I was recently asked what motivates me to do what I do, write, make videos and so on. What is the reward for me as I’m not trying to make money out of it.
Let me tell you about Marcel*.
Marcel is a partner from France and we’ve been working together on a project since November 2020. I remember the first time I virtually met him, as our first meeting took place during another lockdown. A 50-something year old, with a heavy accent I absolutely loved. I really liked him as a person and his sense of humour since the first day.
I met with the rest of the partners face to face in Nicosia, about a year ago, but I’d never met Marcel in real life and he was busy during some of our online meetings too so when I heard he was joining our partner training in Slovenia, I was pretty excited to finally meet him in person.
And it was genuinely a pleasure. Well-read, smart, sophisticated, a wine and fine dining lover without the pretentiousness, also funny, witty, surprisingly honest and a true gentleman.
On our last dinner together, we started talking about how the effects of the pandemic still lingered for children, as some started school during COVID-19 and spent months on end locked inside, with no other social interaction. We all agreed that it’s been tough on all of us, especially children, but Marcel said:
‘Yes, I agree, but children are resilient, look at me, I still suffer!’
I failed to mention at this point, that Marcel wore a mask for most of the week and avoided sitting close to anyone. The reason: If he catches the virus, his wife might die. For that same reason he moved in a rural area with his wife during the pandemic (he still lives there), with minimal social interaction with anyone else. He told us how much he hated it and how he drove himself mad living in the middle of nowhere, in a small village with just a few houses.
How incredibly sad. Older people already find it hard, feeling isolated and lonely, as it is, society somehow forgets about you when you grow old, although it should have been the opposite, we can learn so much from older generations, they are beacons of knowledge and wisdom, but the pandemic has made it even tougher for them to cope.
A couple of others shared their stories. I mentioned a horrible news story from a Cyprus, an old man who died alone during the pandemic and was found days later, since he had noone to check up on him.
This is the sad reality and we need to do something about it. We need to look after, love and nourish the people who took care of us and kept the world going whilst we were growing up. We owe it to them.
During that same dinner, Marcel asked me if I still wrote. It caught me by surprise.
–‘How do you know I write??’
-‘I remember when we all first met online, you told us that you had a blog, and I found it and read a lot of it. Do you still do it?’
-‘Yes, I do! Not that often but I do. I don’t write much about travel or food anymore, but I still write about mental health’.
-‘Oh nice, I’ll read it when I get home!’
And that’s why I keep writing. This is the reward. The impact however small or big on someone’s life when they read one of my posts, either because they feel the same, or they learnt something or they just enjoy my writing.
*Marcel is a pseudonym, in case the person wishes to remain anonymous.
So here’s the first in a hopefully long series of exclusively mental health write-ups. I encourage you to and hope you comment and share your experiences too and suggest topics or even write a guest post. I really want to show with this blog series that we all go through similar situations and we all struggle at points, but also how we look after our mental health in general. So, let’s talk about mental health!!
This week’s topic:
Getting COVID after about 2.5 years of desperately trying not to and how it messes up your life for at LEAST a week.
The week had started well. I went back to the office after two weeks (Karim, my other half broke his foot and I worked from home for a couple of weeks to help out around the house), which was eerily quiet (many colleagues seemed to have gotten the new virus variant) and spent the day organising my tasks for the rest of the week as I was going on a work trip to “The Nymph of the Thermaic Gulf”, the beautiful Thessaloniki , the following day until Thursday. I hadn’t been in years and although I would only really have half a day to wander in the little alleys, huge squares and the seafront, I was quite excited about it.
Tuesday was a brilliant, but exhausting day. Karim finally had his MBA thesis presentation (and passed with flying colours!) and the last few months of spending our afternoons or weekends with him studying and me joining him and helping him on the way, finally paid off! But no time to celebrate as I was flying to Thessaloniki in the afternoon! So, after a couple of hours of work, I made it to my colleague’s, Andria, who was joining me on this trip (thanks to super driver aunt Litsa!) and we headed to the airport. We made it to Salonika late at night and after we checked in at the hotel and a quick takeaway souvlaki, we went to bed, knackered.
Wednesday started off well with hotel buffet breakfast and after another morning coffee thanks to Andria’s kindness and generosity we headed to our meeting at the University of Macedonia. I keep forgetting how old and often dingy buildings are in cities like Thessaloniki, so it caught me by surprise how horrible the University building looked like. After a 4-hour long meeting and a quick lunch, we finally had the rest of the afternoon off to explore the town. And it was a gorgeous afternoon, visiting the infamous Saint Demetrios kathedral, the patron saint of Thessaloniki, and walking around town chatting along,
which ended with a delicious, albeit heavy feast at a local taverna, my lovely colleague Loizos, who I absolutely trust when it comes to food, recommended, and which I now definitely recommend, Katsamaka. I went to bed feeling I was about to burst from all the food, tired, and with a bit of a sore throat, but I assumed that was due to all the travel, walking and busy schedule.
I woke up with a bit of a sore throat, but again I brushed it off due to a million other reasons other than COVID. I did a self-test on Tuesday morning, I had no other symptoms anyway and most of people across the Mediterranean are getting ill with all the high temperatures and use of AC, this can’t be the virus.
After a short delay on our flight, Andria and I made it back to Cyprus. Stella, my middle sister was to pick me up from the airport, wander for a bit and then go back to the airport to pick our little sister up, since she was coming back from Brussels for the summer. I asked Stella to bring a self-test with her, just to make sure I didn’t have the virus. In the meantime, my symptoms were getting worse. I felt a bit of a chill and feverish and swallowing really hurt. The test was negative. OK, so it was just a really bad cold. Or that’s what I thought.
By the time I made it home, I completely ran out of energy and I couldn’t swallow from the pain.
I didn’t sleep a wink. I kept tossing and turning, I had high fever, my throat hurt like hell, which made me feel nauseous and dizzy, I barely made it to the loo once, or twice during the night. It was the worst night I had in years.
This can’t be just a cold. I haven’t felt that ill since January 2020, and I remember that because I think that when I got COVID the first time, before the global outbreak, when I had a persistent cough and fever on and off for weeks.
I decided to do another test. Sure enough I tested positive.
I had no idea what the process was from now on and what to expect. My mum of course was my first call for support, as she had got it a few weeks before. She told me to message our GP as soon as possible and asked him to call me when he can. He prescribed a syrup and advised me to take vitamins C and D and Nurofen for the fever. He also told me I had to pop to a pharmacy to get tested so they can report me as a positive case.
After barely making it to the pharmacy, I just lied on the sofa and stayed there. I felt rough as hell for the whole day. I was terrified about my breathing and any other severe symptoms I might develop and I was also devasted all my weekend plans were cancelled. No dinner out on Friday, no beach on Saturday, no mountain festival on Sunday. And the sad realisation, that pretty much my plans for the rest of the week would have to be cancelled. I was really looking forward to the kite making workshop!
But none of this really matters. As long as you are healthy. Isn’t that what we all realise every time our health is compromised? Well yeah, but you can still feel rough and miserable and unhappy and of course scared. I could never be sure whether that pesistent cough and fever I had back in January 2020 was COVID, so catching the virus always scared me as I wasn’t sure what to expect. You never know how your body would react, no matter how healthy you are.
Today is day 4 and after a few days of sneezing, coughing and a sore throat, I now lost my sense of smell, which inevitably affected my sense of taste. For those of you who know me, you know how much I love food, so not being able to smell or taste anything is killing me! But I’m OK. Getting better slowly. The medication definitely helps, as well as Netflix, reading, DuoLingo and puzzles! Mentally I’m exhausted. It hasn’t been the easiest few weeks and this was going to be the first one in a long time to have been going out on events and workshops and the beach. So, not being able to leave the house, go for a run, a walk or really do anything is really painful. It’s only been 4 days but it feels like 4 months!
I managed to give the virus to my sisters (well the little one probably got it from the plane), my other half got it from a night out last week and my mum who has just recovered from it is going around our flats delivering supplies! My dad hasn’t got it yet and fingers crossed he won’t, he is the one we are all the most worried about.
That’s my COVID adventure so far. Now I need to lie down again, my energy levels are running low, and the 39 degree heatwave doesn’t help.
Did you go through it? How did you feel about it? Let’s talk about it.
This week’s vlog was a bit late due to our little Easter break, so here’s how I spent it. Not in Vienna or Budapest or Bratislava as I originally planned but it wasn’t as bad as I thought I’d be I guess.
Catch ups with friends, lots of chocolate, pancakes, Netflix, reading, blogging, so all in all it wasn’t too bad.
One of the things that help me with coping under lockdown is having a routine, a rough schedule for the day, as I mentioned on my last post and video, so life feels a bit normal and also to make it easier to adjust when back in ‘normal’ life however that might be.
Now, I’m not the biggest fan of routines and I don’t always stick to it, but it helps a lot when under lockdown, when there’s no clear structure and I can waste a whole day doing nothing if I let my overthinking brain take over. So here it goes, hope you enjoy it, and please share your thoughts and what you are doing to keep you going every day!
For those of you who know me or have been reading my blog for a while, you probably know I struggle with anxiety (severe at times) and bouts of depression, so when hell broke loose a few weeks ago, I was extremely stressed to the point I couldn’t think clearly.
Luckily over the years I’ve developed a bit of resilience and a set of coping mechanisms to help me manage my anxiety and quickly get back in control when my stress levels reach dangerous highs.
So, after the initial shock and panic my survival instincts kicked in and I thought I’d put together a video with what’s been helping me stay sane under lockdown (can’t believe it’s been three weeks already!).
These are the the 10 activities I do most frequently to help me and a few links of books, Ted talks, TV programs etc I mention in the video (more details on each in the video):
Exercise. I’ve been doing my daily yoga with my favourite gal (https://www.youtube.com/user/yogawithadriene/playlists), she posts a monthly playlist with videos for each day. I need more exercise though since I’ve been sitting a lot, so any recommendations please comment below!
Music. I somehow stopped listening as much, I don’t really know why, but now I listen and sing every day. Music, food, remedy for the soul, I keep reminding myself that. Thank God for music. In the video I hum a song by my favourite Cypriot musician Mr Costas Kakoyiannis (Αν κοντα σου μεγαλωσω- If I grow up with you: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P2x3CqSIaJ8) and I try to play and sing I’ll be your mirror, the Velvet Underground cover, on my guitar: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dMeZCPbM6bA)
Going out. Of course we are not allowed and shouldn’t go out all the time but I try to go out once or twice a week, pop to the shop, just to feel I can be outside.
Reading. I love reading, in the winter with a blanket and a cuppa, in the summer, at the beach, on a plane, on a train. Since I started my first EFL teaching job I had very little free time to read but I’m so happy now I have time. I recommend a couple of books in the video (e.g. Fifteen Dogs by Andre Alexis and the Guilty Feminist by Deborah Frances White, check out her podcast too, she is brilliant).
Diet. It’s so difficult to stop snacking when living a sedentary life, but I stopped buying too many and/or too unhealthy snacks so I don’t end up binge-eating all day.
Catching up with friends. Keeping in touch with friends and family is vital, we are social animals after all, we need human interaction but I sometimes find it too overwhelming with all the messages I get, so I have regular breaks so I can cope, plus it helps reduce screen time.
Netflix. I’m a huge Netflix fan and there’s a great selection of TV series, films and documentaries to watch. I try not to watch too much, though tempting, as I spend too much time in front of a screen since I teach online, but thank God we have Netflix. I recently watched a documentary, my Beautiful Broken Brain, which was amazing). I’d love to start a new series though, so any suggestions, please do comment! PS I of course still watch friends every day.
Routine. Being at home all day, it’s easy for someone with a hyperactive brain like me to lose concentration, get lost into my own thoughts and waste time deciding when to do what, I find it too chaotic, so keeping up with a routine helps, a lot. I’ll make another video about this.
Expressing your emotions. This is HUGE. Society taught us one of the unhealthiest narratives of all time, that expressing our emotions is a weakness. It’s the opposite actually, being vulnerable and open about how we feel it’s the bravest thing one can do, especially in these difficult times we live under right now. I highly recommend Bene Brown’s TED talk on vulnerability, definitely worth a watch: https://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_the_power_of_vulnerability?language=en
Playing an instrument. I’ve been playing the guitar on and off for years, but now I have time to learn how to read music properly and improve my playing. A great way to stay away from screens!
If you’ve been doing something that has been helping you, please share, it may help someone else, that’s the reason I’m doing it.
I’m also trying to put together a video with hopeful/funny/inspiring messages of friends, family and strangers to spread some joy and positivity, so if you like to be part of me, just email me a short 10-15 sec video with your message (firstname.lastname@example.org). It can be in any language, just provide me with the transcript and I’ll translate and put subtitles in English 🙂
Day 16 of lockdown. Today it’s been a good day. I guess we’ll have some bad, terrible ones and some better, funnier, happier ones, and today it was the latter.
I got outside to pop to the school and print the new forms we all required to have if stopped by the police to justify why we are outside where I saw two familiar faces, Marco, the school director and Bryony, a fellow teacher and it felt AMAZING to actually talk to people I know and appreciate face to face.
I then popped to the supermarket for my weekly shopping, an experience I always find stressful under the circumstances, queueing outside, people in close proximity, the only place I might actually catch the virus (you can see footage on today’s vlog below).
Finally some incredible news. The cases of Coronavirus in the local area are now going down, so maybe, just maybe this is the beginning of the end of this horrible situation.
A huge admiration and a thank you to every single person who is out there, from shop assistants to delivery drivers to medical staff, risking their lives every day to keep everyone else safe, healthy and fed.
And to those who think are invincible and don’t care if they catch the virus. I don’t care if I catch it either (though of course scared), but I’m doing this to protect others. So don’t be a ****head and stay home.
Week 2 under lockdown started well. I tried to keep with a routine, so life feels as ‘normal’ as possible under the circumstances, I filmed a whole day to show everyone things that help me maintain balance, I filmed going to the supermarket (stressful!), about online teaching and I was gonna start putting together my vlog from Barcelona.
It’s been a busy week workwise as well, lesson planning, reading about online teaching, filming a couple of videos for young learners.
Come Friday morning I finally had some time to finish the vlog I filmed on Monday but disaster struck. My unbelievably bad luck once again hit me in the face.
My memory card with all my vlog material and worst of all, the gorgeous snaps I took over the last year, memories of great moments are now all gone.
I explain in detail on today’s vlog. I’m still sad and I know there’s worse to worry about but I’m gutted. How’s your week been?
Wow. Just wow. I will always remember the last couple of weeks in every single detail.
Within 10 days, all schools in Italy closed until the 15th of March and after just 4 days that was extended to the 3rd of April, oh and the whole country was to go under lockdown.
What did that mean? A lot of things. How am I dealing with the situation? So far I’ve just been stressed and worried and baffled (how on earth on my first year after quitting my job to travel the world ended up trapped inside four walls?) but I decided to make the most out of it.
My friends and family, even strangers have been asking me how things are here, so I’ve put together a vlog, the first one of a series, documenting living and teaching under lockdown conditions so here it is:
I will soon post more on teaching online from home, coping mechanisms (healthy and unhealthy) and how my mental health has been affected by it. I hope you find it useful!
Oh and somehow I ended up speaking on the radio about it twice, once to BBC World Service before the lockdown and once after with my friend Pat at BBC Radio Solent!
It has been challenging so far but my personal advice is please stay at home, avoid travelling internationally, avoid confined spaces, restaurants, churches, cafes, work from home and help to put a stop on the virus spreading. It will continue to spread if people continue to move about. It’s tough but necessary.
And please follow the WHO guidelines, wash your hands thoroughly and avoid handshakes (that’s how the virus is mainly transmitted, by touching others or contaminated surfaces), cover your mouth when sneezing and coughing, do not wear a mask unless you have symptoms or you have an underlying condition that it requires you to do so, AND STOP PANIC BUYING TOILET ROLL!!