a more consistent post-work exercise routine. I have abandoned all piano playing and miss it. Lent feels like a new season, so maybe working on those tweaks can happen then.

What’s helping now: running

Muddy trainers delight me

In the midst of extreme busy I am definitely hankering after the blog.  It’s been quite the start to the year hasn’t it? And I am missing a morning routine on these dark mornings – which is where this blog first originated.  So here we go, back to tapping away first thing on cold dark winter mornings.

I am relishing various good habits at the moment and am very grateful for them in this strange January. I thought I would write about them over the following days.  To be honest, I needed a theme to write about so that I don’t just open the laptop and stare at it crossly – and this is it.

First up  -running.  I have written about it before and feel a certain thrill that I am still writing about how important running is in my life.  Nearly ten months ago I decided that if I was to be locked in my home all day – ok so maybe not locked in, but it felt like being locked up.  For those who were deemed as having to shield, I am sure it did feel exactly like they had been locked up and I worry about and for those people.  Oops sorry, digressions – but indulge me – I am a bit over-excited at writing again.  Back to ten months ago when I decided that it was highly likely due to my lifestyle of travelling lots to London that I was about to get ill with a respiratory disease.  I know this is not in any way a medically proven thing and that very fit and healthy people have died from coronavirus, but in my head, I have vulnerable lungs anyway and so strengthening them was key for me.  That meant cardio.  Running was and remains the most effective way for me of pushing my lungs and heart to work harder.

It turned out to be so much more than that.  Running happens outside and outside is the place I long to be.  In inclement weather the longing to be warm, dry, not windswept takes over and it is harder to get out. A daily run takes away that mental chatter. This morning I am going to go outside for a run, the mental chat is not if I should, it is “what do I need to wear”.

Running covers lots of ground, well more than I do when walking anyway, so I get to see a bit more of the world on my daily excursions.  I have generally stayed very local, in fact most of the ten months I have run the same route.  Which would dismay most proper runners as it’s not a great training method and it could be boring for many.  I have not been bored, I have delighted in seeing the route change with the seasons, the wildlife is more visible in winter and early spring.  It’s quieter on summer mornings, long after sunrise.  In the dark there is more birdsong than I would have expected.  The trees have flourished after some work by tree surgeons last winter (before my running started).  The dog walkers have changed over the year as older dogs died, and new puppies were bought by families new to dog walking.  There is a huge amount of change happening even in one place.  Gardeners probably get exactly the same thrill of seeing change happen on such a small scale which becomes something huge as the seasons change. 

The physical differences are fascinating.  I don’t like running in wind – especially not an easterly.  I really do not like running in warm weather at all.  I just cannot breathe properly and my legs feel leaden.  Some days my legs feel too short to propel me properly, some days I can run faster than others and I have no idea why either of those things are so.

Most of all, I know that being outdoors every day, challenging myself to do something I used to absolutely hate and was scared of doing, and which even most mornings now I am reluctant to do, has helped hugely.  I feel more able to cope because of running.  Without a doubt it is keeping my stress levels at a manageable level, it is keeping me emotionally more stable. And it is bizarrely good fun.  I am the sort of person who gets new trainers for Christmas and am now experimenting with running off road – even more fun to be had.

Having written much more than I intended, it’s starting to get light.  Time to get those trainers on.  Have a good day, I hope you get some time outside, running or not. 

A Christmas revival

This has not been my year for blogging it turns out.  However, I have two weeks off work and I think I will dip back in.  First let me explain why I am not been able to write when I am not on holiday.  It is hugely practical, I could try and make it sound like I have been inflicted by a creative inability to be introspective or reflective in writing, because of the sheer time I have alone with my thoughts every day.  But that would be – errr – total nonsense (those who know me in person, know that the word in my head is not ‘nonsense’).

In reality, the reason is much more prosaic.  It’s my eyes.  It’s my back.  Yes.  I suspect it is my age.  Since 16thMarch my life has been focussed on two laptops, a monitor, and an iPhone.  For literally hours every day.  My work life is totally on the monitor and one of the laptops, with a huge amount of video calling in it.  My volunteering life is on the phone and my own laptop, with a lot of video calling.  My social life is pretty much via WhatsApp, text and Zoom.  There are occasional walks with friends and coffees outside depending on what is allowed.  My family life is in person with the lucky pair who still live with me.  With everyone else – yep it’s via a screen.  

I know none of this is all that different to lots of other people, but it has left me reassessing what I do in the downtime.  I started to suffer with eye strain and the thought of starting my day in front of a laptop as a hobby was just not pleasant.  I am doing all I can to overcome the physical stuff.  I have new specs for being on the computer.    I am conscious of moving around as much as I can and walking 10k steps every day.  I stand for some of the calls.   Most importantly I try and move away from the screens as much as I can in the day.  Hence not writing this in the mornings.  The days when I tried to get this written before marching up to the station to get on a train seem like the heady days of abandon now.  So, it feels like a treat to recapture some of that feeling of freedom by writing again in the mornings when I have a bit of screen-free space in the day.  

The variety of glasses needed to cope with 2020

Unlocking

As we move more and more back to something resembling normal routines, my brain seems to be returning to habits that were normal.  Obviously this blog is one of those.  I can’t tell you why I stopped, I just did.  I didn’t have the desire to write.  And for a while there wasn’t much happening that I had not written about.   

I am keen to read again too.  Reading was a habit that disappeared this year, I know I’m not alone in this.  It seems that the sheer volume of information in the early days of the pandemic in UK made focussing on a book far too difficult for many people.  I read some excellent books, but definitely nowhere near as many as usual.  Now I feel much more likely to pick up a book for a few minutes, rather than scrolling through news and then through social media to see people’s reactions to the news. And then sharing my views on the news with friends and family and virtually and the family in the house.  It was a crazy time.  Curling up with a book seems a much better option really doesn’t it?

I also consume books in audiobook format.  I rarely listen to a book when I am driving or travelling, I find them too hard to focus on.  But I listen to them in the house when doing other things.  Despite all that time in the house, I just could not bear to have an audio book on.  I listened to a few podcasts, but audiobooks seemed beyond me. This week I dipped back in to audiobooks.  I have no idea why that now seems appealing when it wasn’t before, but I am looking forward to finishing “In Praise of Walking: The New Science of How We Walk and Why It’s Good for Us”.  Although given the subject matter of the book, I am feeling the need to go for some long walks as well.

To be honest I am just glad reading and blogging are back in my life this week, so I’ll just be grateful rather than too bothered as to why they seem possible all of a sudden.

The fresh start of September

I do like the September feeling of a new academic year.  And this year I had expected the academic element would be totally irrelevant for us.  One son should have been living in a houseshare and the start of school where he works would have been something observed from a distance.  Younger son would have been firmly ensconced in the workplace element of his apprenticeship.

Would, could, should – they are the themes of 2020 aren’t they?  Instead of what should have been happening…

Everyone lives at home.  And we’re witnessing the return to a school job and it’s the basis of dinner time conversations this week.  The apprenticeship led to furlough, combined with a college course taking place over the summer holidays instead of the term.  And then very suddenly the furlough ended and it was back to work this week (literally he was informed on Friday!).

The expectation of last September that that was our “last academic year start” have been confounded.  Like so many expectations this year.  This one is very minor and actually is a huge positive.  I had missed all this energy in the morning, the constant stream of people moving around our relatively small house in a short space of time.  Turns out it was this feeling of movement and energy – and frankly the need to be out of the way of the movement – was needed to drive me to write.

Today is the day many youngsters head back to school.  Good luck everyone, from what I hear over dinner, schools have put so much thought and care into keeping everyone safe, I am sure it’s not going to be an easy morning for many, but I wish you the energy and patience you need to get through it.

Making my own way

So far so good this month, I am slowly coming out of the lockdown, both the one imposed by government, but most importantly, the even bigger lockdown self-imposed by someone who is scared of catching the virus and who is very risk averse anyway. But I am in conflict as I am also a rule obeyer.  Almost regardless of the rule, it does not occur to me to question it.  This new reality where I am not sure I trust the rules any more – things seem contradictory, illogical and the virus seems to be increasing again – is a real challenge for me. 

I am left to negotiate a path through this complication which fits my risk appetite.  That is difficult, but it’s not a bad exercise to make me rely on my own abilities and confidence to assess a risk.  Staying outside seems sensible.  I have given up on some of the coffee shops I visited earlier this month, as there was not enough ventilation and other customers seemed much less concerned about social distancing.

We are travelling away from home so much more.  It feels important for my own wellbeing to feel free, or at least more free than we have been.  In a very middle-class response to life I joined the National Trust, and I have to say I have been very impressed.  The downside is that I need to lean into my planning skills and make sure I book tickets in advance. But the upside is that their recommendation is to stay 2m apart from people, even outside and their coffee and cake is excellent.  

We are seeing many more people, again mostly outside, it is great to alleviate the reliance on video conferencing when that remains the main way of communication at work. My aim for the month was to shift from my lockdown mentality to something much more open.  The pinnacle of that shift was to be donating blood, in the city centre.  That appointment is this afternoon.  I am nowhere near as nervous as I thought I would be, so I am taking that as a signal that I have successfully made my own way out, psychologically speaking.  Obviously, I am still aware that I may catch the virus whilst emerging from the safety of a lockdown, but I am becoming more comfortable managing that risk in my own way.

Stepping out and stepping up the courage

As I wrote last week, July is about me moving out of the fearful, home-focussed me – actually it’s been more “home-captive” – into the normal me, who is out and about and seeing life. 

This long weekend (my weekend includes a Friday) has been a great start.  I am still a bit nervous, I have to admit, but I am pushing myself ever so slightly and hopefully I am taking enough precautions to not contract coronavirus, whilst also working on reducing the fear that will only become less helpful as time goes on.  So far the adventures have, as predicted, been small yet memorable, but there have been quite a few.  

I started with a long walk with one of the offspring in Wyre Forest park, which is about 45 minutes drive from home.  I have not been that far away from home since the start of March, never mind about driving there myself. We treated ourselves to coffee and cake from the takeaway café at the end of a good march around the forest in the rain.  The first food I have eaten out of my house/garden since 15th March.

Saturday was a huge step as we decided to go back to our favourite café in the village to give them a bit of support on what they admitted was a nerve-wracking day of reopening.  It was just coffee, we were there as a family, supporting each other.  There was a grand total of 9 other people in the place, including all the staff and everyone was very well spaced out. It was lovely to be back, but it was far from normal.  

I have seen friends and family as well – but all outside, either in our garden or on a walk with our excited dogs happy to be out with more humans and a variety of dog treats – my dog claims everyone else’s treats are better than his own.

Possibly the high point of the weekend was an impromptu coffee and croissant early yesterday morning on our now traditional early Sunday morning walk.  The café was open, and it was a delightful interlude in our usual routine, and empty cafes seem like a good way to build up courage and some mental resilience.  

The fear that I have caught the virus is still there in my mind, but I am soothing the agitation with the knowledge that I was not back to normal contact with people by any stretch of the imagination and that this worry is probably very normal after three months of being safe in my house with very little contact with the outside world.  

New month thoughts

It’s a new month.  Another one.  How fast is time flying this year?  I am sure for those who are grieving, it is not, and it seems that we are speaking ever less about the fact that all the headlines and statistics are about human beings who are very sick, or who have lost their lives and all the humans who knew and loved them.  For them I would think that time is going very slowly.

For me, it is whizzing by.  It proves that the more you do, the slower time passes.  Being mostly at home is making the time flow by at great speed. But a new month gives a sense of a new start. Although it really did not in April and May I must admit, that was a very odd time where new months felt utterly irrelevant.

It is different this month, it really does feel like a whole new phase of life as we move out of lockdown.  I am embracing that cultural feeling of change and adopting a sense of shifting (thanks to Yoga with Adriene’s monthly calendar).  I have to consciously adopt this sense of change, because frankly, I am one of those who is less keen on being out and about.  The R rate is at 1 in the Midlands where I am.  I am hopeful that that is because the region is very large and that does not mean it is 1 in Birmingham.  But I cannot find any data to tell me what the R rate is here in the city.   And I am very used to being at home, it’s been about three and a half months now that I have been mostly home – except for exercise and two other trips elsewhere (for the record – the bank, the dog groomers).  So I am accepting that feeling a bit reluctant to change is normal.

Monday was the first step and we walked to a local coffee shop and bought a take away coffee.  I even hung around in the queue for Boots whilst one of the offspring waited to go in.  and had a browse in the jeweller’s window.  I can remember every moment of the trip to my local high street.  Which is odd – hopefully it will become less impactful as I do more this month.  I am not quite sure what the next adventure will be, but I am sure it will be small and yet memorable.

Still running

As coronavirus became a reality in England way back in March and staying at home became a possibility I started to worry about my fitness levels.  They weren’t bad, but I had the nagging feeling that having a good level of cardiovascular fitness may help me if I were to catch coronavirus.  On Monday 23rd March I decided I ought to definitely go for a run, and go for a run every day until either I caught the virus or someone in the family did and we would all have to isolate.  Thankfully none of us have caught the virus – yet.  

And so I am still running every day.  (Except Sundays, on Sundays we go for a long walk to make a Sunday feel different). I am still nowhere near being an actual proper runner.  I run a short distance, slowly. And that lack of “proper” running has been the key.  I run for about 20 minutes, on days when that feels too hard, I run less.  I stop if I find someone to chat to, so it’s rarely 20 consecutive minutes.  I am sure I could do better and more, but I do not want to.  It’s a low bar and so is achievable, even after one glass of wine too many, a sleepless night, when it’s too cold, or too wet, or as in the run ahead of me today – too warm. 

And so this week saw me reach three months of running every day.  Me.  Not a runner.  The girls who got out of every PE lesson she could. Who did not start running until her 40s.  I run every day and am about to buy more trainers because I am wearing these ones out. This week I am feeling a bit amazed, but proud. 

Injustice

One of the truths of this pandemic is that it has not been equalising, it has not affected everyone the same.  The advice to wash your hands and stay away from other people is the same for everyone, but beyond that, this has never been an equal experience.  I have had an easy time of it, I have a very good income, I am healthy and I am educated.  And I am white.

The death of George Floyd in Minneapolis has brought the UK’s attention to the institutional injustices faced by black people in the USA.  I have no experience of being black obviously, but I have been reading and listening to so many black people in our country speaking out about their experiences of being seen as less than human, of being killed, bullied, victimised and so on and sickenly so on.  Because of their race. 

I know that there is a feeling that no one should protest because of a pandemic.  But this pandemic is not fair.  And more importantly life is not fair for black people.  And it should be.  The time to protest is now; to expect people to be quiet because of the risks of the pandemic heaps pain onto pain.  George Floyd was murdered during a pandemic, no one has stopped being racist during a pandemic, so being anti-racist cannot stop either.

I have not chosen to attend any protests myself, a battle which me and my conscious will have to have.  But I will argue for the right of anyone to demand to be seen as a human being with the same rights and respect as another.  I am filled with admiration for those who have taken to the streets.

I am not confident in writing about race. I have never and never will experience racism directed at me.  But not writing about something that is filling my thoughts would be wrong. We desperately need the title, the slogan, the demand of Black Lives Matter, which to my ear is so obvious it saddens me and fills me with fear about our society as it is now.  We need to be reminded by a simple phrase declaring the truth that a black person is a human being and deserves to breathe and flourish and black lives matter hugely.