Monday, 18 May 2020

Week Nine - Any End In Sight?

I've definitely been trying to focus on One Nice Thing over the last week and it's kinda helped to some degree.  I had a few photos printed up as part of an early... *ahem*'th birthday present and they looked exactly as I'd hoped.  It'll be nice to have those memories on show if I get round to hanging them within the next five years.

Dubrovnik from the city walls

A view of Ambleside in the Lake District

I'm also squarely looking forward to a week off at the end of this week and spending some time not thinking about email and Zoom.  If the weather holds, we've cracked it.

I also managed to have a diabetes clinic appointment over the phone which was a lot less stressful than trying to find somewhere to park at the hospital and be staring at the walls of the waiting room forever.  Nothing too major to report - still work to do to stave off more hypoglycaemia episodes but as I've said in one of these blogs before - I feel like I'm taking the rough with the smooth when it comes to diabetes right now.

My consultant talked about pump upgrades again and is desperate for me to switch to the Tandem t slim pump and basically set myself up with a closed loop system of sorts that would probably reduce the number of lows.  I'd have to give up my funded Libre and then totally self-fund a Dexcom G6 (for about £2500 a year).  I'm going to take some time to think about it properly - it's a lot of money, but potentially a big difference in quality of life.  If you're using it all together and have any insight, I'd love to hear about it.

This flip side of this week's coin is just the relentlessness of everything.  Obviously this situation is tough for everyone in different ways.  I know I've felt it mentally - some days more than others and some weeks more than others as well.

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A calendar image that lined up to today's date (if not day) was a happy coincidence

Having something to aim for makes a big difference and I think that's what I certainly feel is lacking.  Most of the time I don't feel too put out by the restrictions - in fact I think it's lead to some positive changes overall that I really want to hold on to.

But there are times when being locked in that cycle of shower, eight hours of video calls, cook dinner, load/unload the dishwasher, TV, bed feels a bit like Dr Strange battling Dormammu in the time loop (yes we've watched all the MCU films).

There are definitely days where I question the futility of that - if all I'm working towards is more of the same, then is there any point in that effort?  Not in a harmful way I should probably add.  I've always tried to put as much of myself as possible into what I do and I don't feel like I want to pull back from that necessarily, but it's taking a toll right now.

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy

I think the trick here again is to focus on the short term 'ends' and the compress the horizon for everything.  It's all an adjustment for everyone and knowing that I don't always handle the internal aspects of things like this particularly well, I should be more conscious of how I approach it.

Bank holiday next Monday so will inevitably forget to post.

Stay safe x

Monday, 11 May 2020

Week Eight - One Nice Thing

At least I think it's week eight... I know lockdown officially began on March 23rd but I'd definitely been working at home for about a week and a half before that.

Some of the days do have that sense about them and at times it definitely feels like they're merging into an amorphous blob of stuff.  Some days fly by and then others seem to draw themselves out forever.  A three-day weekend definitely helped me reset to a large degree but there's something about this situation that's exhausting.  A couple of days with no alarm and no real need to do very much or even get beyond the garden feel like they've wiped me out.  I'm fairly sure it's down to the mental effort we're expending trying to keep on an even keel.

Most of this last week's diabetes problems have been about keeping out of the red and in the black which I will admit has felt a little relentless at times.  After some extensive research over the last few days, I think I'm close to publishing a paper confirming that bourbon biscuits have little to no effect on blood sugar whatsoever.  I am also implying that they therefore have no calories either...  It'll pass as it always does, but feeling like you're constantly scouring the kitchen cupboards for something to eat can be another layer on top of everything else you're trying to think about.

A couple of things sprang to mind this week.  Firstly that it's felt harder at times to maintain that 'deep breath, think before you speak' approach to communicating, whether that's at home or at work.  I think the current climate (sick of writing that) and how far we are into this way of living gets to us all at some point, and it's almost inevitable that some part of us will snap, however briefly.  It's also easy to have our head down thinking about our own situation, when the reality of it is that everyone has their own version of that too.  I'd like to think I've been generally conscious of that - what feels like 40 hours of video calls a week means you can't help but understand people's circumstances, but it's no bad thing to be more explicit about it in my thinking.

The other thing is really to think of One Nice Thing about the day and try and hold on to it.  After StressControl I tried to write three positive things down from each day before I went to bed as a reminder that the stress and anxiety was always balanced out by other things.  I've lowered the bar a fair bit for the time being, but hoping it continues to make some small difference.

After a couple of glorious days, the weather turned yesterday so we had some ultimate comfort food in meat and potato pie

This was the sunset on Thursday after my dad got taken to hospital (and thankfully discharged with antibiotics about 8 hours later)

Managed to order some Lego that's usually only available from one shop at Legoland in Denmark - they've made it available online due to COVID

It's still a massive set of ups and downs and it's the same for everyone I talk to as well.  In some sense, it's hard to take comfort from the fact that everyone is on this relentless roller coaster, but at the same time it's kinda reassuring that everyone can almost certainly relate to how you're feeling at any given moment, even if it remains largely unsaid.

Safe safe alert safe x

Monday, 4 May 2020

Week Seven - Ups and Downs

On their debut album 'Love, And Other Catastrophes" the aptly named Skint & Demoralised sang about major highs, manic lows and that's a little what this last week has felt like.

When it's been good, it's been really good.  When it's been bad, well... it's been bad.

Having diabetes has felt like a lot more of a job this last week as you'll see below.  Yesterday in particular ended up with me curled up, asleep on the sofa at about 3pm with a nice hypo headache.

I talked about distractions last week and that's still the name of the game right now.  A combination of things mean that I worked til 9:30pm - 10pm three days running (having stopped for dinner and half a film).  Normally I'd be cursing even the need to work after about 6pm, let alone actually doing it, but it felt strangely calm - almost relaxing - to have something to keep my find focused.  It also had the benefit of making me feel almost productive at some point too.

I talked a bit about managing the voices/thoughts last week too and that's still been very challenging at times, particularly when trying to switch off at night.  I'd taken to kind of half going to bed, but staying up til gone midnight some nights over the last few weeks just so I could exhaust myself.  The problem with that is that it's a great short-term fix but long term you end up asleep on the sofa on a Sunday afternoon.

And I think that's almost been a lot of lockdown in a nutshell - some of the short term difficulties can be managed, but I'm not sure I've figured out how to do it in a sustainable way that doesn't just create a different problem to solve another time.

Worth mentioning a few of the highlights as well just to remember the highs as well as the lows:

  1. Made Australian Crunch over the weekend - proper throwback to school dinner desserts and one of the best chocolate things going (Galaxy milk choc on top for best effect)
  2. Bought a new Xbox and played a lot of Lego Marvel Superheroes with Violet
  3. Managed to run 10km (with Violet on her bike) on Sunday - first time over that distance in a year, and awarded myself this medal from a virtual race

Finally, I know I've been really lucky to be able to call on a couple of close friends who have helped me be objective and rational (for me at least) and taken the edge of some of those manic times. I won't name names, but if you're reading this and it sounds like you, it probably is.  Thanks.

I guess the message is the same.  It's hard sometimes, and lockdown life makes it harder to manage and to escape.  One of Violet's favourite quotes is this from John Lennon.  I find it hard to believe in it sometimes and it almost feels a little but trite, but to hear a 10 year old say it every so often does give you some hope

Stay safe x

Monday, 27 April 2020

Week Six - Distraction

Another Monday and another week of largely remaining indoors.

It's felt a little.... more straightforward this week.  I'm loathe to say 'easier' because it's felt a little like peaks and troughs over the last few days.  A relatively quieter week at work has helped so that's something.

So far the sun's kept shining which I think is definitely a positive to cling on to.  I think a few days of rain (which looks forecast for this week) will make for a somewhat less manageable lockdown experience.

I've also tried to make a very conscious effort to look for distractions or hobbies to give me some focus.  Certainly something beyond staring at some game on my phone at least.

I've got round to listening to a podcast that I never thought I'd find time for.  It's called  Office Ladies and is an episode-by-episode behind the scenes rewatch of The Office - An American Workplace (scientifically the best TV comedy of all time).  At about an hour an episode it's a good start to a weekend morning and means I'm learning some new stuff about a show I could practically quote.  It also ties in nicely with my inspired decision to start and rewatch the whole thing from the beginning too.

The last few weeks I've got more and more into my newest middle-class hobby which is rock painting!  It all started when we found a couple on the ground near where we live while we were on our daily walk and spiraled quite quickly from there.  Historically I've never been someone you'd associate the words "artistic" or "patient" with but I'm certainly learning to harness the latter.  I've found it helps me stay calm and feel focused, and there's a bonus that it's a good family activity for us all.

This weekend's efforts

We've also reached that stage where we've had a family quiz over Zoom.  A top score of 9/20 suggests we all need to reset our expectations of what 'easy' is.

Of course it's not all sunshine and plain sailing, but I'm definitely at the stage where I know that's not going to be the norm, even if I'm a little way of mastering how to cope with it.

I think one of the hardest things I've found over the last week (and feels like something that's been a fairly constant background for me for a while) is finding it hard to stop myself following a thought to some fantastical and unlikely resolution.

It's hard to really describe what that's like without using examples I'd rather not share here, but it often comes down to something jumping into my head and staying there while I simultaneously try to forget about it entirely and completely fixate on it in the worst possible ways.

I found these resources from Mind which helped a little, and resonated well with some of the learning from StressControl last year.  I'm not convinced I'm 'hearing voices' and I don't think it necessarily strays into intrusive thoughts per se, and certainly not harmful intrusive thoughts.  It's more that I find it hard to not fixate on something once I start.

And so that's where distractions come in.  For me, right now it's a balance between distracting myself with new things that I'm enjoying and also learning to manage and try to de-escalate the stress and anxiety when distraction doesn't work.  It's a learning curve that feels a little steeper because of the situation we find ourselves in right now, and ultimately I think it comes down to celebrating the good days and stopping the bad days from bringing you too far down.

Stay safe x

Monday, 20 April 2020

Weeks Four and Five - Get Back on Track

I skipped last week.  Partly because it was Easter Monday and partly because it was the first lie in past 9am I'd had in years and I let the day get away from me a little.

I think it's fair to say my general wellbeing has deteriorated over the last couple of weeks - I'd forgotten how easy it is to let everything get out of control if you don't keep at least one eye on it.  At times like these it feels much harder to be conscious of it because it isn't one single thing - it's everything that you need to be mindful of.  As my friend Taylor would say, it's kinda like death by a thousand cuts.

So work has definitely felt tough - we've got a big opportunity to make significant change right now in the wake of coronavirus and that's genuinely exciting.  It's also genuinely exhausting and the lack of variety that a constant stream of teleconferences presents is really challenging.

I also find it hard to learn from my past experiences... just because 18 meetings in two days is possible on paper, doesn't mean it's a good idea.  One of my learnings for all of life is to feel OK saying 'no' to people.  It's definitely hard when you need to do things at pace, but I know I can't work at that level relentlessly so something will have to change.

Whilst diabetes and me haven't ever been best friends, the last couple of weeks have tested our relationship a little more than usual.  You'd think being at home would allow you to control for all those external factors like early starts and dashing for trains, but my levels have been on as much of a roller coaster as my mental health, and of course there's an intrinsic link between the two.

Being cooped up has definitely reached that point where I've felt a bit cabin feverish.  This is the bit I'm maybe most frustrated about because it felt inevitable that this would take it's toll and I feel like I've idly watched it creep up and then run right past me and now I'm playing catch up.

I'm sure I'm not alone in realising how much difference my weekly routine makes to my general positivity.  Catching up with friends at Hillsborough, bacon butty from the cafe once a week, seeing people at ballet while Violet dances.... even the freedom that walking round ASDA gave me feels hugely important right now and I'm starting to miss it a lot.

I've been out every day and that's definitely a highlight and I'll keep doing it even in the pouring rain.  I've got back into cooking and baking with Violet in a fairly big way (despite feeling a little ashamed that it's taken a Hello Fresh delivery to remind me how much I love cooking).  I've also found a new family friendly middle class hobby in rock painting.  I'm definitely not the most creative or artistic person on the planet (or in my family...) but it's calming so I'll persist with it.  The meditation and breathing exercises I've got make a big difference too.  If you're after an introduction to those, Headspace are offering some free resources at the moment.

Keeping up with this blog and writing stuff down for myself is helping too.  I think it's about working out what sensible support mechanisms I can put in place for myself and my own sanity while this is all going on.  And remembering that I find some bits harder than others.  I still haven't found a way to talk kindly to myself, even after StressControl and CBT.  I'm better at calming myself sometimes, but this is the hardest part for me by some stretch so it just means I'll have to keep working at it and celebrate the small victories.

If you made it this far I hope you're staying safe and staying well.  The pic above is definitely tongue in cheek, but remember it's a marathon, not a sprint.

Take care x

Monday, 6 April 2020

Week Three - Practice What You Preach

Like most people, Fridays were the day I looked forward to the most - you know, back in the day where this endlessness didn't exist.

I'd walk Violet round to school, jump in the car and head out for a coffee with my wife before logging on a little later than usual.  Hectic diaries meant that Friday mornings were usually the only chance we both had an hour or so of free time so we'd make the most of it.  I used to have very few meetings so could catch up on all my work and head into the weekend relatively relaxed and caught up.

Now every day has a pretty consistent feel about it, with the remnants of my old regular meetings being the only reminder about the old 'structure' that life used to have.

Instead of looking forward to Fridays, I honestly feel like I'm just trying to survive them.  The last couple of weeks it's felt like I've shut my laptop down at 5pm (if I'm lucky) and I'm broken.

My job means I need to be there for a pretty large group of people who are all going through the same things, but with different perspectives, challenges and fears.  Actually it's not that I need to be there, I want to be.  My team do a hell of a lot and I think feels as familial as it could be for 30 people spread right across the UK, and I want to support all those people who are absolutely my work family.

What I'm struggling with is the ability to follow the advice I give everyone else - certainly not to the same extent.

My wife asked me why, given I'm pretty well-practiced at worrying whether or not the sun will come up tomorrow, am I being pretty laid back about this whole end-of-the-world-global-pandemic situation?

Stress Control and CBT definitely helped to some degree.  I can only control the things I can control. I need to find the thing(s) that drive that worry and be objective about them.  I need to rationally see what's going on around me rather than live life through some anxiety-fuelled lens of madness (this one is still hard sometimes). 

But that's not always how I feel.  Friday afternoon usually has me at that point where my chest aches... not physically, but that feeling you* get when you feel like you've been tense for a week and have only just realised it.

*I say 'you' - could just be me...

I know it's not possible to stick to the same routine I had 8 weeks ago, and I've started making changes.  A 10 minute walk around the block when I can manage it is a big part of the day, as is sticking on some calming music or a 10 minute meditation on my phone.  It's hard to explain the difference some deep breathing can actually make.

What I need to get better at is remembering this is a long haul.  Cramming my diary with meeting after meeting might give the illusion of productivity or accomplishment, but I don't think the cost is always worth the payoff.  I'm getting better at skipping out on those things I think don't need me and gradually getting better at making time for myself - even just to get up from my desk and sit on the sofa in my favourite corner for a few minutes.

So I need to practice more of what I preach.  Always easier to be objective for other people and I need to give more of that to myself.

If you got this far - thanks.  Hope you're managing well too.

Stay safe x

Monday, 30 March 2020

Week Two - A New Normal...ish

So that's the end of week two (though you could tell me it's month two and I'm not sure I'd argue with you).

It's been another week of adjustments.  Like many people, I'm now running a school timetable five days a week and it's instantly made me realise how hard being a teacher must really be. 

I think we did a passable job of it this week.  We decided that even trying to replicate a school timetable (or have all the same stuff every day) was impossible.  It's anchored around some of the amazing online stuff that's cropped up (PE with Joe Wicks on YouTube and English Live! with Holly on Facebook) but there's a lot of flex around our diaries so we can 'teach' a bit and put some variety in alongside Maths, English and Reading.

It definitely felt like a long week at work - I was emotionally exhausted by 5pm on Friday.  It's hard to work out how best to pace yourself when working, sleeping and living all really take place in the same four walls, but I'll get there with time.

I've been out for my state-sanctioned walk every day (even fitting in some Plastic Detectives with Violet a couple of times - full back catalogue to be uploaded), and that feeling of fresh air (and even some sunshine) can't be over-estimated right now.  I even managed a 'run' on Sunday - now seems as good a time as any to try and get back into it, however slowly.

What's struck me is how quickly behaviours have changed when you go outside.  On the pavements everyone moves out to the edges, even stepping into the road to keep a safe distance.  Walking down the gennel near our house, people wait at the end or press themselves tightly up to the fence to let someone pass.  We're actively thanking people for keeping away from us which feels like a big behaviour change in a fortnight.

I've kept away from the news pretty well over the last week.  I've stopped watching the daily briefings live and just pick up the main points afterwards.  I've also decided it's no good to think about how this plays out in the long term and really just try and do a day at a time.  Estimates for how long some elements of our current lives could continue vary a lot and I don't see the point in trying to dwell on something so uncertain.  Last year's Stress Control has evidently been good for something!

Finally, it was good to see the nationwide reaction in support of the NHS this week.  I've got friends and family working there, all balancing the same challenges the rest of us are, but alongside the daily work to care for people.

Until next week.... stay safe, wash your hands