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The Time I (probably, maybe) Had Corona Virus

I find myself dreaming of family BBQ’s in the sunshine, wild summer walks with my friends in the woods; my Mum’s roast chicken dinner, my best friends pregnant belly, hot salty chips on Brighton beach; sepia tinged love in The Time Before. I realise I am once again afflicted with the human affliction of wanting what is drastically so far out of reach. 

Over the last week I have been struck down with an all encompassing malaise; an unfathomable exhaustion, runny nose, a tickly throat, nose bleeds and a complete loss of the ability to smell and taste. The latter I find most alarming, I like the taste of most things and I am currently bereft of my favourite hobby of comfort eating pie.

Seriously though, you don’t need me to tell you that this is an absolute shit show. For everyone. In normal times I would be going to work as normal as a nurse on an acute psychiatric ward, and simply powering through whatever has been making me feel under the weather and fucking with my taste buds. As we are so conditioned in this work-centric world. But the images of people on ventilators, the numbers of deaths on my newsfeed, the idea that I could be putting the lives of my patients at risk; many of whom already have underlying physical health problems, stopped me in my tracks.

If you had told me that I would ever be ordered by my manager to stay at home for 7 days and enjoy Netflix I would have probably told you to speak to your local psychiatrist. But this has happened to me. 

It is quite remarkable that testing for front line NHS staff had not even been a thing until recent days. Even now it is rather unclear how soon or how I will be tested as a nurse. It’s almost two months since the first UK based COVID-19 case and I would have thought this would have been an immediate no-brainer: test those with symptoms on the front line; so we know we’re sending home the right people. 

In a system that is already running on a knife edge and the bare bones of staff at the best of times, we can’t really afford to have staff off sick because they “maybe, probably, think they have Corona-virus.” Out of my team of 16 people, 9 of us are currently off with suspected symptoms. It seems ludicrous that we could each all be experiencing the natural tiredness of working painfully long shifts, the common-cold, a bit of a cough, a mild flu of some other strain, or just be feeling a bit hot. In this situation of head-fuckery I frantically check my temperature for proof that I’m not imagining all of this and wasting everyone’s time and cash laying in bed watching Drag Race. 

At 8pm on the 27th March my entire neighbourhood erupted into fits of whooping, clapping and whistling. I opened my window and I cried into the dark. I felt a terrible dreaded guilt for not being at work while my remaining team members bore the brunt. Constantly second guessing my mild symptoms and feeling like a big old fraud. 

Being quarantined is unnervingly reminiscent of a depressive episode. It has flung me back to 2016 when I quarantined myself voluntarily; cut myself off from reality in my nest under the duvet. There was no virus, just a deep blanket of black in my mind. Lying in my bed all these months later, forced to isolate away from my family and friends, I am reminded how ill I was, and just how fragile we all are. Human connection is the elixir of life. 

I’m hoping that this period of state-enforced-boredom will remind us to look for the small joys in the mundane. The little freedoms. To never again take for granted being able to freely go to a supermarket to deliberate which shape of pasta to buy from the fully stocked shelf of 20 different options. 

In a society so saturated with choice, and an economy built on disposability, on the human desire for instant gratification, we are now forced to work with what we have. Those dried lentils at the back of the cupboard? Let’s make a fucking soup. We are realising the true life-saving importance of community. We are finally seeing that the real superstars are not the Kardashians but the nurses, the doctors, the scientists, and the people in your street leaving food parcels at your elderly neighbours door. These people are the glue. 

In enforced isolation I wonder why I didn’t make more plans with my friends, make another trip home to see the folks. Roast more chickens when I could get to the butcher. 

So let this be a lesson to slow down. To spend time with the people who love you the most and the ones who make your heart sing. Let’s notice what is on our doorstep, fly less, explore our own coast line, build our communities up, say hello to our neighbours and ask them how they are (from a 2 metre distance of course.) Let’s look for what we can create with what we’ve already got.

All that matters after all is not money and buying shit, all that really matters is each other. 

Also, no one really needs THAT much bog roll. 


Love, Annie x 

 

I Quit Being Sensible

Sarah Drawing 002

I haven’t told you this yet but I have done something bold and decisive and honest and potentially foolish. I quit my job.

This, as you can imagine, was not a light decision. This was my first ‘normal’ job after years of bar working and freelancing and I was chuffed to finally have a regular and stable salary and free weekends. Hooray! I graduated the same year that the Credit Crunch took hold in the UK and the jobs market was literally ‘Dodo extinct.’ So I was thrilled to finally be able to pay my ever increasing London rent, and to cook a massive dinner with all the trimmings for all my friends without worrying about how much it cost. Hell, I even shopped at M&S.

For months and months I trudged through a thick soup of depression trying to work out whether it was my job or just me that was making me sad. When you have depression, the difficulty in differentiating between what is a ‘depressive episode, so you’re perceptions are all skewiff’ and what is actually a ‘genuinely shit situation that would make anyone sad’ is incredibly difficult. I tried hard to imagine someone else in my shoes to work out whether they would be unhappy too, but of course, that didn’t work because I am and will always be me. I was crying at cute dogs and old people on the tube, for God’s sake, something had to give.

When I was signed off work for anxiety and depression and trying to fill my days with mind nourishing things to make me better, I gradually realised that although I am prone to periods of depression and big bouts of anxiety wherever I am in the world – it was a great deal worse when I was at work. Being away from work made me feel human again. I explored and I read and I walked and swam, I got back in touch with a childlike curiosity for life, and the simple things that make life wonderful (like growing cress in pots, climbing trees, making banana bread, talking to my Mum, reading the Beano.)  I realised I was actually quite happy about most of life, but that I hated my job.

I had been telling my therapist that I had survived a breakdown. He didn’t like the term ‘breakdown’ and so he did something incredible which was to flip it completely. “No” he said “You’ve had a realisation, a catalyst for change, an exciting epiphany.” I wanted to throw a heavy object at him and tell him sternly that feeling like you can’t get out of bed ever and that you are wading through mud on a daily basis does not feel like an exciting epiphany to me. But now, after a bit of time, I can see exactly what he means. This was a realisation, an arrival at the idea that something in my life had to change, something in my life was making me unwell. It was liberating and it was scary. I knew I couldn’t stay in my job. It was a lovely job, a sensible job, but it wasn’t for me.

I realised that too many of the decisions I have made in my life have been because I think I should, and not because I have wholeheartedly and passionately wanted to. I studied Sociology instead of Art at College because I thought it was more sensible, and I did Hospitality Managament at Uni because I thought I’d get a stable job at the end of it, I chose baked potatoes instead of chips in restaurants because I should, I even went to church because it would be ‘me being good.’ Too many choices taken out of wretched fear or a sense of obligation.

Ever since the day I realised that I would have to find a job when I grew up, I’ve been suffocated and worried by the idea of fitting into the world, and by the question ‘what to do’ with my life. This, I think, has been the real root of my anxiety. I took my full-time stable job because it looked like the safest option, it wasn’t my dream job but it was something that would pay me money and was vaguely connected to the thing I’d trained for. But it didn’t make me want to live. The truth is, I took the job because I didn’t know what I wanted to ‘do’ next with my life. And because the pressure and alienation and guilt felt when not knowing what to do with your one-and-only-life is hideous.

From childhood we are conditioned to find our place in the world, a place that will earn us money. Money is a necessity, I know, and there is a mind-bogglingly large number of ways to get it. But after a breakdown/realisation something changes in the very core of your being. In a way, things become simpler. You have seen what the bottom looks like, and you don’t want to go back there, so you need to follow what feels good in your very soul, what is quite literally your guttural instinct.  You have a need to find something that makes your life worth living each day. So now, the only option is to feel my way through life. Does this feel right, working in this office? No? Then get the hell out of there. Life’s too short. Do you feel good working with this tree and this soil and these worms? Yes? Then keep doing it. It’s about using your intuition and it’s smart. Surely this is a route to contentment.

The luxury that wild animals have that we don’t, is that they can and do simply act on instinct. Generally speaking, the animal kingdom goes through life doing exactly what it feels like doing. Starlings migrate to the other side of the world because they feel in their bones that that is the right thing to do. Us humans however often have to disregard instinct because we need to earn money to survive and life just ‘gets in the way’ of doing what we really want to do. I’m not sure if anyone’s instinct is to sit behind a screen for 8 hours a day in a stuffy office doing budgets, but I’m sure it’s lots of peoples instinct to tell stories, to run in fields, to make art, to swim in the sea. Perhaps this is a simplistic way of looking at life, but to me it feels right.

So, to follow my nose I’m taking time out from the pressure of ‘having to be something’ in the world. As part of my healing process and my recovery I’m just going to be me.  It means I’m absolutely stone broke of course, but I think it will be worth it in the end. I’m going to try everything, everything that I feel like. Eventually I want a job that is going to make me sing when I wake up in the morning; so I’m going to volunteer all over the place, with elephants and the elderly, with nature reserves and Buddhist monks, I’m going to explore explore explore like Phileas fucking Fogg until I find the thing that makes me tick. I’m on a grand new voyage, a quest for realness, wholeness and not for obligation. So I say bollocks to being sensible. Life – I’m coming for you.

Annie x

 

Surviving a Nervous Breakdown

Having a nervous breakdown feels like your mind has literally broken down like a car. No matter how hard you push it, it won’t go any further. It is the body’s way of saying STOP! That’s why it is not unusual for someone to feel like giving up altogether. When this happens, continuing with daily life is overwhelming. The world outside of your head feels like a gargantuan unslayable beast, and it’s going to eat you all up. You are a tiny grain of sand worth dusting away.

So you have two options, you can end it or you can keep going.

I chose to keep going, but apart from sleeping and eating there wasn’t much I wanted to do. Being signed off from work was a necessity but it also lead to feelings of isolation. I felt like I had just dropped out of life, and that everybody knew and would be talking about it. I’ve always been an energetic and motivated person, so to feel broken like this was tricky. I was scared to bump into work friends in the street (which I did on one occasion) and I was worried about going out in case people saw me having fun. Being able bodied and ill in the mind is complicated.

I couldn’t go to work, but I also knew I couldn’t stay in bed. I had to do something. So, I took tiny little steps, and each step made me feel better and better and better. I took care of myself and I followed my nose, there wasn’t much more to it.

Doing these things helped me out of my hole, and I always come back to them when I feel myself slipping.

Step 1: I brushed my teeth and my hair. The simplest bit of self care imaginable, that can work wonders when you’ve been wallowing under your duvet tent for too long.

Step 2: I read ‘Mental Health’ by Yrsa Daley Ward

If you did not get up for work today
If it has been afternoon for hours
And the silence is keeping you awake.
If you only remember how to draw your breath
in and out like waves of thick tar cooling
If you are wishing it later,
pulling the sun down with your prayers, leave the damn bed.
Wash the damn walls. Crack open a window even in the rain, even in the snow.
Listen to the church bells outside.
Know that however many times they chime is half the number of changes you have to make.
Stop trying to die. Serve your time here, do your time.
Clean out the fridge.
Throw away the soya milk. Soya milk is made from children’s tears. Put flowers on the table. Stand them in a measuring jug. Chop raw vegetables if you have them.
Know that if you are hungry for something but you cant think what then you are more often than not only love thirsty, only bored.
When the blood in your body is weary to flow. When your bones are heavy and hollow
if you have made it past thirty celebrate, and if you haven’t yet, rejoice. Know that there is a time on its way when the dirt settles and the patterns form a picture.

Step 3: I listened to this song:

Step 4: I cut pictures and words out of magazines that made me feel something good in my bones, then I stuck them all onto a big piece of paper and hung it on the wall next to my bed. Most of the pictures were of palm trees and bears.

Step 5: I got lost in Oxleas Woods for the day. I used to go there when I was little with my family, I needed to reconnect with a more natural, happier and simpler time.

Step 6: I went to the London Buddhist Centre and I meditated with a room full of friendly strangers. It was beautiful to be anonymous, and to not have to talk.

Step 7: I had a hot bath over flowing with bubbles, and I turned out the lights.

Step 8: I went swimming in London Fields Lido, the water is warm and the sun shines on you as you swim. It’s even nice if it’s raining because steam rises and you feel like you’re in an Icelandic hot pool (kind of.) Anyway, It’s a small piece of paradise in Hackney.

Step 9: I listened to these guys talking about elves in the woods which helped me switch off and sleep at night.

Step 10: I created this blog and I wrote. Probably the most important thing I did was to start writing it all down. There isn’t a cure for anxiety or depression, but there are ways of dealing with it – and this remains the most liberating antidote for me.

Annie x