And breathe…

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Today is Lockdown 6, Day 1. Where I live, we have had a huge number of days over the last eighteen months in some form of lockdown. In Victoria, we have only had a week of some form of freedom. As I left work yesterday, a few friends who are teachers popped by my desk to say goodbye and wish me luck with this snap lockdown. We had all reflected on the last one and how difficult Lockdown 5 had felt for us. With each of them, we talked about how we could tackle this one differently so that it didn’t wipe us out again. It has made me think about some of the things that made the last one feel so hard for me. I was in the waiting stage with my manuscript as I had sent it off for an assessment and that would have most likely been an anxious period for me anyway. I didn’t do any walks or walk-and-coffee catchups with mates. I didn’t go out into nature and breathe. I was anxiously trying to sort out temporary accommodation for our family and for one of my sons. These are all things I can tackle differently this time. Each lockdown has had its own personality.

As I roll into this one, I am in the throes of editing my manuscript. I have received my feedback from the manuscript assessor and it was incredibly useful. I feel more confident with the edits now. She is the first person to have read my story and it was a terrifying few weeks wondering if she would come back with heavy feedback on why it wasn’t working. Instead, I had the wonderful moment of hearing someone gushingly read back some of my words to me. The work that needs to be done will strengthen the story. I can see this already. So, this time around, I’m focussed and in a more positive mindset with my creative side.

This morning as I scrolled on Instagram, I came across this post below from Chris Cheers Psychology and it resonated well.

A snapshot of an instagram post that reads: To complete the stress cycle try: 
- slow deep breathing (5 deep breaths, or try an app)
- exercise (what ever that looks like for you)
- hugs (hold for 20 seconds, pets count)
- have a big cry or a big laugh
- engage in a creative activity.
Try one and notice the change in your body.
@chrischeerspsychology https://www.instagram.com/p/CSL_YC4Hw_r/

I stopped scrolling and took five long slow deep breaths. It does help. I have always found focussing on my breath helps. I remember after my mum and my eldest was incredibly unwell I heard someone say that if you are breathing, there is more right than wrong. Ever since then, I have come back to that in dire times. Breathe. Focus on the breath. Count the breath. Feel the breath fill you up.

My workplace has started some wellbeing groups and the one that I am in is yoga and meditation. The groups have been running for about four weeks now but I have only done one meditation in that time. I haven’t been to the gym, I have done any online yoga, I’ve barely done my exercises that are essential for my knee. It is all beginning to show. My knee has started to stiffen and swell. My shoulder is sore. I know I could probably get into the physio under essential care, but I know it really starts with me. This time around, I have recommenced my exercising. I started with a walk this morning before my writing. When I finish writing this, I’m going to do my knee and shoulder exercises. Later today I’m doing a walk and coffee with one of my friends. I know it helps but I think I’m fairly slack with these things. So, I’m scheduling it so that it has to happen. I made a plan with one of my teacher mates to meet for an afternoon walk along the way. As I write up my exercise schedule, I’m including Yoga with Adrienne sessions, walks with mates, knee and shoulder exercises, and bike rides by the river. Last year, they were like magical moments for me as I watched the cormorants warm their wings in the morning sun, the pelicans perched waiting for a fish to pass them by, the ducks and their ducklings gliding across the water. Exercise not only is good for the body, it’s good for the mind.

I’m lucky enough to live with three others and a dog. At least three of those love hugging so a hug is never too far away if I need one. Great hugs are memorable, and even more so since COVID come into everyone’s focus. I hope you have someone or a pet you can hug and receive a hug from.

Luckily, I drove to work yesterday as I needed to bring a few more things home that usual so that I could work from home next week. As I drove home, the tears came with big sobs. The weight of it all hit me. By the time I got home, I was okay. I’m thankful for the things I managed to squeeze in between Lockdown 5 and Lockdown 6. My hubby and drove up to see our son who has his placements in Bendigo this semester. The sun shone, we had lunch and walked around, had a cup of tea and drove home. It was a treat to get out of town for the day and to see him. My Improv showcase was on Sunday and it was huge burst of fun and laughter. A good friend and comedian came along to support me and it was so good to catch up with her and my classmates afterwards over beers, chips and wine. Laughter and tears. All the emotions that help release the tensions.

I have more creative projects than I have time for but this is how I like it. I could probably stay in lockdown forever and never finish them all but I’d be really socially deprived and probably be going out of my mind. I’ve been working on a chunky knit jumper that is so quick and fun to make so I’ll probably finish this tonight. My other knitting projects include a jumper for my husband, a summer cotton jumper for me and a baby blanket. I’m also still enjoying playing with illustration as I’d love to illustrate my picture books one day.

My friends from work are on my mind this morning as they will be delivering lessons to students remotely again. They have a tough gig. I’m thinking about how to support them in this, how to lift them from this a little. In the end, I think it will be the small things: staying in touch with them, coordinating a work from work day, sharing a moment of gratitude.

Take care, my friends. These are tough times for many, some experiencing tougher times than others. Tread gently, keep safe, get vaccinated and be kind to yourself and others.

How to survive uncertain times (or how to stop being grumpy)

This week I’ve been tired and grumpy. It feels as though there are too many things requiring my attention and not enough things filling my cup back up. I’m running on empty and I seem to have forgotten how to replenish my energy. I’m sure I’m not the only person feeling like this at the moment. I’m in Melbourne, where we are deep into our fifth lockdown for COVID, and while I’m thankful I live in a state where locking down early means that we can avoid some of the catastrophic situations that are being seen around the world or in other states, I’m tired. Is it just the current situation that is making me tired or is it the increased medication for my migraines?

Don’t get me wrong, I am thankful that I have a job that isn’t shrouded with uncertainty and my family are safe. I know many others who are struggling deeply. What I’m feeling is something that is much harder to put my finger on. I’ve been going into my workplace (school library) to work on cleaning up the library collection and supervise any students who need to come to school to study and by the time I get home, I have nothing left to give. Is it the silence of my workplace that is disconcerting?

Last year when Melbourne was in that really long lockdown, I managed okay. I woke at my usual time, wrote, went for a ride, worked, did my yoga then congregated with the other two in my household for dinner. It was okay. We had a quiet rhythm that breathed gently on us as we danced around each other. This time it doesn’t feel so smooth.

When I come home from work now, I flop on the couch with nothing left in me. My body aches, my mind aches. It’s as though everything is too much. I’m juggling my health, work, writing life, renovation plans and emails, housing for one son, housing for ourselves and I’m at the point where I’m snapping at the people I love.

Maybe I run out of spoons (What is the Spoon Theory). I’ve resisted calling myself a Spoonie as I often think that I don’t have it too bad, but my reality is that I do have chronic health conditions that impact my every day life and how I interact with the world even if I don’t look or sound sick. I forget that some others don’t have to navigate life with a filter to protect their health, that there are things they can do that I just can’t, that external things can send my body into a spin.

Photo by Aphiwat chuangchoem on Pexels.com

So, how do I pull myself from the fug I’m in and fill up my cup again?

Routine

Stick to routine. It worked last time, it will work again. Keep up the writing, exercise and work. Add in self care and laughter.

Self Care

I’m not doing any. I remember my psychologist talking to me about this years ago. It’s something that doesn’t come naturally to me for many reasons. I had to come up with a bunch of things that looked like self care, then I had to make sure I was doing at least one each day. I’m not doing any at the moment and it shows in my body aches, my migraines, my tiredness and my lack of positivity. So, time for a list of things that I can do each day to release the pressure. Things like: a bath, day naps. I can’t see the phsyio who would help iron out the pain in my back and neck, but I can do my exercises.

Exercise

We all know it helps but when it’s cold and you have to force it to happen, it’s hard. I have been walking and riding to work, but I suspect it’s not enough for times like these. Usually, I go to the gym a few times a week, but I haven’t replaced that with anything for the last week. Today, I’m going to do my exercises for my knee rehab and my shoulder and neck injury. I’m also going to do a yoga session. I know I’ll feel better afterwards.

Laughter

Time to watch some comedy. I miss my improv classes that were guaranteed to make me laugh for most of the three hours. I need an injection of laughter. Any suggestions are welcome.

How are you coping? Are you tired and grumpy like me? Has this latest wave of COVID that’s rippling through the country sent you into a hermit-style spin? What are your strategies for surviving? Please tell me that it’s not only me who has hit a flat and grumpy state.

Aiming for more rejections

A few years ago I shifted my thinking from trying to get some marks on the publishing board to aiming for more rejections. It was an important shift in thinking as it forced me to understand that this publishing world is one that is full of rejections with the occasional win. There must be something in the wind about this thinking again as my email inbox is filling up with others thinking about artistic rejection. Brainpickings article of Walt Whitman’s response to rejection sent me on a pathway thinking about the resilience that I need as writer.

A number of years ago, I wrote a speculative fiction for a young adult readership. I put my very brave pants on and fronted up to the Australian Society of Author’s Literary Speed Dating with my two minute pitch ready. I sat in front of my desired publishers and blurted my pitch out. Two publishers told me that it sounded interesting and that they would like to see it when it was ready. I left the event a bundle of energy and excitement. Fast forward about six months that were fraught in non-writerly but more personal ways and I sent an email to one of the publishers (still don’t know why I didn’t send it to the other). He responded quickly asking for the first hundred pages. Soon, he asked for the rest. I wasn’t as confident with the rest of the manuscript and life was pretty chaotic at home…so this part took a while. When I sent it to him with great apologies for the time delay, he thanked me for sending it. After some nail biting time, he responded with a short email thanking me for sending it, but it wasn’t for their list at the moment.

I read that as complete rejection. That my manuscript mustn’t have been good enough. In hindsight, it wasn’t. It just wasn’t for that publisher.

I worked on it more, then saw that an agent was looking for young adult manuscripts, so I quickly sent an email. She responded immediately asking for more. I sent the manuscript through and after a period of time, she responded with a feedback on it saying that she’d be keen to see it again if there were further changes. On my first five reads of her email, all I could see was that it wasn’t good enough. It wasn’t until I showed a writer mate the email that I was able to see that she was keen to see it again.

I worked on it more (again) while working on my current manuscript (adult readership, literary historical fiction). When I had the historical fiction in a place that I thought I was happy with, another writer mate introduced me to a literary agent and I sent it in the hope that I’d be picked up. I wasn’t. The manuscript wasn’t ready. Stories take time, hopefully like all good things. I keep telling myself that, but since that rejection I have made some major changes to the manuscript that I am sure enhance it. The daughter’s voice found me and begged to be included and I have loved what she has brought to the story. I have now finished another draft of it and am anxiously waiting to get feedback on it from a manuscript assessment. I am petrified that it is rubbish, even after six years of work on it.

I like the Brainpickings quote from Jeanette Winterson with ten tips on writing to soothe me during this time as I play with new words for a new manuscript:

1. Turn up for work. Discipline allows creative freedom. No discipline equals no freedom.

2. Never stop when you are stuck. You may not be able to solve the problem, but turn aside and write something else. Do not stop altogether.

3. Love what you do.

4. Be honest with yourself. If you are no good, accept it. If the work you are ­doing is no good, accept it.

5. Don’t hold on to poor work. If it was bad when it went in the drawer it will be just as bad when it comes out.

6. Take no notice of anyone you don’t respect.

7. Take no notice of anyone with a ­gender agenda. A lot of men still think that women lack imagination of the fiery kind.

8. Be ambitious for the work and not for the reward.

9. Trust your creativity.

10. Enjoy this work!

(Brainpickings: https://www.brainpickings.org/2018/09/05/jeanette-winterson-10-tips-on-writing/)

So, I’m moving forward. Writing more. Distracting myself from waiting to hear from the manuscript assessment. Knowing that some stories take a long time.

And in all of this, I am sending things out as it takes a heap of rejections as a writer. I’m aiming to increase my rejections this year in the hope it forces me to be brave, ambitious and creative…and resilient.

Sitting in discomfort

Discomfort is never a great place to be, but life is teaching me that it is also okay to sit with it. The school holidays are about to end and while the first week felt full of things that I wanted to do, this week I have felt like I have concrete boots on and am unable to get anything done that I had planned to do. Maybe it’s also a bit of a combination end-of-holidays blues and an overachiever to-do list. I know that last week, I relaxed into the week and enjoyed the lack of deadlines that it held. This week, I’ve felt time and life press in on me.

Poor Bella with the cone of shame

My desk is covered in books, papers, ink bottles, headphones, pens and pencils. I’m surrounded by a bunch of half-finished things not only on my desk but also throughout the house. External things have pressed on me with a breakup of two young people very close to my heart, a farewell of a young man only at the start of his adult life, a friend and neighbour’s dog being hit by a car moments after speaking to me, a neighbour hitting my car at the supermarket, an abscess on my dog’s foot rendering her incapacitated and stuck with a cone on her head for a week, trying to find accommodation for my son in a country town and for us our impending renovations and a few days and nights with high level migraine attacks. They have been things that all on their own would have been okay, but the accumulation of them feels heavy. They’ve reminded me of the times that I’ve lived with a high level of stress while managing others through very difficult periods of serious mental ill-health episodes. It’s the contrary feelings of the fast-heart beating thinking of others’ struggle mixed with a malaise that is hard to shake.

I know that if I go to the gym, I will feel better but when I am too overtired from the migraine attacks that have kept me awake or from the dog who can’t understand why she has a cone on her head and wants a drink but keeps tipping the bowl over. So I don’t. Instead I wander around picking up things then getting distracted and starting something else. It reminds me of when the kids were little and I struggled through days and nights with migraine attacks, lack of sleep and the feeling that these tough days would never end.

But they do end. Bad times end. Discomfort ends.

As I remind my friends who are going through tough times, or supporting others going through tough times (which also equates to going through tough times), the sun always rises again. In the most difficult times that I’ve been though (and there have been many over the years), I have learnt to sit with this discomfort. That the discomfort ends. That I can help myself out of it. That the sun will rise again tomorrow. There are a few things that I have done in the past that have helped and I know they’ll help again. Maybe they’ll help you.

Golden Bokeh

Tiny golden moments

  1. Find three tiny little things that were good, golden, each day. They don’t need to be big at all.
  2. Write them on a piece of paper.
  3. Put the piece of paper in a jar.
  4. Refer back to them any time you think there is nothing okay.

There is always something that is good in each day, even if it is that the air was fresh, or the water hydrated you. It helps to turn the thinking away from the negative. This process saved me when I wasn’t sure if my son was going to survive many years ago. Today, for instance, my tiny golden moments would be that I had fun writing a new scene, that I joined the Writers Victoria Live Write session and stayed on to chat with others after the half hour and that the sunset was beautiful.

Music! Sweet, sweet music

Many years ago when I was young and had no idea what was ahead of me, I sat in a room with a bunch of other musical people who were all there to audition for places in the Music Therapy program at Melbourne Uni. I had studied music during my VCE and was the only student in my school studying music in my final year. I loved music: playing it and listening to it. I also loved the idea of helping people. Music Therapy seemed to be a wonderful combination of these two ideas. In that waiting room, though, I realised that I didn’t have the same level of passion as the other students there. It seemed to me (as a young seventeen-year-old) that they had what it took, that their whole worlds were music. I didn’t wait around for my name to be called for the audition so I will never know if I did have what it took. I guess I didn’t believe in myself enough back then. Fast forward to when my mum was dying. One of the services offered to her was music therapy. I sat with her that day the therapist came. Together, Mum and I listened to the beautiful music that the woman played for her and as I held Mum’s hand, I felt her relax. That’s the power of music.

Over the years I have often used music to shift a mood. It acts like magic. Music is powerful. I love how I can be in a flat mood but when I put something upbeat on, it lifts me.

Move it!

I won’t be the first person to say that exercise helps lift mood, change feelings. I may be in the minority to say, however, to say that it also helps me shift a migraine attack. It is often the very last thing I want to do when I have a migraine attack, especially when it is a particularly forceful one. Exercise also can bring a migraine attack on for me, or if I am on the edge with a migraine and then exercise, it can bring on a diabolical one that is really hard to shift. But if I gently exercise with a migraine attack by going for a quiet walk, or moving my legs on the bike with no resistance, it can help shift it.

I pretty much never get excited about going to the gym, but I know when I’ve been I feel powerful and want to go back and do it all over again. I vow that I’m going to do it on a regular basis…then forget that euphoria that exercise has brought on and start finding excuses about why I don’t want to go. . I know I’m not the only one or we’d all be fit beans. I think I’m getting closer to the remembering though. Some little hacks I use are having my gym bag ready to go at all times and planning for it so that I get there.

How do you pull yourself from a state of malaise or from feeling overwhelmed?