This month I see many of us without our defences, our resilience, our energy. We are tired. We are in the 3rd lockdown. We are expected to get on with it. It is January. It is dark and wet. Areas are flooding, literally. It is tough.
The third Monday in January is known as Blue Monday. The Samaritans renamed it ‘Brew Monday’ suggesting people brew a cuppa and have a chat with a family member or friend to alleviate loneliness, connect and support one another. Even this positive message and encouragement had a hint of sadness at a time when this too will have to be online. It’s not the same as sitting together in the flesh. It might be good enough, sometimes it might be brilliant and life-saving. But it is not the same.
I see people around me trying valiantly to keep going, to count their blessings. Easy to do in this part of Surrey. They compare their lot to others and find themselves better off than many. This doesn’t bring about relief. One’s own struggles just get left untended, brushed aside, ignored, allowing for brewing of a different kind – a ruminating, a cycle of negative thinking, difficulty sleeping; these needs want to be met and they will push and prod and nag at us until they are.
But where do we start?
Checking our own self judgements, expectations and abilities, not those of others or those which have been set or given to us can be liberating and set us on a different, easier path.
I was forced to realise, yet again, that Mary Poppins I am not. This realisation was a little sad and hugely liberating. It was the home-schooling that did it. I am not a ‘Good Teacher’. My child is not a ‘Good Student’. So instead of continuing to expect us to be these, I accepted we were not. I gave up the timetable, goals and strategies and my notebooks in which I wrote out my child’s daily goals and achievements (bit sad about that bit, I do love a list and ticking off the items). It was impossible to sustain. And wonderfully freeing once gone. Peace reigned. We each gained a level of independence in which we were free to discover what we could and couldn’t do, free to explore this and learn from it. It was less failure and more discovery. And much less stress.
In this third lockdown we are all expected to get on with it. We are victims of our own collective success. We can now work from home having done all the necessary changes to make that possible. Our schools have set up online learning platforms. Essential shops have met the requirements for social distancing measures and so can stay open. More restaurants, business and factories have adapted enabling them to produce and deliver their goods. This is all success. It also doesn’t allow for the empathy, pulling together, surrendering to something bigger than us and the consequent permission to just Be and cease Doing for a little while to allow ourselves to prioritise our safety and emotional wellbeing.
I have known for a long time not to judge anyone by what I see on the surface. A tough exterior might belie a soft underbelly. An angry shout might be hiding a wounded howl.
Social media is, as we know, the worst demonstration of this. No-one posts their failures. No-one videos their arguments (thank goodness). It is the highlights, the happiness, the success that is shown. And of course this is a misrepresentation of the full picture and if we use this as a measure for ourselves we will fall short and judge ourselves negatively.
In the absence of unique wisdom I draw from another source. “A cover is nice but a cover is not the book” (Mary Poppins Returns, 2018) speaks to me of looking beneath the surface. To really read what lies within and beneath, and take the whole lot – beginning, middle and end into account.
During this time of continued lockdown, threat and challenge, I ask that you do not judge yourself. And do not think everyone else is better, or worse, than you. We are all just getting on as best we can. We do not stay at either end of the spectrum of ‘ok’/’not ok’: we move up and down this. Sometimes the middle bit feels worse than either end, we can suffer a sense of nothingness in the middle, or sometimes it is a sense of relief and rest we find there. Our feelings move around. They change. This will not stay as it is forever. Nothing does.
I am comfortable sitting in the dark places, on my own and with you, because I know the light exists also. I can move between the two as you will too. So I present both here, unable to bring only the dark, however much it dominates.
Mary Poppins, or in this case, Jack (the new Bert) – over to you: