Taking Stock

I think that we should all take stock of our lives every once in a while. The last time I did that here was a year ago today: I posted Missing, Inaction, in which I reflected on the effects of an enforced 15 day absence from the internet, and how dependent we had all become on it. That was the main reason for what had been an 18 day gap between posts, but I also mentioned that I had been having a stressful time in my life, having had to move home – a natural hazard when you are a private renter and are at the mercy of the landlord’s wishes. Reading the post again I noticed I had said that I intended to write about the effects this had been having on my mental health but, in the usual fashion, best intentions went out of the window. Things began to settle down, I was getting used to my new home, and it didn’t feel right to be talking about my mental health when there were many people in far worse situations than mine, people who had real stories to tell. The anniversary of that post does, however, seem a good time to be ‘reviewing the situation,’ as Fagin put it.

Looking back to this time last year I now realise how much the whole episode had destabilised me. I didn’t notice at the time but there were impacts, in particular on my sleep patterns – which were shot to pieces. I’ve had sleep problems for years, and was tested (negatively, I’m happy to say) for sleep apnoea during my long spell off work in 2011-2 with depression. Retirement had helped enormously in stabilising that: no longer being required to get up and go to work meant that if I needed to sleep in I could, whatever day of the week it was. I occupied a lot of my time in the internet break by reading – 16 novels in 18 days – but even so, I found myself nodding off at odd times: I’ve never been one for afternoon siestas, but I had a few then. It didn’t register, but these were probably a sign that all wasn’t as it should be.

Over time, though, I began to settle into a new routine, and into a revised version of life. It’s funny how a move can change your outlook on life, and I don’t mean just the view from the window. But that wasn’t the only important factor for me: I had been able to get the medical treatment I needed for a long term condition, and the benefits of knowing that I was in good hands for that had a positive impact on my mental health.

I got to the end of 2019 thinking I’d done well: I was over the move, my health was improving, and I’d managed to get through some outrageous behaviour by my ex-landlord. 2020 was to be the year I really began ‘taking back control,’ to borrow a phrase, but then along came Covid-19 to show me that my use of those words was about as meaningless as they were in their more widely known context. My mobility is limited, so I don’t get out much anyway, but being told that I had to stay in and couldn’t see anyone – not even my daughters or granddaughter – wasn’t part of the plan. Much has been said and written about the impact of the pandemic on our lives, both in the obvious sense of our being required to stay at home whenever possible, with shops and public venues being closed, but also on the hidden factors, such as the effects on our mental health.

Using myself as a sample of one, I can see how my mental state has changed since lockdown began in March, and it hasn’t improved! I’m not saying that I have relapsed into depression – far from it, thankfully – but I can see that my outlook on life is different. I don’t have to go out much, but I know that at some point in the next few months I will need to go back to my doctor for the periodic testing that keeps me well, and I really will need a haircut! Normally, I’d think nothing of either of these but now, if I’m honest, both of these prospects scare me. Am I being stupid? I’d like to think not. Every day we hear new warnings of the potential for a second wave of the virus, and with the reopening of shops and public facilities there comes a relaxation in people’s minds of the need to be alert to the danger that may be lurking. I know I can do the right thing if I go out, but can I trust others to do the same?

I’m potentially vulnerable, and I don’t think I should have to take risks to go out and do simple things. That plays on my mind: I don’t want to become a hermit, but I can see how easy it would be. Looking at those words on screen they strike me as a little pathetic, but they are accurate. I think back to my dark days of 2011-2 and I know that is how I behaved then: I don’t want to go back there. This may all be in my head, but it’s hard to shift, and I doubt that I’m alone in feeling this way.

This time last year I was looking ahead to what I believed would be better times, now the outlook is very unclear to me. Anyone familiar with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs will know that the basic level is classed as Physiological needs, which include food, shelter, health, sleep and clothes. Here is the pyramid, in case you haven’t seen it:

Those Safety needs in the second level include factors like personal, emotional and financial security. Somehow, I think that many of us will be struggling with this tier of the pyramid at present, and for some time to come. That will impact on our move up the levels: relationships with those we love will be affected, and there will need to be a lot of rebuilding after enforced separations.

The future is uncertain for all of us. My outlook is very different from a year ago, and I’d imagine that everyone feels that too. I wonder where we’ll be a year from now? Maybe I’ll take stock again then – hopefully whatever passes for ‘normal’ will have returned, given time.

How do things look for you? How does that compare with a year ago? Are you having to readjust your hopes and plans? I expect we’ll all be doing a lot of that now and in the months to come. As I said at the outset, I believe that we should all occasionally take stock of our lives: I don’t think any of us has had to do so in circumstances like today’s.

Why Do You (Still) Pretend To Be Normal?

In these strange days of pandemic and lockdowns, many articles have been written about what life may be like when it is all over. Will we ever go back to being as we were, or will we have adapted into a ‘new normal?’ It was therefore a bit of a coincidence to see that I had posted this a year ago today, and I thought it worth sharing again for newer readers, or for those who might have enjoyed it so much the first time round and might be so bored in lockdown that they would welcome a chance to see it again.

As you will see, the main part of this is a reworked version of a post I originally wrote in 2013, but I haven’t really changed my view in the intervening seven years. Normal, for me, may still very well be different from what passes for normal for you or others: I’m pretty certain that Numpty Trumpty’s version of normality is miles away from mine, for example! Whatever (to get in a plug for my WOTY), it is a concept that I think we might all be revisiting in the months and years to come: “do you remember what life BC was like?” Let’s revisit this in a year’s time and see what we think then!

A couple of footnotes:
1. Mention is made in the previous posts of Men’s Health Week – it is coming around again, this year from 15-21 June.
2. BC, in case you needed reminding, stands for ‘Before Coronavirus.’

Take It Easy

A fellow blogger – Stevie Turner – published a post on Monday about the odd phrases that people have entered into search engines as a result of which they have landed on her blog. Her post is called ‘WordPress Search Terms,’ and can be found here – as with all her posts, I recommend it. I’ve often marvelled at some of the weird and wonderful things people search for. In my case, I once wrote a post for Think About Sex Day – yes, it really does exist – which gave me the opportunity to use the word ‘sex’ in the post’s tags, giving rise (or not, ahem) to countless disappointed people since then. I commented on Stevie’s post that my all time favourite was someone who had found my blog by asking ‘why do you pretend to be normal?’ I’ve always hoped that wasn’t aimed specifically at me, but…

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Tuesday Tunes

I’ve recently seen a growing number of bloggers and Facebook friends posting under the banner of ‘Music Monday.’ As is often the case I didn’t quite get my act together to start doing this yesterday so I thought I’d do a little rebranding to suit my tardiness. Anyway, what’s a day, between friends? Somehow, though, I doubt that ‘Tuesday Tunes’ is a remotely original tagline: I haven’t been on Twitter today but I expect I’d find loads on there!

As anyone who has viewed my blog will not take long to realise, music is very important to me, and to countless others. In these strange, scary and unimaginable times in which we find ourselves, music is a common bond between us: if you don’t believe that, just take a look at the videos of Italians joining together in song from their balconies, or the Spanish police roaring to a halt in an empty street during lockdown, and serenading the people who live there. Music can uplift our spirits when we need it most, and I’m going to begin my ‘Tuesday Tunes’ by sharing a couple of songs which I think speak to us at all times, but especially now.

I shared the first of these on my Take It Easy Facebook page a couple of days ago, but think it deserves a much wider audience (hint: new sign ups to the page are always welcome, follow the link in the right hand column). Jackson Browne has been a favourite artist of mine ever since his first album, all the way back in 1972. The track I shared is from his third album (and my favourite of his). It is a song about mankind’s stupidity and arrogance in its belief in its superiority, and how the true spirit of ourselves and nature can rise above that. That sounds pretentious, as I write it, but it is anything but that: couched in one of Jackson’s beautiful tunes, the song has always spoken to me, and is particularly meaningful as a comment on how we need to come together to defeat the Covid-19 virus. Take a listen and you’ll see what I mean – I saw him play this live some years ago, and it was one of those ‘hairs on the back of the neck’ moments. I still get something in my eye every time I hear this:

The second song I want to share today is from an English folk-rock band that I’d guess most of you haven’t heard of before: Merry Hell. They share with Jackson Browne a strong sense of social conscience, and many of their songs are rousing and uplifting calls to our better nature. I believe this one is especially relevant to us all, now more than ever – the band’s albums are great, but this live performance really gives the song its full power:

We do need each other now. Our Prime Minister finally did last night what he should have done weeks ago, and put the country in lockdown to try to prevent the spread of the virus. Yet still this morning there are pictures in the media of people crammed into the carriages of London Underground trains. I doubt that they are all key workers, but the stupidity and arrogance of those who aren’t beggars belief. They, and we, could learn a lesson from these two songs. It is hard not to write a downbeat post in our current times, and this is very much intended to be a positive message, via the medium of music. Take care, be and stay safe, and be uplifted by the beauties of life which will long outlast the crisis. And keep remembering:

We need each other now.