I have lockdown lurgy

The peg in the lawn

I am finding that the novelty of lockdown has worn thin, and frankly, I’m struggling with it all. At first, the lockdown was a new challenge to meet. Responding to these first adjustments to my life gave me something new to conquer. Now, it’s week six, and I am, well, wearied by it all. I feel like I am running a marathon with the finishing line nowhere in sight. I need a fresh injection of hope to keep sane.

I have resorted to staring at the infographic from my last post to keep me on the white line of life. And another thing; I’m watching my self-talk – it drifts off centre. When my self-talk drifts, my mental health slides with it disabling me further. A normally well-ordered life begins a downward plunge into chaos. On these days sucess is making it to bed time.

Arresting my mental decline becomes my new goal. And I have been thinking about my positive routines. I need to treasure them and keep them well maintained.

It sounds counter-intuitive, but once I appreciate my daily routines, seeing them as a positive, I can exercise gratitude for them. Showing appreciation for my habits is a skill that I have developed in later life. I now find that I like my routines; they are my friends. I see them as boundary markers: inside them, I am free to express myself in an endless variety of ways. But, if I treat them casually, then orange lights start to light on my emotional dashboard. These helpful habits provide me with boundary markers that help me stay in the safe zone. And, in the safe zone, I feel more in control – a little like the Ten Commandments really.

New routines may help us to cope with change and helps us form healthy habits, and in turn, this reduces our stress levels.

  1. ROUTINE IS AN ANCHOR
    Routine acts like an anchor in our souls. For instance, whatever takes place during our day, knowing that our evening meal is around 18:00, and knowing I go to bed around 22:00, can be a real comfort. The certainty of routine gives us a framework for the day. Frameworks hold me.
  2. ROUTINE IS FREEDOM
    That framework provides me with plenty of room to do all the other things I have planned to do. So, rather than a restriction, my routines are a means of regulating my life. A regulated life is a healthy life.
  3. ROUTINE REDUCES STRESS
    I find that routine can carry me when I need some support to keep going. If my habits are engrained, then they can help to transport me through a tough time, reducing the stress of blocked goals or ineffectiveness. A blocked goal is frustration. Frustration is stress.
  4. ROUTINE BUILDS POSITIVE HABITS
    There are times when our life needs positive reinforcement. Positive reinforcement is vital to keep me steady. I so easily slide away from my ideals or healthy habits; so they bring me back by exercising a mid-course correction. Positive habits steer me away from danger lines.
  5. ROUTINE PUTS A PEG IN MY LAWN
    If I put a “peg in my lawn” whenever I look out of the window, I will see the peg. Putting a “peg in my lawn” is a metaphor that I have used throughout my professional life, and now that I am retired, I find it just as useful to shape my present and to plan my future. I need pegs.

Can you help?

I’m collecting stories:
I am interested to hear how you are coping with the lockdown. How has it affected your mental and emotional health, and what strategies have you put in place to help?

Please tell me about your routines. Have they changed since our lockdown?

When did you last venture out?

Drop me a line, and your comments could form the foundation of another post. Thank you so much.

Check me out: Who do I want to be?

© THE MINDS JOURNAL

In this post, I am using a striking info-graphic that came to me from my daughter, Jo, in Sydney. This image speaks to me. In its condensed way, it helps me to measure up to the challenges of lockdown.

To a large extent, I can choose my response to the challenge of confinement. Confinement is not easy, but I can turn the situation into a growth experience if I make the right choices. I can make considered responses if I have something or someone to inspire me. For me, my faith plays a vital role here. And as I look through the Learning Zone to the Growth Zone, each statement inspires me to change for the better. I am drawn forward.

By starting with the opening question “Who do I want to be?” I check myself, and I am inspired to reach forward. Progressing through the Zones, I quickly begin to measure the state of my attitude.

To succeed, I must face the Learning and Growth Zones and turn my back on the Fear Zone. The Fear Zone only wants to pull me backwards and make me a victim of my appetites, emotions, words, and my reactions. And that is not a good place for me to live.

Suppose I stand in the Learning Zone. If I look towards the Growth Zone and meditate on the statements there, I can create new aspirations for my attitudes and behaviour. Wanting to grow will help me to create the right conditions to help me become a bigger person on the inside.

Now, suppose that I am still standing on the Learning Zone, but this time I am facing the Fear Zone. As I focus on the Fear Zone, I begin to dwell on the five statements in that zone. If I allow my mind to be consumed by fear without any kind of critical thinking, I become a victim of the Fear Zone. In the Fear Zone, I am overwhelmed by my lurking worries

In the Fear Zone, I am dominated by what I eat, what I say, what I hear, and what I hoard. It won’t be long before our mental health is hurtling downwards to a dark place.

I have a choice; which zone should I face? By reaching towards the Learning and Growth Zones, I can stretch myself forward by taking control of my thoughts and attitudes. Each statement gives me something concrete and may form a goal for me.

I am in no way suggesting this an easy take, but I am suggesting with the help of those around us, we can move towards the Growth Zone. There is always something to learn, even in tough times. Perhaps especially in tough times.

Here’s what I need to do:

  1. I understand where I stand now;
  2. I decide I want to take control of my attitudes;
  3. I focus on the things that will improve my response;
  4. I enlist the support of those closest to me;
  5. I start right now, today;
  6. Finally, I will be kind to myself.

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COVID-19: Keep calm & carry on

At a time like this, I need some positives to keep things in perspective. As the old WW2 poster says “Keep calm and carry on.” I have decided to focus on my here and now. Here are my seven suggestions to remain calm and centred:

  1. Hold your gaze on the things that matter most. If you are a person of faith, then your faith will sustain you in times like these; I know that mine is invaluable. By recentering our lives, we allow the essential things we hold dear to have the best seat in our house.
  2. Watch enough news to be well informed but don’t keep watching every media update. While news outlets provide a valuable service to each of us, remember that the media thrive on bad news, problems, and catastrophe.
  3. Embrace technology. I have found that to stay in face-to-face contact with family and friends is essential. And, I suspect that if you are part of a community group you might well have discovered the joys of group video check-ins. Where I can, all phone calls are now video calls. Yesterday, I wished my mum a happy 91st birthday via a video call. I think she understood, though I’m not entirely sure.
  4. Rejoice in the new community that is springing up. I have noticed the kind attitudes those in my local video community. I’m not practising social distancing. I am embracing all the social support I can lay my hands on by enjoying the company of others on Zoom, Messenger, and What’s App and the like. What I am practising is physical distancing, and that is quite different from social distancing.
  5. My wife, Maggie and I sat down on Tuesday 24 March 2020 and devised a new routine. The abrupt change in our pattern of life hit us starkly as our Government instructions reordered our normal.  Suddenly there are no pegs in our lawn, and all we have left is the emptiness of where the familiar used to be. I need structure to function, and now we are finding new ways of doing things.
  6. We are all learning a new language. Our vocabulary is adjusting to words and phrases such as; Social distancing, lock-down, self-quarantine, self-isolation, super-spreader, contact tracing, community spread, herd immunity, and now physical distancing.
  7. And, finally, where will I be while you are reading my musings? Well, I will be in the greenhouse tending my seeds and plants. I all ready have the best lawn ever! In the garden, I talk to my plants; I even talk to myself to ensure that my self-talk is in good shape. If I am not in the garden, then I will be speaking with family and friends, or even a little writing. And, if I am not doing those things, then, I will be walking or lifting a few weights. Whatever your interests, now is a good time to invest in them.

If you are a writer, like me, I consider it an exciting privilege to write in my Commentarium my everyday observations. Each month I will typically write 12,000 words, and in the present emergency, I feel as if I am writing the first draft of history as seen through my eyes.

These are my musings in these unprecedented days. I would love to hear your thoughts and observations. Stay safe and take hold of our new reality. Now, whatever happened to Brexit?

Journalling: Write for your life

When I was at a crisis point not many years ago, a wise Anglican minister friend of mine, suggested that I keep a journal. He said that it might help me to express myself in new ways, and thus help me to resolve some of my mental anguish. I ignored his advice. That is until yet another episode of soul-numbing depression struck. Then the idea of journaling popped right back into my mind.

I took hold of a notebook and started to scribble. I enjoyed writing about what I did and how I felt, but after a couple of months, the journaling began to get displaced by my recovery. My thoughts had turned to work, and it was not long before work had taken over again. And then the journaling stopped. I did not have the energy or steely commitment that I needed at that time to continue writing.

By 2016, I realised that I needed to stop working permanently and so resigned my role as a Baptist minister. I experienced no grief, found that I could let go of the emotional investment that I had made in the project over 30 years. In fact, it was a huge relief to hand the work over to a younger and competent successor. The cost of the work was too high for me, and I was defeated, overwhelmed, and had developed pneumonia. This time I knew deep down, my time was up; I had nothing left to give.

At first, I was bereft of purpose and direction. The vast hole that my role as a church minister had hollowed out of me left me in the desert. In this featureless desert, there was no map, no landmarks and no one else to guide me through the most testing time of my life.

After only a few weeks, I noticed that I was genuinely grateful for the privilege of not having to work. That was my first joy – and what a joy! No work. But, of course, it unmasked another issue; what was I to do with the blessing of not having to work?

Some six months after resigning, in December 2016, I started to write again. I had already realised that I wanted to explore other parts of me that had become subsumed by work. The more I wrote, the more I found that I had a renewed commitment to writing. Why not? After all, my father was an author for Rolls-Royce Aero, and he always encouraged me to write. Maybe it was in my genes, or was it his deposit in my life? Now was the time to find out.

At first, I did not know what to write. So, I started with what I did know; that is, what I did, and how I felt. While writing in this way sweeps away the surface issues, I soon began to find I tapped into something deeper within me.

As I wrote, I uncovered new desires that had been in the shadow of my professional busyness. These included regaining dominion over my mental and physical well-being. I was unfit, overweight, diabetic, and had high blood pressure. In my head, I was slim, fit and still batting at cricket for the county youth team. My perceived youthfulness is the nature of self-deception!

I knew my mental state was fragile, and I received some helpful mindfulness coaching from the community mental health team. Through 2017, my condition improved. Writing my journal, now renamed my Commentarium, led me to start some new activities.

Whether these are permanent fixtures in my life, I don’t know, but here are five guides that I have found helpful in my quest for healing and wholeness.

1 Use Your Natural Talents

My talent for research awakened again, and I found that I opened a new chapter in researching my family history. I joined my local family history group and a similar group from the village of my ancestors, Lowdham, Nottinghamshire.

2 Find Replenishing Projects

I threw myself into project management in rebuilding our home. A vast amount of work needed doing when we moved in, and I enjoyed negotiating the contracts and overseeing the work. The work is mostly complete, except that there are always walls to knock down and rebuild.

3 Rebuild Your Mental Health

My mental support mention earlier gave me the skills I needed to keep me mentally secure and increased my self-awareness. One of my main difficulties was that I paid insufficient attention to “self-soothing” during my working years. I continue to apply those skills to this day.

4 Regain Your Physical Fitness

If one is overweight, diabetic, with high blood pressure, then one is unfit. I was unfit. There are many ways to change the situation; many diets and exercise regimes help people like me. The critical thing is to find the right activities for you; walk, cycle, run, get a dog. But get moving. I walk three days a week. Use weights and do core strength exercises two days a week. I have two days a week rest. While I follow a particular diet, Each day I eat in an eight-hour window. My eating motto: Never before eleven; never after seven. It works for me.

5 Enjoy What You Have Now

Over the years, I have wasted a great deal of energy hankering after things I do not have. Energy expended in this way is draining, or at least I found it so. Accepting where I am right now, with what I have in my hand at the moment leads to a contented life. Sometimes we need to be grateful for what we have now, rather than to crave for  what we do not have.

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