Thursday, 2 July 2020

Love in all its forms

I love this picture which I was sent via WhatsApp last week but had already been sent as a birthday card from my dear Belgian friend. It says it all, and made me think about how many different types of love there are - and all of them equally valuable.

My friends are so important to me. They would be anyway, but not having children of my own or a close family, they are the mainstay of my life. We walk miles with our dogs (or just Moll), cry and laugh over our trials and tribulations and keep each other sane. I've learned how important it is to be non-judgemental. To listen. I got that from my Mum, bless her, who is an amazing listener.

I've found love, the last two times, very suddenly and unexpectedly. A friend and I were discussing how her tenants had run up a massive phone bill (It's strange what you remember about certain occasions) when Pip walked in. And the rest is history.

Four months after Pip died, when I was deep in the throes of grief, I met someone else. I really couldn't handle falling in love again, not in the middle of grieving the man I loved most in the world. I couldn't sleep, lost half a stone in a week and felt as if my world had turned upside down.

Well, that love has been full of ups and downs, some great sadnesses and moments of enormous happiness. During one of the sad times, several years in, I had to have major surgery and met another wonderful man, incredibly kind, who offered to nurse me through my operation. While we weren't as compatible as might have been hoped, he remains a dear and true friend and I am so grateful to have met him.

Last year I ended the ongoing relationship as the sadnesses outweighed the good times. And yet that love, which has been incredibly complicated, has endured through the darkest of times. Even though we're not together we are still very close. It's rare that you find someone you can confide in, share laughs with, be utterly yourself and also find them attractive, years later. It's a great shame this one didn't have the happy ending I feel we both deserve, but it seems this is as good as it's going to be.

Over the last week I've learned of two people I know, both who live near me, who have both found love during lockdown. Now how incredible is THAT? The first one I heard about via Facebook when I was feeling particularly miserable and it felt like a real kick in the guts. I'm sorry but it did. Now, I'm having a better day and I am really glad for her. Which I was anyway, but when you're feeling unloved, sometimes you don't want to hear about how happy other people are.

Then I heard about the second person and I am so very glad. So happy for both of them. It just shows that love can - and does - pop up when you least expect it. In the most extraordinary of circumstances.

I was talking to a dear friend the other day and she looked at me and smiled. "There are lots of different types of love," she said. "Be careful of your heart, but remember, life is about risk versus benefit."

So I give you Love. In all its forms.

Wednesday, 24 June 2020

Here today, gone tomorrow

Confidence is a strange thing, isn't it? Some people seem to have it ingrained, from birth, maybe, whereas others struggle desperately, floundering on the slippery banks of insecurity.

I've noticed that many creative people have low levels of confidence. I suppose because, like anyone who sells anything, we are only as good as our last product. If, say, your first book sells really well, the expectation is that the second book must be as good, if not better. That's enough to knock the creative stuffing out of anyone.

But even for those people who write books that consistently sell well, there is very often the sudden confidence crisis once the book's been sent in to an editor - is it good enough? Will she/he like it? And then, when the book comes out, you have the same worry - will the readers like it? Will it sell? Will it convey the message you're trying to get across?

I remember hearing that Jenni Murray said that, for all the many years she's been presenting Woman's Hour, the only time she wasn't nervous was the time that she made a huge blunder - on air, with her mother listening. So perhaps this lack of confidence is like stage fright - we need it to keep us performing at our best, whether it's books, art, presenting - whatever it is.

As I've grown older my confidence levels have mostly levelled out. But there are those Bad Hair Days when everything seems wrong, when I can't write a word - or what I've written is rubbish. When I'm convinced that I am unlovable, unwanted, few an utter failure, all that stuff.

What I try and do now is remember that there are certain times of year when I just feel rubbish. Mid December to mid January us often a write off for me. Lockdown hasn't been fun. But the only constant in life is change.

And I think that's what we all need to remember. That the rubbish times do pass. Last week I was feeling horrible, but today the sun is shining, Moll is snoring under the bed as I write this and I'm seeing some dear friends later.

So we all need to remember, not just in these Covid times, that this too will pass.

Wednesday, 17 June 2020

Bubbles and Huge hugs

I wrote a post on Facebook a few days ago about my own experiences of the Social Bubble and have been asked to write a longer version, so here it is.

When I first heard that people living on their own could form a support bubble with another household, I thought, What great news! and skipped around the kitchen, as I am fortunate in having some really amazing close friends. At last - the prospect of a HUG! Like everyone living on their own, we are starved of that most basic of human needs - TOUCH. But now I’d be able to hug my friends!

But as the evening wore on, it gradually became clear that all my close friends have FAMILY, and family takes precedence over friends. So, at a time when the government finally appeared to be trying to make it easier for those of us living on our own, I now felt as if I were being punished for not having my own family. (I have brothers but I rarely see them, and my mother lives 100 miles away. Much though I love my mum, driving 200 miles to see her would not be support in any way. But I still felt guilty, that I was being a Bad Daughter.)

The fact that my friends have family commitments was quite understandable on one level, but because I was feeling very wobbly, it felt like a personal rejection. I began to feel unloved, unwanted, the odd one out - it opened up a Pandora’s Box of insecurity that I have battled with since being a teenager.

Once again it felt like Christmas (a friend once described me as The Waif and Stray), with everyone wrapped up in their family bubbles, while I stood outside, watching through the window, before trudging home on my own. Or at school, when everyone picked teams and you were the last one left. The odd one out. The one that the teacher made one team take, and they hated you for it. Yes, the demons really had a field day.

I finally plucked up courage and texted a dear friend, but I was by this time so worried about rejection (her partner has family commitments), that I was prepared for her to say No, sorry.

But bless her, they readjusted their family commitments so I can be part of their bubble and we celebrated with HUGE HUGS (I cried like a baby) and a glass of wine on Saturday night.

For someone who hasn’t touched another human being, let alone had a hug for three months, those hugs were simply the best thing ever.

I know I'm incredibly fortunate in having a Support Bubble, but those days of feeling really isolated and wretched made me realise that there most be so many people who feel the same. And who don’t have the prospect of a bubble to help them.

Those who don’t have friends or family nearby. Those who might have family but don’t get on (remember, this is supposed to be a support bubble, not a detention bubble. We’ve all had enough of those.) Those who have to make really difficult choices between children and partners, children and other children - the list is sadly all too long.

I discussed this, sobbing loudly, when I met with my dear mate Jacqui, and wondered how I could help others who are, for whatever, reason, Bubble-Less.

And while I can’t invite anyone to join mine, I would urge any family or couple to look around you, think of who you know who might be on their own, who might really need some support. They might not want to ask: they might be scared of being rejected. (I was.) And that would make them feel even worse. But if you can help anyone, please do. It would not only change their lives, but it might also change yours.

Just think about how quickly life can change. It could be you on the outside, looking in.



Wednesday, 10 June 2020

Slowing down?

Social media and, in fact, the media at large seem to be full of the virtues of Slowing Down (in lockdown). Of leading a Quieter Life. Of not rushing round etc. Taking the time to relax, read, do nothing, appreciate nature etc.

Well, to a certain extent I suppose I did slow down socially as, like everyone else, I had no social life during lockdown. But during the day I was busy working on my novel. I did a counselling course. I collected prescriptions and shopping for people as part of Volunteer Cornwall. I walked Moll as and when permitted. I wrote my blog. I wrote. And I wrote. As I'm used to working from home, this part of my life didn't change.

But I listened to various friends talking about how lovely it was to be with their families and/or partners, doing nothing all day. Evenings spent watching films, drinking wine with their nearest and dearest. Daytimes spent cycling or walking or doing the garden (with their nearest and dearest).

Last week I had a socially distant walk with some friends I hadn't seen for a while who had both spent a relaxed time with their partners. "You've been ever so busy," one of them said.

I felt almost guilty, that I hadn't been relaxed. Doing nothing. But I explained, "It's lovely to do nothing when you're with your loved one, but the trouble is, because I live alone, if I sat around doing nothing, I'd get extremely depressed. I'd fall into that black chasm which has steep, slippery walls, and I wouldn't be able to get out again and that scares the hell out of me. So it's vital for me to keep working. Have a purpose. A focus."

As Wendy Perriam once said, on being widowed, "I've got plenty of friends to do things with. I really miss someone to do nothing with."

I was telling a close friend about this conversation with my mates when he rang a few days ago. He's not on his own but sometimes you can feel more lonely when you're with the wrong person. There was a short pause when I told him about fearing I'd fall into that black pit. Then he said, "Yes. That's what's happened to me."

As a writer we want to communicate. And part of that communication is to help other people crawl out of their black pits. So for everyone wanting a hand up, just shout. Talk to anyone you trust about how you feel. The black pit only exists when there's one person in it. Once you've shared how you feel, the black will become lighter. Daylight will filter through. You will realise that the walls are not so steep, and they're beginning to dry out.

Furthermore, there's a foothold in the corner, and if you put one foot in, you can reach up, and pull yourself out.

Wednesday, 3 June 2020

She's Fine!

Thank you so much for all your comments - they mean a lot.

As you can imagine, Thursday was a bit of a fraught day. The vet rang at 9.30 to see if I'd like to bring her in earlier as they had a cancellation, so I had to take her there, ring from the car park, while someone from the surgery, in PPE, picked her up and took her off. And that was the last I saw of her for six hours.

Luckily the heart surgeon rang before and after the scan to ask what had been going on etc. and he said he thought she'd probably just had a bug. Certainly after several days of very little exercise, her energy levels have bounced back which is lovely to see. Moll has a heart murmur which could lead to congestive heart failure - this is essentially when fluid accumulates around the lungs. (This is how Pip died, so I am praying this doesn't happen to her, bless her.) So I monitor her breathing once a week while she's asleep and as it hadn't changed, this seemed a good sign.

Having done the scan he said no, the heart isn't enlarged, she's no worse than she was nine months ago, and she doesn't need to have another scan for a while. Unless her breathing changes or I see anything else I'm worried about, in which case bring her in straight away. I suspect that she led them a merry dance in there as she gets very stressed at the vet anyway, let alone when they're trying to sedate her and do scans etc. The scans are also incredibly expensive so I will be glad for her not to have any more for a while.

So she's back and, to my amazement, the next day she was firing on all cylinders. Had her first proper walk for a week and loved it. Since then her energy levels have been amazing - especially as it's been hot - so we've walked later, in the cool, and the last few days we've both been swimming which has been fantastic.

I am so relieved and delighted and amazed to have my little companion back with me and walking alongside me. Bouncing and swimming alongside me, in fact. I can't tell you the difference it has made.

There were other things going on last week that were very stressful and unfortunate, resulting in more sleepless nights and a lot of tears. But having Moll back to her occasionally grizzly self makes me a very happy woman.

She is snoring on the bed behind me as I write: the one loving constant in my life and I am so glad that we have some more time together. Time that I hope to make as joyous as possible for both of us.




Wednesday, 27 May 2020

Poorly Pup

This is for my friend Iz who reminded me yesterday that I hadn't written a blog this week.
"I find them very comforting," she said. "I think it's because I realise someone else thinks the same way as me."

Certainly when it comes to dogs we do. All my friends know what a huge part of my life Mollie is. She has been with through so much with me for the last 15 years - shortly after she arrived, Pip was diagnosed with prostate cancer. Moll kept us going then. Later on he was diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis. Once again Moll was there. And when he died - well, life would have been so much harder without her.

True, she has a heart murmur and possible arthritis so she's on medication but so far, apart from a few blips, she's been her resilient self. But since lockdown she has really slowed up, and didn't appear to be enjoying her walks much. Which has meant I haven't, either.

To those of you who don't have dogs, a walk alone is completely different. Our four legged friends might not speak (much) but they are such amazing company, and you never feel alone with a dog. OK, she has her maddening habits like eating anything she can get her jaws on, and increasingly wanting to sniff rather than walk, but none of us are perfect. And at least she's never had a habit of running off which must be very worrying.

Anyway, last Thursday I could see she was really struggling, and since then she's made it clear she just didn't want to walk. My vet said don't push her so she has been on a very short walk round the block (5 minutes rather than half an hour) and the hour long afternoon walk is again either 5 minutes or maybe 15. It's heartbreaking, seeing her struggling. And, selfishly, I really miss her striding out exploring with me. Solitary walks are a constant reminder of her absence. A visit to the beach at Helford at the weekend had me in floods of tears as she wasn't there to share it with me for the first time ever.

Today she is a little brighter but it is very hot which isn't good for dogs, particularly older ones, so having had a little walk this morning that will probably be it.

It's not an understatement to say I have been in mourning and I've cried more in the last week than I have for a long time. Our pets occupy such a special part of our hearts, and when you live alone they are even more special. My days are structured round my time out walking with her, and during lockdown this has become increasingly important. She was my only contact at first and the only being I can touch.

So now it's a question of having to accommodate her decreasing energy with my high levels - I have to think of us both. She is having a heart scan tomorrow which will determine the state of her ticker, darling girl. Maybe she will be able to do slightly longer walks, maybe I have to do those without her. We will see....

So think of us both tomorrow, please. And keep fingers crossed....

Wednesday, 20 May 2020

Touch and Stress Container

Like most of us who live on our own, I am desperately missing the sense of touch.

I realised yesterday that it is nearly three months since I last had a cuddle. Since I actually touched a human being. And for many others it's a lot longer than that. Writing it down, it seems incredible that I have survived without this fundamental sense - as all my friends know, I am a tactile person.

But oh my god I miss it. I was watching Normal People on Monday night (it's so achingly good that I am trying to ration myself to just watching it on Mondays so I have something to really look forward to) and as they are touching each other most of the time, it was agony. I had to hug a cushion very hard and pray that it won't be too long before we can have physical contact again.
But it does all add to stress levels in what has to be the most extraordinary time most of us have ever encountered. I'm doing a course on Mental Health First Aid on Friday and as part of that, we will talk about Stress Containers. This is such a brilliant way of describing how we deal with stress that I thought I'd share it with you.

Basically, we all have stress in our lives but some obviously have more than others. The size of this container can be influenced by lots of things - bullying, abuse, being out of work, financial worries, relationship problems, health problems - etc. Those who are more vulnerable to stress have a smaller container, so it fills up quicker.

And when the container overflows, problems start to occur. So we all need to learn ways of turning the tap on so that we can let the stress out. Others the tap gets blocked, and the stress container overflows. It's such a simple idea but, like all the really good concepts, is spot on.

Talking to people we trust is probably one of the best things. Asking for their help. I know some people find it very difficult to ask for help but THIS IS NOT A SIGN OF WEAKNESS. It is a sign of STRENGTH that you realise the situation and have the courage to do something about it. That is real bravery. And once you've made that first little step, it all becomes a hell of a lot easier. Believe me, I spent much of my teens and twenties receiving help. I have a degree in it.

I can't speak for others, so I will briefly list my ways of coping. Writing - this helps - my novel, journalism, or a journal. It doesn't matter what you write really. Walking - this is one of my favourite things to do. Reading - nothing like getting lost in a book (other than writing one of course. That is the best thing ever.) Hugs - well, those are off limits at the moment so moving swiftly on, cooking and enjoying new recipes. Eating on your own is bloody boring but I do try and experiment a bit. Planting stuff in tubs: watching things grow. DIY. Helping others I find helps me too. It gives me a sense of purpose and when we're feeling low it's all too easy to lose that sense of purpose and so we feel useless.

And I think lastly it's being kind to myself, as well as others. It's so easy to beat ourselves up because we haven't done anything with the day, because we lack motivation, because our confidence has crashed. We're feeling really low. We feel really stuck in our lives, a failure, can't see the way ahead. (I've been through this all too.) But really we all need to cut ourselves a bit of slack. And try and turn a negative into a positive. For instance, instead of 'I didn't sleep last night, try thinking, 'I had a bit of a wakeful night but I read for a bit and listened to the radio and eventually I dozed off again'. This takes a bit of practice but it really does help.

Celebrate the small things - getting out of bed is a good start. Talk to or ring someone who will make you feel better (some don't as we all know). Write an email to a friend or send a text. Having a walk. A bike ride. A swim. When you feel rubbish, celebrate the small stuff. But please, if you need help, take a deep breath, and ASK. You will be pleasantly surprised.