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.

Wednesday 13 May 2020

Bad Hair Day (literally) and Book Updates

Oh dear. Is a polite way of saying what I thought when I looked in the mirror this morning. I should explain that I rarely DO look in the mirror. I am probably the most un-vain (is that a word? it is now) woman in Britain. I only have a quick look to drag a brush through my hair and put my contact lenses in. At the moment I can't wear my lenses as my eyes are too dry but that's another story.

Anyway, as I was saying, I decided to give my hair a quick snip last night before going to bed. And no, I was quite sober in case you're wondering. The last time I did it, about four weeks ago, I didn't make too much of a mess of it, so I set to last night with a snip snip here and a snip snip there. I have to say rumpled chicken came to mind when I washed and brushed what was left of my hair. Oh well, I thought. There's no one to see it and it will grow. It's just a question of what it will look like when I grow it out. And there's a lot more grey, I noticed. But I can't do anything about that either so - onwards, dear reader.

The good news is that I finally finished the first draft of my novel on Friday and as a result was shattered all weekend. But a good sort of shattered. Not an Am I Sick sort of shattered. (Though of course that did occur to me as well.) So I'm giving myself a few days off before starting on Draft Two. And once more being everlastingly grateful that I have this world of mine to escape to.

Today, as we know, we have more freedom to go out and walk which is music to my ears. What is not music is the fact that people can drive as far as they want, so those of us in Cornwall are terrified that some may think they can come down to Cornwall on holiday or to their second homes. PLEASE DON'T. We would love to see you when it's safe to do so but it really is not right now. There are no camp sites, pubs, restaurants or cafes open either, so there would be nothing to do when you did get here. So please stay away for the moment.

But if you're planning a holiday towards the end of the year, or live here anyway, and would like some inspiration, I am having a lockdown sale of 10% off all my books. I keep stock here to sell when I do talks but all my talks have been cancelled for obvious reasons. So now is a good time to plan what walks you would like to do, inspired perhaps by your favourite authors. (Not me - I refer to Winston Graham, Du Maurier, Rosamunde Pilcher and many others.)

On that note, I see it's clouding over. But the forecast is set fair for the next five days. So enjoy the weather but please keep safe, be careful and keep well.

Friday 8 May 2020

Big Things and Little Things

Some days I see no one. I talk to people on the phone, and sometimes via video calls but sometimes I find these calls unnerving. I can't exactly explain why, but I think it's because, as the days and weeks go by, I am becoming more and more introverted.

This is both a good and a bad thing. It makes lockdown more bearable, but it also means I am withdrawing from everything that is good for me on a social level. But then, so are many others, and if anything makes lockdown a little easier, that's no bad thing.

But I digress. The first thing to say is that I have finished the first edit of my novel. This has been a huge amount of work and I have loved it. It gives me focus, a reason to get up in the morning. It is an escape and keeps me sane. So for that I am so grateful. And, after this weekend is over, I shall start on Edit Two where I shall look more at the actual writing rather than the structure of the novel which was what I have been addressing. It's a times like this that I am so thankful to be a writer. In the absence of a partner by my side, or physical friends, it is wonderful to have them in my head.

A common question floating around at the moment is, What will you do once lockdown measures are more relaxed? As in, what have you learned? Well, I've always been busy, with work and socially. Obviously the busy-ness is much less these days but I have a structure to my day which I think helps a lot. And while I have no social life, other than on the phone or Zoom, it made me realise that I want to do more with my life and at the same time less.

Yesterday I helped out a friend who lives upstairs and as a thank you she bought me a copy of a gardening magazine, which contained a booklet offering free access to lots of gardens (not much good at the moment, but hopefully one day in the not too distant future) and SIX PACKETS OF SEEDS. I can't describe how delighted I was - and still am.

SO I started sowing some seeds, leaving the rest for another day. I had just finished typing the last words of my edit and wanted to save more of this planting treat for later. I've had a look at the magazine and also the brochure, seeing what gardens I might like to visit. One day. To be honest I've never been a great one for gardens - I prefer striding out to inspecting flowers, but I do love the colour and brightness that they bring to a day, and I get beyond excited when I see shoots coming up.

Which just goes to show that it really is the little things that matter. But then, when you think of it, growing things is pretty big stuff anyway. From a flash of an idea comes a novel. From a rough piece of timber comes a boat. From a seed comes a flower, a plant or a tree.

So here's to the little things in life. May they become strong and grow tall.