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.  

Anticipation

These few of days before Easter Sunday are always full of anticipation.  It’s quite active, noisy anticipation I find.  The quiet of Lent seems a way behind us already.  From Thursday evening on, we move into preparing for Easter.  The church services change hugely in feel from the familiar of the Sunday mass I am used to.  The Passion of Christ is a dramatic tale of vengeance, torture, death and despair.  The services themselves use the dramatic techniques of silence, movement, delivery of words in various voices, light and dark, set changes, the lot.  It makes it very easy to get into the story, the sadness, the feeling of a great wrong being done and most of all the sheer inevitability of the death of Christ.

I find it a personally challenging couple of days.  I now I am not supposed to complain about the strictures of Lenten fasting, but from Maundy Thursday on, I feel the pain of the fasting.  It’s the anticipation – I know on Sunday I can feast, but not until Sunday.  I long for wine and chocolate in a way I haven’t all through Lent.  I find the services both a familiar framework and a strange and disturbing intrusion on my usual routines.

But tomorrow will come and tomorrow will be joyous.  The pinnacle of the Christian faith, when the inevitability of a new dawn, of a new beginning, of being held in love comes to pass.  The strictures will end, I will be feasting on mini eggs and prosecco.  

You know where this is going, but I am struggling a bit to draw the comparison clearly to the wider feelings I am having about isolation.  I have hope that my family and I will come out of this unscathed.  In a global sense this too shall pass.  But, this Easter, I am scared.  I am scared about what this virus is going to do to hundreds of thousands around the world.  I know that behind the statistics we are already seeing are whole families grieving.  Staying at home is easy for me who has a comfortable and safe home and the resources to get food as I need it.  This is far from true for millions of others.  Living in a refugee camp, in a country with a fragile health system, in a violent home, in the middle of an armed conflict make the effects of coronavirus devastating. 

Then I remember that the disciples do not stop being scared during Easter.  In fact, they stay scared and hidden for weeks.  So I am taking comfort from the fact that fear is also a part of the Easter story.  I have hope and I have faith that that will get me through somehow.

Riding the wave

Every day is an emotional roller coaster isn’t it?  In the space of one day one family of four manages to feel anger, fear, boredom, despair, joy, satisfaction, sadness, contentment and goodness knows what else.  We can move from one emotion to the next within minutes.  There is a sense of calm normality too.  All in a day. Pretty much every day.  I am sleeping better than I would ever have expected and I think it is because I am emotionally exhausted by the end of every day.

Fear is a powerful emotion and drives a lot of the negative reactions.  I am scared of people who are just not taking this seriously.  I am discovering that people I thought were sensible intelligent people are just not socially distancing, are not self-isolating when others in the household are ill.  

At the same time, I have various medical friends who are going through hell at work, they are seeing the effects of people not socially distancing, they understand well the need to stay at home.   So I get scared of what still lies ahead of us with a large dose of the fear that comes from being in a vulnerable group who is likely to be very poorly.

In between the very strong waves of fear come the waves of happiness.  For stretches of time I can forget all of this is happening and get immersed in work, or a project, or a family meal, a board game, a film.  Anything.  In those moments we sometimes have a much-heightened sense of the ridiculous – yesterday there was a lot of discussion of the aerodynamic nature of chocolate Easter eggs in order to provide delivery possibilities to those we are not able to spend Easter with.  Moments like that are delicious.  I have had whole conversations on video conferencing platforms where I have forgotten why we are even using video conferencing.

It reminds me of grieving, at times the sense of loss is all consuming, and then you find your mind has put the sadness aside for a few minutes and then it returns and swamps you again.  

As you can possibly tell, yesterday was an emotional day as we dealt with a sense of despair at being distant from normal life, anger that we are personally being put at risk by those who are not taking this seriously, sadness as we have heard of deaths of people we are acquainted with and a sense of satisfaction that the routine is working ok and that we have amazing opportunities that frankly would not exist without a global pandemic. Hopefully today is less negatively emotional, but I am hugely grateful that I really love the people with whom I am getting to spend this time.

Achieving a life goal

On Friday I donated blood. Nearly a pint of my O+ is now lurking in the UK blood stocks should anyone need it.

It is taking me a while to process the enormity of achieving something I have always wanted to do; I was jolly nervous and it has taken a while to process. I had no immediate feeling of exhilarated “I’ve done it”. Rather I wanted to sleep, which is a fairly normal Abigail-reaction to trauma.

A few days later and it feels a huge achievement. For many years I was phobic of needles. I had problems walking into a friend’s bathroom where I knew her diabetic mother kept her hypodermics. I have needed up unconscious in hospital because I refused an injection to help me breathe. I made a decision not to travel anywhere where vaccinations were needed.

It was that final decision that broke the behaviour. My decision was not affecting me, but also my husband who wanted to travel. Heck, I wanted to travel. This was about 25 years ago and I realised that life was limited through my fear. Strangely the effect of the hospital episode on my parents had never occurred to me until Friday, post-blood donation. My Mum is owed a large apology! Once I had decided it could not go on, I sought counselling and hypnotherapy and have never avoided an injection since. Every annual flu vaccination has me marvelling at how not scared I am. Blood tests were not so easy though, hence the decades it has taken me to get to donating.

I cannot say I enjoyed donating blood. The length of time involved (about 10 minutes) with a needle in my arm made it much harder to control the demons. I did though. I felt anxious as one does doing something unknown. It felt a bit uncomfortable – my veins are narrow, the needle is not, I was very tense anyway. Afterwards I felt such a resounding sense of relief that I honestly couldn’t say if it was a reaction to the loss of blood or the fact I had done something I was nervous about and come through it.

But I did it. I will do it again. And I am really really proud of myself. Feel like I can achieve anything.

And if you are scared of needles and have read all the way through this – well done – no way I could have done that 25 years ago!

the post-donation treat time. This sticker has remained on my wallet all weekend and I love it!

New blog routine

Up until now, all of these have been written first thing in the morning.  But it’s the busy season at the moment, with various commitments and a lot going on, and frankly sleep is slightly more beneficial than blogging.

But sleep is making me blog this evening instead.  Or rather lack of it.  I am a great sleeper, it’s definitely my top skill in life.  It’s also the canary in the mine of health and wellbeing.  If I stop sleeping, there is something wrong. And I stopped sleeping a couple of nights ago, not in a huge way, I just keep waking up.  I can drop off again, because I am determinedly not engaging in a thought process, but that ability will wear off as I get more tired, I know.  So instead of having the day start with getting thoughts in order, tonight I am going to end the day with this habit.

Now, to work out what is keeping me awake.  I think it is an accumulation of things and I don’t really want to give credence to my fears. I am feeling overwhelmed, by a quantity of issues, rather than one thing in particular. I suspect what I am not doing very well is writing down everything I need to get sorted and then working out where to start.   In a peculiar way, my fear is writing everything down, because then I may just realise that I can’t do anything.

The problem with feeling overwhelmed is that it becomes harder to find a way to get the job done.  I am starting the inevitable downward spiral into feeling that I can’t do anything, I am hopeless at everything, the best thing to do is run away.  This is my very typical dramatic catastrophising of everything into something way bigger than it should be.  Tonight’s catastrophe is that someone has criticised something I put in place and I feel bad about having to deal with a difficult situation and potentially hurting someone’s feelings.  I seem to think that running away will help.  I know it won’t, but right now, that flight instinct is huge.

To add some perspective, I have handled the situation well.  Two things went wrong tonight on my watch, one was solvable this evening and so it was resolved and hopefully all will be fine.  The other issue felt much bigger.  So, I did what I will hopefully come to accept was the right thing, I listened to the concerns and I promised to deal with them.  And I will deal with it at another time, when I am not feeling overwhelmed, not today.

And meanwhile, I need to remember everything good that happened this evening, because lots did. Perfection is not mine on this occasion, but I need to not forget the good stuff, there was much much more of that than the bad stuff.

full frame shot of text on wood
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