Ch-ch-changes Revisited

Amongst today’s emails – just the usual hundred or so, was the regular Monday one from Bernadette announcing this week’s Senior Salon. It was a little different from the norm, however: Bernadette was giving us the sad news that it was to be the last Senior Salon. Looking back, I would guess that at least half of the blogs I read most often and, in particular, comment on, are those to which I was introduced by Bernadette. I understand perfectly why she feels the need to call a halt, and wish that I had the time and commitment to take it on for her – but, as you will have long-since recognised, I’m not the most organised or regular of bloggers! But I will always cherish those bloggers who, through our Senior Salon introduction, I now regard as friends – some have even joined me on Facebook, which is great!

This got me thinking to a post I wrote a couple of years ago. I think I’ve since recycled it, but it seemed a fitting way to mark Bernadette’s final edition of the Salon by sharing it again: it does, after all, talk about how important blogging communities can be for us. So, Bernadette, thank you for all your hard work and commitment, and I’m glad that I’ll still be seeing all your new blog posts and what you share on Facebook (and thanks for the Instagram follow, too!).

For a final time, this is my post Ch-ch-changes:

Has it ever struck you how much we can become creatures of habit? Although we may live varied lives, and have many things to occupy our time, at the core of this is likely to be a foundation of what for each of us is our ‘norm.’ Wherever we may be, and whatever we may be doing on any given day, we will most likely be framing that activity in the context of a routine of some kind. At its simplest level, this can be something mundane, such as what time we get up in the morning, whether we have breakfast or not, and if so whether we have it before or after our morning ablutions, that kind of thing. However free-spirited we may believe ourselves to be, we all have our own behaviour patterns, whether or not we recognise them as such. Since I retired nearly three years ago my routine has changed – I don’t have to worry about being up and ready in time to catch the train to work, and I don’t have to compress the things I would rather be doing with my life into evenings, weekends or holiday time. But there is still a routine there, it has just adapted to the change in my circumstances.

So, what happens when something knocks that norm? How do we adjust to it? If something big happens to us – a major family event, perhaps – we tend to take it on, challenge it and manage the required change. Births, marriages, deaths and other events in the family have a massive impact, but we try our best to deal with them, to cope, and to move forward with our lives. I have recently had such a change with one of my children (who are both adults, but still children to me!), who has needed help and support, both in the practical sense and also in a more spiritual way. For me, the realisation that this has made a difference to my life has manifested in several ways, a very simple example being that I have seen and spoken to my ex-wife more often in the past few months than in the whole preceding eight years since we were divorced. I’m not presenting that as either a good or bad thing – our divorce was perfectly amicable and we are both content with our outcomes – but it brought home to me the sense of family changes and the impact they can have. But I don’t intend to say any more about that: it is too personal, particularly for my daughter, and isn’t for publication.

Let me instead give you a much less important example – less important in the great scheme of life, that is, but it has nevertheless made me think. I’ve mentioned before that I have been invited to become part of the Senior Salon, run by Bernadette of the Haddon Musings blog. Since Bernadette started this six months ago it has developed into a vibrant community of bloggers of a certain age, with a wide range of interests, and it has become a part of my routine to take part in it. I enjoy the range of interests that fellow bloggers share, and it has got me into the habit of posting at least once a week so that I have something new to offer. Yes, I still have my hiatuses but they are fewer. And if I want to think of myself as a blogger, regular posting is kind of important, right? The Salon starts each Wednesday, with an email notification that the new link up has gone live. This email usually arrives around 7am UK time and my Wednesday norm has become a morning trip to see my lovely nurses for my regular bandage change, followed by a return home, breakfast and my thoughts turning to converting the ideas that have been stumbling around in my brain into a post. Or, like today, I sit at the keyboard and pray for inspiration – you can tell, can’t you! Ah, but I can see you thinking, today isn’t Wednesday. Correct! Have a prize! I didn’t get the email yesterday, and so I spent the day watching the Euro 2016 football instead. Tough job, but someone has to do it. Nor did I get the notification today, and I began to wonder if perhaps Bernadette was ill, and unable to set up the Salon this week. But there it was on her blog, so all was clearly well with her. From our interactions on our respective posts I thought it highly unlikely that I had been banned, so I checked my WordPress settings for the blogs I follow. Have any of you ever seen this message:

“You have blocked all notifications for blogs that you follow”

I certainly hadn’t come across it before, as it seems to me to be a very strange thing to do. What is the point of following blogs if you don’t want to see what people are saying? To be honest, I didn’t even realise that the setting existed. Fortunately, WordPress also kindly told me how to change it, which required no more than one box to be unchecked, and normal service has been resumed. But it left me with a few thoughts. How could I have changed such a setting when I didn’t know it was there? Do I have a maleficent alter ego who creeps into my blog when I’m asleep and changes everything? Are WordPress operating some kind of practical joke to see how alert we are? (in my case, not very alert, apparently!). Why did this matter to me anyway?

There were two main reasons as to why it mattered. The first was that it made me realise how unobservant I am. I probably get around 30-40 emails each day announcing new blog posts, and I hadn’t realised that I saw none of these yesterday and, so far, today. I pride myself on being intelligent, aware and alert, but clearly I’m not as good as I thought! The second was the change in my routine. In six months my Wednesday has shaped up as I described it earlier, but yesterday was different. Every time I checked my emails I looked for the one telling me that this week’s Salon link was live, but to no avail. Yet still I didn’t spot that something was amiss. A change, albeit a small one, had taken place, and it was a little disconcerting. I had been taken out of my Wednesday routine and it just didn’t feel right. My regular habit had been broken. I’ve found both the problem and the solution, and will be enjoying my usual participation in the Salon, although I am coming ‘fashionably late’ to the party this week.

Am I being stupid to think this way about it? Am I building it up beyond its importance? You might think so, but I don’t. Our routines and habits are important to us, however trivial they may seem to others. The sum of all our little pleasures – like reading other people’s blogs – adds up to the whole of our enjoyment of life. Every little part has its place and its importance. A wise man once said:

So the days float through my eyes
But still the days seem the same

But in its own little way, yesterday didn’t feel the same. Strange thing isn’t it, this life and the way we live it.

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I’m Fine

A couple of weeks ago the Mental Health Foundation launched a campaign called ‘I’m Fine.’ Posters are appearing in key sites in London, particularly on public transport. This was prompted by their research findings that on average we will say that little phrase 14 times a week, though only 19% of us actually mean it. To accompany their campaign they have produced this short video:

A stereotypical view of our reserved British nature would suggest that we say this to avoid opening up, and because we don’t really think that the person who has just asked how we are actually wants or expects an honest answer: 59% said that they expected the answer to be a lie. And if they got the truth, would they know how to deal with it anyway? 44% of the survey sample said they had received an answer they weren’t expecting to the question, and were surprised at being taken out of the comfort zone of ‘regular’ social intercourse.

We are famed for our reserve, but this isn’t just a British thing: if you listen closely there are a couple of distinctly American accents in the video. The point behind the MHF’s campaign isn’t that we lie to each other out of shyness, or a belief that we don’t really think that others want to know how we feel. In many cases, this unwillingness to open up is hiding a mental health problem about which we feel unable to talk. There is still a stigma around talking about mental health and the campaign is aiming to help remove that. There has been much research that has shown how we bottle up our thoughts and feelings rather than seek help, and this survey reinforces that – and also the usual perception that men are worse than women when it comes to talking about mental health issues.

To find out more about the campaign you can go here. Please do, as the site contains a wealth of useful information and tips on how to support someone in need of help – or on how to seek help for yourself if you need it. At this time of year it is very easy to get wrapped up in all the paraphernalia and excitement of Christmas without realising that there may be people we know and care about who aren’t feeling the joy. So, if you ask someone how they are, make sure that you mean it – and be prepared for an answer that may be more than a simple ‘I’m fine.’ I know from my own experience how easy it can be to kid others with that reply – and in doing so I was kidding myself. It doesn’t just have to be a casual greeting – and deserves to be much more than this. It’s worth doing that little bit extra to ensure that they – and you – really are ‘fine.’ As the survey showed, 4 times in 5 that answer isn’t really true.