Never a good time

What has 2020 taught you about planning life?

Like a lot of fans of Gretchen Rubin’s, I made a list of 20 for 2020 last December. It had already been a challenging time but during my Happiness Project I identified areas that I could spend more time on: friendship, writing, wellness. So in 2019 I made a list of things to do, things to achieve.

I had already identified that it was a challenge for me to keep on track with goals my post in 2019 I had goals so I don’t know if I was setting myself up to fail with the new list for 2020. I know that I had tried to be more specific ie. write first three chapters of my new project, rather than arbitary time goals. I didn’t know of course what challenges 2020 were about to throw me.

Like many making resolutions, I started quite well. Reconnecting with a friend in London, blogging more and having specific targets for my writing. And then, out of the blue, I became my son’s teacher as well as working from home. I got the worst bout of anxiety I have probably ever experienced (I mean who didn’t) and then a snowball of personal circumstances changed. Out of control and uncertainty being the main themes of the year.

Slowly, writing targets went way down the list. So did healthy habits like swimming and actually using gym – hello lockdown. Now I could have reviewed those goals when we first went into lockdown. Adjusted the schedule, used the million online workouts or free classes. I could have done a lot of things. But I didn’t.

I certainly have friends who were able to achieve a lot. In fact I have friends in many different boats, as I wrote about last year. For some their lockdown life seemed to bring out their drive to embrace life: friends who learnt languages, rededicated themselves to keyboard playing, made renovations or wrote books (hmm). It is hard not to judge myself harshly that I didn’t complete my list when there are these examples of productivity around me.

I learnt in a wellness seminar this year that in times of stress we all have a window of tolerance. Dan Siegel‘s term means that we have a zone that we are most effective but in difficult times some people will go more towards over-action or hyper-arousal, others will gravitate towards inaction or hypo-arousal. So in some ways this may explain how I could lack motivation when others seemed to be doing so much. We all cope in different ways. While setting goals may give some people a sense of control over their lives, for me it has often served to mark how little I have achieved and in 2020 that feeling was very apparent.

So, it may come as a surprise that I have once again set about to make a list 21 for 2021. The categories were very similar to last year and it was easy to see what would be important this year. Reconnection after months apart from love ones was a big theme. As was health after my recent brush with mild covid. But what I have also done is divide these goals into subsections under each theme, and started a bullet journal to track certain habits like reading and yoga. I have tried to break down the goals in specific and I am going to focus on each by what I can achieve month by month.

This first month is all about trying to feel well again. It is about not pushing myself too hard as I am dealing with post-viral fatigue (a few weeks in and my body is demanding I go slow.) I will try and report back on each month’s achievements here. I will also try and not beat myself up. Goals shouldn’t be punishments but a way of making our lives, as Rubin would say, “a little happier.”

Back to School

Listening to Gretchen Rubin’s podcast this week, I couldn’t agree more, September is a new start

Here in the UK children are going back to school in the next two weeks. They may have to get used to some new things, like masks in the corridors, or eating at their school desks if they can’t be outside. They may have to learn some things afresh like how to sit still in class, how to write again, how to be around people but not too close. But it’s clear a decision has been made that school is essential again.

I am really looking forward to some routine in our lives. Even though we muddled through home-learning (what we attempted could never be called a homeschool), we never hit a routine more than my son reminding me it was play time each morning. I am looking forward to some time to myself and seeing friends though with the new rules in place, not getting too close or seeing anyone too often. I am also looking forward to a sense of some normality, though it has all changed, the new normal is better than that time we stayed inside our house for three months.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

The fact that school is definitely back has led to a few discussions in our household already. Being a Mum of a kid whose special needs mean he resists changes and transitions anyway, I am used to battles about going to school. But Social Story in hand and special visit arranged we are going boldly forward with the “school is now open” full time plan. At times I feign optimism for him, mixed with the dread that sits in my stomach most days now. I am also getting more positive that this will be good for both of us.

It’s clear that the government is scrambling to convince parents it is safe, new policies are coming out every day that suggest what will happen, how things will change, if we have a local lockdown. But in the meantime there are news articles about how safe children are at school. I have been reading all the articles, despite trying to stay away from the news. It’s safe now. We think. Mercifully our children will not get terribly ill if they catch the virus, I just hope that mildness means the same can be said for us and their teachers if they do pass it on.

In a bid to read between the lines I think the answer is we probably don’t know what will happen in the next few months. As it stands, the government seem pretty determined that the schools will stay open come what may. Afterall, they kept the pubs open even though family members couldn’t meet at home in Manchester and Yorkshire in recent weeks, I guess they will do the same with schools. And hope for the best. Because that is where we are really.

So though the news articles haven’t completely allayed my fears, I can’t help but feel a sense of newness in the air. I wonder if despite the challenges ahead for me and my son, I can find ways to lift the anxiety and get back to normal. Gretchen Rubin explains here in the article which accompanied her recent podcast that September is the new January because it can give us a sense of a clean slate. That means that when you make a big change in your life, you can often change a habit at the same time, “exploiting the new” as she describes it. So for me I need to go forward with a more positive mindset about the fresh start at school. And maybe work harder on my habit of not reading the news.

How are you feeling about going back to school?

Taking some time

Take the time that you need, that’s what I am learning more each day

As part of my bid to have more compassion for my anxious brain I have taken some time off from work, including blogging. Sometimes it is joyous to feel part of the #WritingCommunity and sometimes it feels like a constant reminder that I am not doing enough. I wrote just before we went in lockdown as a country that I was taking simple steps to make life a bit easier. But I have also been doing what I can just to survive.

As this pandemic takes hold in parts of the world with far worse conditions than I live in, after the horrendous explosion at the Lebanese docks, as the economic impact starts to wreak havoc on many lives, I find increasingly connecting to the outside world is overwhelming. Yes to keeping abreast of the news, being a member of the community, a charity-giver, but no to the constant barrage of The News.

In reality this has mainly meant stepping away from Twitter. I took a break to censor Wiley after his heinous anti-semitism a few weeks ago and am now using it very little. Helped along by the fact we have come to a remote spot to enjoy a week’s peace and relaxation. I have never felt luckier to be able to do this. We always staycation (hate that term) and love a countryside holiday from our usually busy, urban lives. Last year I wrote just how much a change of scene can give you new ideas. But I think it also helps with a new perspective on what you need in life.

With this in mind I have a new practice to add to my list of Artist Dates (that I have described in previous posts) which I would recommend to chill out more.

Stone-stacking on the pebbled beach while I am on holiday whilst my son played with his trucks (and knocked over my towers) was both playful and mindful. To take time, flattening the space around, searching for nearby rocks that are smooth enough to stack absorbs your mind completely. Then placing each stone took time and care. A lesson then on taking the time you need to create something beautiful.

What quiet thing do you do to take time out?

Brilliant and Bored

Inspired by Manoush Zomorodi’s book Bored and Brilliant I have set myself the challenge of reducing my tech use and expanding my creativity

My phone usage stats have crept up in the last few weeks. Although this isn’t the first time I attempted to track them, taking time to detox before, I have been meaning to read Manoush Zomorodi’s book and apply it to my life. As well as tracking how and why you use your technology she provides really in depth research about why our minds need time to be bored. Turns out if you yearn for a more creative life, spending time letting your mind wander might be the way forward.

The first challenge she sets is to track how much you use your phone. The idea is you keep your usage the same to get a true picture but also stay mindful to the moments you reach for your phone. The stats are collected on my phones “digital wellbeing” section though in the past I subscribed to the Moment app. I like the fact there are built features to restrict the time you are on an app. Halfway through the week, horrified by the figures, I have set an hour or less limit on most things. The apps time you out if you are done for the day and its become a game to go on without going grey for the day.

Even by tracking my stats I confirm what I thought, I reach for my phone as soon as work is over to decompress, zone out. I watch TV in the evening while also scrolling through social and playing games. (And we have watched some stuff with complicated plots during lockdown.) The first few weeks of lockdown I clung to my phone for work messages, home school ideas, listening to podcasts during exercise and staying in touch. We all doing our best to find ways to cope. We have called my Mum for Grandma-time a lot and so really it has been essential. But the hours and hours online have crept up.

Zomorodi is not anti-tech at all, working in the field. But she explains that even the presence of our phones, designed to chirp for our attention like a needy toddler, is distracting. A bit like that child I have had at my elbow everytime I make a work call in recent months. The advice is to just put your phone to oneside but away. Out of sight completely. Only this way can you really let your mind wander when it wants to.

Challenge two I completed this week was to commute without the distraction of my phone. She made it clear that even a nursing stay-at-home Mum who she interviewed had to count her moves from the couch to the kitchen as a commute so no excuses for me. I have been trying to leave my phone upstairs and away but have found that there is always someone trying to reach me. I did manage instead a couple of walks without my phone, doing as she suggests, I tried to notice things I usually miss.

Instead of quietly contemplating my surroundings on my walk, I got bored so stood outside a friends window, to say hello. Fine until a neighbour’s kid threw an insult at me for no reason. Not only do I enjoy the company when my earphones are in, I also get to ignore the not-so-nice elements in the world.

Frustrated today as well, I finally had some time to myself but tried not to use my headphones as a crutch. I was lying down, annoyed that I could use an app to meditate because my phone was elsewhere, and I realised I can meditate without the app. Who knew? I probably only lasted ten minutes and moved on to clean the bathroom. But the point was I can see how I have become reliant in many ways to the point where I don’t like being without my phone and rely on it to absorb me and relax me in equal measures.

It has been a revealing week trying the first few challenges, although I know there are harder days to come: taking no photos and deleting the app that distracts me the most. Though I don’t feel I have been struck with brilliance as yet, I admit I have been more productive so maybe creative inspiration is around the corner?

Have you tried a Bored and Brilliant challenge?

There is good

At the end of every episode of the podcast deep dive into the Good Place, Marc Evan Jackson says “Go do something good.” The melliferous tones are a joy to listen to and somehow this phrase has been an ear worm for me in the last few weeks.

Whether it’s the rainbows or how everyone is considerately moving about the streets around each other, I am seeing more good in the world than ever. We have banded together in a mutual aid group in our neighbourhood although so far this has just been donating a bit of food, I feel closer to the community than I ever have since moving here four years ago. We talk to our neighbours and my son, who is very social but struggles to engage well, is having nice chats with our neighbour most days while he fixes up his car.

And in amongst this joy, sadness too of course, and fear. The emotional rollercoaster seems to be the only thing we can certain of at the moment. Coronacoaster I believe you call it. But we are handling it.

Elizabeth Gilbert was also on the Ted Talks podcast which was a brilliant salve in testing times

I sent my friends this quote from Elizabeth Gilbert because I have so much admiration for everyone’s ride on their own coaster. I look at what they are going through and marvel at how they have “handled it”.

The friend whose going back to work as a teacher, scared because its simply impossible to space out 15 kids in a small classroom. And whose job has changed over and over in the last few weeks. She may have no choice but to send her child to nursery though he is too young to stay away from others. She is battling with fear but handling it. She’s doing something good.

The friend encouraging her young child to go back to school so she doesn’t miss those final few days with her friends before the transition to high school. Her daughter is scared that it will be different and she is holding her hand through this while also working her full time job. She’s doing something good.

The friend working very hard all day but getting deep joy from popping down for a cup of tea and seeing her children more than usual. Getting through her to-do-list now she hasn’t got a long commute. She’s handling it. She’s doing something good.

Another who has to work full time with her husband out at his essential role but is keeping her kids out of school for the moment. Unsure that things are safe at school, she works with her son at her feet. She’s doing something good too.

Through all the earlier mornings, the homework fights, the million snacks, the technology battles- we have mothered on. Through all the video chats with family, baking cakes, playing outside and extra cuddles, we have mothered on.

So, if you are mothering on (or maybe muddling on,) then well done! Because you’re doing something good too.