Keeping well and breathing

It’s the 21st of December, which means it’s time to play the greatest Australian Christmas song of all time — “How to Make Gravy” by Paul Kelly. The classic tale of a man who finds himself in prison over the holidays while his family gets together without him and makes gravy incorrectly, probably.

Paul Kelly – How to Make Gravy (singalong version)

It’s also a good time to acknowledge that, for various reasons, the festive season actually sucks for a lot of people. This year, many people are separated from loved ones due to the pandemic, while others might be trapped in situations with someone they can’t get away from.

My life is pretty good, but I do find my anxiety is sometimes worse during holidays or long weekends.

In case someone else reading this is in a similar boat, I thought I’d share a mindful breathing exercise I use when I’m feeling overwhelmed. It’s not a magic pill or anything, but it’s helped me at times, and maybe it’ll help you.

It goes a little something like this…

  1. Find a reasonably comfortable position. If you’re stressed or anxious, you’re probably not feeling very comfortable, but do your best.
  2. Close your eyes. This isn’t mandatory, but I find it helps me focus on my breathing, which is kind of the point. 🙂
  3. Take a deep breath in for four seconds.
  4. Hold your breath for two seconds.
  5. Exhale for six seconds through your mouth like you’re blowing out slowly through a straw.
  6. Repeat this process for a minute or so.

If you find that breathing exercise useful, consider it my Christmas gift to you. If it’s not useful, then the Paul Kelly song can be my gift to you. 😀

Happy Gravy Day.

A-Z attitude of gratitude

Slightly different post today. But I’ve been trying to practise gratitude this year. And I do have a lot to be thankful for in my life. To prove it, here’s my A to Z of things I’m grateful for in 2020. 🙂

  • A — Artists. They get shat on a lot. They’re also the reason we have things to occupy us during isolation or lockdown.
  • B — Blogging. I’m not a very prolific blogger but I enjoy it.
  • C — Cats. Don’t have any, but some of our neighbours do and they’re cute in a curious yet aloof kind of way.
  • D — Dogs. Don’t have any dogs either, but there are dogs in my office building and they definitely spark joy.
  • E — eBooks. It’s how I’ve done most of my reading this year.
  • F — Family. Not everyone is lucky enough to be loved and supported by their family, so I’m eternally grateful for mine.
  • G — Google. Makes me sound far more knowledgeable than I really am when I’m on the phone to clients.
  • H — Hot chocolate. Or as I like to call it, pure happiness in a mug.
  • I — Imagination. I mean, let’s face it, the limits of reality totally suck sometimes.
  • J — Journaling. I’ve found it surprisingly helpful to scribble something down every day, even if it makes no sense later.
  • K — Kindness. Pretty self-explanatory.
  • L — Libraries. I could write a whole post about the importance of libraries to communities and not just because I work in one. But that’s not this post.
  • M — Music. My singing lessons were one of the few things I could really do for a while during the pandemic. And my favourite band (Bon Jovi) released a timely new album that I loved way more than I thought I would.
  • N — Netflix. I’m all about Star Trek: Discovery at the moment but apparently there are other good shows too.
  • O — Oz. As in Australia. Plenty of worse places I could be right now.
  • P — Phone. Good for keeping in touch with people you can’t physically be with and don’t know when you’ll see again.
  • Q — Quiet. Contrary to popular belief, I don’t hate people, but I do need time away from them to recharge.
  • S — Sanitiser. I used it religiously before COVID but it’s been liquid gold this year.
  • R — Rice cooker. Listen to Uncle Roger, they’re the best.
  • T — Tea. A nice warm hug in a mug.
  • U — USB flash drives. They’re just really useful.
  • V — Vanilla ice cream. Boring? Maybe. Delicious? Yes.
  • W — Work. I’m fortunate enough to like my job, and keeping busy with it helped keep me sane this year.
  • X — Xerography. It’s the technology that photocopiers use and… okay, I’m scraping the barrel with this one, but I didn’t get any x-rays or play the xylophone this year. 😛
  • Y — Yoga. I’m hardly the most flexible or balanced person around but I think doing yoga has aided my mental health.
  • Z — Zoom. So many video meetings this year, but I also got to pretend I was on a variety of spaceships through my Zoom virtual backgrounds. 😀

Black swans and isolation

I’m a weird person. I love the Star Wars prequels and always have. I was perfectly fine with the name iSnack 2.0 for the spread that was eventually renamed Vegemite Cheesybite due to public backlash. And if I ruled the world, it would be acceptable to wear leggings as pants in any setting.

I also get weirdly territorial about black swans.

Growing up in Perth, the capital of Western Australia, I was taught that black swans are only found in WA. That’s why it’s called the Swan River and why there’s a black swan on our state flag.

So imagine my surprise a few years ago when I went to Adelaide, South Australia and saw black swans out and about, living their best lives on the River Torrens.

I was with two friends who were also from Perth, so we’d all grown up thinking black swans were “ours”. It was… fascinating. And bewildering.

“Did they take our swans? Is this stolen property?”

Then Google told me black swans are native to other parts of Australia too. Our lives have been a lie!

But obviously “our” black swans are the best. Because animals care very deeply about the arbitrary borders that humans create. (Google didn’t tell me that; I did.)

Fast forward to the present day. I’m writing this post from inside the WA state border, which is currently closed (unless you can get an exemption) as a COVID protection measure.

I understand the reasons. Heck, it’s probably why I felt safe enough to leave the house when I had to go back into the office.

But it’s also starting to get me down. I wish I could see family and friends who aren’t in WA and give them a hug.

Well, I suppose I could don a face mask and get on a plane. No one’s actually stopping me from leaving. But I might not be able to get back home to the best black swans. 😉

So I’ll stay in my isolated fortress, writing useless blog posts like this until I can see my people on the outside again.

P.S. Black swans are not our property, nor anyone else’s. Just in case it wasn’t clear that I was being facetious.

P.P.S. I’ve got some masks ready for whenever I can make a trip across the border. Masks have the additional benefit of covering my acne scars so everybody wins. 😀

We are who we are for a lot of reasons

Last year (I think… I’ve lost all concept of time in 2020) I was asked an interesting question by an old friend:

“Have you always been this shy? Or did something happen to you when you were little?”

At the time I said, “I’ve always been like this”, which I believe to be true.

And my friend said, “That’s cool then. If it was the result of some unresolved trauma you’re not talking about, that would be unhealthy.”

(Just to clarify, my friend is in no way a qualified mental health professional and you should not take any health advice from this blog.)

But I have been thinking lately about why I am the way I am. And there are lots of factors that have shaped me, many of which I probably can’t even identify. However, there is one period of my life that comes to mind.

Pre-primary. I had spent the first few years of my life with older siblings and older cousins. The first day of school was the first time I’d encountered kids my age in the flesh. And it was overwhelming.

I didn’t know how to make friends. I didn’t know how to talk to people. I retreated into safe, familiar things like painting, playdough, and dolls… while doing my best to avoid frightening things I couldn’t control, like outdoor play and other children.

My teacher quickly reached a verdict and called my parents in for a meeting.

“Your daughter thinks she’s too good for the other kids,” said the teacher. “You’re obviously spoiling her at home.”

I moved to a different class, where — after a lot of help from my new teachers — I made some progress. I even got invited to a birthday party later in the year. However, socialising would prove difficult throughout my school years and even now as an adult.

I wouldn’t classify it as “unresolved trauma”. It is what it is. But what if that first teacher had realised/cared that I was struggling, instead of just writing me off as stuck-up? Would I be different? More confident and bubbly? An award-winning conversationalist?

Yeah, probably not. Like I said, there are many factors that have shaped my life and who I am.

But a part of me wonders. What if?

Then again, I’m pretty sure not being able to speak to people helped drive me towards books and writing, so maybe that teacher actually did me a favour. 😛

P.S. If you’ve read my previous posts on this blog, you may have noticed I’ve dropped the “Dear Diary” opening. It was beginning to feel a bit contrived as I’m clearly writing to an audience (not a huge one, but an audience nonetheless). I did briefly consider “Dear friend” like in The Perks of Being a Wallflower, but I wasn’t sure how Stephen Chbosky would feel about that. Especially after I lifted a line from his book for the title of this post. 😀

The masked music fan

Dear Diary,

Before the pandemic, if I was out and about for “non-essential” reasons, there was a pretty high likelihood I was going to a gig. I love live music. For someone who took piano lessons for roughly a third of their life, my own playing is rubbish, but I get a buzz out of seeing people who don’t suck do their thing.

However, it was never quite as easy as that.

Because a gig isn’t just the live music. It’s the sweaty bodies squeezing up against you. It’s the randos who want to hug a stranger and scream centimetres away from your face. It’s the beer being waved around in the air and spilling onto your head.

To be fair, I gave up alcohol years ago, and social situations are way out of my comfort zone. So I’m writing from the perspective of an awkward, sober introvert with an anxiety disorder.

But I guess I’ve always had to weigh up whether or not I love a particular band or want to see a particular gig more than I hate the other stuff that comes with it.

And then a global pandemic hit. Which came with its own set of worries. But it also meant I wasn’t constantly thinking about the pros and cons of going out (there was nowhere to go) and I wasn’t really missing out on anything (there was nothing happening). Truth be told, there was a certain freedom in that.

Now there are gigs back on in Western Australia (albeit with restrictions) and I’ve had to make that decision again. Knowing that people are very lax when it comes to social distancing, the thought of being anywhere near a pub or club at the moment freaks me out.

But there was a benefit gig on Saturday, “A little help for our friends”, to raise money for WA-based production companies that have taken a beating during the pandemic. And I decided to go after considering that:

  • the ticket price would hopefully weed out anyone who was just looking to get shitfaced, leaving those who were there for the bands;
  • it was at the Astor Theatre, where one can get a drink, but alcohol isn’t the main point of its existence;
  • the venue was only allowed a 50% capacity so even if no one was social distancing, I’d have a chance of moving away from people who weren’t respecting my personal space;
  • I knew musicians in three of the five bands, and obviously hadn’t seen them play in quite some time;
  • I have some face masks at home and was willing to be the only person wearing one at the gig. And I’m pretty sure I was, but hey, I’m also Asian. In many Asian countries, it’s not a cultural oddity to have a mask on, even when there isn’t a global pandemic.

And I’m glad I went.

I did get shoved around a bit on the dance floor and elbowed in the head on multiple occasions (I’m very short). And towards the end of the night, I was starting to feel a little overwhelmed. But no one spilt anything on me and no one touched me on purpose. And the bands were on fire, some perhaps more so than others, but this is a “Lee-Ann’s issues” review, not a gig review. 😛

So yes, I managed to get out and I had a good time. And with WA in a strong position COVID-wise (fingers crossed it stays that way), hopefully there’ll be more good times in the foreseeable future that aren’t crippled by anxiety. 🙂

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