A soft place to fall
If we ever needed a year to recognise the state of the world’s mental health, 2021 could be the most important one this century.
The pressure that the pandemic rained down on us was enormous, moving towards unbearable for many, and now the darkest days are meant to be over with life having an essence of normality, we're supposed to just slip back into our old ways, picking up where we left off.
Yet this is the moment that many of us find ourselves at our lowest; with the adrenaline of ‘I simply must keep going’ having passed we've hit a pandemic fatigue and are struggling to find exactly where it is we did ‘leave off’.
Everything is different, yet it all seems strangely the same and it’s this moment that I find myself seeking refuge again in the simple yet utterly invaluable things I can surround myself with; stable friendships, close family and a soft place to fall.
Now, I am not arrogant enough to write to you with tips and tricks to help your mental wellbeing, preaching about how a blanket can turn your life around or a scented candle can balance your mood, but I would like to briefly share my experience of the pandemic with you, and perhaps you will find reflections of your own life and home in mine.
Working from home wasn’t a wholly new concept to me; having been self-employed for well over a decade, happily freelancing around Yorkshire and beyond I described my workplace as ‘no fixed abode’. But, when that first lockdown hit in March 2020, as for perhaps you and millions of others across the nation, my abode became startlingly fixed.
Gone were the days of whimsy that saw me writing in coffee shops, teaching classes in bright airy studios and working face-to-face with people that inspired me every day.
The carpet of motivation had been ripped from underneath me and I felt listless, isolated and hugely daunted by the prospect of making the ‘new normal’ work (if the person who invented that phrase could never speak again, that'd be great ta).
I saw others leap into action, taking full advantage of their seemingly innate knowledge of platforms like Zoom and Teams, streaking ahead of me in the digital stakes which only fuelled my fear of the ‘unknown online’. How did these people know how to hook up three webcams, create engaging content for mass groups of people and do it all from their spotless kitchen?
You see I’m not only a writer, I also teach dance (mainly ballet) to fantastic young people in Leeds and I felt immense pressure not to let these wonderful souls down. They needed me to bring just a small amount of consistency to their at-home lives, and I needed them just to keep going.
At-home life was a simple one of slower mornings and early nights. The incessant hustle-bustle of my previous life faded away and I retreated into my office-kitchen and garden-gym. I remember watching a clip of ‘This Morning’ as Phillip Schofield read out an open letter from a teacher in China who were a few months ahead of us in the terms of lockdowns and she said:
“Accept you have no control over the situation. Try not to watch or listen to too much media, it will drive you crazy, there is such a thing as too much.
"The sense of community I have felt through this time is incredible. I could choose who I wanted to spend my energy on and have found the quality of my relationships have improved.
"Appreciate this enforced downtime, when do you ever have time like this? We will miss it when we go back to the fast-paced speed of the real world.
"You learn to appreciate the little things – sunshine through the window, flowers blossoming. To those just beginning this journey…look out for each other, there is light at the end of the tunnel”
I sat watching this clip with the sun on my face, chickens scratching around my feet (don’t ask) and sobbed. Those really guttural gasps that leave you totally exhausted afterwards. It wasn’t from sadness or worry, although I was acutely aware of those emotions too, I cried from relief.
Someone had given me permission to pause, to take stock of the situation and find joy in the small things; the little things I loved in my world.
I looked around and loved my home that I had spent years doing-up with visions of starting a family there. I loved my garden that was growing vegetables we shared with friends and neighbours, and for the first time in many months I really saw my partner, a man who supported me, championed me and regularly had to use the phrase "you don’t have to panic until I panic, and I’m not panicking".
So, months passed and the world started to re-open. Debates about vaccines and masks got more heated, we tried to stay socially distanced but there was always that one person in the queue that stood just slightly too close, and every public cough was subtly noted by others around, often followed by a mass exodus.
I swung swiftly from being thrilled about seeing friends for dinner to anxiously and intensely reading every article under the sun about whether a pregnant woman could or should get the jab (that family I'd dreamed about is now rapidly incoming!). I had a mask in every handbag, coat pocket and car door and felt content to still wear mine whilst others felt more comfortable without - no judgement here, you must always do whatever is best for you.
I wouldn’t go so far as to say I was anxious about the ways of the world in a mental health setting, but I was most definitely hyper aware of the changes we met every day and how they impacted not only me but those I love, and that’s mentally where I’ve stayed.
I put a lot of expectation on myself that after the pandemic I would tread the path my ‘old life’ would have provided for me and yet I find that, as similar as it may look from the outside, my entire world has changed in the past year, not least because I've spent it writing to you all for Brown and Ginger!
So I go back to the teacher in China, reminding myself that all those small things I appreciated last year are still there, waiting to be enjoyed again.
And it’s this that I will be focusing on today, during the 2021 World Mental Health Day.
The world is brand new and whether you are embracing that change or finding it difficult to comprehend, your reaction is valid. You are valid.
You are valid.
I often speak about ‘a soft place to fall’ and what that means to me both figuratively and literally; I adore a cosy home with comfy corners and tons of houseplants. I’m passionate about interior design and have created a safe space that I can retreat to in times of worry.
But, my softest place to fall is into the warmth of my family and friends, my unwavering support system who have seen me through depression, relationship breakdowns, career changes, whilst always celebrating even just the tiniest of wins right alongside me too. I fall into them and, when I need that extra little push, they help stand me back up.
So, no wise words this time about rug sizes, how to hang a chandelier or using animal print to the extreme, just a simple reminder not to expect too much from yourself right now.
Keep your goals in mind but understand they take time, give yourself permission to pause even when everyone is scrambling for normality around you, and recognize when you might need a soft place to fall too.
With much love,