This remarkable album by my friend Kevin Buckland is one of my favourites of 2020. Kevin provides very little information on the album’s Bandcamp page, other than it was recorded live to cassette tape.
The album has a lo-fi sound, and it simply oozes fragility and vulnerability. I can quite imagine the album as a film soundtrack to create a particular mood. Although released before the coronavirus pandemic, it reflects powerfully the uncertain times in which we live.
You can see all my favourite 2020 albums by clicking here.
I was scared to death when I woke up yesterday morning at about 5.00 am with my vision spinning, nausea and sweating. I later found out from my GP son Philip that it was labyrinthitis, something I knew very little about at the time. It struck totally without warning and was very scary.
I spent yesterday in bed, the head spinning episodes were practically non-stop and very debilitating, I was often sick and couldn’t keep fluids down, and this was often associated with sweating.
I’m really pleased with my recovery today, I expected another day in bed. I’ve been up and about, eaten some food, drunk plenty of fluids, and no longer have the nausea or sweating.
The condition usually improves on its own. There is medicine, but I was advised only to have this if it got worse or I didn’t get better.
Having experienced it personally I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. But hopefully, if you get this in the middle of the night you won’t panic like I did. Click on the link above to find out more.
25/09/20 Update: I had a bit of a setback yesterday, feeling washed out today with occasional dizziness and head spinning. I’ve had a good telephone consultation with my doctor and he’s prescribed medicine to relieve symptoms, but only if I need them in severity. Naomi telephoned the surgery for me and told the receptionist what I’d got. “Has he got a sore throat?” “No, why should he?” “Well, he’s got laryngitis!” Oh, how we laughed!
27/09/20 Update: First time dressed and out of the house since Monday (six days ago). A little walk round the block. Still unsteady, but confident enough to go out.
30/09/20 Update: I’m finding that the unsteadiness returns if I overdo it, but balance is very quickly restored by the simple act of sitting down on the sofa for 10-15 minutes.
02/10/20 Update: I’ve been driving again for a few days now, being careful of course. In these first two days of October I’ve experienced a real sense of improvement, although there’s still a way to go.
09/10/20 Update: I’ve had a bit of a setback in the last few days, but overall, I’m on the mend. Rest helps, but not bed rest, as being up and about exercises the brain and encourages recovery.
18/10/20 Update: It’s been nearly four weeks since the onset of labyrinthitis and I still get some mild symptoms, although nothing that can’t be managed. Unfortunately, stress and tiredness can aggravate the symptoms.
27/10/20 Update: Five weeks since the onset and I’m finally symptom free.
I’m keeping a record of the books I read in my retirement and blogging about them. This is the second one, you can read about the first one here.
I can’t remember how this excellent book by Matt Haig came to be on my reading list, but I’m really glad it was. Reasons to Stay Alive is a genre-straddling book; partly an overview of depression and anxiety, partly a self-help resource, but (uniquely) a deeply personal memoir that is totally open and honest. It describes how Matt Haig came through crisis, triumphed over a mental illness that almost destroyed him and learned to live again (back cover).
This is a book for everyone, it overflows with the joys of living and making the most of your time on earth. It oozes humanity from every page and adds impetus to the current trend for removing the societal stigma attached to mental illness. In Matt’s willing vulnerability comes his strength.
Note: Matt shares lots of valuable insights on Twitter and you can follow him here. Other books by Matt Haig are available.
There’s a lot of anxiety and other mental health concerns around at the moment related to the coronavirus pandemic lockdown, and so anything that can help us is welcome.
Steady is an Android app that I’ve started using on my smartphone. I recently came across this recommended app in a magazine and expected to have to pay for it, but it appears to be free with no adverts.
Breathing exercises are a really helpful way of relieving anxiety and stress, and this app helps you tackle your anxiety. It also provides daily reminders and encouragement for hitting monthly goals and the like.
Update: I’ve discovered there’s also a free app (Insomnia) to help you sleep, this can be accessed via the above app.
Whilst acknowledging the need to tread carefully and sensitively in any comparisons between the Second World War and the current coronavirus pandemic, I believe there are some useful ones we can make to help us in our thought processes and thereby benefit our collective mental health.
VE Day in 1945 reflected a victory over a visible enemy, although also an invisible enemy of evil thoughts and ideas. The enemy we face now is totally invisible and does not care one iota for those it harms. Fake news is not new, they faced it back then; had they had social media, that would simply have been another front on which the war would have been fought. Today, not only in the coronavirus pandemic, we face a war against those who would deceive us. We need to guard our way of life against those who would lie to us, who seek to destroy the freedoms won for us then.
The Second World War was marked by terrible suffering, the like of which is hard to process, along with the inhumanity of it all. Today, many have been devastated by an invisible enemy, and we pause to remember the lives lost and the families and friends grieving.
Back then the world faced life-treatening jeopardy and, for many today, this is the first time we have faced real jeopardy. Yes, I remember the Cold War, but that’s the only threat that comes anywhere near what we face today. There’s fear and anxiety everywhere, and so we need to affirm, encourage and support each like never before. It’s the same for everyone, yet we all have unique circumstances and all react individually.
Back then, not everyone was celebrating, and for those who were it was only a brief celebration. The world faced an uncertain future and there was much rebuilding to be done, it was many years until food rationing was eased for example. In our own time, we might celebrate relaxations to the lockdown, but we still face the reality of an uncertain future and the prospect of rebuilding society. Then it was a collective experience, so it is today and will be for us. I’m neither being optimistic nor pessimistic; just realistically reflecting that there’ll be much to do in the coming weeks, months and years.
Today we celebrate the heroes of yesterday’s battles, but we also celebrate the new heroes in the NHS and all the key workers fighting a very different battle today. Come to think about it, the creation of the NHS was one of the great rebuilding efforts after WWII, and we are reaping its benefits today.
Who are you celebrating today? What can you do to help and support someone today and in the uncertain future?
Postscript: Today is ‘Victory IN Europe Day’, not ‘Victory OVER Europe Day’ as some history revisionists are suggesting for their own agendas.
Note: I chose the photo for this post because it reminds me of my two youngest girls, Pollyanna (2) and Matilda (3).
Looking after our mental health is always important, but especially so during the lockdown associated with the coronavirus pandemic. As this BBC web page says: Coronavirus has plunged the world into uncertainty and the constant news about the pandemic can feel relentless. All of this is taking its toll on people’s mental health, particularly those already living with conditions like anxiety and OCD.
How has the lockdown affected your mental health? I asked this question on Facebook and the following are some of the responses I received. They have been sensitively edited and permission for sharing given.
Karen: I’ve been struggling big time with not being able to talk to people properly and my depression has hit an all-time low, but I feel it’s not fair to speak to my doctor about it because they’re so busy with everything else. We have a houseful, so it’s not caused by loneliness, simply not having breathing space and time to think. I’m finding I sometimes just have to walk around the garden alone and talk myself out of the way. I feel we’re all grieving as well as my nana died recently, so keeping busy is my only way of getting through it apart from my 10 minutes out time. Not sure how helpful this is, but helps to share how I feel and not feel like a failure as a person and mother.
Joy: For a couple of weeks leading up to lockdown I was really anxious about going into lockdown. I stood and cried in the chemist queue. I knew I was getting very low and feared what lockdown would do to my mental health. To be honest I envied two people I knew who had passed away before this. I was becoming forgetful, forgetting things like bringing the washing down in the morning which i do I every morning, and forgetting to take my daily medication which included anti-depressants which also didn’t help my mental health! Once I realised this was an issue I gave hubby permission to remind me every morning. First week of lockdown I woke up feeling quite panicky, but got better as the day went on. I’ve had to learn not to put myself under pressure to achieve anything great. Getting through the day is in itself and achievement. I always use my one allowed walk each day. Three weeks into lockdown and I’m doing better than I thought I would. I can now get my head round cooking proper meals, but still can’t keep on top of housework. Initially, I was more anxious about lockdown, now I’m probably more anxious about the virus. Sorry it’s a long one but it’s done me good to share.
Paula: I’ve found it hard, but have found incorporating daily exercise and limiting the wine has helped! I’m still working, and so is my husband, so that has helped keep some sense of normality!
David: I’ve not struggled as much as some, partly because I’ve been working from home for three years now. I have my own business, so actually having work to do every day has filled my day. So, in a sense, I didn’t expect to struggle, but there have been a few for me, just the unsettledness of the situation has had an effect on my concentration levels. I’ve been used to my daughter being out at school every day and my wife in and out all the time. Now there are three of us rattling around this modest 3-bed semi, it’s really strange and has taken some adjustment for me.
Kate: I’ve been up and down through this so far. Trying to keep busy, but there’s only so much to do. It’s the isolation that’s the hardest. I’ve been exercising a lot, which helps, and playing lots of music. And also allowing myself to feel a bit rubbish, because it’s a rubbish time. It’s ok to struggle a bit, it’s really hard.
Kevin: It hasn’t really affected me, I’ve spent a lifetime social distancing anyway. I think though if you are suffering, it probably helps to keep busy. Writing a blog or an online diary documenting your feelings and day-to-day experience is a good idea. Something you can share that might help others, who in turn can help you. There’s always cooking, gardening and a myriad other hobbies that needn’t cost a lot.
Kerrie: I’m an introvert and enjoy time at home anyway. I’m never bored and could often go a weekend without speaking to or seeing anyone, but having a two and a half-year-old on my own, and as a key worker also trying to work from home I’ve found it very hard. I don’t have time to do all of the things I can see others doing, such as reading and other hobbies. My mum can’t come and help at all as she’s on the vulnerable list. Getting shopping is difficult. I don’t drive and I’m a single parent now, my daughter also has a heart condition, so don’t want to risk taking her into shops so I rely on friends to get what I need and just muddle through. I feel huge guilt that I’m not doing enough with my daughter and also huge guilt that I’m not doing enough with my work. I’m a Domestic Abuse Practitioner and I know this is increasing at this time, but there’s little I can do with no childcare and a toddler on my own. My mum doesn’t have any facility to video call and we both don’t drive so are cut off. But I think of Anne Frank, Terry Waite and others who had to endure far worse and know we have to keep on keeping on.
Heather: For me physical exercise truly helps. As a nurse I encourage grounding techniques, there are many suggested. I also recommend: Headspace. Helpful techniques.
Finally, Sarah helpfully suggested some advice being given out to students:
Reach out before you freak out! Call a friend, a family member, pastor (teacher in our setting) or a hotline – it’s better to talk before it’s too overwhelming.
Be gentle with yourself. If all you managed to do today in this pandemic was make it out of bed to go to the bathroom or grab a glass of water or something to eat, well done – your survival brain is working hard enough for you so take the time to rest.
We are all in this together – no one has it all together right now no matter what Facebook or Instagram says, this is an unprecedented time we are all trying to figure it out.
Stand outside and ground yourself for at least 5 minutes (15 is better). Feel the sun/wind on your face. Touch the plants. Take your shoes off and let your feet feel the earth below you. This is a scientifically proven technique to assist mental health, grounding is vital.
Finally, just know that you are not alone. Reach out before you Freak out!
Thank you everyone for your contributions, feel free to add any more thoughts in the comments. Be affirmed, John.
Our lives crossed when I lived in Leicester and we’ve been Facebook friends since. Sue Thomas has some important things to say about digital wellbeing and I’m pleased she agreed to write a guest post for me. Her book is excellent, click here for details.
I have spent the last 15 years researching the connections between nature and our digital lives, trying to find out whether it is possible to get a real connection with nature through technology. After speaking with and studying many important thinkers in the technology industry, environmental psychology, design, and urban planning, I felt certain that it is.
At times, my findings have been seen as controversial, but today in the COVID-19 epidemic that has changed. Now, digital wellbeing is becoming a lifeline for people stuck indoors for days and weeks on end. Some of the techniques I learnt about, such as watching nature on screens, following wild animal webcams, and listening to recorded birdsong, are being recommended by health experts. More and more researchers now know that such activities reduce stress and anxiety. Even playing a video game with natural landscapes can promote mental wellbeing!
So here are a few tips to help you get the benefits of nature while you’re stuck indoors during the epidemic.
First things first – what can you see from your windows? If nothing much, consider moving the furniture around. A good view of greenery, trees, or even just more sky, can slow your heart rate and help you relax.
When you’re browsing through Instagram, don’t swipe too fast. Take a moment to stop and appreciate the breath-taking sunrises, evocative dusks, gorgeous landscapes and intoxicating blooms. Imagine the texture of those leaves and petals. Recall the scent of that bluebell wood. Remember running your fingers along the bark of that oak tree? The sensuous outdoors is right there in your phone.
Choose a new wallpaper for your phone or computer screen. Research has shown that pictures of dense groups of leafy trees are very calming, so why not search for a jungle or forest? Then make sure you set time aside on a regular basis to just be with that image and sink into it, perhaps even meditate for a short while.
Do you usually ignore your houseplants? Now you have the time to give them some love and be rewarded with a relaxing biophilic experience. Gently clean their leaves with cotton wool and warm water, make sure the pot is moist and they have the light level they need. Chat to them if you like. There are benefits for both of you.
Search for recordings of birdsong. They are everywhere online but the BBC is a good place to start. If you can listen with headphones that’s even better. Just allow your senses to fill with the memories of all the times in the past when you have wandered through a wood, sat in the park or just been out in the garden, yet never paid proper attention to the birds. Now you have the time to do just that. Enjoy!
First of all, let me say I’m not an expert on sleep, although I’ve read widely about it and written about The Need for Sleep on this site.
Sleep can be elusive at the best of times, but in the midst of the current coronavirus pandemic, it can be even more difficult with so many emotions and thoughts going through our minds.
Here are tips I’ve found helpful and I try to apply them whenever possible. Although I don’t always get it right, especially with three young children.
Stick to a specific sleep schedule, try to settle down and wake up at the same time each day. Remembering that a lie-in at weekends won’t make up for and lack of sleep during the working week, and might well make it harder to get up on Monday morning.
Try to avoid caffeine, alcohol and nicotine too near to bedtime as these can be detrimental to good sleep. The latter two are not a problem for me as I’m teetotal and don’t smoke, but caffeine can be. I don’t usually drink coffee after 12 noon (2.00 pm at the latest) although I still drink tea, and so to reduce my caffeine intake before bed I’ll often drink decaffeinated tea. Another option is herbal tea, which I try to drink at least once a day, usually with a teaspoon of acacia honey to sweeten.
It’s often tempting to eat late into the evening, but this isn’t always a good idea. I’m also at an age when my bladder can wake me up in the night, so I try to balance the need to be hydrated with my overall fluid intake.
Exercise is good, but not too near bedtime. We all know that exercise is beneficial for our overall health and wellbeing, but it’s better done earlier in the day.
Naps are good and can help to make up for lost sleep, but it’s best not to take these after the middle of the afternoon as these can then make it harder to fall asleep at night.
Make sure you unwind before bed if possible, schedule it into your daily routine. Reading or listening to music can be helpful ways to relax.
Avoid screen time before bed and, if possible, keep smartphones and tablets out of the bedroom. You can also use a blue filter to reduce the detrimental effect of screen light while winding down to sleep. Many devices and operating systems now have these built-in, or there are apps you can use. You can also turn the brightness down.
A hot bath is good for helping you to relax and unwind, but also the lowing of body temperature that occurs after a bath helps you to become sleepy.
Make sure your bedroom is dark and cool, and get rid of anything that might distract you. If it’s not completely dark you could try an eye mask.
This last tip depends on you as an individual and may vary in different circumstances. If you can’t sleep, do you get up or simply lay resting? I usually apply the rule that if not sleeping is making me anxious it’s probably better to get up for a while before returning to bed, otherwise I stay put. But always avoid the temptation to check your smartphone.
Finally, in all of this don’t forget the old adage, that an hour of sleep before midnight is worth two after midnight. Sleep well.
Having criticised ITV2 the other day for showing Contagion, Naomi and I watched it on Netflix last night. The plot is very topical and concerns the spread of a novel virus transmitted by fomites, the attempts by medical researchers and public health officials to identify and contain the disease, the loss of social order in a pandemic, and the introduction of a vaccine to halt its spread.
At times it felt like watching a documentary as well as a narrative story. The movie has several interacting plot lines, making use of the multi-narrative hyperlink cinema style, and finishes with a very thought-provoking ending. I gave the movie 8/10 on IMDb. It would have been higher had the movie better conveyed a sense of fear and dread, but we’ve got plenty of that in real life right now.