Yes, I’m even further behind now in my daily plan. After Friday’s adrenaline drenched adventures, I was wiped out all weekend. I forget that after my body has experienced an 8 or 9 level panic attack, there is a moment of incredible bliss where I slide right down to a 5, and I am massively grateful for steady breathing and not trembling, but it’s still not perfect. What follows is usually a couple of days of exhaustion and lethargy in level 5, in which I still can’t eat properly – which adds to the weakness – and I am mostly curled up on the sofa under two blankets. No motivation, no focus, and no fun to be around at all. The fortunate timing meant that I had a whole weekend to soak up my somnolence, and didn’t need to snap out of it until Monday morning. Clever timing there, little panic-maker, it’s almost as if you know my schedule! So, while I thought I’d have the energy and enthusiasm for a deep dive into the mysterious motivations of my inner child, I realised that’s a subject which requires a strength I haven’t quite got yet, and will be addressed in a few days when I reach day 13.
So back to my alphabetised list, I realised the one thing I did manage over the past three days was Connection. In my efforts to keep positive, I did speak to a range of friends and family, and I am reminded again how lucky I am to have so many really wonderful people to connect to, as well as the technology that allows for it without leaving the house.
There are a few levels of connection, that I have categorised in my colourcoded affirmations as the following:
*To my significant other
*To friends and family
*To my colleagues and community
*To the earth
I am aware that I am lucky to have enough people (and green space) in my life that I can tick each of those boxes nearly every day, and that I have a huge head start on a lot of people battling anxiety, fear or depression. So today’s lesson will be about looking at the quality of my connections in each of these areas, and whether I could be doing better.
Brene Brown, who I utterly adore, defines connection as ‘the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard and valued; when they can give and receive without judgement; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.’ I could spend pages and pages typing out Brene Brown’s words, she is so full of beautiful wisdom and authenticity, but I will restrain my excitement till we get to day 19: Vulnerability, and then I won’t be able to shut up about her.
I think we all know the types of conversations that leave us energised and empowered, and those that drain or exhaust us. I know that when I feel like I can be honest, authentic and real with someone, I feel immensely better after speaking to them. But I guess there is a sliding scale, because I also recognise that a simple smile from a stranger on the canal towpath – a fleeting acknowledgement of our shared humanity, and shared appreciation of Wiltshire’s wonderful walkways – gives me a mini hit of happiness too.
Molly Carroll says, ‘When you can interact intimately and honestly with your friends and your family and community, you strengthen your immune system, you recover from disease faster and you actually live longer, and human connection absolutely lowers our rates of anxiety, depression and suicide ideation. We all need to strengthen our connection muscle.’
It is not hard to accept that connection is a fundamental need, as shown in Maslow’s triangle of needs, as well as every other model of Human Needs I’ve found. It also features as the first of the Five Ways to Wellbeing that the charity Mind promotes. I know lockdown has been massively difficult for people in the resulting separation and isolation, but for those of us who have the opportunity, I’ve found that it has forced a lot of us to make extra special effort to connect, and maybe, because of the shared nature of our global trauma, we are connecting more honestly.
Living in my partner’s little flat was a temporary arrangement for earlier this year, but lockdown made it far longer term than planned, so the past seven months has forced us, like many households, into unexpectedly close proximity. It has not been without its challenges, but has also sped up the closeness of our connection. As well as his connection to my family, who arrive en masse in my laptop every week.
On my New Zealand brother’s birthday six months ago, when lockdown had just started, we arranged an intercontinental family zoom call, which was a bit of a mission across five time zones. We were so excited to see each other all in one screen that we said let’s do this again next week. And since then we have had a family zoom every single weekend, which my partner is excited about as me. We cover the important issues of the length of London brother’s hair, the state of New York brother’s purple toenail, the progress of Kenilworth sister’s tomatoes, and are treated to a showing of whichever toys the Kenilworth nephlings are especially proud of (pokemon cards and an Olaf figurine this week) before getting on to the big subjects. The international covid comparisons (complete with graphs) are always educational: Madrid sister explains that while the numbers are rising all around her, if a student in her school gets it, they are so tightly bubbled that they only have to shut down one class. New Zealand brother says that if one person in his town got it, they would shut down the whole country. (He regularly gloats about ‘Aunty’ Jacinda’s superiority in defeating the virus). The New Jersey nephlings will be going back to school for the first time in seven months, the Seoul Brother (yes I have a Seoul brother!) explains that Korea has it under such control that they are holding music festivals again, and us few Brits try to make sense of our latest national restrictions, while making our parents promise to stay away from the pub.
I realise not everyone has access to such a happy two hour dose of love and connection every week – with people who can make you laugh about the scary things so they font feel so overwhelming – but with the magic of the internet, it’s not hard to set up. And while zoom isn’t as good as real life, with several thousand miles between us all, my disparate family are now more connected to each other than we have ever been. (I even had a mild anxiety attack during a family zoom call a few weeks ago, which was an enlightening experience for all of us, and was also quickly resolved with the sensible advice of several sympathetic siblings).
The other really important zoom group that we are lucky enough to be a regular part of is our Monday night social zoom, a group of nine of us (started as a virtual pub quiz group in March), which can last for more than three hilarious hours. I rarely remember what we talk about but I always feel the pain in my face from laughing so much. As a generally quiet introvert, I have never been very good at big social gatherings, but the fact that we can share an evening of laughs and drinks and stories together from the comfortable safety of our own sofas (still under the blankets) means my social life has actually improved.
This week also included a proper long call to my really good friend in London, two calls from my mum, several to my sister, and one from a random friend of my mum who meant to call someone else with the initial M, but we ended up chatting for half an hour about both our families, which was really lovely.
So my friends and family connections are doing pretty good, and I also have some lovely community connections. Our regular musical treat is the Helm De Vegas interactive live show three times a week – another lockdown phenomenon – and our twice weekly zoom Yoga session with lovely Sara connects us to another (slightly smaller) community, complete with chats and laughs after the class.
Lastly, I am again incredibly fortunate that my job allows for so many regular and new connections with people, and to my lovely colleagues and wider community. I spent this morning on the phone to a few new people about community projects, and then this afternoon I was on duty for Melksham Community Response, which is still going, seven months on. I got to talk to some lovely ladies about their prescriptions, and to one of our treasured regular volunteers who was happy to do the deliveries. Administratively, it’s a few small tasks, but each of these little connections feel so important and meaningful, and I am always grateful that I get to play a small role in keeping this support going. One of the services MCS provides is setting up isolated people with a regular volunteer for friendly phone calls, so I have volunteered for two wonderful people who I call each week, and honestly I think I get more out of the call than them. I really like listening, and both of my elderly people love telling me their stories, and it’s a privilege that they open up to me with their weekly worries and wonderings.
In Mind’s tips for the number one way to wellbeing, they suggest that one thing you can do differently is ask someone how their weekend was, and then really listen to the answer. When I saw this, I thought surely we don’t need to be told to do that, and then I considered, in all of my interactions in the past week, how much of it was really listening, and how much just waiting till I could speak. And in my friendly phone calls is the only time where all I do is listen, which, according to Mind (and to my own experience) is beneficial to me too.
There seems to be this paradox of connection, in that what we want – to be seen and valued as a unique person – can often best be achieved when we shut up and listen. As Dan Foxx says, when you get rid of the ‘I want’ and you are truly there for the other person, by listening and really hearing them, you reach a deeper place of connection and love by forgetting about yourself. He says, ‘I need to get rid of my ego. I need to be completely unaware of me in my communication with you, to connect, to care and love.’
So there is this complex cycle where you need to be OK in yourself, have enough love and connection to your authentic self, so that you don’t need to feed your ego with everyone’s approval, and then from that place you can connect at the meaningful level that gets back to the enriching power of connection.
This whole area needs a lot more exploration – I know many a book has been written on the intricacies of healthy connection in relationships, work, to yourself, to your environment – but I guess, in summary, connection is most beneficial when it is from a clean, authentic place, free from ego, and full of love.
These are massive subjects to get to grips with, and will be something to think about as I maintain and develop my relationships, for my own wellness and those around me.
In closing, I can’t ignore the fact that my most recent method of connecting is right here, and I am so grateful that this little space is opening me up to a slightly more scary, but refreshingly authentic way to connect to you.
Thank you for visiting