If my husband is getting tired of my daily step count updates, he only has himself to blame.
I’d been having a few episodes of low mood. I just felt a bit sad, lethargic and lost. All pretty common feelings during a pandemic, I’m sure.
At first, I let it go and figured it was inevitable when you’re living through a global crisis. If this is the worst thing I experience during this time, I thought, I’ve been very lucky!
I had panic disorder a few years ago, and I think it’s made me think that I need to wait until I feel really bad before I take steps to feel better.
When anxiety ruled the roost, I’d only feel calm for a few seconds each day. I’d wake up feeling OK because I’d momentarily forgotten that my brain was on fire. But then panic would kick back in, and I’d commence my (then) routine of sweating through the day, until bedtime came around again and I could have a break.
Therapy, time, and support from good people got me through it, and I’m fine now. One is never so bold as to say they’ve beaten a mental health condition – because the bastard might hear you and return. But I will say that, for the most part, I’m in charge now, not my panic. And that’s a pretty chuffing big deal.
So, having been through all that, when I feel myself take a different type of dip – like a mood slip or another form of anxiety – I’m not always quick enough to do something about it. I’ll say to myself: But I don’t feel like my head is about to explode! I can hang out with friends without wanting to sprint out of the room at the earliest opportunity! Everything is OK!
But just because the disorder’s in check, it doesn’t mean other things can’t affect what’s going on in my head. And that there aren’t things I can and should do to boost my wellbeing.
During my most recent bout of lowness, my husband said “Why don’t you try getting up earlier?”
Now, in the interests of honesty, I should admit that my first response was fury. Was he saying I’m lazy? That I don’t pull my weight? Or did he hope that if I spent less time in bed I’d have fewer dreams to bore him with?
But of course he didn’t mean any of that, and he had a point.
Our little girl is almost three and, all being well, she’s usually up for 12 hours of the day and asleep the other 12. So when Leon and I are done eating, tidying, failing to choose something to watch on TV, and sleeping ourselves, there’s a little time left to do whatever we want with (as long as one of us is in the house, of course).
I find parenting so tiring – and lockdown/pandemic era so endless – that my strategy had been to sleep for as long as possible. Because who wants to make these days longer?!
But it’s hard to go straight from bed to full throttle mum-mode. One minute I’m asleep, dreaming I’m already up and powering through my to-do list, and the next it’s MUMMY! CAN I HAVE SOME MILK AND A BISTIC (biscuit)? MUMMY COME IN MY BEDOOOM! It can be quite an intense way to start the day.
So I’ve started going for a walk. Just for half an hour or so, ideally first thing, when it’s still quiet and a bit chilly.
I’ve devised a special route just for this. I walk up the road we aspire to live on one day, around the park filled with pretty flowers and the world’s busiest squirrels, onto the high street for a reminder that buses still go and shops still open, into a café if I feel like treating myself to a hot chocolate or a pastry or both, and then home after doing a loop around the other park that’s nearer home.
I walked around this park when I was heavily pregnant with our daughter, blissfully unaware of what was to come. Then I’d go home and watch The Office U.S bloopers on YouTube all afternoon whilst I still could. Later, we took her there for her first trip out as a newborn in the sling. I must have checked her 50 times to make sure she was OK.
And now she’s almost three and obsessed with the swings, and we’re there all the time so she can play.
Being in that park on my own is a treat because it’s brief. And, because it’s such a significant place, going there for a walk and a think – and a sit down if I can get away with it – helps me get back in touch with myself and how I feel, and it helps.
When my HOW DARE YOU response to my husband’s suggestion that I start setting an alarm passed, I realised he was onto something. I looked back on the days leading up to my mood drop and saw that I’d hardly walked at all. Sure, I’d done playground trips and nursery pick-ups, and I’d gone to and from the kitchen 900 times. But I hadn’t walked for the sake of it. I hadn’t had time outside on my own.
In lockdown, we got good at helping each other take our daily exercise, as we needed it to survive. And just because we’ve got more freedom now, it doesn’t mean we should stop making the effort to move for the benefit of our wellbeing. We still need fresh air, space and to keep moving to help us stay well.
So I bought a Fitbit, which tracks the number of steps you take each day, your heart rate, your sleep, and other useful health-related info. I wanted something to hold me to account and make me walk – even when I think I don’t want to – and to give me proof that I’m trying.
Leon tolerates my delighted cries of “Ooh it just buzzed! I’ve done my 10,000 steps!” because he knows it’s for the greater good. It was all his idea after all, and I’m grateful for that.
When I’ve finished my morning walk, I head back up our road, open the front door, and am greeted with a ‘Mummy’s back!’ which I love.
I make breakfast, I give out snacks, we play, we go out, we eat food, we come home, I put on films, I clean up, we read books, I find lost toys, I hold my little girl when her emotions take hold, or she’s had a bump, or she’s frightened of a monster I can’t see, or she just wants a cuddle with her mum, and I sit with her in her bedroom at night, and I tell her that I love her and that we’ll have more fun tomorrow, until she drifts off to sleep once again.
And I’m better at it all, and I feel so much happier, because I went out for that walk.