Seeing the Northern Lights has been the Number 2 would-like experience on my Bucket List for some time and I was hoping to arrange a visit to Iceland or one of the Northern-most parts of Scandanavia next year to celebrate my next “big” birthday. After an evening out with the Hubster and Pooch I came across an online advert for a 12-night cruise on the Cunard Queen Elizabeth calling at various ports in Norway travelling up into the Arctic Circle with the aim of “finding” the Northern Lights. The cost was very tempting and, feeling that this could be the moment with all my stars aligned (together with the effect of several glasses of wine), I booked it!
I booked it on Friday evening with the departure date the following Friday- I had just 6 days to get our paperwork in order which, when taking the weekend out of the equation, reduced it to just 4 working days. I have never been on a cruise before and have always avoided them on the basis that I would be bored. I needn’t have worried (another story) but with holidays just starting to take off again after the COVID19 Pandemic, the amount of paperwork required to be completed before we set foot onboard was daunting. Luckily, our passports were valid for travel and, having had lots of medical tests last year, I was already registered with the NHS to access my up to date Corona Virus immunisation status. I knew therefore how to get Hubster registered quickly although, when I applied for his certificate of immunisation the message popped up “…..it could take up to 10 days to hit your account.”
We hadn’t got 10 days! As it happens, it appeared within 48 hours so stress levels were reduced considerably. We also had other forms to complete for both Cunard and the UK Government so when we left for our holiday the following Friday I had a portfolio full of paperwork to hand over.
If only it was that easy…….we still had the last and perhaps most worrying hurdle to overcome, a real-time COVID19 test taken at the port with results sent through to our mobiles within 40 minutes. Would our 3 hour drive down to Southampton be a wasted journey? I couldn’t bear to have got everything sorted within one week from booking only to test positive for COVID and sent home.
Thankfully we both tested negative and were allowed to park our car, unload our bags and get onboard. It was a big relief.
The on-boarding process was very efficient and it wasn’t long before we were shown to our Stateroom (don’t call it a cabin) and we could get ready for “Sail-Away.” Who knew that leaving port was called “Sail-Away”?- and that it is celebrated across the ship ( never call it a boat).
After Sail-Away and watching the harbour lights of Southampton fade into the evening we needed to get ready for our first evening meal onboard-in the Britannia restaurant and so we went to change into our smart casual, jacket and tie outfits whilst enjoying our complimentary bottle of fizz.
Back in 2008, the New Economics Foundation published the “Five Ways to Wellbeing” with 5 funky multi-colour postcards to accompany the launch. Each card details mental health messages under separate headings aimed at improving mental health and wellbeing for everyone. Although the original ideas are over a decade old, they still resonate perhaps even more so whilst we still adapt to our “new normal” lives during and after the COVID19 Pandemic. You can read more about the original report on the NEF website alongside a great follow-up article about the “Five Ways to Wellbeing during the Coronavirus crisis” but I have taken just one of the Five Ways to Wellbeing messages today.
That message is “Give.”
“Giving” doesn’t necessarily incur monetary cost and that’s what is so good about this message. “Giving” is proven to make a person feel better whether you are the giver or recipient. I know it lifts my mood if I can impart just a microbe of happiness into someone’s day as I understand what it’s like to feel isolated, out of my comfort zone and generally miserable. It’s amazing what a smile can do! Here’s some ideas;
Say “Hello” to a stranger
Do a chore for someone
Compliment a parent on their child’s behaviour
Make time to speak to an elderly person
Give someone a hug
Let someone go ahead of you in a queue
Send someone a small, anonymous gift.
There are many small random acts of kindness which fit the bill and I guarantee that (hopefully!) they will be received in the spirit in which they are given so that you spread a little happiness and you will feel good about yourself.
Where do I begin?
Taking up my blog again, I realise that not only have I a lot of travels and experiences to share, but I should also bring everyone up to date on my mental health. I started this blog more than 10 years ago after admitting my experiences with depression and subsequently starting to work with my employer, various mental health charities, friends and colleagues to encourage more open and honest discussion and appreciation about and of poor mental health. I broke down barriers and stigma about mental health, I was a media-volunteer for a number of charities leading to articles published in the Daily Mail, Financial Times, Stella magazine (Telegraph) and an appearance every 30 minutes on Sky News! It is possible to suffer from various types of depression and/or anxiety whilst remaining “high-performing” either at work or as an individual. In other words, you can act the part of a “normal, happy person” so that others don’t guess or realise that you are in pieces and struggling to cope. I have always said that I can out-act Meryl Streep every day of the week…… After a while, I retreated from the publicity despite my determination to get the subject of mental health both good and bad out in the open. It was very tiring and took a lot of my energy which I need, even now, to remain mentally stable; I now leave all the media contributions to others who can spare their time and energy. I have mixed-feelings about where we are as a nation regarding poor mental health. Suffice to say that I was saying, explaining and suggesting things 10 years before my time and it all seems rather stale to me now. Thankfully I have moved on. Not just with my own mental health which I now have under control and stablised, but also recognising that, as I predicted many years ago, poor mental health is far more widespread and attributable to many and varied reasons as well as affecting people at different times of their lives than previously thought. Mental health has to be nurtured and maintained alongside your cardio, strength and flexibility exercises. I find it both sad and frustrating that we are still in the embryonic stage of encouraging the value of good mental health habits but any progress is welcome. In the end it’s all about money. Like many other conditions, there is just not enough money or investment in mental health resources. It’s not good enough to rely on charitable organisations to provide support in crisis and we need more qualified psychotherapists, psychiatrists, mental health nurses, GPS qualified to deliver mental health care and support, counsellors, Cognitive Behavioural specialists, Psychiatrists on duty 24/7 in A&E departments, less stigma about mental health problems, more training for police and emergency services, and less stigma and more support for those sectioned as a result of their behaviour. I have been lucky….I have always had amazing support from my GPs, employer, family and friends. Not everyone is so lucky…so whilst I am not directly involved in mental health initiatives at the moment, I do have a lot of information to impart if you need it. Happy to help 🙂
To start my blogging again feels like coming home. I always keep a journal but doing it online means that I can pepper my posts with pictures and photographs much easier than on paper. I have a lot of catching up to do but am looking forward to re-connecting with my blog-hobnobs.
I recently found a set of watercolour pencils which I bought many moons ago but have hardly used. Feeling very lazy today I decided to use them to complete another page of my colouring book, “Ivy and the Inky Butterfly” by Johanna Basford. I found a page of flowers and leaves to tie in with doing something connected with nature with this result;
Sadly, walking the dog through the countryside yesterday brought on my hay fever and therefore today I decided to make the most of my Wildlife Garden and stay home. I created my Wildlife Garden in 2016 on a piece of land hidden behind our garage. Hubby spent a lot of time and hard work growing beans in very dry and barren soil, even though we had worked diligently to improve the soil with manure, conditioner etc. I managed to persuade him to give up gracefully so I could take it over for my Wildlife Project.
Luckily it has been very successful and 4 years later I enjoy sightings of many varieties of birds, insects, hedgehogs, frogs and the odd dragonfly. We even have a couple of squirrels which come to scavenge the peanuts.
My favourite bird which visits my garden is the goldfinch but only because of the vivid colours of its feathers. It’s almost tropical. Unlike the cheeky and almost tame blackbirds and robins, the goldfinches are a bit skittish so if I am to get a photo I need to set my camera up well before they arrive with the shutter button within reach of my hand without alerting them to movement. If they spot anything out of kilter they fly off.
I have managed to take some photos over the last couple of days so here’s my Random Act of Wildness contribution for Day 2.
Get ready to do something wild every day during June with the 30 Days Wild challenge for 2020 run by the Wildlife Trusts.
Make time for nature
Explore wild places near where you live
Share your love of nature and wildlife
Connecting with nature and spending time in wild spaces and places is scientifically proven to alleviate stress, balance our emotions and even boost our immune system. In the current climate of enforced lockdown, anything which helps to improve our mental health is welcome and what better way than to find a way to incorporate nature into your daily life.
Big changes and large projects are not necessary and a little effort goes a long way to encourage wildlife into your space. This can be a mini-pond made from a washing-up bowl, giving up part of your garden to a wood pile or uncut grass or feeding the birds all year round and not just in winter.
If you’d told me a few weeks ago that I’d be standing in front of an eminent audience talking about my depression, its impact and how I cope at work, I would have been extremely sceptical.
For just three weeks ago I was feeling very overwhelmed, anxious, mentally and emotionally exhausted and my head felt like eggs being scrambled in a magi-mix.
In fact, to prevent any further deterioration in my mood and general well-being I invoked my work-place adjustments. I don’t like doing this. I try and manage my condition day-to-day but I have to admit that I did lose focus on maintaining my own good health a couple of months ago and, true to form, suffered a relapse arising from the delayed reaction weeks later.
Coincidentally, I had been asked to give a ten-minute talk at the Midlandsability network launch yesterday and had already chosen my topic,my workplace adjustments, never thinking that I would be able to quote from such recent history and experience.
Silver linings. It’s hard to have faith sometimes but I keep reminding myself that there are often silver linings to alleviate my downturn in mood.
But thanks to some amazing friends both old and new, a staggering amount of hard work, passion, dedication and sheer determination, yesterday was pure gold.
Sometimes it takes a lot of effort to get out of the house. Most people take this for granted, but if you have low mood, fatigue and apathy, just getting out of bed in the morning is a trial. This is how I feel at the moment. I know that it is temporary and that one day I will get my enthusiasm and energy back, but for now I just need to keep going until the tide turns.
In practice this means accepting all invitations to socialise and not make excuses to avoid being with others when just getting up, showering, putting make-up on and dressing smart are a monumental effort. It’s hard. My perfect day would be to get up when I feel like it, dress in tracksuit, put hair up in a scarf and sit all day behind my sewing machine until hubby comes in from work. But I know that this is not healthy day after day after day.
Today I had arranged to have my hair cut. I was tempted to put it off again but already being 2 weeks overdue, I felt that I really needed to get up and get trimmed. Once I was in the salon I really appreciated the 45 minutes of “me- time.” Two shampoos and the slow massage conditioner treatment were really relaxing and with my hair cut, I felt so much better.
Then came the walk with the “girls” at 2pm. Four ladies plus Jasper met at the local park for a walk and 1 1/2 hours later, we returned to the park, tired but pleased that we had not succumbed to the rain and wind earlier in the day, to be rewarded with sunshine for our get-together. This is the embryonic walking group which Julie has tried to set up on our local internet page and so far we are doing well. Jasper and I enjoyed our walk and are now looking forward to organising next week’s stroll. I wasn’t looking forward to it earlier but knowing that fresh air and gentle exercise would be beneficial to my mood and general well-being, Jasper insisted that we join in.
Jasper and I arrived back home after 2 hours of walking, exhausted from the fresh air and wondering how on earth I was going to survive an evening out with the “other” girls. I ran a bath, and nearly fell asleep, but somehow managed to galvanise myself to get changed and get ready by 6.30pm when we left for the meal.
The meal was great. The company was friendly and interesting and being back home by 9.30pm means that a late night is avoided. I really enjoyed myself although if I had had the chance earlier I would have declined the invite.
I have learned over the years that even if you feel low, you need to keep on going. Keep accepting invitations from friends. Do not become isolated. Go through the motions if you have to but keep going. It’s the only way. Yes, it’s hard work and can be exhausting but don’t even think about not going. Put yourself on auto-pilot. Explain to your friends if necessary; they will understand and I guarantee that you will be pleasantly surprised.
Make the effort. It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it.