“Il dolce far niente” Italians infamously say. The sweetness of doing nothing, the ability to completely and utterly enjoy and savour each moment, the pleasure of being idle.
Why and how have we lost this ability to enjoy our free time? Why do we feel guilty about it instead? I had this very discussion with my wonderful friend and kindred spirit Marithea a few days ago, whilst catching up after almost a year. ‘I have an idea, why don’t you write about it on your next blog?’ she suggested and it couldn’t come at a better time.
I’ve taken two weeks off work to relax, rest and recharge before the September madness and I think I managed to do that for just one or two days. I spent the rest of the time doing everything else, shopping, going to a pottery workshop, catching up with friends, a few days away with my crazy family and a lot of thinking about my next career step, as well as feeling guilty I haven’t made any videos or written anything in a while. I barely made time to read, write, play the guitar, or just sit and listen to music.
Even when I try to relax some weekday evenings, after a long and busy day at work, I feel guilty. I feel this deeply rooted shame for my inability to read a book or stare at a screen again after more than 8 hours of screen time, or even have clear thoughts and make sensible decisions about anything.
Why is that? It’s what’s commonly known as productivity anxiety. We humans have the innate obsession to get things done and be creative ALL the time, something we all struggled with during the pandemic when our options were severely limited. Surely, as soon as we could get out, most of us got even more obsessed with being productive, which is incredibly unhealthy. Our bodies and brains need rest and idle time, to be able to function fully and correctly.
Maybe the 8 hours of work, sleep and play model of the First Industrial Revolution was an improvement on the 12-14 hour day shifts, but none of us really works for just 8 hours a day. Most people work for 9-10 hours a day taking into account commuting and lunch break. By the time you get home, cook, clean and prepare for the following day, (unless you are one of the lucky ones who have help or someone else does the house chores for you) that’s it, the day is over and your brain is already overheating.
We need to learn to make time to rest and have fun, our whole life can’t be just work. And workplaces should accommodate human needs to the highest degree possible. We need to work to live, not live to work, otherwise what’s even the point? Retired old and exhausted at the age of 65 (if it doesn’t get higher by the time I retire), desperately trying to squeeze as many life experiences and joy as possible in the few years I have left? No, thank you.
So, I’m going to try harder to make time for rest and relaxation. How do you manage your free time?
My grandma Eleni used to work as a cleaner at a psychiatric hospital, raising three children on her own. My grandpa Costas was a shephard and after the 1974 invasion a factory worker providing for his wife and their 5 children.
My dad has had two jobs since he was 20 years old, and my mum worked on and off, focusing on looking after us most of her life. They both spent the last 40 years making sure my sisters and I have everything we needed. And they absolutely and utterly succeeded, with no shadow of a doubt.
We might not have had the most expensive cars or clothes, or holidays abroad, but we had a comfortable childhood and teen years, making cherishing memories, holidays in Cyprus with family and friends and endless support, due to their hard work and love. We were always bought new clothes once or twice a year, there was always plenty of food on the table, we were all bought cars to be able to drive to uni and we all studied.
My parents were always stressed about money, as you could imagine, as their parents had no money to help them . They were worried they might not have enough to look after us. My dad still gets anxious about it. We grew up appreciating what we have because we knew first hand how hard it is to get it.
I’d have never been able to study in the UK if it weren’t for my parents. When I finally graduated and started working and looking after myself, I worried about money from day 1. I learned how to prioritise my needs, what I could spend on what and learned to manage, so I didn’t run out of money. I would hate to ask my parents who already did so much for me, I already felt bad enough I couldn’t help them financially as much as I’d liked to. I did waste some money over the years but most of the time I managed.
When I lived in the UK for 10 years, I always paid my rent and bills on time, I got to travel a bit in Europe, I watched plays and musicals, went around the country, bought myself what needed, ate out with friends often, and although I lived a comfortable life, I always worried about money.
Living in Cyprus, earning significantly less than I did in the UK, not being able to save much, restricted to what I can spend on myself and my personal, social, mental and emotional needs, on travel or anything else I’d like, has intensified that worry and anxiety.
What I wouldn’t give to wake up one day and not worry about money, my parents housing situation, about paying the electricity bills or worrying when I’d afford a new car, or go out for fancy dinner, to be able to book the more expensive hotel I’d like or book tickets to Latin America, or buy a new laptop and not having to save up for months (or years) first.
Money doesn’t bring happiness, but only if you have everything you need and you don’t worry about it. It may not bring happiness but it can surely take away large part of (my) anxiety and worries.
When I was younger I felt ashamed I worried about money, I tried to hide my financial situation from friends and colleagues. But struggling or asking for help is nothing to be ashamed of. We were not all born in wealthy families, and for some of us life is harder and things don’t come easy. It made us stronger though, we learn how to live with little and appreciate what we have. So if you also worry about money, just know you are not alone.
I hope you and I and everyone who struggles one day we have enough money not to worry about it but even if we don’t, let’s talk about it, share our experiences and help each other, and try as much as we can not to stress about it. Easier said than done, I know… but let’s try anyway!
I often wake up with a rock in my stomach. A solid, heavy rock. Sometimes it feels that it’s spinning, other times it’s pulling me down. Occasionally it makes me dizzy or nauseous. Some days it feels bigger, some days I can barely feel it, but it’s still there. That’s how anxiety manifests on me.
I don’t remember when I started struggling with anxiety. I suspect I always had it, since I was a child, I just didn’t know what it was. I was always a worrier. I remember worrying every time an inspector came to school to check us for lice in case I had any and got embarrased in front of the whole school, or whether my skirt was caught in my underwear (this still worries me!). As I grew older, my concerns took various forms and combined with a few traumatic experiences e.g. my ex stalking me for a year or so, emotional abuse etc, I reached a point I couldn’t handle it more than once.
Only in the last few years I manage to cope more efficiently. I just cope, it doesn’t really go away. But even to the day, every now and then it gets out of hand. Only a year ago, I was so stressed I lost my appetite and that gave me sever stomachache. It physically hurt to eat anything. After that, I promised myself I wouldn’t let it reach to that level again.
It can still happen, I know that, but at least I can handle it better. Yoga, running, my guitar, writing, travelling, spending time with loved ones and a lot of me time help me the most.
(check my page for more) and I’ve been chatting about it with strangers, colleagues, friends, and loved ones for years. I don’t think I’ll ever stop!
Although I had a great week, going to the vegetable and fruit market after many many years, a day at the beach, a few days in Berlin (minus the cruel flight times and the extreme heatwave), the halloumi and anari workshop, and relaxing at the swimming pool afterwards, my anxiety levels have been off the roof as my to-do list grows longer and longer!
Anxiety hits you in many shapes and forms. For me it’s psychosomatic, it gives me headaches and stomachaches and occasionally panic attacks (and insomnia), for others it’s heart arrythmia, blurry vision, nightmares, compulsive eating. Anxiety is a beast, it can cause or aggravate other disorders e.g. OCD and depression and it’s quite common.
Today I want to talk to you about my friend Alexei.
We met back in 2019, on a cool October morning. I had just moved to Reggio Calabria, in South Italy working as an EFL (English as a Foreign Language) teacher and I spent my morning lesson planning, then Alexei walked in. I still remember the first time I heard his beautiful, deep voice and Southern African accent, and I saw his wide smile.
Alexei had an infectious laughter and a unique, wicked sense of humour. He loved sarcasm and self-depracating humour. Although he was raised in South Africa, his parents were also Greek and he spoke a bit of Greek too. He loved and cared about everyone around him, one of the most empathetic people I’ve met. We connected straight away.
Despite a global pandemic forcing us to spend half of our teaching year indoors and online we managed to make unforgettable memories together like our long weekend in Palermo, wandering around, shopping, drinking, having a laugh and chatting about life, our random pizza dinners in town, co-presenting quiz night, our beach day in Tropea with the rest of the Reggio gang and many, many more little, every day interactions.
We never made it to Taormina or Pentadattilo together before leaving Reggio like we said we would, but he promised to visit me in Cyprus soon.
We messaged each other every now and then but we hadn’t chatted for about a year. Last time we spoke he was really happy with his new job and life in Vienna.
Suddenly, 5 days ago I saw a Facebook post about Alexei, that I still cannot believe.
He died a few weeks ago. He took his own life.
It breaks my heart to think how horrible and lonely it must have been for him. He cared deeply for so many people and we would all have supported him if he had just reached out. I also feel incredibly guilty I let life get in the way and we lost touch for a while.
Depression kills, and even more so amongst men, since society taught them since they were children that sharing their feelings somehow make them look ‘weak’. Alexei had no issue expressing his feelings and his struggles, he was always open about his life, his sexuality and his frustrations, which makes it even harder to believe he kept all this struggle for hismel and reached a point that life was so unbearable for him that he didn’t want to live anymore.
The reason I’m sharing this story is to remind myself and everyone else to keep in touch and check in with our friends and loved ones regularly and please please, if you are struggling, tell someone, you don’t have to go through it alone.
Alexei’s death was incredibly sad and painful for all of us who knew him and we’ve been sharing photos and stories of Alexei with each other over the last week, because that’s how we’ll remember him, having a laugh together, hearing his beautiful laughter and picturing his gorgeous smile.
Mojo: a quality that attracts people to you and makes you successful and full of energy (Cambridge dictionary).
What a week it has been. Suffering from COVID (or any other illness) whilst stuck at home, helpless, depending on others to bring you essentials (thank you mamma!) surely takes its toll on you.
I didn’t make it to a work event on Friday or my colleague’s wedding on Sunday. I felt guilty and sad about it, there was nothing I could do though. I had no physical or mental energy left.
My batteries ran out, completely. Walking longer than a few minutes at a time or concentrating on a task requires serious effort.
I’ve been feeling tired, unmotivated and stuck for a while now, and a week at home with COVID only amplified those feelings.
I ran out of mojo and I don’t know how to refill the pot. I’m tired of running around, always playing catch-up, worring about money, never having enough free time to see all my friends, do everything or even some of the things I’d like to do.
I often ask myself lately, why am I doing this? What can I do to feel motivated again? Am I the only one feeling like this?
This pretty much sums up my week. How’s yours been?
Oh, I did make it for a walk in Kaimakli (a Nicosia district, by the borders) on Saturday evening, since there’s a little festival going on (Pame Kaimakli Festival: Urban Playground). It felt great to be out walking about (a little bit at a time), admiring the architecture and chatting to strangers, reminiscing of childhood memories in Kaimakli, the St Barbara church and father Marios, a priest my mum used to take us to as kids I used to love, with his long beard and pony tail, and of course many memories of Kalamies tavern by dad used to work at for years. The festival is on until Wednesday, for anyone interested!
PS Thank you to all you gorgeous, loving humans who messaged not only get well wishes, but sharing how you’ve been through COVID, symptoms you had and super useful tips on recovering. It makes this blog series even more worth it and it gets us all talking about mental health, which is what this is all about!
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.
The second Eurovision semifinal is playing in the background, whilst I lie on my hotel bed, trying to gather my thoughts and feelings. I still couldn’t believe how these series of coincidences brought me back to Southampton, after three years, since I left. It feels like a lifetime ago and at the same time, like yesterday.
I had finished my work meeting a bit early and after a bit of wander into the city I spent 10 years of my life, probably the most transformative years of my life, my 20s, exhausted from the travel the night before, came back to the hotel, had a shower and decided to just rest.
It’s been months since the last time I decided to ‘just rest’, it’s been so long I can’t even remember when the last time that happened was.
The following day I just wandered in town, at my favourite bookshop, walking across the park and for the first time in a while I felt I didn’t have to rush. I just enjoyed doing things I love. I felt I could breathe again.
I’ve realised that for a while now, I have been running around like a headless chicken for so long, I neglected my mental health, which of course has affected my physical health. Headaches, sleepiness, confusion, memory lapses, loss of appetite.
I really don’t understand how being busy became an achievement and something everyone loves to complain about. It’s not an achievement, it’s a sign of no life balance (Trust me, it’s OK to relax and rest for a day or too, rather than feel you have to do something, just because others do. FOMO is an artificial need created by humans, like many others).
And I feel I lost that balance ever since I left this city. I spent Saturday just catching up with friends, and enjoying living in the moment. Moments with old colleagues and loved ones. I instantly felt how much I missed them. How not to, with all the wonderful humans I know. I wish I had more time to see more of my friends.
Lately all I can think of is what the point of life is. Every now and then I get this horrific anxiety and fear about living and dying and the in-between.
What is the meaning of life? What is my purpose? Why do I exist?
I read a few books and had countless discussions with friends trying to figure out the answers to these questions, just to calm my brain down and the irrational (or rational? I haven’t decided yet) fear of dying.
As Derren Brown, eloquently argues in his book about happiness , if we were to live for ever, we would have eventually be bored of everything, and life would have no meaning. So, what is the purpose of life?
Happiness is amazing. It’s so amazing it doesn’t matter if it’s yours or not. There’s that lovely thing: “A society grows great when old men plant trees the shade of which they know they will never sit in”. Good people do things for other people. That’s it. The end. Anne told Tony on Ricky Gervais’ brilliant series After Life, which is about a man triyng to deal with the death of his wife whom he absolutely adored.
But even when you find your purpose, and to do that you inevitably need to work on your emotional intelligence, your self-awareness, realising who you are, loving yourself, self management and above else empathy, growing up it’s scary as hell.
My parents are now in their late 50s and 60s and I’m terrified for them, watching them grow older. I want them to live forever. It tears me apart. I’m thinking that maybe is better to stick around now they are growing older and they may need me more, but on the other hand what if I finally find my purpose and that takes me elsewhere, away from them?
It makes me sad thinking that they may find themselves feeling lonely and helpless. And I certainly want to try and enjoy being around them as much as I can before they start forgetting and get that lost look in their eyes (I only recently watched the latest episode of This Is Us and the scene where Rebecca doesn’t recognise her children broke my heart).
So on my birthday, a week after I came back from Southampton, I spent the day with my family and loved ones and I cherished every moment.
When thinking about life, mortality and growing old stresses me out, I just focus in the moment, taking one day at a time, spending time with loved ones and I try to make the world a better place, little by little. When my time comes to go, at least I’ll go happy and not anxious and horrified.
The reason I’m sharing all these thoughts, it’s that I know they are not unique and actually expressing them out loud, or in this case in words, somehow makes them more bearable. And perhaps you can relate, and feel a bit of a relief that these terrifying thoughts haunt not just you but a lot of other people.
Back by popular demand! It’s been a while since my last video lesson, this was actually filmed months ago, hence the winter clothes but since friends and colleagues keep asking me when I’ll make more of these as they enjoy and learn from them, I made some time to post. A quick, short, to the point lesson! I’m a bit rusty but getting there!
So here it is:
I’ve noticed, as you might have too, that quite often, people confuse its/it’s, you’re/your and there/their/they’re especially on emails and texts.
So, if you find it difficult to remember when to use what, watch the video and do the short exercise!
As always, comments, ideas, and suggestions are welcome!
Back in February 2016, on the 25th of February, I started a blog, this very blog.
I wanted to for a while but my then boyfriend kept discouraging me, arguing that I had nothing to say.
So, just after our break-up and a series of other unfortunate events (which I wrote about at the time), I started “What I learned before I turned 30”, a personal journal sharing what I learned so far in life, a few months just before I turned 30, which actually has helped me (and it still does) to make sense of what was happening at the time and helpfully reassure others that they are not alone, we all struggle in life.
A few years later, I decided to change the name of the blog, since I had already turned 30 and it didn’t make sense anymore. At the time I thought it was a good idea to name it ‘Eleni’s world’ since it was more autobiographical and a mix of different things, and honestly I couldn’t think of a better name.
A few days ago, whilst pondering how to make more time for myself and things I enjoy doing, before I turn completely crazy and exhausted from life, running around like a headless chicken, I had an epiphany.
Why don’t I name my blog ‘Lessons I learned after I turned 30’?
I haven’t been posting as often lately, though I really want to and I’m planning to, and giving the blog a revamp and a more specific identity can movitate me to do that.
So here it is. The new name of my blog.
Lessons I Learned after I turned 30, let it be English or Life lessons, lessons from my travels, personal and work life.
It often comes to my mind, that, when I was in high school, I’d regularly get upset about the fact I couldn’t accurately, and in the way I truly wished, articulate my thoughts and opinions when writing essays. There was always a barrier. There was always something missing.
Years later, when I started putting my thoughts on paper (and later on a blog) it somehow became easier, as if I was released from whatever kept my expressive side blocked and silenced. And I feel that’s how talking about mental health evolved over the years not just for me, but for the rest of the world too.
Although I studied psychology for my first degree, even then, about 18 years ago (I’m almost 36, to save you from the trouble of calculating my age), there was a stigma about it. Not many (if any) would openly admit they suffered from depression, or anxiety, or autism, or bipolar disorder, or panic attacks, as it was considered a weakness or pure ‘insanity’. You would only see a psychologist if you were ‘crazy’.
After living in the UK for 10 years, having volunteered for a mental charity, having written about depression and anxiety myself, seeing, listening and reading about people openly sharing their feelings and troubles, witnessing mental health organisations growing in numbers and popularity (NGOs such as the Samaritans or Mind or social enterprises like the brilliant Touch I used to volunteer for) I was under the impression things would have progressed in Cyprus too, not to the degree they did in the UK, but certainly to some extent.
Surely by now people would have realised that is as important (if not more) to look after their mental health the way they look after their physical health. If you break your leg, you’d go to the doctor, if you are paralysed from anxiety, you’d go to a psychologist, right? Not to mention the effects of the digital era, as well as the global pandemic on mental health, and the fact that we are all busy, all the time. One day we’ll reach to a point we’ll have no time to breathe (just writing about it stresses me out) .
A few days ago, whilst enjoying a coffee on my own at a local cafe, I was brainstorming ideas on what organisation I can volunteer for, and I was unpleasantly surprised to discover after looking up mental health NGOs to volunteer that there aren’t really any on the island!
Why is that? Is it because there’s still stigma around mental health here? Are people here still in denial about the importance of looking after your mental wellbeing? Are they scared to admit when they are struggling? Do they still perceive sharing your feelings as a weakness (it’s one of the hardest things to do actually and it shows strength and character, a brilliant example of the power of vulnerability as Bene Brown eloquently talked about it a few years ago https://youtu.be/iCvmsMzlF7o) ? Is it because there isn’t enough interest by locals or psychologists?
I have been talking about it with a few friends and colleagues lately and I’m still baffled why that is and I wish I had the means to set up a mental health NGO myself, just to make a start.
For now I can’t, but what I can do is continue to talk about mental health with friends, family and strangers, because every time I do, someone would relate to and share their own experiences (which I love to hear about, everyday human stories are so powerful in so many ways) and that’s a clear sign that any outlets to talk about mental health struggles with others in a safe, non-judgmental environment, where you can also receive relevant advice and/or training on how to identify signs or symptoms of a person suffering would be of great benefit.
Who knows, maybe we can soon start a movement and change things up on the island, at least when it comes to mental health!