The New Normal

When this all began, there was so much talk about the strain on all of us. Everyone was talking about how we had to accept that our mental health might take a dip and a dive and that it was okay to feel anxious or down. No-one expected too much and we all filled our lives in any way we could. We took each day as it came.

Some people took to arts and crafts, baking or exercise. Others took up online courses and extra projects. Some just caught up on much needed sleep.

Now, life’s gradually returning to a new kind of normal and if you’re anything like me, you’re suddenly convinced you should somehow feel normal again yourself. Like it’s a switch we can flick on when life gets challenging and off again when things get better.

Here’s the thing – I still feel sad and tired, all the time. I’m missing my life before Covid-19, but I’m struggling to accept how far off a return to that exact way of life really is. I feel like stubborn teenager, sticking my heels in and adamantly waiting until things go precisely my way. I don’t want to settle for half-normal.

I’m looking at pictures of friends filling their diaries up with plans and getting out and about. I’m watching people at work throw themselves into planning for the next few months at home (because this working from home thing seems like it’s here to stay). I’m seeing people embrace the gradual relaxing of the rules and head back to beaches and shops. And I’m doing the most unhealthy thing I could do:

I’m directly comparing how I’m doing to how everyone else seems to be doing. I’m convincing myself that everyone else is fine and that I should be too. I feel like I should be full steam ahead back into work and socialising and my old routine and everything else that comes with it. It’s like I’ve decided Covid-19 isn’t a justifiable reason to feel ‘not quite right’ anymore.

Soon, I’ll probably find I do start making plans and accepting the new normal. I’ll ease into it over the next few weeks and before long, I’m sure I’ll start to feel myself embrace the way things have to be. But there’s no pressure or rush to do so – It’s only me putting that pressure on me. Which is no-doubt just making me more tired than I already am.

So, for anyone else who needs to hear it: It’s okay, to still not be okay. We’re still living through a global pandemic. And if anything, this strange return to a new kind of normal is likely to be the most mentally challenging part of the whole thing. Don’t put any additional pressure on yourself!

Breathe, cut yourself some slack and still feel free to take each day as it comes. You’ve got this.

Is it just me?

Or have things just got that little bit harder?

Honestly? I caught myself thinking really negatively when looking at myself in the mirror this morning and it was that which turned my thoughts to the idea of blogging again. I have seen a few social media posts dedicated to positive body image, but the majority of stuff I’m seeing online suggests that I should be running and doing yoga and that my tummy should look better than ever right now.

In fact, my tummy is growing, because of all the time spent indoors. I don’t think I’m eating particularly unhealthily, but I’m definitely not getting as much exercise as I usually would.  My skin is clearer, because I’m not wearing makeup and I’ve caught a bit of a tan from time spent out in the sunshine, but all I can see when I look in the mirror is my chunkier waist line and the rolls under my, now tighter, jeans.

I refuse to feel sucky about it anymore and I hope if you’re reading this and empathising then you can start being a little less hard on yourself from here on in too. Yes, I really do want to try doing some yoga with Adrienne and some virtual workouts, but the truth of the matter is that, right now just getting to the supermarket feels like a challenge.

(I told myself that I’d get our essential grocery shop done today, but not only do I feel terrified at the thought of facing the outside world, but my car won’t start either.)

As well as working out, there are lots of things I need to do that I know for a fact would make me feel better: The bathroom needs a clean again, we have piles of clean clothes to put away, the whole house needs a good hoover. But I simply can’t seem to kick myself into action.

On top of feeling bad about that, I wake up every morning in a panic about who I need to check in with. I realised this morning that I haven’t spoken to my brother or sister in ages now and that it is one of my best friend’s birthdays today, but that I haven’t spoken to him since this all started. I am so ridiculously grateful for all of my wonderful family and friends, but I’m finding it hard, because I don’t think I’ll ever feel like I’ve checked in with everyone enough.

And then on top of all of that, I feel super guilty for feeling so down and being so lazy when I think of all of the brave key workers out there facing this whole situation head on, many of them separated from family and friends, without time to even consider yoga or hoovering.

Writing ‘I just don’t feel right’ was so rewarding and I’m glad I decided to write again. This post has helped in a different kind of way. Here’s hoping someone in the same boat feels better for reading it too. Somehow writing it all out like that has left me finally feeling like today is doable.

I’ll ask Dave to take me to the shop, but I still want to do it myself because conquering that fear can only be a good thing. And I’ll stop with the negativity. Hey! Maybe I’ll even put some clean clothes away.

I just don’t feel right

This will be my third try at a blog post. I’ve been trying and failing to write over the last few weeks: I had this grand idea that I’d start writing daily throughout this global pandemic. I was going to call the chapter ‘A blog a day to keep the blues at bay‘. But every time I put pen to paper (or started typing, but that doesn’t sound anywhere near as romantic does it?) I was unhappy with what came out.

I guess I wanted to try and write truthfully about how this time is making me feel, to get it off my own chest, but also in the hope that it might help someone somewhere to read that this time’s got us all feeling a bit out of sorts. If you’re feeling odd and mentally vulnerable, you’re not alone, I promise.

But whenever I tried writing I found myself trying too hard to cover all bases: To reiterate that I know there are people who this pandemic is affecting in worse ways than I can even imagine and that I know how lucky I am. And I am lucky. I’m so grateful for this beautiful, safe house and garden and the fact I can work from home and that my work is so fulfilling and that I have amazing family and friends…

I just don’t feel quite myself. My shoulders are constantly tense and my jaw too. I find myself sighing all the time and every day just feels like a bit of an uphill struggle. I’m trying so hard to be positive, but I just feel a bit down in the dumps.

I miss myself. All this time indoors is giving me heaps of thinking time and that’s what I’ve realised. I’m missing old me. I keep thinking that a younger, ‘funner’ Bronwen would have done better in this situation.

But I’m always looking back and always wanting to go back to being the person I was and today the penny has finally dropped: Looking backwards isn’t doing me any good…

When I was at university, I missed the care-free girl I left behind in Chelmsford, who loved her high school boyfriend to pieces and spent all her time singing. Nowadays, I miss University me, who wrote fun blogs and could stay up late and was more up for a good time. I bet some day, I’ll miss this me. Whoever this me is. And I’ll kick myself for all the time I spent dwelling on how a previous version of myself would have handled things. 

Yes, I’m more tired nowadays and a bit more careful, but I don’t worry any less that’s for sure. I can try and tell myself that I used to be care-free all I want, but really I’ve always been a worrier.

And so I guess it’s no wonder Covid-19 has got me feeling a bit iffy. If anything, I’d expect to be less calm than I am. I’m still getting up every day, showering, brushing my teeth and getting dressed. I’m still eating plenty and getting out for walks and staying in touch with family and friends.

Let’s cut ourselves some slack during this time. It’s so hard when we’re constantly exposed to perfect images of how everyone else is handing things, but I for one need to remember that I’m doing okay doing what I’m doing. There is no right way to deal with a worldwide pandemic, we’re all figuring this out one day at a time. AND I’m just Bronwen. Not past Bronwen, not present Bronwen, not future Bronwen, just me. Still me… Just a little older and maybe actually a little wiser too?

Week Fifty-Two

As after most Christmases, the arm of the chair that I am sat in is piled high with books: The new 2020 diary I got for Christmas, Fearne Cotton’s ‘Calm’, Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch (I’m on chapter 8 and loving every second), and a very thick pad titled ‘642 things to write about’ (which I cannot wait to start working my way through). The Christmas tree is twinkling away next to me and the TV is on. Three different cooking shows have been on in the time I’ve been curled up here and I am now very hungry for something yummy.

Since starting my new job at the beginning of December, life’s been a little chaotic, very stressful and also all kinds of exciting. (The lead up to Christmas was as magical as ever and although I’m nervous about my new role, I am also very excited to get stuck in.) I am so relieved to have made it into Chrimbo Limbo.

I could spend hours reflecting on 2019. I wish I could have been more prepared for everything the last year would throw my way. I spent a year in which I resolved to try and worry less and remember that these will be the good old days, worrying too much and carrying the weight of the world around with me. At the risk of sounding super gloomy, I was tired a lot and stressed a lot and sad a lot, even at times when I would have expected to feel most happy.

But I’m grateful for all the great memories I have too. Paris in the winter, Soho with one of my best friends, a trip back to the 1920s for a night in Cardiff, a holiday in Kefalonia and an escape to Happy Place Festival. Performances with the band and a move into a new home. A visit to Casino Royale and many a laugh at Tim Minchin live.

And I am looking forward to 2020. It’s strange, but I almost feel like a year full of so much worry has led to me finally feeling like I am capable of worrying less. This year, big stuff came our way and for once in my life, the majority of my anxiety was actually rational; the butterflies made sense.

Now, I feel like I might be more determined than ever before, not to let the small stuff stress me out.

I’m taking 2020 as it comes. I’m expecting a year much like this one, except this time I feel much better prepared. Ups and downs are a way of life and it’s like I’ve learned to surf the waves finally. Or I hope I have. Now, that’s a very Bronwen-esque metaphor if ever there was one and I guess that’s a wrap on Chapter Five. 52 weeks, one year and a whole load more life lessons learned.

Be back soon.

Week Forty-Five

Wow. 45! It really will not be long at all until it’s the last week of this year and I have to come up with a new way of titling blog posts again. Christmas is just around the corner and I cannot WAIT for the festivities to begin.

I don’t want to wish the rest of the year away, but I am itching to try and sum up this chapter: A jam packed year full of ups and downs, that was nothing I expected. I had a little look back through my diary the other day and could hardly believe that this is still the same year I went to Paris and celebrated my birthday dressed as Belle.

The last few weeks have flown just as fast as the rest, being just as full with long days at work, jam sessions with the band and plans with friends and family.

I slept for the longest I have in a long time last night. I didn’t set an alarm and I didn’t get up when Dave got up or accept his offer of tea. I rolled over and I went back to sleep and I was so unconcerned with looking at the clock that I’m not even sure what time I did get up in the end.

We had a lovely friend stay the night yesterday so when I did get up the house felt super lively, which I loved. Dave, housemate Tom and our lovely friend were all cosied up in the lounge with cups of tea and music playing. They’d had chinese food last night (I was out and about in Stratford with some other lovely ladies… One of which was performing in a K-pop dance show – she SMASHED it), so we had leftovers for breakfast and it was amazing. Is it just me that thinks chinese food tastes even better reheated the next day?

Now, I’m sat on our bed with my nails freshly painted and a face mask on. I feel so happy and content with my favourite music playing. It’s also starting to get dark outside and it feels so cosy in here as a result. I think the heating just came on for the evening too. It really is the little things in life.

I made a terrible decision doing both face mask and nail paint at the same time because I’m now stuck with a red face until this polish decides to dry. I also need to get the laundry out of the machine and my tummy is rumbling… oops. For once, I couldn’t really care less though. I’m quite happy waiting, although I am looking forward to getting some jam on toast once the face mask is off.

When I realised I had no plans today, I told myself it’d be a day to look after myself. It’s done me so much good and it’s been a massive reminder that I should do this more often.

I’ve been in my head a lot recently. My thoughts have felt so loud the last few weeks. And they’ve been pretty negative. But that negativity seems to have done a runner today. Clearly all I needed to scare off the negative thoughts was a sunny Sunday morning, a lie in and some me time. I don’t know why I didn’t devote some time to this sooner.

If you’ve no plans this evening, take some time to pamper yourself. Whether you fancy it or not, you’ll feel so much better for it. And just in time for another working week. Sundays should be made for this. As well as roast dinners… of course!

 

Week Thirty-Six

Oh heyyy!

So, the house move has gone surprisingly smoothly for me. Especially considering my inability to accept change, close attachment to places and things and general emotional-ness.

I was super emotional when we eventually said goodbye to the flat, but in my defence, it had been one of those weeks anyway and I was due a good cry. Also, it was so super strange seeing the flat all naked and empty and knowing it wasn’t ours anymore.

I think what’s made the move so much easier is that our new place literally ticks all the boxes. Life’s so much easier with a washing line and a designated cupboard for bedding and towels and under bed storage and a station nearby. And the house felt so homey so quickly too! The owner has decorated it so brightly and it was funished with a few bits and pieces before we even got all of our stuff in.

And my goodness do we have a lot of stuff! How two people can own so many things and have kept them in a 1 bed flat for so long I do not know. It’s also not until you try and pack your life into boxes you realise how fragile literally everything is! From kitchenware to ornaments and frames, I felt like I was drowning in a sea of bubble wrap!

September 1st came around and the new house was sorted and the next few gigs with the band were confirmed and that autumn chill appeared from nowhere and I got my boots out andddd I saw that Primark have their Disney Christmas tinsel out already and I feel so much brighter.

THIS is hands-down the best time of year. I can’t wait for the first trees to go orange and brown and the first crisp frosty morning and the first time I get all wrapped up in a snug coat and scarf and the first hot chocolate on a chilly evening! I know September might have a few summery days left in it yet, but I live for autumn and I’m so excited!

Week Twenty-Eight

WHERE IS THE YEAR GOING!?

I knew 2019 was going to be a big’un. I never could have prepared myself for how much of an uphill climb the first half of it would be. I said there was to be no stressing when my birthday party came around and I don’t want any of the amazing people who came to be disappointed or sad. I certainly don’t want my parents’ to feel like all their efforts were wasted. It was an AMAZING night! But honestly? I spent the whole thing feeling very anxious and went to bed crying at 1am because I was so frustrated that I hadn’t been able to enjoy it.

Now, here I am in July and my anxiety feels like it’s finally under control again and I’m absolutely buzzing about life! It feels like everything is coming together. A lot’s going to change over the next couple of months.

I remember New Year’s Eve 2011 very clearly. 2012 was going to be the year everything changed and I knew I wasn’t going to like it one bit. I went to bed early and when it got to midnight I cried. I was right; I didn’t enjoy the changes at all. Going off to university turned my whole world upside down. If I had known back then, that life would always be full of change and that I was just going to have to get used to it, I’m not sure what I would have done. Decided this life wasn’t for me and I was going to live under my duvet for the rest of it? Probably.

I’ve come a long way since then. I am prepared for the fact that the next couple of months may throw me off a little, but I’m also just super excited about EVERYTHING.

Where to start?

Well, today I have a jam session with my new band. YEP, MY NEW BAND. I’ve been really down about my voice ever since studying music at university if I’m honest. Being part of that music department made me feel like a very small fish in an extremely big pond and I never really shook that feeling. If you’ve been keeping up, you’ll know that I’ve repeatedly pledged to get back into singing. I was going to join a choir or find like-minded musicians to work with, but I never kept that promise to myself. I just couldn’t seem to find the oomph.

I work with this great guy who, over the last couple of months, has gone and given me my music mojo back. He didn’t really give me a choice in the matter. He rocked up at my desk one day and told me about this new collective of musicians he was pulling together. He said it was Jazz, but not Jazz. And kinda classically influenced, but not really either. He said he thought I might fit right in and before I knew it I was at the studio with him. It took me over half an hour to sing my first note.

Now, I’m away! We’ve had our first gig and, although I was super nervous, I managed to successfully sing every note and, although I might not have sung as well as I know I can, I was so proud and happy when we finished. Mostly proud to be working with such a talented set of musicians. The guy from work’s a ridiculously talented drummer. We’re playing with an AMAZING classical guitarist and FANTASTIC saxophonist and WE ARE DAMBALLA COLLECTIVE. Plug over, but I’m so excited. Can you tell?

That aside, we’re also moving home! (Providing our references all go through fine and they decide they think we’ll be able to pay the rent each month.) We’re moving in with a friend, into a much bigger home in a lovely village with loads of pubs and a big common and it’s going to be so lovely. And best of all… I can walk to the train station… waheyyyy. No more sitting in traffic every morning!!

Anddd finally, I passed my big qualification at work and now I’m officially qualified to do what I want to do. The world is now my oyster on the career front and I’m really excited to see where work life takes me from here… That’s if I’m not too busy touring with Damballa Collective of course.

All good things.

Life’s more challenging than ever before. Particularly for a worrier like me. But I’m making sure to take deep breaths when I can and I’m taking moments here and there to make sure I’m doing okay. I am doing okay. And next week I’m off on holiday. What better way to look after one’s mental health than to spend a week in the sun, with a good book (Miles Davis’ autobiography being my current book of choice… I’m only 3 chapters in, but I am loving it!) and an amazing friend? Eeeeek!

Week Fifteen

I’m wearing my sunny day t-shirt (under my biggest fluffy jumper because it’s chilly despite the sunshine) with my oldest, comfiest jeans. I’m munching on Bitsa Wispa in an attempt to satisfy the sweet tooth I’ve woken up with. I’m smiling because sunny Sundays are my favourite thing and I’ve already had three cups of tea today.

This week’s been a bit of an emotional roller-coaster.

It’s been a long time since I’ve been as scared as I was when I woke up Wednesday morning to take on one of my biggest challenges at work. One of my biggest challenges at work, in the midst of all the challenges going on outside of work. Understandably I think, I’d been feeling nauseous for days in the build up and I’ve never been so exhausted as when the day drew to a close. I tumbled into bed without even taking a moment to think about how things had gone.

When I woke up on Thursday, I was still tired and had made the mistake of scheduling in a working from home day, thinking I’d need time to unwind. Turns out, a whole day in on my own was not what I needed. I felt lost and sad and lonely and I knew Wednesday had gone well, but I couldn’t feel happy about it.

Friday, I was buzzing. A challenging week at work had been a huge success and after another night’s sleep I was actually feeling restored enough to enjoy it and let the pride kick in. I AM SO PROUD. It also helped that I was back in the office, surrounded by people, with a to do list as long as my arm.

Yesterday was a good day all in all. I was super excited about the fact Dave and I had no plans this weekend and I could do what I liked. We watched movies, I read my book. Late in the afternoon, Dave and I went to the shop to get some beers in time for the football and then… I spent a good chunk of the evening crying my heart out! Just like that, it came out of nowhere and Dave and I ended up on a late night walk talking everything through. I went to sleep still trying to process everything and then I woke up this morning to find life didn’t seem nearly as bad again and cooked a fry-up with a massive smile on my face.

All of that said, perhaps emotional roller-coaster doesn’t quite cover it!?

Today I genuinely feel fine. I’m looking forward to date night with Dave tonight. We’re off to see Captain Marvel and we’ll probably grab dinner first. Where we’re going for dinner is yet to be decided. Best get our thinking caps on now or we’ll be overwhelmed by the choice later.

So relieved that we’re on the approach to the next bank holiday of the year. A couple of four day weeks in a row sounds like just the thing to me.

Life’s been full of challenges recently. I’ve been taking on new things at work. I’ve been out of my comfort zone in every day life. I’ve been rocking up to hen dos and birthday celebrations without knowing what to expect or who’s going to be attending, making new friends along the way. I’ve been making big decisions, talking about adult stuff like mortgages and my career…

I feel stronger and more terrified all at once, every day. And I feel more grateful every day. Grateful most of all for the amazing people in my life who give me the confidence I need to get up and at ’em, whatever the new day might bring.

Week Fourteen

Hoorayyy. As week fourteen draws to a close I cannot help smiling. I’m off to see my Dad and my sister as soon as I’ve hit publish and I’m so looking forward to a roast dinner.

It’s been a busy few weeks and I’ve made so many amazing memories. In the true spirit of chapter five, I’ve chucked myself head first into everything!

Since I last wrote, I’ve been to see George Ezra at the O2. HE WAS AMAZING. I’ve been to a 1920s themed Speakeasy Festival in a big old house in Cardiff and then literally walked down memory lane, towards the city centre, bare foot, with my heels in my hands. I went along to see one of my best friends perform with her fabulous Technicolor choir and enjoyed a good boogie with her and the choir afterwards. I’ve had numerous pub lunches and dinner dates (my favourite things). I went along to a uni friend’s hen do and partied two nights in a row. TWO NIGHTS IN A ROW I TELL YOU. (And I was exhausted come Sunday… how my 18 year old self ever coped with freshers I will never know.)

Most of these things were in the diary and in the approach to all this craziness I felt apprehensive. I wasn’t certain I was in the right frame of mind. There’s still lots going on that I can’t share with you all and I’m still spending a lot of time feeling the impact of it all. I’m so glad I pushed through though. I could easily have opted for a night in my PJs or a day with my head in a book. But as much as I love nights in and book worm days, sometimes getting out of the house and spending time making brilliant memories with amazing friends is what’s going to get you through.

These few weeks have been about me remembering that you can allow yourself to get out and enjoy yourself, without feeling guilty for ignoring the stuff you’re feeling sad about. In fact, it’s really important to compartmentalise. We all need to remember that. Being able to go out and enjoy yourself doesn’t mean you don’t care enough: You’re not ignoring things, you’re just putting them to the back of your mind when you need to. Because parts of your life can be fantastic while others fall apart. That’s just how it goes. And if you try to feel everything, all the time, sooner or later you’ll explode.

Week Eleven

About this time last week I was stood in the middle of a nearby field, with my Mum, in a state of complete and utter panic, having walked for an hour or so (in circles) and having lost all sense of direction. I was absolutely convinced we’d ended up miles away from home and I had no idea how to find our way back. It was very windy and a little rainy and I was cream crackered and when I rang Dave, my world was ending.

He found us in ten minutes. Yep. Turns out, we hadn’t strayed far at all and I’d gotten all in a tizz over nothing. Story of my life.

Right now, one week later, I’m safely curled up under a blanket, with an orange juice and lemonade (branching out from the usual cup of tea!) and I’m over half way through Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. I hope I won’t get myself in too much trouble with Harry Potter fans for saying, I’ve struggled with this one so far. It’s picking up now, but the first half was a bit of a slog.

11 weeks ago I resolved to do a lot of things. I know one of them was to snooze my alarm less and that has gone well and truly out of the window (perhaps this week will be the week!). Another was to join some fitness classes and no, that has not happened. BUT this week I might start wearing my Fitbit again and at least take the stairs when I can. Dun dun dunnn.

I guess the resolutions that were most important to me were the ones that involved me rediscovering music: Music has always been so important to me. And yet, it has gradually dropped out of my life since I finished my Music and History degree in 2015. I only really listen to music when I’m driving. I barely ever play my piano or ukulele anymore.

This week, I’ve been working on two new covers on the ukulele! YES I HAVE. And I’ve been working on two new originals at the piano. I’ve also created a playlist for music to listen to at work.  Don’t ask why I hadn’t done that sooner… Who knows!? But now that I have, it’s great to be able to switch the office noise off for a bit now and again and get properly in the zone.

I feel stronger today than I have in a long time and I know lots of things have contributed to getting me there this week. My lovely team at work for one. My organisation last Sunday and the to do lists that I stuck to. The brilliant day spent with one of my best friends yesterday, wandering the Museum of London and catching up over dinner.

I can’t help thinking that music has literally given me strength though. This blog is called ‘Singing Goodbye to Butterflies’ after all. I always feel invincible after time spent singing. The feeling’s like nothing else.

All’s left to do now is find a choir or a band to join. I need to get working with other musicians again. I want my music mojo back.

I hope that whatever your passions are, you can make the time to pursue them. Because life often gets in the way and we simply shouldn’t let it.