Glimmers

I have always been a bit anxious about my hair.

When I was in my late twenties and very poorly, with no explanation as to why, one of the most distressing symptoms I experienced was my hair falling out. Many times, I tried to grow my hair long, only to have to chop it off – brutally short – and hide what was left of it away under a selection of (always) black hats.

I’m more relaxed these days. Whilst my hair doesn’t have the thickness of my childhood years, it is relatively strong and healthy. I have even been persuaded to dye it a little, always being careful for fear of the dreaded fallout.

Two years ago, I cut my hair as short as I dared, into a chin-length bob that could just about be tied back for work. Underneath that bob was a V-shaped undercut, an affectation I have maintained ever since, despite my advancing years, whilst the rest of my hair has been growing back down towards the almost-waist length I’d had previously.

Of course, with Covid came scarcity of haircuts plus the inability to afford more than box dye to change the colour. Lockdown found me testing the philosophy that washing my hair less often would improve its fullness and condition (it did) and also switching to solid shampoo and conditioner. I haven’t worried about my hair for a while but, checking the extent of my undyed roots in the mirror a few days ago, I did notice that I have developed a few more grey hairs.

I was delighted.

This might seem strange, coming from someone who has just admitted to being quite precious about her hair, but I am genuinely thrilled. I can’t wait to have the silver hair that I am clearly one day going to have – and to be able to dye it all the wacky colours that are currently impossible for me to contemplate without also facing the need to strip my hair of its natural, copper-threaded, dark brown. Plus, I have long been irritated by the question: what do you do to look so young (nothing that I am aware of) and by being left embarrassed and awkward when others have been openly horrified (for reasons I cannot fathom) to discover that I am significantly older than I look. I want my silver hair. I am going to own it!

More than that, though…

To me, these glimmers of transformation in my hair are a gift and a privilege. It is always true to say that age is a blessing that is denied to many but at no other time in my life has this been more true. It will be a while yet before I can swish my silver locks but that’s exactly what I plan to do, someday. I plan to live long enough for my hair to completely metamorphose and I plan to enjoy every day between now and then.

For so much of my life, I have found myself defined by my relationship to others: daughter, sister, cousin, wife, mother, aunt. And I am not complaining; indeed, I hope to add ‘grandmother’ to that list… as soon as my beloved offspring co-operate! But as I enter my middle years (planning to reach 102 seems reasonable to me) I am increasingly able to finally be just myself. I am excited to gradually meet this new version of me; this variation on my theme that brings together all that I have lived, learned, loved and lost.

She’s going to have wicked hair…

Fit for Purpose

Image by Susann Mielke from Pixabay

This is an expanded version of something I posted on Facebook earlier today.

Over the summer, I got myself into a really good routine. I was running in the mornings (after first walking the dog); walking in the afternoons; even managing to fit in a bit of kettlebell-lifting. I was also reading a lot, keeping on top of my housework and, throughout it all, listening to lots of my favourite music – which inevitably meant I was also doing a fair bit of singing.

Uppermost in my mind was the fact that, when I returned to work, it would be as a steward no longer confined to one fairly small portion of the site. I needed to be ready to cover long distances walking during my days at work. I needed to be fit for purpose.

I think I always knew I wasn’t going back, deep down inside. But the pretence enabled me to stay upbeat and positive, and to do things that kept me both sane and healthy.

And then I could pretend no longer and it all fell apart.

Despite vowing – to myself and others – that I would never again stop running… I stopped running. I gave up swinging a kettlebell. I stopped going for walks. At one point, even the dog wasn’t getting out as much as he should.

The constant pouring rain certainly didn’t help – everything was so bleak and dreary and wet! But the real problem was that I had lost my motivation because I had lost my sense of purpose.

Today, I took steps – literally – to correct that. I walked 5.61 miles – down to the small patch of forest that I love, and back – with music blaring in my ears and steadfastly ignoring the rising panic that I initially felt. The panic didn’t last long.

Long before I was diagnosed with the brain condition that causes it, I was experiencing often overwhelming anxiety and debilitating panic attacks. I learned to deal with them; to soldier on regardless and, for the most part, to successfully conceal from others what I was going through. There have been a number of times that I have started a presentation at work in a state of total calamity, knowing that the task ahead of me would prove soothing and would soon take me out of myself. The best antidote to worry I have ever found is simply to keep going.

Which is exactly what I ought to have done as August came to a close – but didn’t.

I’ve been paying the price for that: panic attacks so bad I’ve almost fainted; tears constantly threatening; and a feeling of such devastating loneliness that I couldn’t see much point in trying to do anything.

Two anchors have made a difference – the dog (who needs me) and the friend (who will recognise herself when she reads this but who shall remain anonymous) who has been taking me out for weekly (sometimes twice weekly) walks in various beautiful areas around me that I don’t yet know. And who has listened to me yammering on! (The dog does this too but, to be fair, he has no choice in the matter!)

But for these two characters in the story of my current circumstances, I probably wouldn’t have left my house at all over the last eight weeks except for the odd (terrifying) supermarket trip that I have had to do. As the Covid numbers have risen, and our government has done nothing, I have become exponentially more afraid of the outside world. I have been either accompanied, under cover of darkness, or both, almost every time I have set out from my front door.

This is no way to live, and I can’t live like this. With my NaNoWriMo efforts giving me a much-needed psychological boost and a new purpose to get behind, I know that the time has come to start reclaiming all the things that matter to me as much as writing does – reading, running, music, fresh air and freedom. I have to invent my own purpose and make sure that I am fit for it.

So I shall.

Today, I went for a walk.

I will be doing it again tomorrow.

Home Alone

A few days ago, my Dad came to help me fix my front door.

By which I mean: he fixed it for me. And we had the same discussion that we always have.

I am useless at DIY. Give me a plain wall and a tin of paint and you can guarantee that I will mess it up somehow. My creativity lies in other directions and I am the least technically-minded person I know. My Dad is always wanting to teach me how to do certain things and my response is always the same – we can try but it’s likely to be a disaster.

But my father worries about a time when he is no longer available to help me. He is seventy-five (but fit and well) and I understand his concerns, especially since I have them myself with regard to my own children (I am not fit and well and there’s a deadly disease sweeping the nation).

His concerns, however, betray a deeper issue, one that has existed throughout my life. He knows that, if he can’t help me, I don’t have anyone else who will. (And the assumption is that I never shall.)

This is not strictly true – I do have friends and I am sure that one day I will have workmates once more, too. I have capable adult children, including the son who currently lives with me. My neighbours are fabulous. And, whilst at this point I lack the funds to pay someone to do necessary work around my house, I am hopeful that this will not always be the case. In the event of an absolute emergency, I have an unused credit card that I could deploy.

I just don’t have – nor am I ever likely to have – a partner.

The immediate reaction of most people when you say ‘I am never going to meet someone‘ is to respond with something along the lines of: ‘Of course you will, everybody does eventually, don’t be silly.

Yet I have not, so far, ever met anyone who felt that way about me. (Which seems an odd thing for a divorcee to say but that’s a whole other story.) And I don’t believe I ever will.

The reasons behind this are complex (and connected to my childhood and to the aforementioned disastrous marriage) but they are also sound and genuine. Additionally, I struggle with lots of difficulties thanks to my poor health and it would be a huge ask to expect another person to navigate those turbulent waters with me. My illness has a profound impact on my appearance, which creates a further stumbling block in our image-obsessed society. And then we come back to that awful global pandemic which means that, for now and for the foreseeable future, I can’t even spend time with my friends, let alone get close to anyone new.

Oh, and let’s not forget my age. I am almost fifty-one. If I haven’t met anyone yet, it certainly isn’t especially plausible going forward.

There are worse things to be than single in your fifties. Every day, I am thankful for my space and my autonomy. I am grateful for the calm in my life. I am glad that I have been able to come to terms with a lot of my past (which I continue to do with the help of a specialist counsellor). I am at ease facing the future alone.

If this is how it has to be – so be it.

Paradoxically, this probably means that I am also, finally, in the right frame of mind to form a new relationship, if that were at all possible. I don’t think I am able to completely rule it out; that pesky human desire to be connected lurks around and hits me unexpectedly from time-to-time. I’m pretty certain it isn’t going to happen and I prefer to run my life on that basis – false hope is a painful, vicious, clawing thing. I do raise my head above the dating parapet on rare occasions – only to be shot down with prejudice, but such is (my) life.

Let’s not forget Storm, though. For now, at least, my canine companion means that I am never home alone.

And I am not afraid of a time when I will be.

Safe Place

I cannot sleep.

Last night came the long-awaited announcement from the government that England would – finally! – be going into lockdown. But schools, colleges and universities are to remain open.

In the interests of balance, I will say that I know that opinion on this is divided. Children are perceived as suffering less from the virus and keeping education functioning is seen as important. What’s being forgotten is the fact that so very many of these children – mine included – will go home from school into households with one or more elderly and/or vulnerable members.

We are not yet clear on the long-term effects of Covid-19; on the underlying reasons why it affects people so vastly differently; or on how we might detect asymptomatic spreaders of the disease. It seems absolute lunacy to me to keep sending kids out to mingle in huge numbers, all the while protesting that massive year groups are in fact, restricted bubbles. What utter nonsense – and we’re supposed to accept this idiocy? And the teachers – do we care about them? It seems not; their safety didn’t even get a mention.

For me, though, this news is devastating. My son is eighteen and much of his course is practical – you can’t learn to fix cars in a classroom. A degree of blended learning is feasible, but he knows he lacks the motivation to work unsupervised at home – he relies on the camaraderie of his fellow students. He doesn’t want to stay at home all the time and I can neither blame him nor make him. I understand that he would feel excluded and I cannot – I just can’t – ask him to pause his already-delayed education any further. He lost a lot of ground due to his struggles at school and after we relocated; to put him further behind would be completely unfair.

But if everybody had to stay at home? That would be different. The playing field would be even.

Despite an almost-immediate outcry that schools should close, my son will be heading into college as usual tomorrow, and I fear that it is only a question of time before he contracts coronavirus. Despite our best efforts to keep apart, we live in a tiny house, and I have no doubt that if he succumbs so, inevitably, will I. I will likely have to look after him if he does become ill and I don’t have any PPE beyond a cloth mask.

It’s not looking good for us.

I am sorely tempted to evacuate myself back to the empty ex-marital home that is currently up for sale in Wales. There is no cooker, so the expense of living on ready meals and takeaways would be prohibitive but I could properly isolate in a safe space. My son is capable enough to run his own life for a few weeks (unless he gets ill, of course).

And yet, I don’t feel that I can or should do that. I am already isolated (and lonely) enough and the strain of having so very little human contact is starting to show. What really needs to happen is for our government to step up and admit that it is wrong; that it has been consistently wrong this whole time; that people have died who should not have died, entirely because of this ineptitude. Boris and his cronies need to finally get it right.

But they won’t, will they? Protecting lives like mine isn’t on the agenda. I’ve experienced a fair amount of prejudice in my life so far, being one of the many whose illness isn’t glaringly obvious, but this is just insane. Nowhere, in anything that the government has said, is there any concern for the vulnerable. We have been forgotten. ‘We’re not asking you to shield,’ Boris declared, oblivious to the fact that we want to shield and we want to be given the support to do so.

What he really meant was that he can’t be arsed with the hassle of trying to keep us safe.

We’re just not worth it.

Tricky Times

Image by Dariusz Sankowski from Pixabay

Twelve years ago, at this time, I was not doing so well.

I’d had a third round (out of four, so far) of major surgery and I wasn’t recovering. What we know now – but didn’t know then – was that my pituitary condition was to blame for this (plus the internal damage done by a badly-positioned and violently-removed wound drain).

Suffice it to say… I was having a really bad time.

I’d given up my job before having the operation and then found another one that I just wasn’t well enough to do. I had to leave before I’d barely begun… although, looking back, that wasn’t really the disaster it felt like at the time. I was stuck at home, unable to see anyone, and with no-one available to come and see me. I had no money, I had no purpose, I had no freedom. And everything hurt.

Things are much the same now, although for different reasons. The pituitary disease and the post-surgical complications are still giving me trouble, but it is Covid-19 that has operated to isolate me, rather than a controlling partner. And, yes, I’ve lost my job, but I am still managing to maintain a sense of purpose and I haven’t given up on going back to that job someday.

Still, these are tricky times.

So, casting an eye back over all the other tricky times of my life, I have decided to do now what I first did twelve years ago.

I’m going to write a novel.

I first attempted NaNoWriMo in 2008, spurred on by my eldest daughter who challenged me do it. I was already very much a writer but I never thought of myself as an author. I didn’t think I could write a whole novel – I mean, plot strands and character details and all those many thousands of words…

Turns out, my daughter knew me better than I did. Not only did I manage to create the basic plot of a functioning story but I really, thoroughly enjoyed doing it. That novel was later expanded to a far-too-long 110,000 words but it was clever and I am proud of it. I may yet return to it someday and rewrite the whole thing.

Through NaNoWriMo, I learned that I could sit down to write and the words would just flow. I found that each chapter came out of nowhere, as if I were channeling someone else’s story rather than telling one of my own creation. Sometimes, even I didn’t really know what was going to happen next but, as I sat at the computer, still the words came to me.

I did not expect to find myself lost in the world I was creating, in much the same way that narrative transportation takes me when I read. But that’s how it happened – and how it has happened again no less than six further times (plus a load more unfinished projects that I abandoned for one reason or another).

I gained so much confidence from writing my novels – and so much joy. I have even managed to write two books out of a trilogy (even more arcs and characters and words to keep straight) and self-published them. I will soon finish the third, but NaNoWriMo is supposed to be about writing a 50,000+ word first draft in thirty days and that means starting from scratch. I have the idea and the basic plot inside my head; the notebook is ready to go for when more details occur to me at random times of the day (which they will); my main character has a name.

This will be the fourth NaNoWriMo that I have taken part in but my process for writing a novel when it isn’t November is actually pretty much the same. I am, nevertheless, unfeasibly excited to be doing this once more and I can’t wait to find out what will happen in this story. When reality isn’t so great, I have ever been one to hide in unreality, whether by reading or by writing. I take refuge in books – my own and other peoples’.

This November, I will be living in the far future, on a spaceship, and ‘Covid’ will not be in my vocabulary.

Miscalculated

Image by kristamonique from Pixabay

Just like every snowflake, every job I have had has been a little bit different from every other. I have often been known to refer to my CV as being somewhat like a patchwork quilt.

I’ve worked for a bank; for a financial services comparison website (yes, one of the well-known ones); in a garage (two, actually); for a ferry company; running a family plumbing and heating business; as a teacher; as a science communicator (in two very different locations)… And, of course, I have worked for myself, as a writer and author.

Underpinning everything that I have ever done are my communication skills – writing and speaking – and, probably, my empathy.

I love to write but I miss speaking. I found my way into science communication belatedly and by accident, but I loved it from the word go and I miss my job every single day.

It would seem that I miscalculated just how hard it would be to leave. It has truly broken my heart. I volunteered for redundancy, knowing that I would not be able, safely, to do the redefined job for my group of employees. I did not want to apply for the new role, succeed, and then feel obliged to bail out – that would have meant at least one colleague thinking that they had to leave before discovering that, in fact, I’d reneged and they would be able to stay. It would not have been fair and thus I took the decision at the last possible stage I could decently do so. And I don’t regret that – it was the right thing to do, for many reasons.

I am fortunate in having a skill set that I can fall back on and in being in a position from which I can navigate the path ahead with support from my family. But nothing can replace the camaraderie, purpose, social interaction and reward that I surrendered when I left my job. I have been minimising the impact that my departure has had on me. I underestimated what I stood to lose.

The isolation is a horrible thing, although ameliorated somewhat by my rediscovery of Twitter. For more than two years, my social life has revolved around my job and now it has vanished. But a social life is not possible for me now anyway – the pandemic has seen to that – so I must try to place the sense of loss I feel into context.

I very much hope that I will be able to go back to my old job someday. In the meantime, however, I need to step up my efforts to secure regular freelance work and make certain that I am never again dependent upon one income stream alone. I had always intended to bolster my low-paid (if you work for a charity, this is the norm) employment with some more lucrative self-employment but I loved my job so much that it seemed superfluous to try; I was getting by.

Now, though, the choice has been removed and that’s actually a good thing. I may miss my job, but I have also missed my writing. It is good to be here and, as NaNoWriMo approaches, offering me a chance to pitch myself headlong back into fiction writing once more, I am grateful to be doing this and glad that I can.

One day, I will tell my grandchildren about 2020 and pandemic life. I plan to be able to tell them a tale of optimism, grace, hope and hard work, amongst some of the most surreal circumstances I never thought I would encounter.

I am writing my own story.

Twilight Zone

I have spent much of today alternating between agitated anxiety and horrified terror.

As Covid-19 cases surge exponentially, my son still has a week left at college before the half-term break and I have been trying to understand why this college – and schools and colleges across the UK – is not taking the step of insisting that masks are worn in the classroom. It is such a simple measure and hardly likely to be an issue for 16+ young adults perfectly capable of understanding that wearing a mask helps to protect their friends, their families, their friends’ families and, of course, their teachers. And, to a lesser extent, the students themselves.

So why isn’t it being mandated?

The party line is that wearing masks interferes with education and learning but this is patently ridiculous. And no clear answer was given to me by the college as to why they would not adopt a mask-wearing policy. I am hoping to get a clearer response at some point next week as discussions continue. In the meantime, I have offered my assistance (obviously not in person) in raising awareness of the apparently-forgotten, previously shielded, vulnerable and elderly.

I’m not inclined towards either hysteria or conspiracy theorism but, I have to wonder, is it possible that the government is yet pursuing some sort of back-door herd immunity plan? Could it really be that the Tory party is unabashed at the prospect of such a huge loss of life in the name of pretended economic stability? I feel as if I have entered the Twilight Zone, where nothing is at it seems and the twist in the tale is yet to be revealed. This feels surreal – and scary.

And, of course, we also have the quietly looming debacle that is our final withdrawal from the EU. I was reminded today that two of the medications I rely upon are amongst those threatened by a no-deal Brexit (which now appears to be imminent). One of those drugs enables me to have a decent quality of life. The other, technically, keeps me alive, although I am not completely clear as to exactly what would happen if I were to be denied it. I would eventually fall into a coma but how long this process would take is unquantifiable. Perhaps I would not actually die from a lack of it; perhaps I would just wish that I could.

I try not to worry. I try to keep on with my practical measures and to maintain a positive, optimistic outlook. I am eternally grateful for the fortuitous circumstances that, for now at least, mean that I can work from home, limit any unnecessary egress from my house, and keep myself as safe as possible.

But I do not understand. My life is on hold and my future is uncertain and I can live with that… but how do we get out of this when those charged with our safety and our recovery seem determined to wreck any hope of either? Those once urged to shield are now forgotten; schools must remain open no matter what the cost; the NHS staff I follow on Twitter seem exhausted and, in some cases, quite distressed. And the very real prospect of our healthcare system buckling under the pressure is now right in front of us, with one death being reported yesterday of a cancer sufferer whose chemotherapy was ‘paused’ due to Covid.

I don’t pretend to know the answers. I only feel that we surely must be able, as a country, to do better than this.

Almost anything would be better than this.

Note: I have linked to Euro news in preference to using the equivalent Daily Mail article. Because I can’t; I just can’t.

Practical Measures

I’m not sure that I would ever want to be able to see the future. But a bit of guidance right now would certainly be helpful. If only there were a way to plot a safe path through the upcoming months so as to be sure of surviving Covid-19 and all its disastrous consequences.

Of course, there isn’t but, rather than worry ceaselessly about myself and my family, I’ve been doing a little bit of research, building on things I already knew, and looking for ways in which we can best prepare ourselves for the worst-case scenario – exposure to, and possibly contraction of, the virus.

Leaving aside the question of viral load, the simple plan is to make certain that we are as immunologically strong as we can be and so, this morning, I have been asking my family to start (or continue, in come cases) taking vitamin D (with vitamin K2 to aid its absorption) and vitamin C, along with some zinc. Simple stuff, and not especially expensive but, from what I have been reading, likely to help. Along with exercise, intermittent fasting and the nurturing of one’s microbiome.

I do not pretend to be any kind of expert. I just read a lot and these things seem to make sense to me. Not everyone might agree that the fasting idea is a good one but I do it naturally anyway and thus intend to continue.

As for the human microbiome, this is another favourite topic of mine; something that I loved to talk about when doing my old job. But it’s not a subject I can do justice to in a blog post – although I do have a fair few reading recommendations if anyone is interested (drop me a comment, if so).

At this point in time, I cannot claim to be doing what I ought to be doing on the exercise front. I’ve been generally unwell; pain and swelling preventing me from being as active as I would like. Whilst still not entirely sedentary, I am not doing enough and need to correct that. And I shall.

These are all practical measures that I can take to feel better – not in the physical sense, really, but emotionally. I need to know that I have done everything that I can to be prepared for the possibility that, despite my precautions, I will catch Covid-19. Because, underlying health condition and obesity notwithstanding, I have no intention of letting it get the better of me. Similarly, my concerns for my children and the rest of my family can be allayed by the knowledge that (a) I have shared with them all that I have learned and (b) they too are doing all that they can. There are no certainties here – just the option to do what we are able to do and leave the rest to fate.

The fact that I find taking pragmatic action to be comforting is something I was recently explaining to the vice-principal at my son’s college. I’d gotten in touch to ask if they would consider protecting the previously-shielded cohort of parents of their students by asking all students to wear masks in class. My query did not result in a change of policy but, as I said at the time, the fact that I had made the suggestion and asked them to consider it was, in and of itself, a comfort. That they responded with courtesy and due consideration helped all the more.

I cannot deny that I am afraid – for myself but more for my children. Adults they may be, but without me they don’t have a parent that they can reliably turn to. And losing one of them is a concept that my brain simply will not entertain. Occupying my time with practical measures is far better for me than surrendering to worry and fear.

The worry and fear remain, even so.

Stargazing

Being the owner of an extremely reactive dog, I have long been in the habit of walking him (mostly) very early in the morning. In the spring and summer, this means at dawn. In autumn and winter, however, we are out in the dark.

This is my favourite time of year. I much prefer the cooler temperatures. The air outside this morning was cold and crisp; the sky was perfectly clear. I spotted Venus hanging out by the Moon, and then Mars, further along the elliptic, betrayed by its near-imperceptible orange glow. Multitudes of stars punctuated the darkness, leaving me in awe, as I always am, at the sheer enormity of creation.

Astrophysics was one of my favourite subjects to talk about when I was working. I had a Christmas special called ‘The Brightest Star in the Sky’ but also talked a lot about planetary requirements for life, and about stellar classification, too. A previous science communicator role enabled me to use a portable planetarium (a stardome) to talk about the individual planets and some of the constellations. I loved that – going on a virtual tour of the solar system and beyond.

It is sad, I think, that I have never seen the Milky Way. For all that this morning’s sky was clear of cloud, light pollution meant that I could not see the arm of our spiral galaxy where I ought to have been able to. I only knew it was there thanks to my StarWalk app. Even so, the sense of grandeur and majesty remained, stopping me in my tracks every so often.

The universe is so vast. We are so small. And yet, each and every one of us matters.

I cannot be alone in my growing horror at the events unfolding around us; the lives lost; the compassion often lacking. I am appalled, outraged, anxious and, occasionally, defeated. I am not religious, but when I gaze up into the sky at the myriad stars and the depthless blackness, I have to wonder: what is our purpose here? Why is this happening?

Although I am not of the opinion that our planet must be the only one in this extraordinary universe to harbour life, the incredibly balanced, interdependent complexity of life on Earth does lend itself to the suggestion that there is some underpinning design to it all. I am not surprised that we created religions and invented gods to help us explain it all. It makes my head hurt to contemplate it. If indeed we are alone in creation and at the mercy of a capricious higher being, then – it seems to me – that should inspire us to take even greater care of our planet and ourselves.

Yet, here we are.

Stargazing with the dog this morning was one of many pauses in ‘normal time’ that I have experienced as the global crisis around us all has deepened. During these enchanting suspensions from reality, I appreciate being safe in the moment, along with my constant companion, wandering and witnessing it all, knowing that my family too is getting through this just as I am, moment-by-moment, one day at a time. I recognise that all any of us can do is adjust to the conditions around us and manage them as best we can, taking joy in the small, precious, peculiar things as we go.

I consider the vastness of the universe and I have to believe that, somewhere out there, there is hope.

Blessings

Image

Storm is sleeping.

He’s curled up on the sofa, having pulled the poncho I was wearing yesterday (to keep warm) underneath himself, and he is snoozing contendedly.

Sitting next to him, I am counting my blessings, of which he is one of the greatest. Because, as the world around me gets crazier by the day, I am nevertheless feeling fortunate and content.

On the face of it, it might seem that I fared badly at the hands of this pandemic. I’ve lost my job; haven’t yet managed to properly establish my reinstated freelance business;  lost months of my life to shielding; am separated from most of my children… and so on.

I’ve read stories online of those in the shielded category having no choice but to return to work and I am grateful that I was able to navigate a path that takes me forward (I hope) without putting me in danger. The weirdest series of coincidences led me to the decision to become freelance once more – a move I never thought I would make again yet am enjoying rather more than I thought I would. My income may be precariously limited – but I am managing and I am as safe as it possible for me to be under the current circumstances, with my son back at college and no provision for ongoing shielding. I am a little worried that I will have no choice but to return to work outside of my home if, over the next six months, I cannot make my business viable – but there is time yet and I am full of optimism that I can and will succeed with it.

Being alone almost all of the time is, of course, lonely – but I have my dog and I have my books. I have rejoined Twitter and been involved in many interesting and supportive conversations there, and I have regular online contact with many friends and with my family.

My health isn’t great at the moment and the pandemic means that there is no route for me to obtain the second opinion that it was agreed I should have on my medical condition – but my GP is in regular contact, monitoring me by phone every couple of weeks. And I know – from past, very unpleasant, experience – that it could be so much worse.

Most significantly of all, no-one amongst my friends and family has been seriously afflicted by Covid. One part of my family did experience what was believed to be the novel coronavirus (they were not tested) back in April but came through the experience with neither any need for medical care nor any long-term effects. My heart goes out to anyone who cannot say the same.

All things considered, I am doing pretty well and I am grateful for that.

I am, of course, deliberately looking on the bright side. It’s true that I am often terrified and am experiencing profound anxiety every time I try to leave the house. Navigating my prescription collection in Boots the other day, I rejoiced at accomplishing the task without having an outright panic attack – result!

It isn’t easy, coping with all of this. But it is eminently doable. I don’t give myself a hard time when some days don’t go well; when lethargy and fear get the better of me. I just acknowledge every task successfully completed and remind myself constantly that this will not – cannot – last forever.

The thing is, I have had a lot of help to get through this, from the friends who brought me shopping when I was shielding; to the fact that I qualified to be furloughed for five months; to the diligence of my GP. I am very lucky, even when it doesn’t feel that way, and I want to make the most of that good fortune and do the best that I can to ensure that the help I have been given is not wasted. For others, it is so much harder and, if I can’t do anything to help them, the least that I can do is make the best of my own lot.

So that’s what I’m trying to do.