As I write this, we’re slowly coming out of another national lockdown here in the UK. West Yorkshire, where I live, has been under lockdown regulations for roughly 3 quarters of the past 365 days, and it’s taken its toll on us all. Myself, most definitely included – which I’ll probably be talking about more on the podcast, which is due to return later this month (Yipee!).
The short version is that just as lockdown began to shrink all of our lives, my own was just beginning to expand. Late in 2019 I was prescribed a medication that finally, really actually helped me, and went from around 4-5 hours of useful wakefulness in an average day to 12+, quite literally overnight.
At first, I was elated, but it very quickly became apparent that I did not have the life infrastructure that most 12+hour a day people depend upon. I didn’t know how to use my time without the wolf of fatigue scratching at the door. I didn’t know what to do with all those 3 o’clocks in the afternoon. I didn’t even have enough friends left to fill all those long, empty hours.
It was as if my brain chemistry somehow couldn’t cope, either. The last year has seen me struggle with a deeper depression than I’ve ever been through, and I’ve slowly had to rebuild myself, in this new, expanded but locked-down world that I find myself in. Like all growth, it’s been as painful as it was necessary and is still very much a work in progress. I am both grateful, and grumpily resentful that my fairytale happy ending turned out to be nothing of the sort.
Building a tolerance for life is an interesting skill to acquire as an adult.
I’ve found I’ve had to actively seek out the things that my previous self would have classed as redundant, and let myself soak in the pleasure of them all. It’s become a daily practice to find the things that feel good for me, and try to turn the volume up on them – and it’s a practice I think we could all do a little more of sometimes.
And so, with that in mind, I wanted to share some of the small, sometimes superficial things that have been giving me (new) life in these recent months.
1. My Beautiful Planner
In the depths of my depression around December, when absolutely nothing felt interesting, pleasurable or fun, Instagram randomly showed me somebody’s beautiful planner one day. It was love at first sight.
I’ve always admired the whole minimal planner aesthetic, but as an ADHDer with no time to spare, all those stickers and colour-coordinated lists were clearly never going to be high on my (non-aesthetically appealing) agenda. Why would I waste time on making my to-d0 list look good when I could be actually getting on with the to-do list??
It was only when I found myself almost drowning in empty time that I understood: the pretty planning is for fun, and the joy of it. It doesn’t have to be a part of the work.
I’m planning a whole separate post on my planner and all its lovely supplies, but if you’re looking to get started with something similar, I can recommend Moterm, Cloth and Paper and Crossbow Printables to kick things off.
2. Our Tiny Rescue Kitten
Nettle, named after her initially-prickly personality and the stings acquired in her rescue, has been the saving grace of lockdown for my entire family. You can catch up on her story here, but essentially, we saved her and two others from fairly certain death, and I wound up adopting the most feisty and untouchable of them all.
It took just days to turn her around. With her mother killed by a car, she took to suckling on her own tail as a replacement, while curled up in the crook of my neck so she could feel that reassuring heartbeat. Now, 10 months on, she still sucks her tail whenever we snuggle, which she prefers to do under a heavy blanket, and most especially with her mama, me.
She’s spent long, entire days with me like this – head peeping out for fresh air, keeping me company through many a Netflix marathon while I waited for the days to wither and die. And perhaps because we’ve spent so much time intensely together, right from her being a tiny thing, but I’ve never had a cat who’s quite so communicative, hilarious, characterful and fun.
Even the dog is in love with her, and she’s my favourite reminder of how giving zero fucks and just being fiercely and unapologetically yourself does not in any way preclude you from being adored.
3. Nap Dresses
I’ve been coveting the original ‘nap dress‘ by Hill House since they first exploded on Instagram last summer, but for some reason didn’t allow myself to purchase one until this Spring. Suffice to say, it’s one of the greatest things I’ve ever worn and I’m so reluctant to take it off that it’s in danger of becoming unhygienic. I sleep naked at night (because of overheating/night sweats, not as a sexy tribute to Coco Chanel) and so sleepwear in general has been a long-neglected part of my wardrobe. As someone who needs a lot of naps, the name appealed to me as much as the designs, and for the first time, it occurred to me that a nap could perhaps be a pleasurable thing, and not always a sinister monster that grabs me from the deep, pulling me, kicking and screaming, out of my daily life and into an inky black ocean of unconsciousness. Like, maybe a nap could just be a nice rest, instead?
Once I wore it for naps though I realised that these things are a) exquisitely comfortable and b) hella flattering, so as soon as the weather warms up I am 1000% making nap dresses a part of my non-bed-based wardrobe as well. Lots of high street brands have caught onto the trend now too, so you can find replica nap dresses at much lower prices if you hunt around!
4. Neom Candles
I have a theory that scented candle sales must have rocketed during lockdown because something about being stuck at home seems to have given so many of us permission to actually light the damn things. It always felt like a bit of an indulgent waste before, you know? Especially the expensive ones. I always felt like I had to save them for a special occasion – which ironically turned out to be a random rainy Tuesday in lockdown number one when the quantity of dust under the sofa made me feel overwhelmingly like crying.
I’ve worked my way through a lot of them since that initial candle burst, and my favourites, right now, are the scents by organic brand Neom. I ordered their “scent to make you happy” in a desperate search for anything that really actually might, and while I can’t say it has any quantifiable antidepressant effects, it never fails to give me an optimistic sense of Spring. Their Calm & Relax and De-Stress candles are now a part of my daily rituals too – I light one at nap time, as part of my Make-Napping-Nice-Again campaign, and I find the strong scents from them are grounding and uplifting in a way I would never have believed before. (I feel like this sounds like an ad, but it’s honestly not! I just really like them a lot.)
There was a point, in early January, where I was taking Diazepam almost every day. Not good, especially with such an addiction-forming drug, so I asked my GP if I could try the simple Beta Blocker Propranolol instead. He was hesitant about dosage – wanted to be sure that my heart rate wouldn’t drop too low – but once I reminded him that I have POTS (!) and my resting heart rate is usually around 140bpm he went ahead and wrote out the script. And it has been brilliant.
Some days, like today, 40mg isn’t sufficient and I have to go up to 80mg, but as I sit here writing this my Apple Watch tells me my heart rate is just 94bpm. Under 100! I mean, I know that’s still a normal person’s cardio rate, but it’s truly unheard of for me!
Obviously, this medication choice is super specific to me and my body, but if you’re struggling with the physical manifestations of anxiety – racing heart, palpitations, sweaty hands, etc, then it could be worth asking your GP if a medication like this is worth a try.
Propranolol has been around for decades, is off-patent and so super cheap, and is apparently one of the safest prescription medications available. And, weirdly but impressively, in pharmacological studies it has apparently been shown to reduce racism and implicit racial bias, so maybe we just need to get the whole country doping up with this instead of caffeine each day and see if we can make the world a nicer place.
6. Clean Floors
One problem with waking up, Sleeping Beauty style from a 100-year slumber is that you suddenly realise all the ways in which your life has disintegrated around you. My house was a mess, basically. Clutter had built up, and my delegation of all cleaning responsibilities to my brilliant husband Rory meant things were being done sporadically, and to a different standard than my own. With all three of us (plus an extra cat, to add to the existing 2, our dog Monty and 4 pet birds) at home day in day out, the level of dust and mess quickly became a difficult trigger point for me. And so I decided to invest in a shiny new robot vacuum. I splurged on a Roborock 5* – and good lord, it’s easily become the greatest thing I have ever bought in my entire life. Every day it sucks up literally fistfuls of dust, pet hair, cake crumbs and missing tiny toys. I was sure that once we established a baseline level of cleanliness that we’d see that volume reduce, but nope – apparently we’re just filthy, because each day, it finds another bin load of detritus for us to happily throw away. As an experiment, we tried vacuuming with our regular Henry Hoover* to a good standard, then set the Roborock to do its thing. It found loads that the manual process had missed. Because it painstakingly covers every inch of floor and gets right into the corners with its spinny-brush attachment, it’s definitely much more thorough than any human could ever be bothered to be.
It even comes with a mop attachment, so it can wipe as it vacuums, and gives you impressive maps and statistics via the associated app – which also allows you to set the vacuum going from anywhere, any time. We have ours programmed to go around each morning before we get up, and coming down to sparkling clean floors every day has honestly been a quiet sanity-saver on more than one occasion. The Roborock is expensive, without a doubt, but if your budget can stretch to any kind of robot vacuum (I bought my brother a Eufy*, which he highly recommends) I would so wholeheartedly urge you to consider investing in one for your home – especially if you have a chronic health condition or physical disability. It will change your life.
(Links marked with a * use affiliate links, which can earn me a small commission on any sales, at no additional cost to you.)
“Decluttering, for Spring?,” I hear you cry. “Groundbreaking.” But as I mentioned above, the sheer volume of stuff in my home had got way beyond my minimalist preferences while I’d been struggling with my health in recent years. Determined to be kind to myself and avoid falling back into overwhelm, I’ve started a simple daily challenge: get rid of 5 things, every single day.
5 old lipsticks and nail polishes tossed in the bin. 5 books in the Charity Shop bag. 5 old bills that can be chucked in the recycling. 5 items of clothing I no longer wear, thrown out, recycled or passed on to a friend. It’s become a bit of a daily treasure hunt, and even Orla’s on board with helping me track down my daily 5. Some days I get the bug for it and clear out way more than 5 things – my book pile was more like 50, by the time I was done this week – but still, the rules are clear that as long as I’ve found 5 things, then my work here is done. So if 5 dried up felt-tip pens from Orla’s overflowing craft cupboard is all I’m capable of today, that’s completely fine. It’s still 5 fewer things that we have in the house.
My favourite way to think about decluttering is in terms of square metres – if my home is X m², how much of that space is being taken up by stuff we neither want nor use? Based on the sheer volume of stuff that we’ve recycled, thrown out and set aside for when the charity shops re-open, the answer probably approaches double figures, and I am loving slowly reclaiming that clean empty space for us all, while still being gentle and compassionate with myself.
I feel slightly guilty even admitting to this, like I am somehow being unfaithful to my beloved Instagram, but it’s true – my absolute favourite platform to hang out on right now is Tiktok, of all things. My initial impressions, perhaps like yours, were not all that great – it seemed to be all dancing teenagers, awkward memes and unfunny pranks – but the algorithms over there are clever as Hell (along with, most likely, whatever spyware they’ve installed on my phone to quietly monitor the rest of my online interests).
Now it regularly and reliably shows me content I love, and unlike any other online space that I can think of right now, it’s always uplifting, feel-good and quite often genuinely helpful and educational.
Tiktok right now feels like Instagram did 5 or 6 years ago: creative, free, and full of heart and community. I’m so enchanted that I’ve even been recording my own stuff to eventually share on there, and it feels wide open and free – no expectations, because I don’t have a following on there really, and who even cares if it all bombs? I’ve found so many favourite creators on there, so I’d recommend taking a look through my follows if you’re still figuring out your way in the app, and trying to get the algorithms to stop showing you cringeful crap. Or I can make a dedicated post sharing some of my faves? Let me know if that would be of interest to you all.
Obviously, Instagram has Reels, which in theory is just the same as Tiktok. And yet, somehow, it’s just not: the algorithms aren’t quite getting it right, the variety of content seems not to be wide or as creative, and there’s an awful lot of people who appear to be forcing themselves to post stuff on Reels in a way nobody seems to be bothering with on Tiktok. Obviously, Reels still has a place and will undoubtedly evolve, but for now, my advice to anyone looking to get started in creating content in that format is to spend time in Tiktok first, to get a sense of how it’s really meant to be done.
9. Sunshine + Beverages
Rose in the evening, sitting on sun-warmed York stone steps. A coffee cradled between cold hands as the early Spring sunshine fights the arctic chill. Prosecco, shared with a fellow Mum on adjacent doorsteps at 3 pm, watching our kids laugh and play on the cobbles, truly relaxed and happy for the first time in days. w Now that we can finally, finally socialise with others outdoors again, I’m obsessively tracking the weather apps (my favourite is always Net Weather, who tend to be both more accurate and more optimistic) for that happy yellow symbol in the sky. Who even needs international travel to be permitted again when you have 15c sunshine and half a bottle of fizz?
I’ve definitely drunk more in the past 12 months than the rest of my life put together, but I’ve also laughed more, socialised more, and soaked in more Vitamin D along the way. Life’s all about balance or something, right?
10. French House Fantasies
It’s another long story for another time, but in the middle of lockdown #1, I accidentally fell in love with a house in France. It really and truly was accidental – I was only looking as a bit of a joke at the pub one afternoon – but there was this house, outrageously affordable, utterly perfect and singing its Siren song to me across the English Channel. Suddenly, it seemed like a total possibility. Why couldn’t we buy a place, and slowly do it up by ourselves? What an adventure! What a luxury! What a total, unbelievable dream come true!
But lockdown persisted, and that meant international travel was restricted for weeks and weeks on end. I kept chasing the Estate Agent in France, but he was recalcitrant at best, and when we were finally in the position to go over and view it, Orla had just started back at school, and it seemed unreasonable and unkind to pull her away from her friends again.
I regret that choice bitterly now, because just days before we were scheduled to view and put our offer in, another buyer purchased my dream French longère. I chased, I persisted, I even wrote a letter to the owners of the house pleading our case in French, but the sale has now been finalised and the Dream House is gone.
What has not left me, however, is the dream it left in its wake. I still want to buy a place in France someday. I know what I want very specifically: exposed beams, tomette tiled floor, crumbly stone walls and a garden that’s more unruly meadow than neat and tidy lawn. I want hot sun shining on us all summer long. I want enough rooms to put up our friends and their families. A local bakery, bien sûr; the sound of crickets at sunset; dodgy roadside wine that tastes slightly of vinegar, but we drink it anyway because we’re in France, and it’s the summer and we’re with our friends. Reasonable WiFi would also be lovely, but I fear I’m probably being a touch unrealistic at this point…
Rural French property prices remain well within our budget (which is wild to me, as someone who couldn’t even get a phone contract just 8 or 9 years ago) and I’m staying firmly optimistic that the perfect house will come to us when the timing (and global pandemic situation) is right.
And in the meantime, I keep looking, checking property websites daily and allowing myself to dream. It’s really the ultimate in online window shopping – do I want the cottage with a pool or the crumbling old Abbey commune by an ornamental lake? With travel still limited and quarantines in place, there’s really no sense in falling for another house just yet, but there’s a lot of fun to be had in just browsing, imagining, and living multiple tiny lifelines all inside of my head.
What’s been keeping you going in recent months? I’d genuinely love to hear what would make the top 10 list for you
H is for Hawk is a book about madness. Not the institutional kind, but the madness of grief, and the long, slow process of recovery that follows. It's a process millions of people undertake every [...]