A couple of things have made me reflect on my mental health this week. I read an excellent blog from someone managing depression. I won’t share it here because it is personal but it reflected on how difficult it is to balance taking ownership for solving mental health issues yourself, with the need to ask for help. The author is in the final year of university, with the stress of coursework and exams reinforced by demoralising rejections for job applications. That would be the same in any year, but layer on a lockdown when the opportunity to get out, get away and get support is more difficult, and depression looms all too easily.
The second thing is much more positive for me. For some reason this week I have had quite a few friends reaching out to check in. It is amazing how much difference it makes to receive a message asking how you are. I have certainly found this lockdown the hardest. I am not sure if that is because now I am retired, I do not have work to distract me; or if it is because vaccines make the end seem so close and so far at the same time. But the small contacts with friends have certainly helped. A lesson for me that I should make more effort to stay in touch. Not a strength for me!
My wife and I have been talking about what we do with our plans for this year. We were meant to be staying on Orkney for six weeks and then travelling the English canals in our narrowboat. Realistically the Scottish government seems to be saying it will be summer before we are allowed to travel. Perhaps we should see more of Scotland and postpone moving the boat. Or move it at the end of the season. We are just looking forward to the time we can make decisions without restrictions.
Has the lockdown affected your mental health too? If so, how are you managing it? I’d love a comment to hear from you.
This week I watched a whole cricket test match for the first time. A couple of blogs ago I wrote about learning to love American Football (well done the Buccaneers). At least with cricket I know the rules. And I have been to a day of a test match before – it requires a very different mindset to watching short form cricket such as 20:20. You settle into your seat, and read a newspaper or have a drink while the game goes on slowly slowly. One of my followers, Matt, commented that American Football is like chess with violence. Test cricket is like chess but slower. And this week I committed to all five days of England against India.
For many people, the idea of spending five days watching a sports game would seem to be a complete waste of time. Especially when one of the likely outcomes is a draw. But the opportunity for me was a luxury that I would never have chosen when I was working. And I found it to bring a kind of mindfulness.
Over the years I have practiced a little amateur meditation in order to wash away the cares in my mind. By actions such as concentrating on relaxing areas of my body, I have found a peacefulness that has helped during times of stress. I found the test match did much the same for me. There were moments of excitement when I sat forward to see whether a wicket would be taken or runs scored. But for much of the time I found that repeated quiet defensive play became really quite relaxing.
Now I should confess that in UK time, each day started at 4am, so I missed the first hour or two. I also often took the dogs out in the snow while listening to the match on my headphones. But I think the principle of enjoying slow play still applies. So much so that I plan to watch the second test starting tomorrow.
Most of us live in a rush where we resent wasted time. Technology such as mobile phones has made this worse. How many of us look at our phones whenever we get a spare 30 seconds? Even when we go on holiday, too many of us are “always on”. So I think I am privileged to be learning that taking time just to be me can be so rewarding.
Have you ever watched a test match? Or maybe took several days to do as little as possible? Let me know.
12 months ago I was in India . It seems a lifetime ago. When I was working I used to visit India two or three times a year and much of it became routine for me. But I never lost the sense of privilege and I would have an adventure to see a new place each time. A year ago it was Jaipur, the famed Pink City. It was very hot but also very beautiful.
Twelve months on, and I am no longer working, and certainly no longer hot. I still feel privileged, because near where I live in Scotland we have beautiful countryside and the snow has made it even more energising. But I do often wake up and think of a new adventure to go on, only to realise that the pandemic rules still get in the way.
I feel as if in the past year everything has changed and yet nothing has changed. We have all been through restrictions that I never thought would happen. We have all seen a level of illness and death that feel more like a war than a virus. But in other ways it feels as if someone has just pressed pause on our lives, and as soon as vaccines allow, we will all burst from our cocoons more eager than ever before to seek out new adventures and live the life that has been denied to us these past 12 months.
I guess in reality international travel is unlikely until the world has been vaccinated but even to travel in the UK would mean so much. I want to meet friends and family. I want to meet strangers. I want a hug. I want to be jostled in a busy pub. I want noise. I want to be able to get in my car or my boat and travel without a destination.
What were you doing 12 months ago? Will it be something that has changed your life, or a year to forget as soon as you can?
I am a Brit and have never had any time for American Football. I have considered it a manufactured sport, designed for the benefit of television networks, who can add the maximum number of adverts against the minimum amount of sport, I don’t understand why the players need helmets and pads, and for a nation that laughs at cricket, the terminology is obscure and hard to understand. A touchdown does not require touching the ball down. A quarterback can be anywhere on the pitch, not a quarter back. It is a good thing to go out of play so long as you have gone forward a few yards. Worst of all it is called “football” but the ball is rarely touched by a foot.
So I find myself quite shocked that I have been getting excited about this year’s playoff games and I may even stay up to see the Super Bowl live in a week’s time. I have been learning the back stories behind the people. Tom Brady has proved he can be a star in any team, not just the Patriots. Andy Reid has shown that old school methods can take a team to successive Super Bowls. I have learnt that MVP stands for “Most Valuable Player” (man of the match) not “Minimum Viable Product”.
I confess that I still believe it would be better without al the breaks, and I guess I still prefer to watch Rugby. But it is a good lesson for me that this is an excellent time for me to throw away preconceptions and to be open to learning new things.
Do you have any preconceived biases? Perhaps you hate test cricket as a game where a match lasting five full days can end in a draw. Perhaps you hate Bollywood films where aged male stars pretend to play twenty year old romantic heroes. Perhaps you think people who live on a narrowboat must have a screw loose. But every bias like this closes us off to new ideas and new opportunities.
After last week’s moan about missing people at work, and the things I had planned for my retirement that have been postponed due to COVID, I have been reflecting on what is really good about being retired. It is not a bad list.
I am more healthy. My blood pressure is down, I have lost a little weight, and I am getting out to walk most days during the week as well as at weekends.
I get to read. My old work colleagues used to complain because I have always found time for self development books and I would bore them with insights from them. But now I also get to read more lightweight books. I am currently half way through Robert Harris’ “Archangel” and Richard Clubley’s “Orkney – A Special Place”.
I am no longer “always on”. For at the past 30-40 years I have been on call for incidents or issues. It feels like a weight has been taken off my back.
I get to do jobs around the house. This week I oiled my wooden floors, waxed my furniture and replaced a security light. These kind of jobs used to hang around for months because I never had the time.
I gain new skills. I have mentioned previously about learning the euphonium. My playing is apparently not quite as awful as it was a few weeks ago. I have also been trying to learn basic electrics to help with our narrowboat.
Sleep is better. I no longer wake in the middle of the night worrying about some work issue, and remarkably for me I have started getting up around 7am instead of 5am.
I can be spontaneous. OK, lockdown is not helping here. But I can change my plans at any point. I am writing this blog first thing in the morning with many options for today and no fixed plan. I never thought I would like that but it is great.
There were things at work I always hated, such as performance reviews. I can’t tell you how good it feels that I will never have to do them again.
I have more time with my wife, Mandy. We are really loving doing things together, from playing cards to watching great films.
I am my own master. Instead of half my life being driven by a diary of meetings and deadlines for others, everything I do is my choice. It feels great!
I have often felt that writing a blog is self motivating, and this one has certainly reminded me why I made the call to leave work this year. I am very lucky to have had this choice.
What about you? If you are working, what would you love to change? If you are retired what are the best things for you?
When I retired I knew I might miss the routine of work, the self-identity it gave me, and the money. I also I expected I would miss my friends at work. But I did not realise how much I would miss just being with other people.
Of course the pandemic lockdown has made things so much worse. Had we been able to follow our plans we would be in Orkney right now. That was deliberately a long break to decompress from working, but I would have been seeing new places and meeting new people. In particular I was hoping to see the Aurora Borealis, so you can imagine my envy when there was a spectacular display on Monday night.
When I was at work, very often from 0730 til 1730 I would be back to back in meetings, whether face to face or zoom. I honestly did not think I would miss them and in many ways I don’t. I love that I now have the freedom to do what I want and not just what my diary tells me. But I do so miss being with other people. I love my wife and my son. But I want the stimulation of talking to others.
I know I should not complain. There are many people very ill and dying from this plague. There are those shielding or self-isolating that have no-one at all to talk to. There are many who would love the peace that I have. But boy I miss people.
How is it for you? Are you in a busy family squeezed together and self-schooling, where my complaint sounds like heaven? Or do you miss people too?
When the lockdown came down in Scotland this week, I was on my narrowboat. So rather than rushing back, I have spent the week in quiet isolation here, doing just what I have wanted. No dogs, no wife, no son. Just me, Netflix, several books and my euphonium.
It has been very cold. In the daytime and evenings I can heat the boat well with diesel central heating . But overnight I have tucked up under a thick duvet and woken to ice coating the windows. As I climb out of my cocoon I can hear the canal ice cracking around the boat.
It has been a wonderful selfish time. I have done what I wanted, when I wanted, and had such peace. To start with I felt guilty. I felt I should be at the house doing jobs and helping out. But I have realised that the break has been as good for my wife and son as it has for me. For many years I have worked a lot away from home, and in recent months we have been together 24 hours a day. Too much of a shock for all of us. They don’t need me organising their lives, and I am allowed to want time for me.
I return today, and with lockdown will not be back for some time. But I think I have learned an important lesson this week. Sometimes it is OK to be selfish.
What do you think? Do you give enough time to yourself?
A week of good news and bad news. I really do think the Oxford / Astra Zeneca vaccine will be a game changer. Everyone in the UK will be able to be vaccinated this year, and one jab gives decent immunity which means it can be rolled out more quickly before a second jab is administered three months later, And because it can be stored at fridge temperature, distribution will be much easier. So there really is light at the end of the tunnel. We will get back to normal this year.
At the same time the new strain of Covid-19 is spreading very rapidly and causing more people in hospital and more deaths, Inevitably this has resulted in an ongoing tight lockdown. Mandy & I were meant to be travelling to Orkney for six weeks from next Friday, but that has been cancelled by lockdown, and realistically I can’t see that improving till the vaccine has extensive rollout, maybe end March.
If I were still working, work would have given me identity and frankly filled my hours. So I need something else to focus on that I can do at home. Some goals for the first quarter of 2021. A hobby perhaps.
Any ideas what I should do? I could do with getting fitter. Long walks with the dogs are still allowed so long as I stay away from crowds. I could also do some more strenuous exercise. I could do with losing some weight, so maybe cutting out the bad food and drink for a month or two. But I also want some fun. I think I will get my old euphonium out of the loft and learn to play that again. It will probably annoy my family and the neighbours but one day it would be good to rejoin a band.
What ideas do you have of things I could achieve in the next three months while staying at home? Let me know.
I am known for my relentless positivity. It has served me well at work and at home, even if it can be irritating for those around me. But I have to confess that this past week has been tough to stay positive, even for me. No family at Christmas. Significantly increased risk for me and others catching Covid-19. Friends getting sick. Our Orkney trip in January looking increasingly unlikely. Christmas is my favourite time of the year, and with my retirement this week it was meant to be special. I feel cheated.
But that is an unhelpful feeling for me. So I am determined to find a top ten reasons to be cheerful.
I am healthy and if we stay isolated I expect to stay healthy
I have many friends and family
I am super lucky to be able to retire at a relatively young age. Mandy & I look forward to many adventures.
I am so grateful to my many friends at NatWest for an incredible set of virtual leaving events.
I have had some amazing Christmases and will do so again
This too will pass. In just a few months we will look back on this sad time as something from history
Our Orkney trip has not been cancelled, just postponed, and maybe this takes the pressure off for when we move our narrowboat to England
We are still having a lovely day on 25th, when this blog publishes, with excesses of fine food, drink and seasonal cheerfulness
Zoom means we get to see as well as hear our relatives
The days are getting longer.
To quote Bollywood film “Om Shanti Om”: “Today I believe that just like the films, in life too, everything is okay in the end. Happy ending. And if it’s not so, it’s not the end. The film isn’t over yet my friend.”
For nearly 20 years I have written a weekly blog in my work – at the Halifax, Bank of Scotland, Nationwide, the Co-op, Royal Bank of Scotland and NatWest. Hundreds of my colleagues used to look forward to reading them each Friday.
I am now retiring and the time has come to go public with my words. For those that want to follow me, I will tell you stories of my retirement journey, currently planning to spend time in Orkney and then travelling the British canals on our narrowboat. I will also reflect on life lessons and what they mean to me.
I promise to keep my blogs short, and if they work, to write them weekly. They will make you smile, and make you think.