Today I saw butterflies…

House Sitting Coming to terms with change

Our daily exercise routine under lock-down version 1, involves a short four minute walk from our temporary home to the cliff tops overlooking the south Cornwall coast, with long walks along the coastal path. It was a very different outlook just a week ago.

Before lock-down

Not long before lock-down in the UK, we finished the last of our house sits before the travel industry slowly started to fall apart, airlines stopped flying, forthcoming house sits were cancelled, and the inevitable happened… we became homeless.

It wasn't a total shock. Our lifestyle meant, since setting out as full-time nomads seven years ago, that we'd been used to anticipating potential Plan B's.

In this case, we headed to my mum's, only to discover the government would shortly be isolating the over 70's and more strictly those with vulnerabilities. Along with that came the stark realization that staying with mum long term would mean compromising her and her friend who has underlying health issues.

Time for Plan C!

Mum lives in a retirement area in Somerset, along with a huge vacation industry comprising holiday homes, parks and caravan clubs.

Easy we thought… let's just drive around the region and see if someone would rent us a temporary home. Someone keen to recoup some money on their holiday home investment and help us out at the same time. We would then be close to help out if family needed us.

We didn't allow for the fact, that whilst we had been preparing for Covid-19 to arrive in the UK, most of the country was still in denial.

As part of a global travel community, we'd been watching since friends in China went on lock-down in January, and other countries around the world scrambled to deal with and close down the spread of this new virus.

With a government down-playing both the severity and the urgency of action, it was clear many people thought they'd still be holidaying at Easter. Bookings were still in play with just a few rare cancellations, prices were as high as ever and out of our reach.

The problem was compounded by many of the park homes being privately owned. It would be difficult to track down individual owners and find someone willing to accept that the holiday season was shortly to be stopped in its tracks, and see the mutual benefit of our offer of a lower monthly rental.

With no sign of help in sight locally, we looked further afield by contacting Facebook groups supporting local second home owners, caravan parks, and Airbnb owners.

Still no joy - a few offers, but not within our limited budget - Easter was still on most people's mind.  I think it was like the idea of cancelling Christmas, of course Easter bookings would happen!

Help from the community

While all of this was going on, we were aware of the growing unease in our House Sitting Magazine Facebook group as sitters and home owners all over the world came to the realization that sits and travel plans were going to be cancelled. This would leave a huge community stranded in countries around the world, or even homeless. Like us, many were sensing the urgency and need to find somewhere temporarily to live.

Nomads and house sitters around the world had the same concern… what if we had to quarantine ourselves or self-isolate with symptoms?

We needed a home fast.

There was a reluctance in both of us to reach out to our community and friends when everyone had their own stresses to deal with, but I am so glad that we did. Through a friend in the US, we were able to secure a small, but lovely annex to a home in a tiny coastal village in the deepest south west. A place we could rent where we could live separately from the very generous owners who were willing to help by providing a longer term rental.

Sadly it's a long way from either of our mothers, but we are able to make sure that they are cared for online and locally in their communities. As both our mums are over 80 and pretty much in total self isolation, we wouldn't be able to visit them - they need to stay home and safe.

The sadness of this isolation from families hit us hard, but we could support them online, and help where possible to set up deliveries (actually providing much harder in reality), and check in regularly. My mum is set up with messenger and checks in with me every morning to let me know how she is!

Within a few days in the UK, we had gone from receiving vague social distancing advice, to a more severe lock-down. It wasn't enough to convince all people to stay home, and now the police are being deployed to make sure those who still don't seem to understand or care about the risk, are kept off the streets.

Who knows what's next, but I'm sure our lockdown will get more restrictive.

Normal doesn't exist for now

Through all this we felt the best way we could give back was to keep our community forum running on Facebook and help people connect to find places to stay, and provide a place where members could get some comfort as anxiety levels soared among us.

Fortunately, we have the most amazing team of moderators, based in different regions of the world, and they all pulled together to keep spirits up, provide relevant resources and advisories, and provide the much needed support we, as virtual friends, needed behind the scenes.

Working flat out, answering messages and trying to stay on top of situations changing by the hour, kept us distracted. But I noticed a subtle underlying anxiety that I just couldn't shift. My mind kept saying, "tomorrow ​the anxiety will have ​passed and things will be normal again".

It hit hard, when one evening I came to the realization that ​this was NOT ​ going to be the case.

Normal doesn't really exist for any of us at the moment.

I recognized the feelings and the emotions. Having lost dad quite suddenly almost a year earlier to the day, I became aware that this sense of foreboding was all too familiar.

This was confirmed by reading some of the accounts of healthcare workers in China and Italy. ​These brave souls are enduring a far worse situation than we could ever imagine.  I'm at a loss as to how to show gratitude to the people working on the front-line.

But to a lesser degree we are all suffering. We are seeing our lives change, the prospect of months of separation from family and friends, loss of freedom, fears around death, our own and of family members, loss of financial stability and jobs. It's like having every bad stressor arrive in your life all at the same time. This continual anxiety has now been likened by psychologists as experiencing never ending grief.

I cry a lot at the moment and know others that do so too.

It's important to let that in.

What we and maybe you are feeling, in whatever form it's taking, isn't bad, it certainly isn't wrong, and it's not a "pull yourself together" moment.

But it can be managed in all but the worst of cases.

I'm not experienced in this field, but I've found a lot of information online to help. It's important to say too, that while this isn't the case for everyone, but everyone should be mindful that people around them may be affected and experiencing mental health problems in some form or other.

​These feelings of anxiousness come  as a result of continuous uncertainty, lack of cohesive direction from our governments, and fear for our families and friends and the whole of humanity.

Don't underestimate the stress

That's a shit load of stress for any one of us to deal with! It's really not to be under-estimated. On top of this we've all had to come to terms with information and restrictions changing, sometimes by the hour, and we all have different acceptance strategies and tolerances. Or even denial.

Ian wrote about this here, if you'd like to read more on this topic.

A huge unsolvable puzzle

Author and blogger, Chris Guillebeau sent out an email and in it he quoted a comment from someone called "Andrew" on his Facebook page…

"There's a 1,000 piece puzzle. On one side is a map of the world, on the other is a picture of you. Trying to solve the puzzle for the world is almost impossible. Solving the puzzle for you is simpler, and achievable. By solving the puzzle for you, the world's solution also comes through."

I can see now I've been trying to solve the problem for the world over the last week or so, and my levels of anxiety were through the roof. I'd gone from being calm, sensible and acting with a fairly level head, to absolute rage overnight at the people who were flouting the advisories to stay at home. I couldn't understand why they couldn't see the damage they were doing, putting our loved ones and health workers at risk.

It was important to let this rage out and have my say, but now I'm heeding the wise advice in the puzzle analogy and looking at the smaller picture, not the overwhelming global scenario.

Creating space for compassion

I'm giving space to people struggling with acceptance, and seeing just what a huge, unprecedented task this is to manage world-wide. I'm trying to focus each day on the positive actions and the coming together of people in unity, that have emerged from this catastrophe.

Helping my family and loved ones, friends, the members of our house sitting community and those in our local environment is my primary focus.

That's enough for now.

So today, when I walked along the cliff top, I saw butterflies, as they danced across the sky in beautiful harmony. I saw butterflies because I've allowed some space and at least for today, a little calm into my life. There is a feeling of a little certainty in our routines as we settle into our personal version of lock-down.

But I am well aware that this moment of space and peace could be shattered at any moment with more bad news, so it's to be treasured.

Sadly this isn't going away anytime soon, and the world may not be quite the same for some while. 

We all need to take care of ourselves, and that way we can help take care of other. ​Please follow the advice to stay home and save lives. It's not that difficult to do.

Last updated on May 7th, 2020

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