Tag Archives: community

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 

 

Talking at Bus Stops

I met a lady at a bus stop the other day. She had the most magnificent false teeth. I could tell they weren’t real because they made that plastic clacking sound. I couldn’t stop looking at them, they were sort of otherworldly. I was in a fowl mood, which I was feeling guilty about. I was annoyed at myself for going to the public swimming pool at prime kid splashing and dive bombing time. I hated all of the children, particularly the one who belly flopped right next to my not-yet-wet head.

On top of my irritation and newly wet hair I then felt all of the guilt for having so much rage toward small people. Guilt is just the worst.

Bizarrely, I visited Homebase on the way home and bought a box tree for the front garden. (I use the term ‘garden’ very loosely here.) You know, those little round ball trees you can sculpt into giant squirrels, or rabbits, or cocks? Well, I then had a bit of a meltdown that I had become the type of person who buys topiary for their front garden. Frankly, I’m annoyed about the very existence of Homebase, or at least I like to think that I am, so it’s baffling to me that I chose to spend 15 minutes of my life in there choosing a box tree.

I digress. The lady at the bus stop. Her voice was like a cup of Ovaltine. Really quite nice, and definitely comforting, but you’re not sure quite why. She asked me if I was also getting annoyed about the bus running late. I didn’t feel like telling her that actually it was children and topiary that had made me feel like a thunder cloud so I agreed and engaged in chat about how you can’t rely on buses these days.

I was quite taken aback by what she said next. She looked at me square, and said “I think everyone has become despondent.” She might have still been talking about Transport for London, but I took it to mean something along the lines of “Kim Jong-Un and Donald Trump are about to destroy humanity because of ego and money and we’re sitting here with a box plant waiting for the 123 feeling annoyed at innocent splash-happy children.” I felt a lift in me when she talked. It may have been because she was talking to me at a bus stop which doesn’t really happen ever. I felt a sudden burst of joy about the realisation that I wasn’t alone in this. She talked about Walthamstow and how it used to be. She said everything has changed. Everyone is angry at each other, no-one communicates properly anymore.

 

via GIPHY

 

Working as a support worker for older adults, I heard this kind of thing quite a lot. They felt left behind. They have seen their communities change and grow in funny ways and they don’t like the way the world works anymore. Fish & Chips cost a tenner when it used to be thrupence, their best mates have died and music halls no longer exist. Plus buses, much like their bowels, are irregular.

I wish I had told her, that she just needs to keep talking to people at bus stops. You can’t change Walthamstow on your own, not unless you’re the Mayor, and even then it’s a bit tricky. But you can do little things. You can make topiary bushes into cocks. Hey, I’d smile if I saw one – my heart would feel somewhat lighter. You can greet your bin man (or woman), they’re always remarkably nice. You can notice the loveliness of a persons nose and tell them. And, you can talk to people at bus stops.

Yes, I want the big stuff to change too. I don’t want Donald Trumpy Pants or any other person with ill-advised hair and terrible policies to run the world but I just don’t know how to stop them. I am at a loss. So, in this age of despondency, let’s forgive ourselves for buying topiary. Let’s aim to make dull moments more enjoyable, one bus stop chat at a time.

Annie x

The Battersea Park Road to Paradise (and belonging)

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I’ve just finished reading The Battersea Park Road to Paradise by Isabel Losada. I picked it up in the brilliant Oxfam book shop in Brighton during one of my soul searching days out. The book jumped out at as the kind of light, life-affirming reading I needed after surviving a deep depressive phase and was beginning to rebuild my life brick by brick. It’s the kind of book that could easily be dismissed as another Eat Pray Love-esque chick-lit romance novel without a great deal of substance. But as I read, I found that this was not the case. Like me, Isobel was genuinely on a quest to emerge from a big black ‘hole’ and hungry to find meaning and substance to this life.

Feeling stuck? Yes, me too. I’m in a pothole on the road to enlightenment. You wouldn’t have thought a pothole would be deep enough to get stuck in, would you? But I’ve managed to get totally wedged in. – Isabel Losada

As I read more and more, about her voyage into the world of Feng Shui, motivational speakers, guru’s and Ayahuasca in the Peruvian jungle – I  realised that I had just bagged myself a new friend in Isobel with something in common. The desire to learn and make the most of life. To experience the extraordinary, to be willing to take the road less traveled for fulfillment.

She too is a woman living in the big city, and like many people in big cities all over the world – we can feel bereft of something. I love london, but I also long for a tribe. I feel envious of the Ashaninka tribe, that Isobel stayed with, who live off the land in the Amazon Jungle. Their basic needs are fulfilled and they want for nothing. I can’t help feeling that our insular and consumerist culture has a lot to answer for when it comes to our mental health. In order to sell us something, that shampoo advert, or diet pill or new Apple product needs to make us feel unhappy with that we’ve got. So we buy, buy and buy forever. We don’t need all this shit, we need people, warmth, love, knowledge.

As Isobel puts it:

Isn’t it ironic that the Ashaninka tribe are, in so many ways, living more happily from the land than most of us are living in our boxes in our towns and cities? They live simply and with people they love around them. We have to learn to love and cherish one another. We have to bring people together. We have to hold parties – not the kind where people drink, but the kind where people listen to each other, where real friendships are made.

We can’t all live in the Amazon, but in London we too can feel connected and vital. I have just started volunteering one day a week at Thrive – an organisation specialising in Horticultural Therapy – in Battersea Park (funnily enough!) I spend my Tuesdays there digging potatoes, planting seeds and cutting sweet peas with a small group of adults with different learning disabilities. Gardening is therapy – living off the land even in a small way is nourishing for the spirit, and soil can make you happy! But what I am finding to be extra therapeutic is the existence of a community of people, working together, and being nourished by each other. A team where everyone belongs, and are working hard together for a shared positive goal. Surely this human connection has to be part of the key to happiness and well being. If you feel like you belong, then you are part of the way there.

So join that rounders team, go to a community cooking class, volunteer at your nearest nature reserve if you have the time. There is something magical about people coming together for something that is not money driven. Something that adds to our sense of community and belonging. If you do this, then perhaps everything else will fall into place in your world and you might just find your tribe.

Annie x