Sunday, 28 February 2021

A Quest For The Best

A social media posting by an unknown American has been viewed more than 100,000 times. That sounds like a pretty respectable number. What makes it more amazing, however, is that it’s a tribute to the UK.

Imgur user Chimichanga007 - no, I wasn't sure what Imgur was either - says s/he lived in the UK for a couple of years and now has “survivor’s guilt after experiencing living in a sane country compared to America”. The poster says the difference between the US - where s/he has travelled widely - is “night and day”. 

Continuing in the spirit of my last blog in which I looked for the positives in our present situation, I thought it might be an idea to look outward again to find what I have to look forward to while in isolation and with a never-ending number of weeks still to go. There’s a saying that it’s always darkest before the dawn and I, at any rate, am not enjoying the darkness. I am impatient for release.


So, while we’re stuck in this limbo land, I’ve begun to wonder what we do have going for us now in Britain? Yesterday's day of sunshine was one to grab and cling to as a memory. Go outside every time you catch a glimpse, you never know when it’s going to return. It’s a real mood lifter at any time but especially now.


Spring is springing. I’ve spotted daffodils, tree blossom and the powerful yellow of my neighbour’s mimosa tree. It’s hanging dangerously over the weighed-down fence but there we go. It’s a privilege that will be worth paying for.


Other countries may have warmer and more consistent weather but our seasons certainly give us something to talk about. I wonder where else in the world people talk endlessly about the changeable weather and/or joyfully drop everything to go outside and just feel a bit of that warmth on our bones. Maybe some might say we - I - am easily pleased. That’s probably true and that may be while I can still find things to laugh at when I don’t feel much is a laughing matter right now.


And so we come on to the British sense of humour. That’s a tricky one to define, particularly if you watch the various and varied TV programmes and wonder what happened to our “world class” entertainment industry. Maybe it’s still in lockdown. 


But on a personal level, many of us still have a wry and self-deprecating way of looking at life. It is seen as distinctly British and a characteristic that entertains and amuses those outside the country. Shows such as Fawlty Towers and Monty Python come to mind. I remember someone from overseas telling me they’d come to Britain purely on the basis of seeing Monty Python. I hope the reality wasn't too disappointing.


For the most part, we remain a tolerant and kind society. Some of our European neighbours have been showing their displeasure at their lockdown with increasing protests and resistance. We seem to have stayed put. Some have argued we are being too easily led in our acceptance of our leaders’ decrees; others would say we have to obey for the common good. Whichever side we take, most of us are abiding by the law very possibly with an emotional and financial cost to ourselves. I sense a spirit of generosity in this that’s a real positive.


Our blogger from across the pond tells how s/he became emotional when going to ER (A&E to us) because the free NHS treatment wouldn’t lead to debt. The blogger also says how the British don’t like excess emotions because it makes them embarrassed. That strikes a chord. Perhaps it’s the “stiff upper lip” encouragement of the past (fortunately, trembling a little more nowadays) but, on the positive side, it’s also a way of remaining modest or not blowing our own trumpet. A characteristic of reserve. I like that. Praise is great but it's better when it comes from someone else. It's not the same when you're having to build yourself up to try and persuade someone that you're the best. Particularly when it doesn't come naturally.



What really touched me about the social media post was it seemed to be so different from how I’m being led to believe Britain is. Social media - the angry, aggressive type - tells me we live in an unjust, unfair world and we’re completely wrong most, if not all, of the time. 


Life is certainly not fair and the world should be a much more equal place. But all these social media posters seem to be in such a perpetual rage. It must be exhausting and it is most definitely not good for their mental health.


Just as I’m about to despair, along comes someone completely unknown who says generous and complimentary words about the country in which I live. How ironic that it takes someone from outside this small island to tell me how lucky I am to be here, even now when I’m confined to my home. 


Chimichanga007 ends the post, saying: “I miss you UK and I am coming back when this is all over! I know EU gives you sh** but you're my happy place and have a lot of compassion in your society!”


Fancy a person considering the UK as their “happy place”. It's hard to say better than that.



By Lulu Sinclair



Photo 1: Alistair MacRobert/Unsplash

Photo 2: Fas Khan/Unsplash 

Photo 3:  Ian Taylor/Unsplash



 

Wednesday, 10 February 2021

In Celebration of Love



February, a month that is still dark and drizzly and, to me at any rate, representative of a bleak time of year. The exception is St Valentine’s Day. 

I looked up its origins and they, too, seem to be a bit dark, with the theme running through all the legends of a Christian priest - Valentine - martyred after being put to death by the Romans for the illegal practice of marrying Christian couples. 


Let’s put that to one side for the moment; I’m looking for a story that cheers and inspires so let’s move on to how we think of the mid-month party event. Balloons, red-shaped hearts, dinner dates, marriage proposals, exciting cards with no signature from admirers we can only guess at. And, as the years go by and we may have settled for the one particular admirer, the lucky ones among us can still look forward to that card which reminds us of our youth and excitement and the dreams we had.


This year will be trickier, of course. Coronavirus was still creeping up on us last year but lockdown had not yet arrived. We could celebrate and go out and the young men and women’s fancies were turning towards spring with the delicious thoughts that season brings.


Those thoughts seem to have been flattened this year. There’s hope on the horizon but, for anyone searching for someone special, it’s hard to know how to look. No online dating; no pubs; no parties; no friendly introductions - it looks like this year’s Valentine’s Day might be a bit of a subdued affair.


For the purpose of this piece, how about we look at a different kind of love? Not the Eros type - the romantic or passionate love that will return soon enough - but the agape kind, the ancient Greek’s descriptive term for a generous or charitable love, one that encompasses all. 


Unsurprisingly, there has been a lot of complaining about how restrictive our lives have become. We’re used to at least some freedom of movement and there’s not too much of that going on right now. None of us are quite sure who to blame but we live in a society where blame matters and we’re sure we can hold someone to account.


It’s been easy to continue in our polarised discussion - government, or not, NHS or not, obedience, or not - and so it goes on. It’s not surprising, really, we have little else to do except naval gaze and throw out accusations. 


It’s been a long, hard haul but at last it is looking as though we are moving in the right direction. The UK’s vaccination programme seems to be moving through the population very quickly and, to the surprise of many of us, it really has been something by which we can be impressed.


And here we come to the agape love part. I have come across a number of people who volunteered to become vaccinators to help keep the programme going and they all report how moved they’ve been and how “teary” they became when they took part in the process for the very first time. Okay, one or two might have signed up because they wanted an early chance of the jab but most simply wanted to help and they wanted to be in at the start of something which has the potential to change/re-normalise all our lives. 


Inadvertently, what seems to have happened is that those who took part have also experienced the benefits of agape love. Their charitable deeds have left them with that wonderful feeling of having done something worthwhile while basking in the glow of admiration from friends and family for doing something for others. Internal and external praise you might say.


I was on the receiving end of such treatment recently when I went to have my own test for Covid-19. I booked online - it was simple - and was given a date for the test two days later. I drove to it and was directed to a (free!) parking bay by the first of a number of charming and efficient people. Each was at least as kind, considerate and helpful as the last and the whole process took less than 20 minutes. I had my result within the hour. 


In my own slight uncertainty and anxiety, I was on high alert for officialdom, bureaucracy, anything that could leave me feeling just that little bit more edgy and ready to rail. What I found, however, was an experience as good as it could be. The staff wore the same head-to-toe covering but, other than that they were as individual and diverse as could be found in this rich tapestry that is London. And what they did have in common, was a desire to put those of us coming for the test at ease. It worked like a dream. I left feeling a whole lot better than when I’d started out, with my young and enthusiastic supporters waving me off as I went. The experience lifted my spirits for the rest of the day and I’m smiling as I remember it. That is a personal glimpse of what agape love can do for each one of us.


So, in a month when we lost the inspiring Captain Sir Tom Moore and (my own personal idol) Christopher Plummer, aka Captain Von Trapp, the father-figure hero of my childhood, I’m going to take a moment to remember those who are no longer here. I feel sad but I take comfort in reflecting on the power of the unconditional love that is agape and how this testing and trying time is finally bringing out the good in us. I feel surprised, encouraged and strangely hopeful. Perhaps Eros can wait his turn for another year. 

 

By Lulu Sinclair


Photo 1:  Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash

Photo 2:  Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

Captain Sir Tom Moore portrait by kind permission of Alexander Chamberlin


Tuesday, 26 January 2021

Reasons To Be Cheerful


The vaccination is being rolled out, Spring is (almost) within sight and yet I am finding many people feeling much gloomier than they were during the first lockdown.

It was summer then, of course, and it was a good opportunity to enjoy spending time away from the office and outdoors. Many of us were still earning so that was an added bonus. It was all going to be a short, sharp shock and then back to our normal lives. 


It’s not turned out quite like that, has it? It has gone on and on with not too much insight into when and what the end of this pandemic will look like. Maybe that accounts for a certain amount of gloom. That and the uncertainty of when life really will get back to normal. 


We all know that excess stress is not good for us and we are presently living in stressful times. We know, and we continue to stress - it’s one thing to be told to stay calm, it’s another thing to actively try and do it. 


However, a recent report from scientists at Ohio University says we really do need to take care of ourselves at this particular time. The study suggests those who are not managing very well at the moment, may not get the full benefit of a vaccination against coronavirus. The scientists studied results from vaccinations over the past 30 years and found stress, depression and an unhealthy way of living may adversely affect the body’s immune response to vaccination.


Put simply, those not in a good-enough frame of mind were less likely to find the vaccine fully effective than those other people who felt better, both mentally and physically.

I feel even more glum when I read the research so I suppose that’s not helpful. I know I need to keep my spirits up in case I’m suddenly called for a vaccination. I need to be in prime condition for when that moment comes. 


It’s hard, when you’re in a gloomy state of mind, to come up with reasons to be cheerful so I’ve been reflecting quite a lot on what I can do to change my state of mind.


I've decided, because of our very real actual limitations, that I’m going to try and seek more positives from how I’m living my day-to-day life. I'm suggesting to clients who are presently finding this lockdown so hard they might consider doing something similar.


For instance, this season is one that most of us rush through on the way to Spring. I hardly give it a glance. Bare trees, grey streets (if you live in the city), damp and a feeling of unremitting drudgery as I put the cheerful lights of Christmas behind me. That’s how it usually feels to me at any rate and this year it seems a highly exaggerated version of that.


So, this time, I’m taking the time to notice what’s going on around me. I’m noticing which trees are bare and which still have leaves. I’m trying to identify what they are and why it happens. I’m quite unquestioning about nature on the whole. It’s there and I’m very pleased about it but I don’t care that much. This year, I’m making more of an effort. 


I point out the tree phenomenon to the little person in my life and I’m relieved she’s not at the chatty point yet because that’s about the sum of my knowledge. To remedy that, I’ve bought a book on the outdoors. It’s a simple one for children about trees, birds, flowers etc but it’s doing me the power of good. I’m hoping that, by the time she’s ready for a full-on conversation, I’ll have slightly more knowledge than she does. 


We’ve just had some snow. Usually, it might present a problem in the sense of getting to work via train, bus or car. I remember how frightened I was when I had to drive through a snow drift with the car slip-sliding away along an unsalted main road to get to work. 

This time I was grounded and there was no need to be afraid.  Instead, I dressed up, put on sensible walking boots and went out to take pictures - along with hundreds of others - in the local park. The air was fresh, fellow humans were laughing and we all somehow reconnected as the snow fell. It’s turned to mush now so it didn’t last long but the cheerful memory lingers.


Talking of parks and the importance of nature, I went for a drive through Richmond Park. It’s still London but feels almost rural and the deer really do own it. I caught a glimpse of three white harts (white deer) - considered a lucky omen - comfortably resting just a little off the road. I wouldn’t have spotted them except I was doing the obligatory 20mph (I usually rail against that) and a shaft of sunlight seemed to settle exactly on their spot. It was a breath-taking moment. Another natural revelation to commit to memory. 


A friend tells me he gets pleasure from checking out the hours of dawn and dusk. He’s a cyclist and he tells me it lifts his spirits to see the days getting longer. I haven’t tried that yet but I might. The clock watching, that is, not the cycling.


I’m learning it’s good to be outside even if it’s for a short while. It reminds me that there is more to life than it may appear when the gloom descends. 


I’d like a vaccination and I’m longing to return to normal life so that remains my long-term focus. In the meantime, I’m going to concentrate on all the previously considered unimportant parts of nature that I’ve missed. For the moment, that’s something to which I can look forward. 



By: Lulu Sinclair


Photo 1: Helen Lord on Unsplash

Photo 2: Steven Cornfield on Unsplash

Photo 3: Valerie Romain on Unsplash


 

Monday, 4 January 2021

Brexit - Positively My Last Word



It is four years since the referendum and Britain is now finally out of the EU - for good or ill, depending on your viewpoint. January is a traditional time for looking forward but this year is like no other in many people’s lifetime; we are uncertain about what it is we have to look forward to. Brexit still remains a very sore subject for almost half the population so I am using this blog to reflect on my own inner conflict.


Discussions about Britain’s “divorce” from Europe started in 2016 and the divorce term was quickly adopted nationwide. I argued the term was inaccurate; it was much more like deciding to leave a club we had once wanted to join but now decided that it no longer suited us and it was time to leave it behind. A bit of regret, perhaps, even some uncertainty but it wouldn’t take long to get over it. It’s the way life is.


I was wrong. The emotions this departure leaves us with are every bit as powerful as a divorce. For those who wish to remain - the abandoned partner - there is disbelief, fury, confusion as to how something started with such optimistic has ended in such abject failure. Very possibly, there is also a very strong desire for revenge. We, representing the EU lover, really want the person who has wronged us to suffer. Believe me, we say, they will. 


We rant on social media; we block friends who take the other’s side and we look forward with glee to proving that it’s all going to end badly. No matter how long it takes, it will.


The other side - the one that got away - is euphoric. This has been a long time coming. The future is blue-sky bright and the horizon stretches for miles in front of us. This is a blessed new dawn.


Neither view is entirely accurate of course. 


The EU, for example, is not perfect. Most of us have complained at one stage or another about its red tape bureaucracy, the fact that one size doesn’t necessarily fit all or we’ve just held on to our particular prejudice against a fellow member. Now, after Brexit, we look back at it all with a rosy glow.


Limitless opportunities or all at sea?

For the Brexiters - note the replacement of the Brexiteer word, which seemed to have a bit too much of a swashbuckling sound to it - they carry the memory of a once-great maritime power with an empire to show us we once ruled much of the globe and we can do so again. However, everyone will be aware times are different now and, as a geographically relatively small independent nation, we could be in for a rough time. 


There will be troubles ahead for both parties and the one who will do best from life will be the one who can accept and make the best of what comes next. 



So, back to the divorce analogy. The financial battle is over, the welfare of the children remains paramount to both parties (so we are told and so we must believe) and they will no longer be used as a bargaining chip for future financial negotiations. All we need to do now is move forward and get on with our own separate lives.


That's the rational, logical and reasonable part of the process. Unfortunately, it's mixed up with emotions and somehow they are always harder to keep under control. A public promise was made to stay together in good and bad times and someone has broken that promise and the grieving partner has been made a fool of - the instigator must be punished. The surging fury and hurt bubbles up to the surface for no obvious reason and we lash out, and the other person lashes out in response. And so it goes on. Unless we find some way of managing those uncontrollable feelings, our lives could be stalled for years, to our detriment.


I have seen clients who stay in this state for far longer than they see me. For some, there is an attachment to such a state of misery that goes way beyond the real value of the marriage. Sometimes I, as an outsider, wonder how they had held on so long. For others, it is all about the investment, the hopes and the dreams. It is about the despair when the marriage comes to an end and all those dreams have gone and there is nothing left. 


Sometimes the process of hearing their hurt is a form of healing. Talking it out does help. But for any psychotherapy to be successful, the client has to want some kind of change to take place. If they are not a willing participant, the process cannot work.


We are still at the very beginning of the Brexit road. We remain a polarised people. The isolation of Covid makes it harder for us to talk this out and our beliefs become even more entrenched.


I’m told there is a clause in the leaving treaty that allows for another re-examination of the situation in four years. For those feeling hopeless, this may represent a chance to reconsider the initial decision. Or, in four years’ time, it may be clear that leaving was the right decision after all. Who knows? 


What I do know, with quite a degree of certainty, is that holding on to such a level of anger and disappointment is not good for anyone’s mental health. All of us need to find some way of moving on, for now at least.




By Lulu Sinclair



Photo 1 by Call Me Fred on Unsplash

Photo 2 by Cinthia Aguilar on Unsplash