5 Surprising Things I Haven’t Missed In Isolation

What’s surprised me most about this virus and its impact on my life is WHAT I HAVEN’T MISSED in isolation.

Whilst the 5 O’clock shadow above my lip is evidence of how much my body is missing its minimal beauty regime, there are still many things I thought my happiness depended upon that I haven’t missed at all since COVID struck our shores.

Photo by Mental Health America (MHA) on Pexels.com

Obviously, I’ve missed going to restaurants, weekends away, and movie trips, but there’s no denying that this virus has gifted me a window of opportunity to put into perspective what’s truly important in my life.

Removed from that relentless pressure to succeed in every aspect of my life, my brain is taking a long-overdue holiday from the overwhelming expectations society places on women our age.

Here are 5 surprising things I haven’t missed in isolation:

1. People

FRIENDS, before you rush to Facebook and unfriend me, hear me out. Because I’m not talking about people per se, I’m talking about people I don’t really know that I’m forced to mix with at large social events or work. One of the chronic sides to my anxiety is my social anxiety, which may not be that obvious to most people – because I’m a professional at disguising it, aka an alcoholic. Nevertheless, it’s a problem that explains why a big part of me is loving this excuse not to leave the house right now.

The work required to socialise kills me, i.e. the diplomacy required to fit everyone in without offending anyone. So while I’ve kept myself busy during this time, I’ve not missed being socially busy and I’ve embraced the extra time and energy to pour into projects I WANT TO DO that I’ve been forced to put on the back burner in the past.

2. Shopping

There’s not much point in clothes shopping when there’s nowhere to go, and on the rare occasions I’ve visited the mall for “essentials”, I’ve discovered that my desire to shop has all but disappeared – cue fist pump from hubby. Materialism really does feel unessential right now.

That change in mindset has nothing to do with not having the cash to splash, it’s about the change in my priorities. In the past, I wasted hours at the mall, trying to live up to unrealistic expectations that now seen ridiculous. Like many women, treating myself and spending compulsively used to make me feel better about myself. Now, I wonder why.

3. My Anxiety

This is a strange one to admit to when governments around the world are preparing for a mental health emergency, and yet it makes complete sense to me. Aside from the ramifications of certain domestic triggers (hmmm…), my anxiety hasn’t been exacerbated by COVID-19. If anything, it has reduced, and recent research in Japan confirms that I’m not alone. It makes sense when one of the triggers of my anxiety is stress at work, and did I mention people?

The threat of the virus trumps most of the fears anxious people like me ruminate about on a daily basis. COVID-19 is the disaster of epic proportions we over-thinkers have been waiting for our whole lives, and now it’s finally here and more tangible, it’s rather like looking the enemy in the eye.

And health anxiety is hardly an option right now. NO-ONE in their right mind wants to end up in the ER at the moment, right? And on a more personal front, whilst having our grown up son back at home has added some tension, it has also removed the fear caused by those calls in the middle of the night. Enabling or not, it is much easier to support him during this pandemic while he’s under our own roof.

4. “The Treadmill”

Again, the treadmill issue tie in with people and my anxiety. While I like my routine, I don’t necessarily enjoy all of the functions on my personal treadmill and at fifty-four, I’m still trying to shape my life into one I want, that works for me, i.e. working for myself, and doing something I feel passionately about. This break from certain outside pressures has paused the tension that usually mounts. It has provided me with the opportunity to step back and do exactly what I want for a short space of time, when I want to.

5. The Weight Of Expectation

I am aware that it is my personal responsibility to control the weight of expectation I feel – or so my therapist says. Everyone wants to succeed, but to balance pressures (many of which I put on myself) with my mental health is an ongoing battle. With the release of some of that pressure, my head has bobbed back to the surface of the water again.

I won’t deny that I’ve had an innate desire to find more inner peace for some time, and for those of us lucky enough to come through this virus unscathed, one positive of this COVID-19 experience has been to highlight the areas of our lives we need to re-evaluate. It has pushed nature, family relationships, and my health back to the top of my priority list. I may be missing the opportunity to explore countries I’ve never visited and family I haven’t seen in a while, but I am not missing the anxiety that used to accompany me on those trips.

Is there anything you haven’t missed in isolation that has come as a surprise?

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Midlife Mayhem – Can’t You Just Tell Everyone I’m Dead

Words of desperation from a despairing man, on the brink of a cosy Sunday lunch with close friends. ‘A Dead Man Walking’ sprung to mind as I laughed nervously at him, but the implications were more serious – he is an introvert in crisis. Telling everyone he was dead, however, was never an option. But should something happen to me, I do worry that no one will know the truth about the Howard Hughes-esque recluse, who lives in the house, at the end of our street.

It’s not a question of him not liking people, or that he is fashionably eccentric, just cripplingly shy. So even though Sunday’s guest list included some of his dearest friends, the thought of being dropped into potentially unknown territory, because there may have been infiltrators (i.e.people he didn’t know), filled him with social anxiety.

His preparation involved relentlessly firing the names on the guest list at me, a ‘clearance’ system of sorts, a practise usually the domain of law enforcement agencies. At work he has no choice, but on home ground he exercises his free will to anonymity, within the frustrating constraints (for him) of being married to a serial social organiser.

So when he uttered those seemingly glib words to ‘tell everyone I’m dead’, I knew that the avoidance disorder was taking control. You see, he had been thwarted in a misguided escape plan just before we left, when he thought I was offering him a ‘get out of jail free’ card by feeling unwell, (when in fact, cancelling became an option because my inflamed throat was threatening to compromise my drinking prowess). I watched the build-up of pressure dissipate from his face with that tiny nugget of hope, and I felt something akin to pity for him. Then it dawned on me that he had assumed that he could stay with me. I had to burst his bubble – the bubble about no longer being a child!

Apparently, the thought of a boozy lunch with my mates can render him immobile with fear if the stars aren’t aligned, and only a thorough risk assessment can manage his anxiety. I managed to ignore his pathetic last-ditched suggestion of ‘cuddling on the sofa  with a romantic DVD’ and began loading the car, as the last flick we’d watched together was ‘Four Weddings’, back in the nineties. As soul mates, I am as aware of his misanthropist tactics as he is of my vulnerabilities. I am so used to his spin, that surrendering to his bargaining pleas would be the equivalent of allowing the dog to eat chocolate; I have to be cruel to be kind, before his anxiety becomes toxic.

Howard Hughes, former aviator, engineer, indus...
Howard Hughes, former aviator, engineer, industrialist, film producer and director (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

How can a successful, professional man be so constrained by shyness? And how do I cope with these early onset hermit symptoms, which threaten to destroy the social bonds I have so carefully cultivated, in spite of his resistance? Our social life has developed into a game of ‘one step forward, two steps back’ with rules, terms and conditions and maddening negotiations. Social arrangements are permitted only once a weekend, on a strictly rotating basis and only with people who ‘understand’ him. New friends need the persistence of a mosquito.

They say that opposites attract, but how can I organise the party if no  guests are permitted? I dream of the community of a retirement village, while he dreams of acreage, high fencing and separate bedrooms.

My analogy of friendships, like cars that need servicing, falls on deaf ears, while every week he conspires against me, diminishing face-to-face social time with all but our direct line. And as the diary fills, so too does his trepidation, and he says it’s time to move suburb again.

Hermit Street – EC1 Photo courtesy of http://www.flickr.com (EZTD)

Midlife Mayhem – Margaritas Should Carry A Health Warning

Was it the drinking goggles or age-related brain cell depletion that made me think that I could swill frozen Margaritas, served in glasses the size of goldfish bowls, without consequence?

I’m certain I only had two, but eyewitnesses swear it was three. All I remember is that by 11pm, time began to stand still and I stopped counting drinks and calorie. I then proceeded to gabble incoherently into whatever obliging ear would tolerate me.

An inebriated middle-aged woman, who thinks she can simultaneously slurp a Margarita and ingest a steaming plate of tacos, should never provide the entertainment for the evening. At the point where the melted cheese/salsa ‘combo’ began dribbling erroneously down one of my chins, I spotted the furtive ‘code red’ sign between my friends and husband, symbolising that it was time to ‘get her out of here’. The SWAT team duly arrived and I was extracted from the premises by 11.15pm, before further embarrassment.

In my previous life, I would have knocked back three cocktails getting ready, and another en route to the venue, but these days, two pitiful units of alcohol reduces me to a semi-vegetative state. Slurring words, spilling friends drinks and missing the toilet while trying to alleviate some of the excess fluid circulating my already bloated body, are all behaviors synonymous with my transition from party girl to drunken mess.

So in hindsight, the decision to paint the town red at a new and hip Mexican eatery should have triggered alarm bells. It is, after all, written in the Mexican book of folklore that Tequila takes no hostages. Where, in my excitement, did I forget my golden rule of  stopping at three units, possibly four if I remember to line my stomach with goats milk and hose it intermittently with tanks of water? That rule is there to protect me and was instigated around my fortieth birthday when my alcoholic tolerance first went AWOL. I obviously ignored it. Although I only indulged in two ‘buckets’ of Margarita, with the addition of the gin and tonic ‘pre’ and a couple of cheap and nasty white wine chasers, my head never really stood a chance.

My complete lack of disregard for my well-being is disappointing on a personal level. The discipline required to cut back on alcohol in my new approach towards living longer, has been far easier to achieve than curtailing my food cravings. I’m not some masochist who gets a thrill out of hangovers, (which are now tantamount to being hit over the head with a cricket bat, repeatedly); whereas I still get an orgasmic thrill from the first bite of a passion fruit macaroon for dessert.

I did search the web vainly for a cure for my ‘intolerance’ initially, which is, I’ve discovered, as bona-fide a medical condition as being allergic to bee stings and kiwi fruit. Begging the question of when exactly this condition is going to be taken seriously enough for the pharmaceutical companies to invest in an EpiPen to counteract the symptoms?

My initial research pointed to the tannins in Chardonnay as the possible culprit, so in my desperation to carry on drinking like a real adult (as opposed to ‘the designated driver’), I explored some alternative beverages. Unfortunately, alternative therapies often fail to deliver in terms of a solution, although the treatment is pleasant enough; sadly, my cure does not lie with over-priced white wines, spirits, or even Champagne.

So my decision on Saturday was a brave one, some might even say an impulsive, potentially fatal one that was borne out of a need to re-discover my party-girl roots. The old man says that I shouldn’t need alcohol to augment my personality, my outlook is immature, and that our days of new friendships evolving out of alcoholic consumption competitions are over. Meanwhile, the ‘inner circle’ have been vocal in congratulating me for not vomiting, on Facebook.

Red on Green photo courtesy of http://www.flickr.com (Bachpics)

Coctail photo courtesy of http://www.freedigitalphotos.net

Midlife Mayhem – A Question of Maturity

I fear that I have been demoted to the role of ‘has-been female’ in our household.

I’m tentatively thrilled that my relationship with my teenage daughter is now in the ‘rediscovery’ phase after several turbulent years of adolescence, but I am sensing a resulting shift in the family dynamics. Whilst I’m earnestly trying to embrace our new pact, (I think she has to control her outward frustration with family life and I have to relinquish control of her every breath), some of her new behaviors relating to her ‘growth’ are irking me.

This newfound-maturity thing is not as straightforward as it seems, the main obstacle being that I’m simply not mature. There was no warning that the evil duckling was about to turn into a swan and I was obviously ill prepared for the fall-out. The family has welcomed the sudden change in her disposition, but if I’m honest I’m a little sceptical. Furthermore, I’ve observed that she has begun to infringe on my position in the household and, dare I say it, take on my role of alpha female.

Fortunately, she doesn’t seem fully conscious of her new standing yet, but I’m watching her. Obviously, her father fell for her guile the day she was born, and as nauseating as it is to witness his disempowerment in her presence, even I would be proud of her talent for extracting cash from him. And in spite of her newfound control, her brother still knows how to push the bitch switch and is not afraid of the outcome like the rest of us.

But her outer poise says it all and she now sashays around the house (my territory), exuding a shameless inner confidence and all-round gorgeousness that, frankly, I find confronting! I know I am the adult here and should be embracing her metamorphosis, so why do I see her as a threat?

You see her transformation into a young woman has provoked some serious soul searching on my part, although I have tried to rationalize my feelings of ‘offspring envy’. Maybe I can blame that on hormones too, or maybe I’m being too self-critical. I have adapted quite quickly to most aspects of her transition, after all, like the biological modifications neither of us could control.  Her height was only an issue until I re-introduced heels back into my wardrobe but that pheramonal attraction that boys have to her has been harder to manage, and stomach. Honestly, it’s hard to ignore the aesthetically perfect specimens of walking Testosterone that loiter around our home now, fawning over her, like drones around the Queen Bee. Boys used to behave like that around me, but I only catch the eye of male retirees now, and that’s on a good day.

So, do I retreat and lick my wounds or celebrate the success of my parenting skills? Am I really that shallow that I’m allowing my self-esteem to be threatened by the youth and beauty of my own progeny? Maybe I just need to ‘get a life’, like my ‘man mountain of middle age spread’ advised when I was moaning(his words)/seeking reassurance(mine)?

I admit it – I envy my own daughter! She has artfully crossed the boundary from adolescence to young adult, and in the words of the Spice Girls, acquired ‘girl power’. Once upon a time I used to have that power, but it’s been replaced by wrinkles and unwanted kilos. I envy her youth and looks, covet her intelligence and would trade my Chanel handbag for her endless possibilities.

Maybe I just need to grow up like she has!

High Heels 14 Photo courtesy of http://www.flickr.com (lucyguthrie 1)

Girl Power Photo courtesy of http://www.flickr.com

Midlife Mayhem – Who Stole My Daughter?

A pile of Maltesers candies and one split in half.
A pile of Maltesers candies and one split in half. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Apparently, I am one of the few mothers to have procured a ‘relationship’ with my teenage daughter.  Out of the ashes of the domestic warzone that started seventeen years, there has been an armistice, although the fragile ties that now bind us are still perilously loose. I fear a reprisal at any time, so celebrating our reunion prematurely makes me a little nervous. I know that one false move could catapult me back into the battlefield, but so far, we are both still here.

A portion of the advice I inhaled anxiously (in my quest to be the ‘perfect’ parent) from those patronizing parenting manuals, must have resonated after all. I discarded it at the time and in despair followed my own instincts, but could I finally be reaping some reward for my efforts now, like they promised me I would?

A young adult has definitely superseded the mutant that used to slither around the house, like some predatory reptile, waiting to pounce on its next unsuspecting victim. Usually me! Somewhere along the line a truce was made, an unspoken agreement drawn up, a ceasefire erected. The same possessed and angry she-devil, who screeched her way though adolescence has evolved, and finally blossomed into a ‘normal’ person.

She no longer persecutes me for attempting to associate, appease or spend time with her; I have even been invited to shop with her, although my request to befriend her on Facebook still receives a definitive ‘no’. She now ‘suggests’ the cinema to me and I am a sycophant to her charms, even though a three-hour fantasy film incites as much pleasure as sticking pins in my eyeballs. You see, I want to spend time with her, now that she’s on the cusp of leaving the nest. So I force-feed myself with ‘Maltesers’ to stay awake, for I must never become reticent and forget the ‘dark years’. Those years of exclusion and her self-imposed exile to her bedroom were painful rewards for the unconditional love shown to her in the early years. And during that period, I believed that they would never end.

But in reality, she has evolved from nappy to short skirt stage in the blink of an eye, although the crows’ feet and the grey in my hair tell a different story. Why did I have such little faith in my ability as a parent, or in her ability to metamorphose into a decent human being?

Our future looks brighter. I find myself entertaining the notion of her offspring (not spawn) – my grandchildren. Such is the circle of life.

Circle of Life photo courtesy of http://www.flickr.com (Piškuntál)