Category Archives: Healthy & Happy

Life in Lockdown

It’s March 2021. We’re approaching the point where this time last year, the UK went into its first lockdown. It feels like a good moment to reflect on what’s happened this last year, and what might happen in the next few months.

For the first time in a long time, I feel hope as well as sadness. My partner had his Covid vaccination yesterday and I hope that I will get mine in the next couple of weeks. My daughter had hers several weeks ago and my eldest son should get his by July. Hopefully the youngest will follow shortly after that.

Like almost everyone, I’ve found this latest lockdown a real struggle. January was worst but I managed to muddle through February staying fairly sane but with an awareness that I would easily slip into depression if I didn’t recognise and tackle things that were having an effect on my mood. By the beginning of March announcements from the UK government about when the lifting of restrictions might happen had been made, and a return to school was in sight for my children. That announcement helped a lot because one of the worst things for me has been seeing my youngest son (aged 16) struggling.

There’s a feeling that life could be back to some form of normal by the middle of June if the pace of the vaccination programme continues in the UK. Thanks to the NHS, that’s likely. My local GP surgery are vaccinating all day Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The appointments are timed precisely to the minute, and the whole operation seems to be running like clockwork. I was surprised at the amount of relief I felt when I got the text from my partner asking me to put the kettle on as he’d had his vaccine and was on his way home. It was quite an emotional moment. I know we’re not out of the woods yet, but thanks to a lot of very hard working people, we’re getting there.

When the first lockdown came into force, I became obsessed with growing things. I planted so many seeds and grew all sorts. I don’t have a greenhouse but I do have a south-facing porch and so I filled it with seed trays full of courgettes, tomatoes, salad, peppers and whatever else I could get my hands on. I planted more than ever before in my garden and that’s been useful as just last week I was picking home grown kale for a recipe.

This time around I’ve taken to doing a few online cookery classes with Waitrose Cookery School via Zoom just to do something a bit different. I’ve learnt how to cook some new dishes and picked up some great cooking tips. So I’ve been cooking from scratch a lot more as it’s increased my confidence in the kitchen. All the same, I can’t wait until the local cafes, bars and restaurants open and I can eat a meal I’ve not had to plan or shop for that’s been cooked by someone else.

The other thing I want to do when the restrictions ease is see my daughter and her fiancé without being worried about not being able to hug anyone, then I want to go to the cinema, and then book in a trip to London. It’s funny to realise how important going to the cinema is to me; it wasn’t until cinemas opened after the first lockdown and I immediately booked tickets for The Empire Strikes Back that I knew how much I had missed it.

Through this whole time I’ve continued to keep a diary almost every day, a habit I developed as part of self-reflective practice on the photography degree. There’s not a lot going on, but I can always find something to write about and I find I write more and more each day.

At the beginning of the lockdown last March, I had a lot of photography I knew I had to get on with and catch up on. I’d been to London in early February and that, as usual, had been inspirational and sparked a lot of new ideas. So the first couple of months were okay. I found I had a lot of ideas I wanted to pursue although there were some I couldn’t because of the restrictions. I had begun some work on religion and had several contacts lined up to photograph and interview as part of this. I got one interview done and then had to stop. I didn’t want to put myself or anyone else at risk for the sake of a photograph.

Some self-portrait work during the initial lockdown in 2020

I tried some self-portraiture with mixed success. There was a story I was trying to tell, but being stuck indoors I felt I couldn’t quite get there; the emotional aspect of the work was getting to me. There was a brief but not total respite during the summer in terms of lockdown, but it didn’t help with my creative block. I visited family in London, I saw my mum which always leaves me with mixed feelings, but as a family we didn’t feel comfortable travelling or staying overnight anywhere so we didn’t get any real time away from the house. We did get out to a few restaurants and shops. I felt safe going out to eat, but I didn’t like the experience of shopping anywhere – not being allowed to touch or pick things up before you buy them, not able to try make up, it all ended up being easier to just get online and so my bad Amazon habit has just got worse, even though for a few weeks I purposefully tried to always look for an alternative locally before I resorted to bolstering the earnings of Jeff Bezos.

My great-aunt Viola died from Covid aged 99. This portrait is from 2018.

My photography has reflected how I have felt the last year, that I’m living in some endless day in this house that is repeated over and over, and the only punctuation points are the days I walk the dog. These days represent the furthest I travel from the house during lockdown periods. There’s a bench at the furthest point on my walk, and some time during June 2020 I took to sitting at it whenever it was free, and taking a photograph from that point. That’s built up into a photographic project during lockdown which is a diary and probably hundreds of photographs all taken from the same point on the same camera for the same reason, usually on the same days. As the restrictions in England come to an end, I think it’s likely to coincide with the time this project really kicked off for me and I will have a years worth of work that perfectly represents how I have experienced life during this period. I’m going to start adding those images and extracts from the diary to my main photography site soon, and will probably put a shortened version of it on this site.

Happiness and Gratitude

If you’re feeling down a good idea is to write down at least three things you’re grateful for as a daily habit. I started to do this some time ago and quickly saw an improvement in my mood along with a more positive general mindset and a greater sense of self-worth.

I began this as a response to finding the Action for Happiness website, printing up their ‘Ten Keys to Happier Living’  poster and gradually trying to incorporate some of these ideas into my daily routine.

The American psychologist, Martin Seligman, conducted a study in gratitude. The essential essence of his findings were that grateful people are happier. You can read about this research in a book co-authored by my partner, This Book Has Feelings, if you’d like to find out more.

‘Positive emotions – like joy, gratitude, contentment, inspiration, and pride – are not just great at the time. Recent research shows that regularly experiencing them creates an ‘upward spiral’, helping to build our resources. So although we need to be realistic about life’s ups and downs, it helps to focus on the good aspects of any situation – the glass half full rather than the glass half empty.’

Action for Happiness Website

Sitting in the local leisure centre waiting for my children to finish their swimming lesson, I began to write my first small list of things I was grateful for. I saw a toddler in a red and white striped bathing suit enjoying the water. At that moment, my mood was lifted by the sight of the joy being experienced by a little girl I didn’t know. So that was one of my first entries, one of the first things I wrote down that I was thankful for. And having written it down means that I still remember it now, and the memory of it still makes me happy and I am still grateful for that moment.

Some days I do this I have to stop myself writing pages and pages of things I am grateful for. Other days I struggle to find more than being alive, my family, and having a roof over my head – but that’s a lot.

I think back on the very difficult times in my life and wonder if this advice is up to the challenges I faced when I was homeless, when I suffered a miscarriage, when my mum was put into a psychiatric hospital, when I was taken into local authority care as a child? But it is. Even in those times I had things to be grateful for, even if it was only the fact that I was alive and somehow managing to cope with horrible situations. And now I can look back and know that I am a person who has made it through; I am very grateful for that.

Taking time to notice all the things I have to be grateful for is the most effective step in improving my mood I’ve ever taken. It encourages a healthy way of looking at the world, because when you’re actively looking for the good things in your life more and more of them show up. So if you’re feeling down this is certainly worth a try.

If You Feel Depressed, Do This Now

Feel Better Now

My partner is a psychologist, so when I saw a talk with Martin Seligman and Richard Layard advertised I told him about it straight away. I watched about 2 minutes of it with him and I learnt something that might be useful to share on this blog, where part of what I write about is steps I’ve taken to improve my mood and increase happiness. 

Go and find someone who needs help, and help them.

Martin Seligman

I’m paraphrasing here, but Seligman said he’s often asked by people with depression what is the one thing they can dnow to feel better? He said he tells them to go and find someone who needs help, and help them. Altruism is the most powerful tool we have to keep ourselves happy.


(Featured image from the Wellcome Trust Credit ‘A depressive man standing by a country pond in the pouring rain – not helping his state of mind.’ Wood engraving, 1869.. Credit: Wellcome CollectionAttribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0))

Feeling Anxious? Try CBD Oil

Four Great Reasons For Using CBD Oil

I’ve been using CBD oil daily for a couple of years. It has had a lot of positive effects on both my mental and physical health that I’d like to share.

Pain Relief

1 I initially tried CBD oil because I’m allergic to Paracetamol and I began showing signs of an intolerance to Ibuprofen too. This was a nightmare for me, as I was left with no access to painkillers. So when I developed a flu that lasted for a couple of weeks that left me aching all over, I was so uncomfortable that I was willing to try almost anything. 

I visited several health stores and did some research online to find an alternative painkiller, and eventually someone suggested I try CBD. 

CBD is derived from cannabis. I’ve never tried cannabis as I’ve always avoided drugs of any sort because my mum has severe mental health issues. Having a mum who is psychotic, it’s always been important to me that I am in full control of my own mind. Plus my ex-step-father, who I disliked intensely, took drugs. But I looked into CBD and found that the psychoactive component is removed which gave me the reassurance I needed to give it a try. 

I initially took about four drops of oil and my assumption was that it probably wouldn’t work at all, but that if it did any effect would take several weeks of regular use, with a gradually increasing dose, to become apparent. I sat on the sofa feeling miserable and ached from head to toe.

An hour and a half later the pain had completely gone.

The instructions said to take the oil 2-3 times a day, and so I decided that I’d continue on a gradually increasing dose, twice a day for a week or two, until I was fully over the cold symptoms.

Anxiety

2 However, as well as the initial pain relief, I started to notice a lessening of the anxiety symptoms I’d been suffering. For a long time I’d been experiencing waves of anxiety and panic, seemingly for no reason, and was really struggling with it. I didn’t want to start taking the prescribed medication that my GP was recommending because of all the nasty side-effects. But within a week of using CBD regularly the anxiety had lessened considerably, and I’ve continued to make improvements ever since. 

I really can’t overstate the positive effect using the oil has had on my anxiety symptoms; they seem to have completely disappeared. It is difficult to put into words, but I feel I have some stability or boost that I needed or that the anxiety reaction is just not there in the way it was before. That’s what the doctor claimed the anti-depressants would do for me, but using CBD I’ve had no side-effects whatsoever. The panic feeling has just disappeared.

Sleep

3 Then there has been the effect on my sleep. Before I started taking the oil I was waking up every single night at 3am, and this had been going on for about three years, maybe more. Maybe two or three times a year I’d sleep through, it was that bad. No matter how much exercise I did, no matter how careful I was about keeping to good sleep habits and regular sleep times I couldn’t solve the problem. But when I began using CBD oil the situation improved instantly. I now sleep through the night almost every night; one or two nights a month I wake up at 3am. It wasn’t an effect I was expecting. 

Chronic Fatigue

4 My daughter has chronic fatigue syndrome and she’s tried CBD oil. She says it helps her ‘about 40% of the time’. She’s found herself able to function for longer than she usually would when using the oil. However, she does not take it regularly and is on a lot of other medication which could interfere with its use.

How I Take It

I take CBD daily. I put the drops of oil under my tongue and leave them there for a few minutes. When you begin taking the oil it tastes foul, but you get used to it quite quickly and if you keep it under your tongue you don’t really taste much anyway. I then swallow it down with a little warmed milk. I don’t know if this is the best way to take it, but it works for me!