Good days, Bad days

With the weather a bit cooler today, its made me realise what about the steady heat blanket of this week has had me struggling a bit.

Essentially the lack of breezes had brought a heaviness that was reminding me of the dissociative parts of my depression. Everything was feeling dull and distant and my head was responding to the familiarity of those sensations.

Being a reasonably smart cookie, I recognised this on a subconscious level at least, because I’ve been making efforts to drag myself outside the flat in search of light and sound, and at least hints of moving air. Being around people, talking online, keeping busy, these have all kept my brain shaken from the old tracks. So thats a good thing, possibly even means I’m learning to look after myself.

That said i didn’t really put it all together until counselling this evening, but then that’s what its there for.

Keeping Things Moving

I was just having a post D&D session chat with myr s and Lady B via the wonders of Discord and the topic turned to ways of dealing with the grey blur of days in lockdown.

As I rambled through the sorts of things I’ve been doing, I had a bit of a realisation: that most of the small things I do in the house involve moving little bits around to present vistas. I’ve been rearranging the placement of groups of funko pops, or rearranging books in their shelves, or moving minor pieces of furniture. At first I thought it was just lazy tidying, but there’s something more interesting going on.

One of the things I’ve learned while managing libraries is that displays and notices need to be varied in placement and composition quite regularly. This is because people very quickly get used to them and overlook them. Why? Well apparently its related back to our prehistoric roots where pattern recognition evolved as survival hinged on spotting things out of place that might be a predator.

When we see something new, our attention catches to assess if it is a threat or opportunity, before being relegated to known background while we search for the next anomaly.

During more normal times, going out keeps the brain fed with new stimuli to process and assess, but at home we start to climb the walls because we’ve assessed the normal surroundings as safe and yet that primitive part keeps screaming that we just haven’t spotted the tiger yet.

So, I’m in a process of keeping my living space and activities in flux to satisfy my brain’s inherent paranoia. It seems to work, and probably explains why I find data cleansing both easy and a high stress activity.

There’s probably a good debate to be had there that its not so much a matter of a low boredom threshold as ongoing hypervigilance on my part, because reasons.

But thats a whole other story for another time.

Oops

I was just settling to sleep when I realised that I was supposed to have a rescheduled counselling session via Zoom today.

Now, even given I ate a whole bunch of grapes and knocked myself into a diabetic sugar snooze, there’s no sign of a missed call or querying text so I guess my counsellor forgot too – or at least got distracted by something else.

Oops. Ill give them a shout in the morning

Tired

I’ve been quite productive today but I’ve noticed a growing sense of anxiety and exhaustion around the work I’ve been doing – so I’ve opted to take some leave. This may seem odd given there’s a worldwide lockdown in place, but for my own wellbeing I feel I need to commit to not dialling in to work remotely for a few days next week.

Lady M has also booked some time off from her work for similar reasons. We would have been going to Portsmouth Comiccon and possibly looking at next week off to recover anyway, so in the grand scheme of things its not too different from what we would have been planning.

Its thoughts like that which remind me just how the convention and cosplay circuit has been hit, and by extension our little hobby and our connections with the friends we’ve made there.

Its why I’m continuing to get involved with daft cosplay collaborations – yes its fun to dress up and be silly, but the conversations and planning behind the scenes have been wonderful for keeping in touch and celebrating the creativity and oddness of us all.

If it raises smiles and lightens people’s days during lockdown then all the better, and I can take heart from that.

Feelgood Movie Night

I’ve been feeling out of sorts most of the day – a combination of head fog and a rattling in my chest that I can’t quite pin down to heart or lungs. It’s only really been the last half hour that I’ve decided its the lungs, but the worry hasn’t helped me through the day.

Sensing that I wasn’t too perky, Lady M prescribed pizza and daftness – which is how we’ve just finished a double bill of Marvel films: Antman and the Wasp, and Captain Marvel and it has done the job of distracting me and raising my spirits through music and light banter. Just what I needed to switch the worry centres off.

I’ve always had a soft spot for the Antman films. I love heist films, and the daft childlike spirit of the original and its sequel are like a comfort blanket – largely because of the ensemble cast who seem to be having fun making them. That sense of fun shines through more and more when I watch Captain Marvel too, despite the efforts of the space fascists (Kree) to be oh so serious. They’re not high art films, and they know it, and when I need a distraction that just fits the bill – and I say that as a very very long-term Marvel fan.

Fuzzy Head Day

Well, I’m not sure what happened to this morning – there was much sleepiness and fuzzy electric brain fog, so we roused briefly and then collapsed for a few more hours on the sofa. I now have coffee, a small amount of chocolate, and the balcony door open to pass a breeze through the room.

I’ve been trying to keep to relatively work-normal sleep patterns, but my body and brain obviously decided that was not to be today. On the plus side there’s still enough food and drink in the house to not have to go and do battle with the supermarket or anywhere else at least until payday next week so as long as I can continue to resist buying things online then we’re all good.

That said I have been tempted by some of the Kickstarter campaigns, especially those where their deadlines are after payday – and I may have backed some things that I think will be helpful both as prompts for the tabletop gaming, but also as writing hooks. That reminds me – I have story dice knocking around in the other room, I really must break those out while I actually have some spare time.

So in retrospect, I really must have needed that extra sleep because my brain, just in the course of writing this, has switched over into creativity buzz mode. I finished the envelopes of nice things for the DDC last night but have missed the limited post office opening hours locally so will have to dive out first thing on Monday to get those out. I think therefore that there may have to be some writing perpetrated.

Being a Listening Ear

My counsellor is the first to tell me that I have a tendency to want to help people and put their problems above my own – and she usually says so when I’ve spent a long time talking about my concerns about a friend, or someone I work with. So this extended period of lockdown and general stress has been an exercise in closely managing my own mental reserves so that I stay boundaried in the sense of maintaining my own safety while still being present for people.

Its not easy. It can be quite seductive a call to throw grand dramatic gestures. Everyone wants to be a hero after all, but keeping the slow and steady drip of checking in on people – listening when they do or do not respond, or sending the odd off-colour joke without expecting a reply – seems to be a middle ground that is allowing me to not over extend myself or to feel that I’m abandoning people.

Its hard when there’s that little voice wanting to leap down the phone and hug someone who is clearly in distress, but that little voice doesn’t take into account other people’s wants, needs, or support networks – that’s where it becomes unhealthy in trying to impose itself.

That’s the point where it becomes about me, not about them.

I am glad to bale to report that I amvery lucky with the support networks that I do have, and with the friends that can and do ping in and out of sight on various platforms. I’m doing my best to be a reliable generally positive part of their networks, rather than a burden on their time or the cause of a heavy sigh.

So, silly memes and reimaginings of scenes with disney characters, songs and daft videos – all of these and more will continue to flow as distractions. I might even get some work done in between them all too.

Data Cleansing and Inner Calm

We’ve been able to enable access to some work systems using Citrix recently, so now have a useful tool for calming the mind and feeling that I’m doing something useful at the same time: data cleansing.

Specifically we’re going through records to find where a remark has been left on an account and not removed in a timely manner. For the most part this is an oversight and is actually relatively rare, so I’m either removing the outdated remark or marking an entry on the shared report as checked and moving on.

Not only am I currently averaging a library a day at the moment, but I’m finding it a good way to occupy the spider-monkeys in my brain as they look for breaks in patterns and flag what needs further investigation – and as there’s no real deadline to work to I can move at a steady pace and coordinate with my peers who are also involved in doing it.

So that’s today’s path to inner calm: repetitive data work. Later I shall be doing something creative to let the spider-monkeys off the leash.

Retail Support Therapy

We’ve all been looking in the DDC for ways to brighten each other up during the lockdown. I mean, we’ve been looking at ways of making life easier as much as possible for as many people as possible too, but in particular we’ve been rallying round to help each other. I think it was brewing anyway, but as Lady B had her birthday recently it prompted a move to send presents that has since expanded across the whole group.

For the most part its sporadic – little things like postcards or small gifts made on a whimsy – but it is a wonderful little spike of pleasure when there’s something unexpected in the mailbox. While this is a thing that could happen at any time, I think the enforced isolation has made the effort more appreciated and more meaningful for both sender and receiver. If so, then I take it as an example of people rising to support each other in adversity – through a series of acts that you could be forgiven for thinking had been a thing long in the past. Now all our various communications channels are sprinkled with little remarks like “Oh I showed x what I’ve made for you”, or “Oh, reminds me I must get to the post office” – and each time I get a little glow in my chest that is almost certainly not heartburn.

It doesn’t make us any better or worse than anyone else just because we’re choosing to reach out to support our friends and partners at this time rather than engaging in some grand gesture to help the world at large. Instead, I hope that it is a trend of rediscovering contact that has been denatured by the immediacy of social media. There is no immediate gratification of a notification on a phone or laptop – its merely something that appears at some point in the letterbox, and is all the more precious for it. I hope its something that catches on among friend and family circles as a rediscovery of a slower way of showing you care. Its less ephemeral that social media, and goes alongside the other ways of showing we care that we already use on a daily basis. I feel incredibly lucky.

Silver linings and all that

The Invitation

I recorded this reading of The Invitation by Oriah Mountain Dreamer last weekend for the DDC. It came after a number of conversations where, basically, everyone was being nice about everyone else’s voices. Its a poem that has featured heavily in my mental health journey, and we had it read in 2012 at our wedding by one of my brothers. Its a story of owning your own responsibilities and worth, and of accepting your partner in whatever context for who they are just as they accept you. Its always been a beautiful piece. Personally I always feel like I sound like I’m speaking ronud a mouthful of rocks when I talk – but I keep being challenged on that, so here goes outside my comfort zone:

My reading of The Invitation

The Invitation by Oriah
It doesn’t interest me
what you do for a living.
I want to know
what you ache for
and if you dare to dream
of meeting your heart’s longing.

It doesn’t interest me
how old you are.
I want to know
if you will risk
looking like a fool
for love
for your dream
for the adventure of being alive.

It doesn’t interest me
what planets are
squaring your moon…
I want to know
if you have touched
the centre of your own sorrow
if you have been opened
by life’s betrayals
or have become shrivelled and closed
from fear of further pain.

I want to know
if you can sit with pain
mine or your own
without moving to hide it
or fade it
or fix it.

I want to know
if you can be with joy
mine or your own
if you can dance with wildness
and let the ecstasy fill you
to the tips of your fingers and toes
without cautioning us
to be careful
to be realistic
to remember the limitations
of being human.

It doesn’t interest me
if the story you are telling me
is true.
I want to know if you can
disappoint another
to be true to yourself.
If you can bear
the accusation of betrayal
and not betray your own soul.
If you can be faithless
and therefore trustworthy.

I want to know if you can see Beauty
even when it is not pretty
every day.
And if you can source your own life
from its presence.

I want to know
if you can live with failure
yours and mine
and still stand at the edge of the lake
and shout to the silver of the full moon,
“Yes.”

It doesn’t interest me
to know where you live
or how much money you have.
I want to know if you can get up
after the night of grief and despair
weary and bruised to the bone
and do what needs to be done
to feed the children.

It doesn’t interest me
who you know
or how you came to be here.
I want to know if you will stand
in the centre of the fire
with me
and not shrink back.

It doesn’t interest me
where or what or with whom
you have studied.
I want to know
what sustains you
from the inside
when all else falls away.

I want to know
if you can be alone
with yourself
and if you truly like
the company you keep
in the empty moments.

By Oriah © Mountain Dreaming,
from the book The Invitation
published by HarperONE, San Francisco,
1999 All rights reserved