Tag Archives: depression

How To Be Happy In A Global Pandemic

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

It is normal if you don’t feel right. It is normal if you feel angry, frustrated, out of control, teary and anxious. We are in the midst of a global pandemic which has turned our world upside down. We, the generation who haven’t lived through war, are in the middle of a mass trauma event of our own. And while “blitz spirit” and the band playing on as the Titanic sank are romantic notions, it is also normal to go fucking bonkers from time to time. 

Let’s break this down a little. Politically, we have never seen such turbulent times. A populist nationalism that claims black is white, to be isolated is patriotic, and that anyone who doesn’t agree is the enemy. We are addicted to social media, sucking up our time with mindless scrolling and a clickbait culture that fuels envy of curated lives, and promotes extremist opinions. And then Covid hit. Daily death tolls, images of anonymous lifeless bodies on their stomachs, our freedoms curtailed and our livelihoods thrown into doubt.

Do not underestimate how traumatic this is for all of us. To face the possibility of your loved ones dying because of an invisible enemy is terrifying. Mass unemployment is terrifying. And quite frankly homeschooling an unwilling child is more than most of us could reasonably take. 

So what is the effect of this on us all? I don’t think we’ll know for years to come, but if you look around you can see the beginnings of it bubbling up. Fear has turned into anger – against the system, against facts and science, and against that neighbour at number 32 who definitely had more than 6 people at her garden party. 

In an attempt to meet this growing mental health crisis, more money has been pumped into mental health services, and there is a growing online wellbeing industry on social media offering content to help soothe your mind and soul. I’ve certainly benefitted from the latter. I’ve been following a growing army of wellbeing experts and have dipped my toe into their suggested toolkits, including daily journaling, meditation and physical trauma release. 

But I worry that sometimes the amount of wellbeing information coming our way can also be overwhelming, and before we’ve fully mastered one solution, we’re bombarded with another. 

So I have found, as I always have, that going back to the Happiness Project Rules is really helpful. They are simple, easy to remember, and almost every wellbeing tool that I’ve come across recently fits into its remit. But I would say that it’s a good idea to only introduce one new rule at a time. Work on it, master it, take it slowly, before moving on to the next. And sometimes you will wobble and go back to the start again, and that’s OK. Slow and steady is what it’s all about. 

Here they are then – the HPL rules for happiness, adapted for a post-Covid world:  

  1. BE ACTIVE 

Everyone agrees on the importance of this. Listen to your body and follow what it wants to do – sometimes it needs a slow walk or a restorative yoga class, sometimes your cortisol wants a run or some ashtanga yoga. Your phone needs to be OFF although the NHS Couch to 5K app is miraculous, and I found it helped to listen to a podcast or book while running. I’m also enjoying the back-to-nature wellbeing movement on social media and their references to animals shaking off trauma, literally. Dancing round the kitchen seems to help. 

2. CONNECT

Thank god the days of the Zoom quiz now appear to be over, and while video calls did allow connection to some extent, it’s not the same as a proper human connection. During the first lockdown I missed most of all the simple banter of a shop transaction or the school gate. Now, I try to have a long phone call with a good friend or with family every couple of weeks, and talk incessantly to the postman. 

3. GIVE 

All this self-help stuff can make you self-centred sometimes and that’s why this rule is here. To make you look outward – to see what other people are going through and try to help. It puts your own worries in perspective and empathy is good for the soul. Lockdown seems to have promoted this in communities – foodbank donations and dropping round groceries to your neighbour for example. There are myriad local Facebook groups offering volunteering and donation options, or just ask your neighbours if you need anything. Even if you’re at your lowest it will make you feel better.

4. NURTURE 

The obvious way to do this – and one that has been much trumpeted during lockdown –is gardening. And I can whole-heartedly confirm having built a veggie patch during lockdown that getting your fingers in the soil and growing something you can eat from seed is wonderfully calming and satisfying. Or another great thing to do is buy a few bird feeders and some bird seed and watch as birds crowd round them for their winter feeds. However, given we’re in a global pandemic and we should take as much pressure off ourselves and achievements right now, how about we nurture ourselves, oxygen mask on first style. Meditation, baths, negronis. Whatever you need right now, nurture yourself.

5. LEARN

Are you one of the ones who made your own sourdough bread? If so, hats off to you. I learned how to make a great G&T. Learning doesn’t have to have an achievement at the end or an instagrammable conclusion. On our theme of being kind to ourselves, how about this – learn to listen to your body, learn about your cycle, learn what your body, your energy, your soul really needs. Sometimes it’s as simple as a good cry or a hug.  

6. BE CURIOUS 

There is a similarity to learning here, but this is different. Being curious is something I think we’ve got better at during lockdown, if only by the number of sunsets posted on my IG feed. With only one allocated walk a day we do seem to appreciate nature more. And that’s it for this rule, its simple. Look up, look around, and be grateful. Sunset pics optional. 

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UPDATE: I feel slightly phoney writing for The Happiness Project London because in August 2019 we left London for the East Devon/West Dorset border where we are setting up a cookery school, feast venue and glamping site. In January 2021, I am beginning a two year course in psychotherapy and counselling to qualify as a BACP registered counsellor. My plan is to host wellbeing talks and retreats, as well as having my own patients and therapy business in due course. I will update you with the website and social media details when I’m ready. In the meantime I’m so incredibly grateful to the HPL, and everyone who has commented and followed it since 2007 for starting me on this incredible journey which has brought me to this point 13 years later. 

A post for mental health awareness week

There’s a wonderful spotlight being shone on mental health right now thanks to Bryony Gordon and the royals’ Heads Together charity. Having lived through the grief of losing a parent and multiple miscarriages, as well as having suffered with rampant insecurities and anxieties since I was little, here are some things I’ve learned about mental health.

Your mental health is just as important as your physical health, if not more so. If left untreated, it can lead to stress, anxiety, depression and anger; and physical ramifications like headaches and heart attacks, back problems and thyroid issues. You pay monthly to go to the gym so why don’t you also pay to talk to someone?

It is not weak to be vulnerable. It is not pathetic to say you’re struggling or anxious or insecure.  You don’t have to express your mental health issues in a way that makes you feel like a failure – in fact, humour and cynicism and swearing like a sailor are fantastic tools for expressing the fact that you’re having a shit time. If you think about it, the people that open up enough to admit their vulnerabilities are often the most courageous.

You are not lessened by having mental health issues. It is easy to think the confident person next door is simply better than you, because that’s just how you’re wired to think. But being old enough to have accepted myself now, I realise that being insecure or a bit angry or unable to shake off that feeling that you’re not quite good enough, does not make you worse than other people. My friends are made up of these people, most historical heroes too. Show me someone with vices like this, I’ll show you someone fascinating, who is built up of layers of intricately woven issues and ideas, who can surprise and entertain and amaze you. To love someone like this can be frustrating at times, but it can also be unbelievably rewarding, deeply passionate and interesting.

Allowing yourself to ask for help and to show your vulnerabilities is the key to being able to cope. Allow yourself to be loved.

Going through any sort of trauma allows you to empathise with others going through heartache. Your friend who went through that divorce or that cancer scare or that miscarriage will, in time, be the best most understanding listener there is. Damaged people often make the best friends.

Motherhood is not the #blessed picture many make it out to be on social media. Much of the time it’s anxiety-inducing, insecurity-building, lonely and depressing, as well as being fucking boring. It’s easy to find an Instagram-friendly photo of family life to show the world, but wouldn’t it be more interesting if we could be honest about it?

In 2013, the leading cause of death for both men and women in ages 20-34 was suicide. For men, that’s the leading cause of death in 35-49 year olds too. Doesn’t this show the importance of dealing with the disappointments and anxieties that life throws at us. If this means meeting up with someone once a month to drink a bottle of wine and talk about feelings, if only for a little bit, then it’s worth it. Crying is good. Being vulnerable is good. We are only human after all.

 

To Parents Of Even Smaller Children

So, I’ve had a couple of miserable days recently. And then it all gets better again and I forget how bad it was. Only I write a blog so I wanted to write about the miserable stuff too, before I forget. To share, you see. To make you feel better perhaps. Hell, to make me feel better.

First, there was the day I was cooking a fish pie, with my son bouncing in his jumperoo, nursery rhymes playing; feeling warm and cosy and thinking what domestic bliss! I am a domestic goddess earth mother type person! My baby boy had even fallen asleep on the jumperoo he was so relaxed and I popped him easily in his cot for a snooze.

Only, an hour later, I woke him up by mistake trying to get some of his dirty laundry to wash, and he screamed the house down. Nothing I could do could get him back to sleep so by the time I’d bundled him into the pram, the fish pie was burnt, the Le Creuset pie dish was smashed in my rush to tidy the kitchen, and I had to leave my cosy warm house to walk out into the rain to calm a sleeping baby back to sleep before I even had the chance to grab any lunch. Suddenly I was tired, and hungry, and cold, pounding the streets endlessly until he fell asleep. And of course then the chaos had a knock-on effect on the rest of the day, making us miss a baby class and cancel a coffee with a friend.

A few days later and unplanned Armageddon hit again. Having had an amazing week with Mr Schmoo (for that is what he is now called), where he was happy and sweet and fell asleep easily for long naps, suddenly my baby boy was changed. He was whingy and whining and kicking and arching his back, and refusing to go down for naps even though I could tell he was exhausted. But why, I cried to the heavens?! It could have been many things – teething, constipation from eating solid food, a “Wonder Week” leap of development that had sent him bananas.

All I knew was my perfect routine was now shattered. But on this morning, I also woke up shattered. I had a cold, a sniffy, achey, knackered cold which meant all I wanted to do was curl up on the sofa, put the fire on, and watch Ray Donovan on repeat. Add to this it was cold and pouring outside and I envisaged a lazy day of playing and snoozing.

Sadly Schmoo had other ideas. He was up at 5am and didn’t fancy going back to sleep again. Then he ate a bit too much acidic fruit for breakfast and spent the entire day straining in a constipated fug that might almost have been funny if it hadn’t looked so painful. Add to this crazy teething that made him bite anything in sight (including my face). Any attempts to make him nap when he looked exhausted ended up with him SCREAMING blue bloody murder, arching his back and kicking around, so all I could do was rock him and walk and eventually reach for the Calpol. He didn’t nap AT ALL. And so, I ended up, of course, pounding the streets again with the wee man in the pram. With pouring rain soaking me, a passing car chucking a puddle onto me for good measure. Not one walk but THREE walks. All lasting exactly the length of time that he slept, round in circles sometimes, perhaps stopping for a coffee and maybe a sit down…..NO he’s woken up, up you get and keep walking…

Hungry, cold, tired, ill. But luckily The Chef did bedtime and got him to bed, only the wee man was so tired he didn’t drink enough milk, so we was up at 3am, and again at 4am….

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Several of my mummy friends on Facebook posted this article by Steve Wiens in the Huffington PostTo Parents Of Small Children – which talks about how exhausting and relentless caring for little ones can be, and how, although wonderful at times, kids can make you frustrated and so bone-tired, you almost can’t imagine making it til bedtime.

When I first read it, I’d had a lovely day with Schmoo and couldn’t really empathise. But now I think about it all the time.

When I’m walking in the rain pushing a crying baby I also think – how on earth will I make it to bedtime?

I think of the relentlessness of it all, the fact that I never really stop being responsible, never really get more than a few snatched hours as a break.

And that even if I could have longer I don’t actually want to or feel I should, and I need to go through the arduous process of finding a good childminder and then paying them money I should be saving.

I think of the “breaks” that I do have that are filled with pureeing, and sterilizing, and washing, and cleaning, and doing admin, and replying to emails. And never seem to be filled with nice things like doing my nails or having a bath or reading a book.

I think of my friend who didn’t even have time to change her Tampax when her baby was screaming, until she finally ended up screaming herself.

I think of my friend who is now up every two hours at night, after months of sleeping through.

I think of my friend who’s son pulls out great tufts of her hair every day.

(It’s not the same friend, by the way, that would be really shit).

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But then the next day, today, Schmoo is back on great form. And one big, gummy smile, and I’m delirious again. And I’m tickling his tummy listening to him laugh, and in awe of him rolling not once but twice. I’m bouncing him on my knee singing Grand Old Duke Of York, and giving him huge cuddles and kisses. I’m pushing him in his pram, this time singing, and I’m laughing and smiling at him, thinking how wonderful and amazing he is and how much I love him.

And it’s OK now, it’s really OK.

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So what have I learned from the shit days?

  • The Wonder Weeks app is a fairly good indicator of whether you will be living with a saint or a monster
  • A night out with friends can restore your sanity – and all it costs is the price of a bottle or wine, and a hangover
  • A few hours’ break courtesy of a partner or friend can make a huge difference. Go shopping! Have a bath! Sit in your pants and look at Facebook!
  • Babies have rubbish memories so they won’t remember the crying and the screaming, once they feel better they won’t recall any of the bad stuff
  • But WE do remember and it does affect us – it’s OK to walk away sometimes and let someone else take over
  • They only last a few days, weeks at most…

….Everyone goes through it and it will pass.

It does pass, really.