“Clear intentions” may help you focus in lockdown, but treading water is also fine

It’s very easy to get sucked in by the words on those memes about writing a novel or finding a cure for cancer during this period of isolation, especially if you’re a perfectionist like me.

After all, who doesn’t want to defy the challenge posed by this pandemic and come out at the end of it with a Nobel Peace Prize?

Woman writing a list in a book.
Photo from Catherine Lavery on Unsplash.com

Personally, though, I prefer the memes that focus on simply getting through these trying times. Loser talk for some, I know, but it’s important to remember that not all of us are driven by competition or what “The Jones” are doing. For some of us, the best way to handle this type of crisis is by taking each breath carefully.

And that’s okay.

This week, I noticed several people on Twitter mention the need to grieve the loss of time caused by this pandemic, and in an article by Geoffrey Mak in The Guardian, he concurred that “Some days grief entails languishing in bed, because that is surviving.”

That’s essentially what I’m doing – I’m taking each day at a time as we wait for the finale of this virus’ terrifying journey.

Having Kurt back at home has helped distract me and forced me to set clear intentions each day as I’ve watched him discover the importance of setting them for himself. ADHD does not like being locked up in isolation or a lack of a routine.

His four goals the other day were to learn a new trick on his skateboard, to memorise a new song, have a bath, and edit a chapter of my manuscript that he’s sat on for at least six months, and by the end of the day he had ticked off three out of the four. And that’s okay.

Self-awareness from past disappointments has taught him the need to be realistic in his intentions.

Elaine Lipworth discusses the benefits of clear intentions to combat anxiety during crises such as this in her piece on Thrive Global here. She reiterates the importance of not “setting yourself up for failure and mentally beating up on yourself for not being able to achieve your goals,” (which is a quote from Khazan, author of Biofeedback and Mindfulness In Everyday Life).

I.e. The importance of setting up achievable goals.

Anyway, it turns out that I am very similar to my son in the respect of intentions. I am much happier with a routine and that’s why I’ve been setting my own clear intentions over the past week, along with some “ideal world” ones are are more like goals. You see, unless I keep myself busy, I find it impossible to escape the vortex of the media’s depressing post-mortems about every aspect of COVID-19, which exacerbates my anxiety.

These are my daily intentions at the moment:

  1. Daily exercise – Typically a walk or a short run.
  2. Pitching – Sending ideas for articles to editors
  3. Eating – Enjoying at least one special meal a day, or even trying out a new recipe
  4. Writing – Articles, my blog posts, and manuscripts
  5. Reading – As much as I can
  6. And clearing out my inbox daily

Things don’t always go to plan. Yesterday, for example, I had to forego my exercise due to a dodgy stomach that the old man insinuated was caused by too much Easter chocolate.

And that’s okay.

When it comes to those “ideal world” intentions – which again, I admit are closer to goals – I’m not putting any real pressure on myself to achieve them, but they include:

  1. Online learning – Completing a content marketing course and commencing an advanced web design course with TAFE – did you know that they are running some free, online short courses during lockdown? Check them out here.
  2. And I’m also teaching myself how to crochet – a skill I had hoped I’d have nailed by now and could share with the kids back at school, but I’m not certain that will happen this school year!
Crochet gone wrong.
My rows seem to be getting shorter!

Some of you will be thinking WTF! right now, while others among you – the would-be high-achievers – will be seriously questioning what I’m doing with my time. And that’s because we’re all different, and each one of us is handling the impact of this virus the best way we can, within the limited scope of what we understand about it.

And we’re not all in the same boat. Some of us will be balancing these intentions with work and homeschooling kids, while still others will be coping with the onset of mental health issues triggered by the virus and struggle to get out of bed each morning.

And that’s okay.

But if you ARE that person who is focused on simply “surviving” – i.e. whose best intentions are to watch Netflix, brush your hair daily, or make it downstairs, you can still try to be specific in those intentions. Don’t short-change yourself. Make them meaningful in some way is what Elaine suggests.

For example, you might try out some new healthier recipes when you cook, or try dying your hair. If you’re feeling strong enough to give a new “exercise” a go like Kurt, set yourself a specific goal linked to it. And if Netflix is what slows down those bad thoughts in your brain, try to prioritise some shows with educational benefits as well as entertaining ones.

On paper, this self-imposed isolation looked like “the dream” to some of us, but the truth is, that’s not always the case. Why? Because people need connection.

While there’s nothing to prove at the end of this period, clear intentions will help keep you focused on the end goal and a healthier outlook for what’s left of the year.

Who knows, you might even unleash some undiscovered creativity! Although I’m not sure mine will have anything to do with a crochet needle.

What your clear intentions at the moment? What’s working for you?

20 Surprising Things I Am Thankful For This Year

Anger was the main topic of conversation during my last visit to my therapist for the year. Anger about stuff I can’t control, mainly, but also anger about the world stuff I talked about here in my last post, as well as some anger issues about the usual personal frustrations.

Photo by Howard Riminton on Unsplash

In response, she drew that volcano on the board for me again, which is supposed to represent the three things that cause anger – fear, sadness, anxiety – but in truth, she could have added resentment, disappointment and envy as well.

Of course, anger is not an unusual emotion to experience at this time of the year, when there is so much anticipation, expectation, and erm family involvement. Which is why I have found myself pounding the pavements around my lake more often and more heavily than usual in the lead up to Christmas in an attempt to keep that woe is me vibe under control.

That’s why it was so good to be reminded that some things/people can’t be changed, and her analogy about not buying a cake from the butchers made perfect sense. And so, instead of dwelling on my frustrations about the last year in this final post before Christmas, I thought I’d give gratitude another go.

Here it is: my list of thank yous to the people and things that have contributed to my happy bits this year:

  1. The agents who have rejected my booknot really – because they’ve forced me to look at my manuscript again and improve it. I refuse to give up on this story that I know millions of women and mothers that are coping with mental illness in their family will identify with.
  2. My anti-depressants for my anxiety. Without them, there would have been many times I would have crumbled and given up. I continue to believe wholeheartedly that if you need medication for an illness, you take it, and no one should judge you for that choice.
  3. The editors who have taken a chance on me and allowed me to express my humble opinions to a much larger audience than this blog.
  4. My boss, for having faith in me, even though I keep questioning why.
  5. Old friends and family from the UK, who occasionally drop me a line and fill my heart with love.
  6. The Princess, who makes me look like a saint when it comes to unpredictable moods as she ages and who accepts me for who I am. In fact, thank you to all dogs who give so much unconditional love to their families and who provide so much entertainment on video.
  7. Toasted sandwiches – I rediscovered these halfway through the year and they are one of my new favourite comfort foods.
  8. Running – WTF!? I’m not going any further, any faster, or enjoying it any more than when I started this craziness, but it is one of the healthier ways to quash the anger.
  9. My therapist – I clicked with her the first time we met and I’m gutted that she’s moving away to pastures new. Thank you for not sitting on the fence. Thank you for sympathizing when I have those woe is me moments, and thank you for knowing exactly the right time to tell me to put on my big girl panties.
  10. My children – I want to thank NC for being my best friend, for always being straight with me, and for loving me in spite of my questionable nurturing skills. I know that her inheritance of the emotionally awkward gene makes it as hard for her to demonstrate her feelings, so let’s see just how bloody awkward Christmas can get when the two of us are forced to hug publicly again. Thank you Kurt for the many corners you have turned this year, for making me a proud mama even when you don’t think I am, for holding on, for holding out, for showing strength in the face of adversity, and for beating the old man at pool.
  11. Family – Thank you to those who stay in touch in spite of the distance I have put between us; to those who have braved a visit to the other side of the world, and to those who keep alive the memory of those that we have lost, which is far too many. A special thank to my siblings who have been through a lot of the same shithouse stuff as me, whose wings have been broken time and time again, and yet who manage to stick them back on each year and maintain a sense of humor.
  12. Wine – Thank you for getting me through many awkward social situations and personal crises, even if next year I am determined to put some distance between us. At the age of 54, I’m beginning to understand the ramifications of toxic relationships.
  13. My walking buddies – I never thought I would enjoy walking, come to hate noise, and see the point of plants. I like to think of the middle-aged stereotype I am turning into as maturing rather than growing old. Thank you to those friends with whom I have travelled kilometres, over-analysing our lives for their meaning. So many times I’ve returned from those journeys a changed woman. Our talks have made me understand how good life is when it is simple. Being at one with nature in the company of good friends is all an old girl really needs – except for no. 12, obviously.
  14. The cunts – Thank you to those people whose ignorance, discrimination, and abuse of privilege has made me wiser and stronger. To those who are too blind and too arrogant to acknowledge the inequality between men and women, the plight of refugees, or the affects of climate change. To those who refuse to accept that certain types of humour are simply not appropriate and continue to put their needs above everyone else and judge a book by its cover. To those who refuse to accept that the world is evolving, and without their massive cuntery, those changes might be for the better.
  15. To the fire fighters and other rescue services, thank you for your generosity, bravery and commitment to keeping us safe here in Australia.
  16. To the men who have shown empathy for the women who have been abused and betrayed by their gender, who have supported rather than doubted or torn them down. To the men who are determined to change toxic masculinity for their own benefit as well as ours, who knock back sexist jokes, who cry, who show their sons love and who share the emotional and physical load at home.
  17. To my readers and followers – thank you for putting up with my lack of filter, sweariness, biassed opinions and embarrassing need for attention. Thank you for validating my writing and making me feel more relevant.
  18. To the people who have made me laugh this year – Benjamin Law, Ricky Gervais, Daniel Sloss, the writers of Guilty Feminist, Wil Anderson and his Wilosophy, Kathy Lette and Tim Minchin, to name a few.
  19. To my health. Thank you to my body for putting up with the abuse I give it. Next year, I will not take it for granted as much and try to value each extra day that I am given.
  20. To my husband who puts up with my shit on a daily basis. I don’t tell him often how much I love him and appreciate him 1) because we’re reached that stage where we take each other for granted, and 2) because a lot of the time he irritates the fuck out of me. But evidently, the fact that we can still laugh together and at each other is the glue that has bound us together for another year.

A very Happy Christmas and New Year to everyone xx

The Brain Fog Caused By Menopause

Increased forgetfulness or fogginess in the brain has to be one of the most debilitating symptoms of menopause, and it comes at a time when dementia is already a terrifying prospect, particularly for those who have lost parents or older relatives to the degenerative condition.

Two or three years ago, when we were deep in the trenches of Kurt’s troubles, I rushed out of the house one day to get into my car and for some reason my attention was drawn to the little storage area in the door where I there was a lighter and some cigarettes. My immediate reaction was one of anger, because I thought that (on top of everything else) Kurt had not only used my car but smoked in it as well, and it was only after I had snapped my seat belt into its lock and was searching for the ignition that I noticed that the car’s dashboard was a different colour to mine.

I was in someone else’s car!

In a menopausal brain fog, many of us will have walked up to a car the same colour and shape to our own in the street, tried to open the door, and then made a hasty, red-faced retreat. But it’s another level of humiliation to have to get out of a car, praying that no one witnessed your (potential) theft of the vehicle.

Fortunately, I haven’t committed anything quite as embarrassing as that incident of late – and I still blame my poor brain function on the stress I was going through at the time – but pouring juice in my coffee, wearing clothes inside out, forgetting names, losing my keys and walking into rooms with no idea why I’d done so, have become regular occurrences.

Issues with memory loss, lapses and “brain freeze” associated with menopause are often attributed to hormonal imbalance, but did you know that those symptoms can equally be caused by poor sleep, certain medications, stress, and too much alcohol? Hmmm. So there were likely several very good reasons I got into the wrong car that day.

Forgetfulness is a topic that comes up regularly when the girls and I get together to discuss which of us has the most embarrassing dementia story that week. So when one of them told me that she uses the Lumosity App to keep her brain healthy, I decided to give it a go.

The aim of the app is to “challenge your memory and attention” and to improve your mental reflexes in terms of problem-solving and processing in a fun, want-to-cry kind of way, and it offers three free games per day to keep you on your toes.

Since I started using it, I’ve discovered that I am crap at games that involve cars, circuits, and especially parking – but funnily enough, I have demonstrated quite a talent for the coffee-making game and remembering ocean creatures. I can already see the benefit of the tool. I’m not grown up or boring enough to want to tackle crosswords or Sudoku yet, but I can now see how our brains need a workout in much the same way that the rest of our bodies do, particularly when our muscle starts to waste away in menopause.

The only problem with the app is remembering to do it.

It’s Okay To Man-Hug

Two men hugging.
Photo by Thiago Barletta on Unsplash

We caught up with some friends at the weekend and when the husband and the old man did that awkward shuffle as they greeted each other, our male friend launched into the story of how he had tried to hug his elderly father once, who froze and brushed it off.

‘I’m not much of a man-hugger,’ he admitted to him.

‘But did you like it?’ my friend pushed.

‘It was surprisingly quite nice,’ his dad responded.

What a truly sad world we live in when there are men out there that have never been hugged by their fathers, sons or close friends?

And then, we wonder why they are so emotionally ill-equipped.

Upon further discussion, it turns out that there are rules of etiquette when it comes to man-hugging. Both the old man and our friend agreed that while they hug their inner circle of close friends, they don’t hug the next tier of their friendship group.

‘But I hug everyone,’ I admitted, because I think that women do, in general, once they’ve met once or twice.

But the boys were adamant that it was only their tight circle of friends that got the special treatment. So – obviously – we made them man-hug on the spot, in front of us, which was when we witnessed something truly beautiful happen.

Of course, I’m generalising here. I’m sure that some men are massive huggers, but there is still that stigma associated with men hugging men.

In her book, Boys Will Be Boys, Clementine Ford claims it has to do with the stigma of what the show of affection implied in the past, and the need to prove “compulsive heterosexuality” – one of the issues of “toxic masculinity”.

And she’s right. If we don’t teach our boys how to share respectful, caring relationships with each other, how can we expect them to do the same with women?

She says: “It breaks my heart to know that men – and young men especially – are conditioned against embracing the pleasures of a physically-expressed platonic love for each other for fear that the authenticity of their man-hood may be challenged.”

So let’s change that right now. Any men out there – give your father a big, fat man-hug the next time you see him. And fathers – remember to hug your sons as well as your daughters. Finally, men – for God’s sake, hug your goddamn friends. It’s not a sign that you’re weak or that you fancy them, it’s a sign that you value them.

John Marsden has a point: Let’s strive to build our kids’ resilience, rather than trying to turn them into something they’re not

Many of you won’t be aware of this, but quite a large chunk of my career has been spent in education – working with kids with special needs. At the beginning of this year, I returned to the field to become the co-ordinator of a new after-school care facility.

Child sitting in a tree with her doll.
Photo by Vivek Doshi on Unsplash

Last week, we completed our first week of vacation care. For reasons of confidentiality, I can’t tell you too much about what happens on the job, but what I can share is the wonderful experience of working in a progressive school, ie. the type of school that encourages the type of childhood that most of us Generation Xers experienced – with its focus on outdoor play and exploration, and the inherent dangers therein.

While I try not to waste too much time reflecting back on my own parenting fails these days, it’s hard to ignore the ongoing evidence of the relationship between our kids’ deteriorating mental health and “helicopter parenting”. The link has made me think about how I would do things differently if I had my time again.

The school in which I work is a green, progressive school, set in beautiful, lush grounds in the bush where the kids spend much of their day, with the option not to wear shoes – apart from during funnel web season, when (obviously) I wear full body armour. And the focus is on learning through exploration and play, using nature as the primary resource for teaching. Technology is used minimally and the culture of the school is based is on kindness and respect.

I have never seen happier, more fulfilled children. Perhaps, because there are fewer rules, but most likely because they have the freedom to explore and take control of their own learning. That approach makes it the perfect setting for kids of different abilities and the responsibility it encourages boosts their self-esteem and confidence in their own abilities. It is such a privilege to watch them make up their own games and then extend them, and to work out their own problems. During after-school care, they sit together and play board, construction and card games, they colour in, they play together outdoors, they craft out of recycled materials, and even help cook their afternoon tea. Some of them are happy to simply sit and read a book.

While it is a child-centred environment – there are still expectations in terms of behaviour and respect for our resources, of course, but most of the time the kids sort out their own issues among themselves because they are encouraged to problem-solve at every stage of their learning.

As you can imagine, I was horrified in my interview for the job when I found out that the children were encouraged to climb trees and retrieve balls from snake-infested bushes. Hence, I have been forced to learn how to keep my own anxiety in check. As my supervisor explained to me, if a kids falls out of a tree and breaks their arm, they won’t climb as high the next time.

Humorous meme.
Found on Pinterest from http://www.shopatartworks.com

Raising my own kids, I know that I was guilty of the type of “helicopter parenting” that educator and author, John Marsden, talks about in his new book, The Art of Growing Up, so with this new responsibility I have been mindful of my need to relax and let go more. John worries about the effects of this parenting on the resilience of our children. ‘When I hear parents say ‘I want my children to enjoy their childhood; there’ll be time when they’re older to learn about those things’, I hear the voices of those who are scared of the vastness of the universe. These adults have a view of childhood as some kind of discrete interval, rather than just a few years from the continuum of life. How fortunate that the spirit, courage and curiosity of many young people remain largely undefeated by such adults.

One of the points he raises is the danger of putting our kids in a bubble to “protect” them from outside influences, which means that once they grow up and enter the real world they are unable to cope with its demands. Worryingly, when he interviewed a group of children and asked them what they wanted to be when they grew up, many said that they didn’t want to grow up at all.

Of course, backing off and letting children with special needs like Kurt fail isn’t quite as straightforward. It is important to advocate for them at every step of their education, but towards the end of Kurt’s schooling I had learned not to sweat the small stuff and to pick my battles in relation to homework and lost uniform, a change that has stood me in good stead for this job – particularly on the days the kids make slime and potions, or when I catch one of them at the top of a tree!!!

But, perhaps, my enjoyment of this more relaxed approach to childcare has something to do with my appreciation for less drama in my own life right now, as well as my personal appreciation of nature and mindfulness that has developed with middle age. This new simplicity to how I live my life, boosted by my greater respect for nature, is empowering. And it is so much more fulfilling than the exhausting drive of my thirties and forties that I see evident in modern parenting, where parents are continually striving to turn their kids into something they’re not.

There Is No Better Education In Love, Compassion And Empathy Than Having A Child With Special Needs

A few weeks ago we went to a fundraiser. It was a black tie event to raise money for the family of an old colleague of the old man’s whose son broke his neck and damaged his spinal cord in a freak rugby accident recently.

Alex Noble is their son’s name, and if anyone feels like funding a real cause, as opposed to other, less noble causes, please feel free – here is the link to his GoFundMe page.

At one point in the evening, Alex’s parents stood up on stage to tell us a little about his story, his progress, and their plans for the future – should they reach their target that night to secure the funds they need to renovate their house, meaning he can eventually come home.

“There’s not a lot of joy in my life right now, but there’s a lot of love,’ his mother said.

It was a comment that hit me hard, because albeit that in terms of bums on seats that night, there was a wonderful level of support in the room, as a mum who is also a part-time carer of an adult dependent, (as well as being a professional cynic), I did wonder how many guests would be there for the long-haul of Alex’s journey, once the glitter is swept away.

Many of the guests were close friends of the couple or friends of their son, so in some ways it felt almost voyeuristic to be there, to witness the pain and rawness caused by such a cruel twist of fate; to sense the fears that his family feel in terms of the uncertainty of Alex’s and their future.

When we plan our children, we never anticipate for one moment that things won’t work out like the parenting manuals told us they will, so I understand what Alex’s Mum was trying to say. I’ve felt that way many times with Kurt – because let’s not underestimate the devastation caused by mental illness or disability, either. Indeed, it was only a week before that I thought that we had lost our son?

Scratch the surface and there is heartache in every family. I can’t tell you the number of times people open up to me about siblings or relatives with mental health issues who have been hidden, the skeletons in their cupboards.

But Alex’s Mum was right about how adversity cultivates love. Because in return for the pain caused by our son’s neuro-diversity, we have been given an education in love, compassion and empathy, and we are better people for that. We are as proud of him as we are of NC – much to her horror. While his steps forward have been slower, they have been celebrated with the same enthusiasm as hers, and his progress has provided us with an invaluable insight into how society should be measuring success.

Admittedly, there have been times when there’s not been a lot of joy in caring for someone who may never get better, and I wouldn’t wish our experience or that of Alex and his parents on anyone. Before his accident, they would have been looking forward to the last chapter of their lives as independent once again, but the ramifications of his physical disability may be lifelong, and they will affect not only them, but his siblings, and possibly future generations of their family.

I’m glad that they feel loved and supported. I hate cliches, but shit like this does make you stronger, because you have no choice but to be strong. But as I said, there are hidden benefits to life’s knocks such as this. While they will have to reset their expectations of Alex, his milestones will be as meaningful as those of his siblings – if not more so. And though it may feel painful at the time, this tragedy will draw a line in the sand between their true friends and their fair weather friends, because they won’t have time for games.

But they will be tired all of the time and there will be days when they feel like they can’t go on and will question why me? So I suppose what I really want to say to all those parents battling through each day with kids with disabilities or dependencies, is that your joy may well be diminished, but like a flower in summer, your heart will be opened to maximum capacity.