After the initial shock of furlough wore off I very quickly threw myself into a new daily routine. Routine is very important to me, I suffer with anxiety which is generally triggered when I feel things are falling out of my immediate control. Most notably, I have a dread of being late and/or being lost. I go to extreme lengths never to be late. I’d rather be an hour early than a minute late. I usually leave at least two trains worth of contingency for a journey. Three if I can. I always have a map, usually the Google variety (which can generate fear of batteries running out but hey I carry an extra battery pack with me whenever I leave the house). On long journeys I trace our progress on a big AA map (which I turn to face whichever direction we’re travelling). These are my comfort blankets to minimise the chance of a panic attack or waves of anxiety.
It hasn’t escaped my notice that my anxiety is noticeably lessened during lockdown because neither of these fears are an issue when I stay at home.
When I feel my anxiety rising for whatever reason, I have a built-in self defence mechanism that forces to me to take control of something. This brings back a feeling of calm and balance, even if it’s over something that isn’t causing the anxiety in the first place. To-do lists and routine are an ideal way to establish that control back into your life so lists are my go-to therapy. I keep a bullet journal and I meal plan (most weeks) to incorporate an element of planning into every day.
I made a lot of lists, both phsyical and mental, in that first week of furlough. We did a major spring clean around the house. I tidied drawers. Sorted out my craft room. Emptied the TiVo box of things I knew I would never watch. Tidied up my hard drive. Tick. Tick. Tick.
With both of us at home (my husband was furloughed two weeks before I was) there was plenty of time for all this tidying and cleaning but I was aware that this was just my initial reaction to being furloughed. Sooner or later I’d run out of things to tidy in the house (did I really believe that?). I needed something creative to do, something that got us both out of the house so we didn’t fall down a Netflix rabbit hole from which we might never emerge. Don’t misunderstand, we did our fair share of binge watching (Schitt’s Creek is brilliant – I highly recommend it) but I didn’t want that to be all we did.
I went out with my camera (I use a Canon 650D) and spent a couple of hours taking pictures of the newly emerged cherry blossom. And dandelions, lots of dandelions. I love them, I know most people just pull them up the minute they emerge but I never do. In early spring they are one of the first nectar sources for bees and other pollinators so they are vital in April and May before other things have flowered. Then when they go from that glorious yellow butter colour to the ethereal fluttering seeds, they appear truly magical. I can’t resist them.
Those couple of hours gave me such peace and joy that I was positively buzzing along with all the bees and insects I saw. I was determined then to spend my furlough time positively, creating a haven in my garden for birds, bees and anything else that dropped by. The sunflower seeds I planted at the very beginning of furlough were already popping their little heads out of the soil. I couldn’t believe how quickly they grew. They gave me hope and I ordered a lot of plants. Euphorbias, foxgloves, heleniums, delphiniums – a vast array of herbaceous flowering plants. We went from a very bare little patch outside our living room window to lots of little plants all waiting to grow.
By the end of April the sunflowers were enormous, the weather was warming up and I was out in the garden every day, weeding and watering, tending to these little lives that relied on me. The value of having something to take care of, to tend to, is enormous and I think I only realised how vital it is for me to nurture something in these early weeks of April. I’ve always been a “people pleaser”. I hate that phrase but I know you understand what I mean. I am that person in any group that takes care of others. That makes sure everyone is ok. That organises the nights out, makes the reservations, at home I’m the one who fills your drinks, puts food on your plate, gets you a blanket if you’re cold – whatever is needed to make someone comfortable. I think this inherent character trait I have can be translated to any scenario and I transferred that nurture to the plants. I wanted them to thrive. To be happy. To live their best lives.
I know, I’m crazy. But it worked. The panic and horror that I felt at being furloughed disappeared very quickly and I settled into a new life. A new routine built around not sleeping in late, not watching tv all day, not spending endless hours on social media but on being out in the fresh air, hanging out in my garden with my plants, watching them grow and being thrilled every day by something new that emerged.