Saturday, 23 May 2020

Wearing T-Shirts Is Not Enough

Monday was the start of Mental Health Awareness Week here in the UK. Dressing for my day working from home I picked through my collection of mental health t-shirts. Andy “Electroboy” Behrman’s KEEP TALKING ABOUT MENTAL HEALTH tee. Gabe Howard’s iconic :): shirt. One each from Bipolar UK, NAMI, No Stigmas, and Stigma Fighters. I chose the No Stigmas one for the start of the week.

I made myself a cup of coffee and turned on my work laptop. My new post for Mental Health Awareness Week would be going up on the work intranet. I’d have emails and calls through the week with the mental health and wellness team. Content and activities to plan. But what was I doing, really? Making a difference? Countering stigma? I suddenly felt deflated. Adrift. A fraud.

For a moment I was back thirty-five years or so at a CND rally in Hyde Park in London, taking in the sunshine and the music, eyeing up the women in their rainbow coloured tops and faded blue jeans, affronted by the guy on stage declaring loudly to the crowd “Wearing badges is not enough!” Funny the things that stick with you. I could almost hear him adding “— or bleedin’ t-shirts.”

I’m not completely clueless about mental illness and stigma. I’m primary caregiver and life-line to my best friend Fran, despite us living opposite sides of the Atlantic. I know what our relationship means to her. For the past nine years, I’ve been her constant companion as she’s ridden the tides of mania, depression, suicidal thinking, debilitating fatigue, and pain. I’ve seen what it costs her to navigate the stigma and ignorance of a society which places the highest regard on those who are able-bodied and — especially — able-minded. She’s told me many times she’s only alive today because of me being here. I take that at face value. It is powerful and deeply humbling.

But on the wider stage, what do I have to contribute? Diagnosis-free, with no direct experience of mental illness, trauma, or stigma to share, I stand on the other side of the well/ill divide. It’s never been an issue for me and Fran, but for some people I am “not mental enough” to help or understand. I get it. I’d probably feel the same way. What do I know, really?

Well or ill, it’s easy to feel frustrated and overwhelmed. A few years ago Fran posted daily on social media throughout May for mental health month, and I was with her day after day as she handled the fallout. The ones who, well-meaning or otherwise, failed to get what she — and many others — dared to share. The people on my social media feed who found it amusing to share jokes about waking up on a psychiatric ward. The trolling and abuse friends of ours have faced on their blogs and on social media.

Not that I always get it right, either. I’ve encountered discord recently with friends when discussion has faltered and connections have stretched to breaking point. At such times I doubt my ability to write, to find anything significant or “edgy” enough to write about. My work seems pale compared to that of others I know and admire, Fran included.

I thought back a few years to when I landed the opportunity to write a guest post for Wearable Therapy. The irony of writing for a socially aware clothing company wasn’t lost on me. I smiled. Maybe I had something to say after all. I pulled that guest post up and read it for the first time in years. It might have demoralised me further but for some reason it lifted me. I recalled how a friend had written expressing heartfelt gratitude to everyone — her professional team, family, and friends — who’d been there for her in recent days. My contribution had been modest enough, but I knew I was included in her thank you. I was tagged on a social media thread by someone I admire greatly and have often felt in awe of because of her ability to write eloquently and powerfully. Her message was deeply connecting and encouraging.

I thought back to other supportive messages Fran and I have received over the years from people who’ve told us they’ve been affected by our book and our story. It’s not an ego thing to recognise that what you are doing affects people’s lives, maybe even save lives.

Because it’s not always the “big” things that have the most impact. Like the random conversation I had years ago in a coffee bar that led me to a local literary event on the subject of physical and mental health. I met some great people that day, people who live their lives and share their stories with courage and passion. Or the chance comment on Facebook that lead to a lifetime, and life-changing, best friendship.

So I will go on. I will go on supporting Fran in all she does and sharing our story because the story of how a well one and an ill one manage their friendship needs to be heard. I will champion all who are doing their own amazing things. I will call out stigma and discrimination wherever I find it. And I will wear my t-shirts with pride. It isn’t enough, no. Not on its own. But it can be part of enough. Because you never know when a KEEP TALKING ABOUT MENTAL HEALTH shirt might spark a conversation; might give someone confidence and permission to open up or ask for help.

And I will keep challenging myself and connecting, living my life and speaking my truth as only I can, side by side with my best friend, shoulder to shoulder with all who are working and hoping and living toward the day when STIGMA IS NO MORE. Now that will be a t-shirt worth wearing.

 

Based on Wearing T-Shirts Is Not Enough, Stand Up : Speak Up, June 2016.

 

Wednesday, 20 May 2020

10 Ways I Was Kind to Myself This Week

The theme for this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week (MHAW) is kindness. In a recent article I described sixteen ways we can bring more kindness into our lives, including being kind to ourselves. I’d like to share a few ways I’ve been kind to myself in the past week.

1. Boundary Work

Kindness isn’t always easy, whether it’s showing kindness to others, accepting it from others, or being kind to yourself. Kindness isn’t fluffy, soppy, or superficial. At its heart, kindness is about honesty, respect, and maintaining healthy boundaries. I’ve done a lot of work this week on my boundaries, to see which are truly important and protect me from harm, and which are walls my ego has erected to defend an inflated sense of self-worth. It’s tough work but I feel I’m making progress, with the help of friends I trust to be honest with me. That’s kindness in action, right there.

2. A Time to Celebrate

I’ve written elsewhere how important it is to recognise our successes and achievements. You may not think there’s much to celebrate at the moment, living as we are through the coronavirus pandemic. It might even feel inappropriate, but there has never been a greater need for celebration. My friend Vikki and I celebrated two years of friendship last week. Ordinarily, we might have met in person for drinks and a meal. That’s out of the question for now but we got together on a video call to drink a toast (or several!) to our friendship and to celebrate her success landing a new job.

3. A Trip Down Memory Lane

A few days ago I helped Fran select some of her favourite travel photos for a slide show evening she’s planning with friends. I don’t have any such plans myself but I treated myself by looking back over my photographs from the past few years. It brought back loads of memories — and a few tears!

4. Movie Night

Fran and I watch a lot of movies and dramas together on our Skype calls (NCIS is a real favourite). A few days ago she suggested Guardians of the Galaxy. To be honest, I wasn’t keen. It’s not something I’d normally watch. I was feeling really low that day and couldn’t think of anything else to suggest, so we put it on. It turned out to be exactly what I needed. The action and humour helped me forget what was going on with me for a while. We’re watching Guardians of the Galaxy 2 now!

5. Reaching Out

When we are struggling it’s not always easy to reach out to someone for support. No matter how much we trust someone, it takes energy to open up and share what is going on for us — and handle the response. Keeping things inside isn’t always healthy, though, and I’m proud to say I let friends know I was struggling this week and allowed them to be there for me.

6. Treat Myself

If you asked how I like to treat myself I’d probably say spending time with friends, whether in person (in the dim and distant pre-coronavirus past!) or online. I’ve been more than blessed on that score this week, but when I was at the supermarket the other day I decided to indulge one of my guilty pleasures — and bought myself a loaf of olive bread. I’ve been known to eat an entire loaf of olive bread on my walk back from the store, but this time it did make it home intact! I ate some (okay maybe half) for my evening meal with a range of cheeses and a bottle of McEwan’s Champion ale. Now that’s what I call a treat!

7. Creative Journaling

I made time this week to do some creative work in my Traveler’s notebooks. I hand-stamped some stickers and completed a couple of pages to mark recent significant moments. I’ve also spent time in a number of Facebook groups for Traveler’s Notebook fans. Two of my favourites are Midori Traveler’s Notebook (genuine or bust) which is a private group, Cafe Journaling (public), and Midori Traveler’s Notebook Customization Group (private). These and similar groups are a delight to me. People share their notebooks, page spreads, and ideas with no hint of ego. There’s a wonderful sense of shared interest and passion, and a complete absence of argument or disagreement. It is an act of self-kindness to spend time browsing the content and gently connecting with like-minded folk all over the world.

8. Window Shopping

I haven’t indulged in any extravagant purchases since we entered lockdown but that doesn’t mean I’ve not been window shopping! A few times this week I set other concerns aside to continue my search for the perfect every day carry (EDC) bag! It’s very expensive (USD 249; approx GBP 205) and a little larger than I need, but my current crush is the Wotan Trooper bag (medium size). A man can dream!

9. Permission to Feel

A few years ago Fran and I took BrenĂ© Brown’s Daring Greatly online workshop. One of the first activities was to write one or more “permission slips” for the course. I wrote three, including one which has stood me in good stead ever since.

I give myself permission to fully experience whatever comes up during this time, knowing I am safe.

I copied it into my travel journal when I accompanied Fran (virtually) on her month-long trip to Mexico in 2018. You can read my account of that trip here. It helped me this past week to acknowledge all I was feeling — a mix of emotions including hurt, regret, inadequacy at work and as a friend, frustration, and anger (directed mostly at myself) — without self-judgment or self-pity getting in the way. It's an important stage in processing any strong emotions and is the first step in the four-step process Fran and I use a lot: “Feel it. Claim it. Love it. Let it go.” (I have written about that process several times including here.)

10. I Am Enough

I sometimes feel that I’m not a good enough friend, that I’m not supporting people as best I could, that I’m not being true to myself in my writing and blogging, that I’m always getting things wrong, and so on. An article I read this week — What It Means to Be Enough by Melissa Camara Wilkins — reminded me that it’s okay to be less than perfect.

You are enough does not mean that you have to be self-sufficient. It doesn’t mean that you don’t need anyone or anything else. It means you understand how much you do need, how small you are in this great grand universe — and that you don’t have to be even one inch bigger than that.

You are enough absolutely does not mean that you never need help. When you know you are enough, it’s easier to ask for help. It’s easier to admit your weaknesses. You know that your imperfections and your difficulties don’t reflect on your worth, because you are already enough, just as you are.

Taken together with several important conversations with friends this week, Melissa’s article (I urge you to read it all) helped me be kind to myself. It helped me see that I’m doing okay. I can and will work to improve, to learn, to grow. But right now, I am me. I am enough. And that’s all I ever need to be.

Mental Health Awareness Week

Mental Health Awareness Week (18–24 May 2020) is the UK’s national week to raise awareness of mental health and mental health problems and inspire action to promote the message of good mental health for all. It has been run by the Mental Health Foundation since 2001. There are lots of ways you can take part. Visit the official FAQ and Resources pages for details, and sign up for the email newsletter.

 

Monday, 18 May 2020

A Few Thoughts on Gratitude and Kindness

This cute little Gratitude Journal was a gift from a friend at Christmas. I wrote in it more or less every day at first and loved finding at least one thing in the day to be grateful for. Things got in the way, though and I found I was only using it occasionally.

I hadn't looked at it since we went into lockdown but last weekend I was thinking about Mental Health Awareness Week and its theme of kindness. I found my Gratitude Journal and read through the things I'd included at the start of the year. I added a few recent things I'm grateful for, like the three and a half hour call I had last week with the friend who gifted me the journal to celebrate our two years of friendship.

Maybe you have a gratitude journal too, or a jar, or some other way you choose to remember the little things that can mean so much. Maybe you have a great memory and don't need anything! What are you grateful for today?

 

Wednesday, 13 May 2020

#MHAW - 16 Ways to Be Kind

“You can always give something, even if it is only kindness.” (Anne Frank)

We are sometimes called upon to provide long-term help or caregiving for friends, family members, or loved ones, but small acts of kindness are no less important and can make a huge difference to a person’s life, including ours. As individuals and as a society we have never needed kindness more than we do now, in the midst of a global pandemic. In recognition of this, the Mental Health Foundation chose kindness as the theme for this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week (MHAW) which runs from 18–24 May.

We have chosen kindness because of its singular ability to unlock our shared humanity. Kindness strengthens relationships, develops community and deepens solidarity. It is a cornerstone of our individual and collective mental health. Wisdom from every culture across history recognises that kindness is something that all human beings need to experience and practise to be fully alive.

Here are sixteen ideas to bring more kindness into our lives and the lives of those around us.

1. Give People What They Need, Not What You Need to Give Them

Kindness is about offering help where it is needed, not satisfying a desire to “do good” for its own sake. It’s easy to imagine we know what’s best for someone but take a moment to check in with yourself before wading in to fix things. Even better, ask what they need most or would appreciate. Taking time to tune in to someone else’s needs is an act of kindness in itself.

2. Learn and Share

Next time someone asks a question to which you don’t know the answer, go out of your way to research the solution and pass it back in ways that are helpful to them. That is far kinder than replying “It’s on the internet, you can look it up for yourself.” Not everyone is confident wading through a multitude of often contradictory search results. Do the work for them and share your understanding, not merely information. You will help someone and expand your knowledge at the same time. Win-win. Kindness is like that.

3. Can I Help with That?

Each of us has a unique set of skills, resources, and experience. Make the most of yours by helping a friend with something they’re finding difficult that’s easy for you. Maybe you know how to set up a Zoom meeting, host an online movie night, or can help someone through hard times in some other way. Perhaps you have time in your schedule to keep someone company online who is self-isolating or shielding, or otherwise would appreciate the contact.

4. Kindness Is a No Judgment Zone

Did you ever see someone asking for help, on the street or online, and pass them by because maybe they’re not genuinely in need or you wonder what they might do with the money? Put your suspicions, judgements and counter-arguments on hold for a day and take the next person you meet at face value.

5. Be More Elephant

They say elephants never forget. I can’t remember if that’s true but if someone has trouble attending appointments, taking their medication regularly, or remembering birthdays in time to send a card, offer to remind them or help them set up an automated reminder on their phone. I call a friend first thing each weekday morning to make sure she’s awake and getting ready for work. I message another friend with a daily meds reminder. In both cases my offer was accepted because it was valuable to them. I’ve had similar offers declined because my suggestion was unnecessary or would prove unhelpful. Kindness is respectful always — which is worth remembering!

6. Hello There!

Sometimes it really is the smallest things that mean the most. Text, message or phone someone to ask how they’re doing, ask if they need anything, let them know you appreciate them, or just wish them sunshine in their day.

7. Pay Kindness Forward

If a person does something nice for us we tend to feel obliged to return the favour. Based on a movie of the same name, “Pay It Forward” invites us to pay good deeds forward to someone else instead. Check the Pay It Forward website for details.

8. Respect and Reliability

We all make mistakes but be someone your friends can rely on not to mess them around. Be punctual. Don’t change arrangements on a whim or at the last moment. When you do need to change plans let your friend know what’s happening as soon as possible. It’s not rocket science, but it is respectful and it is kind.

9. Thank You

Take a moment to acknowledge — and thank — the people in your life who are there for you.

10. No More Stigma, No More No Casseroles

Such is the stigma associated with mental illness that “No casseroles” has come to signify the lack of support that many people experience. Friends and neighbours simply don’t drop round with a prepared meal, offers of help, or ongoing support the way they do for people living with serious physical conditions. Challenge the stigma. Break the mould. Be kind.

11. It’s in the Post

Send someone in your life a handwritten letter, card, or small gift for no reason other than to let them know you’re thinking of them. If getting to the shops or post office isn’t an option there are online services such as Thortful, Moonpig, Funky Pigeon, and Papier where you can choose and customise a card and have it sent directly to your friend or loved one.

12. Kindness on Wheels

If you have a car there may be someone who would appreciate an offer to drive them to medical appointments, collect a prescription, or fetch groceries for them. Remember to follow the national guidance to protect yourself and others from coronavirus. There are specific guidelines on how to help others safely.

13. It’s Good to Listen

We all need someone sometimes to simply be there for us, to listen to whatever is troubling us without judging us or jumping in with fixes. Be the friend who will hold space and hear things that others won’t stay around to listen to.

14. Lemon Squares for the Soul

Invite a friend round (virtually, of course!) to cook or bake with you. Don’t let a little thing like distance get in your way! My best friend Fran and I have baked together even though we live 3,000 miles apart. (Okay, Fran baked and I encouraged!) If you don’t bake you could buy some nice cakes or cookies and have an online coffee morning with friends, or take some round to someone local who might appreciate them.

15. Kindness Isn’t Just for Other People

We all want to be there for our friends and loved ones, but self-kindness is also a thing! Here are a few ways you can be kind to yourself — see what works for you.  

  • Find a little space every now and then to chill out your way. Take a bath, put on a movie, read a book, or listen to music.
  • Celebrate your successes, even (especially) the little things.
  • Take care of yourself by paying attention to your eating and sleeping patterns.
  • Treat your body to some gentle exercise if you are able to. If you are self-isolating or shielding look for an online exercise or yoga class you can do from home.
  • Allow yourself to be less than perfect. It’s okay if all you did today was get through. It is enough. You are enough.
  • Sometimes the best medicine is a bit of silliness, so give yourself permission to be silly in whatever way works for you!

There are more ideas for being kind to yourself in this article by “recovering lawyer” Marelisa Fabrega at Daring to Live Fully.

16. Take Part in Mental Health Awareness Week

Mental Health Awareness Week (18–24 May 2020) is the UK’s national week to raise awareness of mental health and mental health problems and inspire action to promote the message of good mental health for all. It has been run by the Mental Health Foundation since 2001. There are lots of ways you can take part. Visit the official FAQ and Resources pages for details, and sign up for the email newsletter.

We’ve shared a number of ways you can bring a little kindness into the world, but you will have ideas and examples of your own. We’d love to hear them! What does kindness mean to you? How has someone’s kindness helped you? What acts of kindness have you performed, heard about, or witnessed?

 

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash.

 

Wednesday, 6 May 2020

Cold, Wet, and Grumpy: A Few Thoughts on Expectation and Acceptance

When I set out for my evening walk last Friday I was feeling good. I’d finished my first week working from home after a fortnight’s lockdown vacation and was looking forward to the weekend. The weather forecast held the possibility of rain but I was well prepared. My Doc Martens boots, a micropile fleece and gilet for warmth, and a light raincoat that is past its best but more than adequate for the occasional shower.

In a small bag beneath my coat I carried my journal, my favourite fountain pen, and a birthday card I needed to post. I also had my phone and Bluetooth headset. As I headed out I messaged one of my best friends to see if she fancied joining me on a video call. She replied to say she was about to have her dinner. I was disappointed; a little dejected. I loved having company on my walks and a call would have set me up for the weekend after a busy week.

I smiled to myself, recognising the frustration and feelings of abandonment that tend to arise when things don’t go the way I want or expect them to. I’m better at handling them than I used to be. My friend and I hadn’t spoken in a few days but there was nothing wrong. She wasn’t cross with me. She didn’t hate me. We hadn’t fallen out of friends. She was having her dinner, that’s all!

I walked on until I got to my favourite bench. I often stopped there to write or think, or write about thinking. I took out my journal and began to explore what was going on for me. I managed four and a half sentences before it started raining. It was little more than a fine drizzle but journaling would have to wait. It was okay. I’d still get my walk, and I could call at the little shop for milk and a few groceries so there’d be less for me to carry home from the supermarket next day. I might pick up a couple of beers. If my friend had finished eating she might still be up for a call. If not, I’d send her a few photos along the way. It would be fine.

The rain wasn’t easing. If anything, it was getting heavier by the minute. I sheltered beneath a stand of trees at the roadside. It’s one of the most photogenic spots on my walk but it was too dull for photos. Even the bluebells and snowdrops looked forlorn. Most days, I’d walk a few hundred yards further to the small bridge that spans the Ouseburn. There are cherry trees laden with blossom on the other side of the stream: beyond that, a field with three or four horses. Not this time, though. It was too wet to walk any further. I was beginning to feel a long way from home. There’d be no shelter once I moved from the cover of the trees. If my friend messaged now to say she was free it was too wet to have my phone out for a video call. Voice would work because I could keep my phone in my pocket, but I wasn’t even sure I was up for that now.

As I headed back I could feel my mood shifting from disappointment into annoyance, frustration, and resentment. No relaxing walk. No call. Not even the opportunity to journal how I was feeling. In different circumstances, I’d have found it easier to be philosophical. In different circumstances, I’d be turning to one of the key mantras that Fran and I talk about in our book High Tide, Low Tide:

Feel it. Claim it. Love it. Let it go.

I scowled as I crossed the road. I was certainly FEELING IT. My resentment and grouchiness had reached epic levels. How dare my friend be eating her dinner when I wanted to connect with her? How dare it rain so hard that we couldn’t have had a call anyway? How dare the water be running off my coat and drenching my trousers? My feet were dry in my DMs but that seemed little comfort. I could only hope the birthday card wasn’t getting wet inside my bag. There was no way I was going to make it as far as the postbox now — or the shop. The whole purpose of my walk — every aspect of it — had been taken from me. By this point, I was hoping my friend wouldn’t message to say she was free — and furious that she hadn’t. Oh, I was feeling it all right!

I stomped on. What came next? Oh yes. I always struggled with the CLAIM IT part. It was hard to accept my feelings and responses as my responsibility. They were, though. My friend had done nothing wrong. She wasn’t ignoring me. She hadn’t cancelled plans at the last minute. She was having her dinner. Likewise, the universe wasn’t conspiring against me. What arrogance, to imagine my plans worthy of the universe going out of its way to get in mine! I’d been looking forward to a nice walk and a call with my friend. It hadn’t worked out. It was raining. That’s all that had happened. End of. The feelings that had been triggered in me were no one’s responsibility but mine. A glimmer of awareness opened up for me.

If the rain had stopped and the sun had come out it would have been nice. It didn’t, but I could feel a certain lightness as I turned for home. I wasn’t easy to LOVE IT but my mood was beginning to shift. It was okay for me to be grumpy. Who enjoys getting soaking wet when they’d hoped for a pleasant walk? Who would be happy if they didn’t get to talk with a beloved friend? No one, right? I could forgive myself for “getting in a tizz,” as my mother might have said. I could be gentle towards myself for doing the best I could in the circumstances. I could love myself — and my friend, and the universe — for being precisely how and who and what we were in that moment.

As I arrived home I could finally LET IT GO. I messaged my friend.

Got drenched on my walk *sad face* Didn't get as far as the little shop so no beer until Tesco tomorrow. Warm now in my pjs and my rocking chair though *smiley face*

Maybe it will rain again on my walk tonight. Maybe not. Maybe I’ll get to speak to my friend today. Maybe not. Whatever happens, I will hold the moment lightly and gently for what it is.

 

Wednesday, 29 April 2020

A Postcard from My Lockdown Vacation

I don’t take vacations away from my friends. I take them with me!

If not for coronavirus this would be the final day of my week away at the cottage in Langrigg, Cumbria. I’d be having lunch somewhere, quite possibly the Beehive Inn at Eamont Bridge. Veggie lasagne and chips, and a half-pint of something. Instead, I’m sitting in my garden at home.

The cottage booking was cancelled, of course. Hire car too. Instead of a week visiting places up and down the east coast — Holy Island, Bamburgh, Alnwick Garden, Morpeth, Belsay, Blyth — and a week in the Lake District, I’ve spent the fortnight at home in lockdown. No car. No trips out. No visiting friends and family. A weekly walk to the supermarket for groceries. Occasional visits to the local corner shop. My daily walk for exercise. The house. The garden.

Before the holiday I’d had three weeks working from home. That wasn’t easy and I’m not looking forward to getting back to it. It was all so new, strange, and scary. The country — indeed much of the world — in lockdown and no idea how long our lives would be put on hold. It’s the end of the fifth week of lockdown here in the UK and to use an overworked phrase it has become the new normal.

But five weeks and one staycation in, I can honestly say I’m doing okay. As I write that I feel a sense of embarrassment. Guilt. Shame, even. How can I be “doing okay”? This is a global pandemic. People are getting sick and dying every day. Many have lost jobs, homes, loved ones. Education at all levels is in stasis. Parents are trying to keep their children safe, entertained and learning while dealing with their own issues. People are short — some desperately so — of money, food, and hope.

And here I am, on the final day of what has turned out to be a rewarding and peaceful fortnight at home.

I’m aware of how privileged my situation is. I may not want to go back to work on Monday but I have a job to go to that is as secure as any are these days. I’m healthy and not in need of anything essential. I’m classed as a key worker and I know I’m playing my part but like many others, I wonder if I’m doing enough.

One of my best friends enrolled for the NHS Volunteer Responder scheme and has been supporting people from home while she is in isolation. I considered doing the same but it would mean pulling back from the friends and loved ones I’m already supporting — and who support me — on a daily basis, pandemic or not.

I’ve written elsewhere about how important it is to me, and for me, to keep in close touch with people. As well as — hopefully — helping others navigate these times, it’s vital to my wellbeing. I’ve shared photos from my holiday on social media as I would have done if I’d been out and about each day visiting familiar and new places. It’s been a challenge at times to find things to photograph about the house or in the garden or on my daily walk, but it’s also been fun. I think it’s honed my photographer’s eye, and brought to my attention things I might otherwise have overlooked.

I’ve made notes in my memory journal as I normally do on holiday and kept my regular diary of course. On the face of it, there’s not been a lot to record. Days in lockdown are inevitably similar but there have been some genuine highlights that have meant a great deal to me. I’ve especially enjoyed video calls with friends, sharing the sights and sounds on my evening walks, visits to the shops, and birdsong in the garden. In turn, friends have brought me into their homes, gardens, and lives.

These are simple things and I was sharing like this with people before coronavirus hit. But I think we’re all more aware now of what really matters to us, and are doing all we can to connect and stay connected. It’s not all sunshine and rainbows, of course. Some of the conversations I’ve had recently have touched on darker themes including depression, anxiety, suicidality and self-harm; money and employment worries; concern for family, friends, and loved ones including beloved pets; healthcare; politics — and of course the pandemic itself. We must be able to acknowledge these and the emotions and thoughts that accompany them. Acknowledge them, and share with people we trust.

A friend told me this morning she’s keeping going by staying busy and supporting and encouraging others. Another friend described how she’d connected with someone whose story gave her the courage to share her own. Another supports her best friend, the way Fran and I are there for each other. Talking isn’t always enough, of course, and I look for other ways to help where I can.

I’d wondered if there was much point taking these two weeks of annual leave when I’d be stuck at home, but I’m glad I did. It’s been a valuable time for me. No matter how things go in the weeks and months ahead I will look back on this fortnight with gratitude. I always say I don’t take holidays away from my friends; I take them along with me. That’s never been more true than now. Thank you for being with me on my lockdown staycation.