Depression is on the Increase

We are surrounded by uncertainty these days, and much of it is a result of the Covid 19 pandemic, which came out of nowhere and turned our lives upside down in a matter of weeks of its first appearance in China, towards the end of 2019.

According to a recent international survey, South Africans are rated as some of the least happy people on the planet, and for good reason. We are currently being bombarded with negative reports and disturbing news items. With a failed economy, a corrupt ruling party, crime which is rampant, a failed power supplier, potholes everywhere, unemployment (the list goes on and on) it is not surprising that many of us feel despondent and helpless. These negative emotions can manifest themselves in a state of severe depression which may be overlooked by one’s nearest and dearest until the sufferer may need medical intervention.

It is a sad state of affairs that we still have a negative connotation regarding mental illness. If you have a leg in a cast, or a huge bandage around an injury, the reaction from others is more often than not one of concern and sympathy. However, if you are sad and feeling down, and battling to find anything positive or amusing in your life, you may find yourself ostracised to a certain extent as being too miserable to be around. It is often uncomfortable to spend time or energy trying to cheer up a person who is negative and having an internal battle with themselves and their feelings. When the situation becomes desperate, and even possibly results in a suicide attempt, then those closest to the sufferer may feel guilty at not having seen the signs, or having avoided getting involved because it caused them too must discomfort.

Isn’t it strange that we shun the words “mental health” yet we as humans, provided we are mentally intact ourselves, function as a result of our feelings and emotions most of the time. Unless we have succumbed to a frontal lobotomy we are normally bombarded throughout our waking hours with sights, sounds and various other forms of stimulation which result in our having a mixed bag of emotions. Being able to shrug off anything which causes us to feel down and sad, is usually achievable, within reason. However, if you are suffering from severe depression even the slightest trigger can be the straw which breaks the camel’s back. A failed attempted suicide may be the result, and this then creates a situation where the depressive may be given a limited amount of freedom and is watched constantly in case the next attempt is successful. A challenging situation for everyone involved.

I have known several families throughout my life who have had a family member who committed suicide and this has resulted in painful memories prevailing for many years after the event . There are always feelings of guilt from the surviving relatives or spouse and questions asked of how this could have been avoided.  Were there signs that this was going to occur? Could anything have been done to prevent the tragedy? If a suicide note is left it probably helps to alleviate many of the unanswered questions. Without a note, is it possible that the act was never meant to be successful but more a cry for help?

There appears to be a massive move afoot in Western society to accept that mental health deserves as much attention as physical health. Telling people to pull themselves together and to cheer up is not an answer to serious depression. Even giving drug therapy often just treats the symptoms and not the underlying cause. It is a difficult balancing act on the part of professionals and is not as simple as mending a broken bone or removing a malfunctioning body part. A holistic approach is probably the most successful treatment which would be likely to include exercise, diet, counselling as well as the possible intervention of certain medication whether alternative or complementary or resorting to anti- depressants, if all else fails.

We all have times when the trials and tribulations of life threaten to be overbearing, but thankfully these interludes do tend to pass without too much trauma. However, if doom and gloom become the order of the day, it is definitely advisable to seek help so that the condition can be nipped in the bud before all the beauty around us fades into oblivion and is replaced by darkness and negativity with life itself having no meaning at all. Together we can all try to make a difference in the lives of others if we just observe, take notice of disturbing signs in those around us and bother to get involved.  Easier said than done as those afflicted may be resistant to others trying to help them, but help we must in order to try to prevent a possibly disastrous outcome.

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Having studied clinical psychology at an Honours BA level, and later qualifying as a Lifeline counsellor following the Carl Rogers approach, I do believe that many of us are capable of helping our friends and family members just by being a good listener. We all tend to run around like headless chickens being busy with our lives and we often resent having to give up some of our precious time for others. However, those who are emotionally hurting need to be heard. Talking to another human being and unloading one’s worries and distresses can be extremely cathartic. By simply identifying the other person’s feelings and emotions and feeding them back to them can sometimes help them to identify their own way forward. Telling a depressed person what they should be doing to get their lives back on track is totally counter- productive. We all (well, most of us at least) have two ears and one mouth. Let the words we are hearing from the one who is battling depression be received consciously by both our ears and let us be very careful what we utter in response.

Not a Blue Monday

A few Mondays back I found a very young baby pigeon shivering in shock and pain beside the wall of our carport. At first I thought it was dead, but on picking up the little creature it became obvious that something had harmed it and pulled out all the feathers on its tiny back. It looked so sore, and it was heart-breaking to hear its tiny feeble squeak. Anyway, I found a cardboard box, lined it with a soft towel and brought the little creature inside. I stroked it gently and tried to transfer some love and feelings of caring while talking to it quietly.

Many years ago, there had been a situation where another even smaller pigeon had been abandoned by its mother (maybe she had been killed and had not deserted her offspring) and was in a swallow’s nest under our patio roof. I had asked around and been told that the best thing was to get hold of a bird cage and to feed the baby bird with a very weak mixture of Pronutro porridge and boiled water and to administer it with a medicine dropper. This worked well, was pretty time consuming but resulted in a fully grown, healthy bird. Unfortunately, I felt that I had to find an alternative to keeping this bird in a cage. Someone I was told about had a large aviary and, with a very heavy heart, my baby bird was given up for adoption.

Circumstances are different these days and I could not see myself being able to devote the same amount of time and attention to this new foundling. After contacting my local vet, I was given the name of a woman called Georgie who runs a rehabilitation centre for wildlife just a few kilometers away from where I live. Once I had managed to get hold of her, she arrived within minutes to pick up the baby bird. She had a look at it and said that she was convinced that the bird had been attacked by a cat. Although neither my husband nor I have seen a single cat in our garden in the 14 years in which we have lived in this house, she said that it was possibly a cat which hunted at night.

The outcome of this incident has been so heart-warming that I felt the necessity to write about it. Georgie not only took the little creature home with her but has been in constant contact with me ever since sending pictures of his newly grown feathers as well as up to date information regarding the development of the baby. Today I heard that he is now feeding himself, growing up fast and apparently is quite a little character. What might have been a real Blue Monday turned out to be one of the best Mondays in a long time.

A few weeks have passed and yesterday when I arrived home, I was taken aback to see a stranger in the garden, leaning up against a flowerpot and warming its tummy in the sun’s rays. The stranger was a very pretty little white and light grey cat! That is the first feline that has been spotted in our garden in the many years in which we have lived here. Beautiful or not, this little potential bird killer is not welcome here and I shooed it away immediately. It rushed up a nearby tree and went over the wall into our neighbour’s house. With a bit of luck it won’t be back again in a hurry. Hopefully, when Kelly, our German Shepherd, gets a whiff of a strange cat, her barking will be enough to deter the intruder. I really do hope so!

Bird Watching. – 2021 May No. 2

I know many people who seem to have an insatiable desire to constantly be on the move. Spending any free time in their own homes seems to be alien to them, and they probably miss out on so many simple pleasures which are often right there in front of them, just waiting to be spotted. This ramble is most certainly not a case of sour grapes, but rather gratitude for those little things in life which, when the odds seem to be against us, and life feels bleak, can be so heart-warming and a total delight.

Just the other day, my better half (I’d better describe him as such, instead of just “other half” as I need him as my designated editor!) called me to come into his office, which is situated on the other side of the house to my own office. We are fortunate to have indigenous trees in both areas of our garden, which attract a reasonable variety of bird life and both areas have bird feeders and baths. Anyway, on that particular occasion we were witness to a mass gathering of sparrows having a swimming party in the bird bath. There must have been at least 15 of them splashing around and having a whale of a time. It was a delight to observe and, only because any movement on our part would have disrupted the party, we did not photograph or, better still, video the episode. A pity, as it might be a once in a lifetime event, but still something which will be stored away as a beautiful memory.

Some of you are probably thinking, is that all she is going to say today? No, but even the common little sparrow deserves to be treasured for the pleasure it can bring. On a slightly more sophisticated level, we have the occasional grey lourie popping by to see if there are any pieces of fruit waiting for them to enjoy, as well as a pair of crested barbets who also like the fruit. These beautiful, colourful little characters apparently have a penchant for Hungarian peppers! Good to finally find out who it is who takes bites out of the ripening vegetables. They had a very cocky attitude when caught in the act yesterday and were not in the least bit embarrassed! Just strutted away and then flew up into the trees. Gorgeous little birds who have to be forgiven, as they obviously have excellent taste in their choice of fresh produce.

Lastly, my favourite garden guest has to be the Hadeda Ibis and it is such a pleasure to watch them, after rain, pushing their long, thin beaks into the soft grass to find the delicacies deep down in the soil.  I must admit to calling back to them when a group, sitting on the roof of the house, screech out their familiar ha-ha-ha-dah-da. It’s very funny to actually see them listening when I pretend to be one of them, and to have them shout out in reply. Oh well, as some of you may have come to realise if you have read any of my previous postings, that in my case little things definitely do please little minds! I just love watching the avian carryings on from the window of my office, whilst I work!

Communication in 2021

I hesitate to appear to come across as a professional moaner, but there are certain things which rile me more than others. One of those is the inability of far too many people to communicate effectively, or correctly. Everyone is quick to blame technology and the constant use of mobile phones and i-pads as being the cause, but I tend to disagree. I believe that part of the problem is the current obsession with oneself, one’s rights and one’s feelings of self-importance, with little regard for other people. A saying which has left a lingering impression on me is, “You will be remembered not so much for what you did, but how you made people feel.” Very profound words if you take the time to consider just what they mean.

Many of us across all age groups are faced with too much to do in the course of the day, and not enough hours to get it all done. Therefore, making the effort to get in touch with friends, family or even acquaintances, just to find out how they are coping in these troubling times, should be seen as a privilege by the recipient of the contact. In many cases this is not so. Nothing is more uplifting than someone sounding genuinely pleased at hearing your voice on the other end of the line, or having enjoyed reading your written message, either via WhatsApp or e-mail.

It is very deflating to find that, no matter how you try, certain people just seem to be either too involved in their day-to-day activities, or just not interested in hearing from you to respond. It takes a very thick skin not to feel disappointed and often dejected. Surely, it’s only common courtesy to acknowledge that someone has bothered to think of you and to try to get in touch? In days gone by, when it was very much more challenging to be able to keep in touch with one another, people did   recognize the importance of having good manners. That does not seem to be the case in the world in which we now find ourselves. Hence, it can be a pleasant surprise when you get a truly happy response from the other person. It is enough to give you a certain amount of motivation to carry on making contact with people even if your response rate is not as high as you would have liked.

Another gripe (excuse the moan) is when, through your communication channel, you have enquired about certain aspects of the other person’s life or situation, or even something connected to a shared past incident or occasion, and their response totally omits any reference to the subject you mentioned. It seems that they did not even take the time to actually read what you had written. This kind of communication can be very frustrating and leave you feeling irritated and dissatisfied with the outcome of your endeavours. Nothing makes life more meaningful and pleasant for many of us than being able to communicate with other people, and it is sad that it seems to be the older generation who still bother to make the effort. Not all older people are sitting around waiting to die and having hours of time on their hands. These days many find that they are busier than ever before, and retirement is not on their agenda. However, they are often still the ones who make the effort for meaningful communication.

Another adage which can refer to the above is, “If you want something done, give it to a busy person”. Where computer games, mobile phone usage and hobbies take up a large portion of a person’s day, apart from studies or work, then it is probably somewhat unrealistic to expect any time to be given up for reading your correspondence, or to call you back after you left a voice message. Strange as it may seem, it is very often the busiest members of your so-called “circle of influence” who give you the satisfaction and pleasure of the kind of response for which you were hoping.

My wish is that, despite the world moving at a breakneck pace where technology is concerned, we begin to see more people keeping in touch meaningfully with one another. Should this not happen, then feelings of abandonment, loneliness and worthlessness are likely to manifest themselves in more and more cases of depression and even self-harm, which could be avoided or minimised just by communicating how much you care for the other person’s well-being.

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion
that it has taken place.” –
George Bernard Shaw

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It had been happening for as long as she could remember, but she just thought it was something which happened to everyone, but then again – did it? She had never mentioned it to another soul, other than her mother, and most certainly not to Gary, her husband, who was way too practical to have been able to understand it at all. He would be very quick to call for help and it might even include the kind which came equipped with restraints, and men in white coats!  It was a great pity that she had to keep all of this information bottled up inside. Also, very sad that they had so little in common, especially when it came to anything which he deemed to be bordering on lunacy or purely unscientific. Anyway, enough waffling, and let’s see when this gift of Jane’s was going to raise its head again.

Our heroine led a pretty mundane life which consisted of doing some part time work for a local vet and otherwise being a housewife, with one adult son, living in another part of the country, who was presently studying to be a lawyer. However, as it happened, things took an interesting turn one fateful morning in mid – December. She was shopping for Christmas gifts for her brother’s twin girls at the local mall, when she suddenly thought of her old school friend Maureen, and wondered what kind of a life she had lived. Jane hadn’t heard any news concerning her in years and she couldn’t understand why she should be thinking of her now. Despite all the distractions surrounding her in such a busy shopping centre, she just could not get thoughts of Maureen out of her mind. These thoughts were connected to their last day of high school, when everything looked exciting and no -one knew what the future might hold for them. Some of the students would go on to study further whilst others had jobs lined up or were taking a year to travel before worrying about the future. Those were the ones whose parents had enough money to support them while they made up their minds about what they wanted to do. Jane wasn’t one of those, although Maureen probably was, as her parents seemed to be well off, and she was an only child.

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When they all arrived at school on that last day, Shy Simon came into the class carrying a fluffy pink teddy bear. Well, you can just imagine the giggling and hushed whispers from some of the girls as well as the snide remarks from the rugby jocks who were part of the class. Poor Simon must have felt like a total idiot, but he had enough strength of character to ignore everyone. He put the teddy on his desk and didn’t even look around. “Hi Simon. Who’s the lucky girl – or is it for a boy perhaps?” That came from the class stud, Ian, who although extremely good looking, a first team rugby player and the most popular boy with most of the girls, was an absolute egotistical pig. He was also known as being a total dumbo when it came to academics whereas Simon was Dux scholar. Before Simon could answer, Maureen arrived at class and the giggling and sniggering stopped. She was a very pretty, unassuming girl who had a beautiful personality to go with her looks. No-one had anything bad to say about her.

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A few minutes later their class teacher arrived and addressed a few words to the pupils before his attention was taken by the bright pink teddy bear sitting on Simon’s desk. “Well, Simon, that is quite a bear. Who is going to be taking it home with them?”, he asked. With that Simon, who ever since grade 1 had been nicknamed Shy Simon, got up from his seat and walked over to Maureen’s desk and presented the bear to her. “I want to wish you everything of the very best for your future, Maureen. Our paths are very unlikely to ever cross again, but this bear will remind you of how much you have meant to me through all my school years. You will never know how much your kindness has helped me to cope when so many of the rest of you (at this point Simon turned to all the grinning faces which were ready to make a fool of him) couldn’t wait to try to make me feel like a loser. Thank you for your friendship Maureen and may the future bring you everything that you deserve. ” There was total silence in the classroom as Simon placed the bear on Maureen’s desk and went to sit down. No-one said a word.

The last morning at school was taken up with saying goodbyes to one another and saving the addresses and telephone numbers of the people you hoped to keep in touch with as well as signing one another’s school shirts to be kept as souvenirs. Then, in no time at all it was midday and those 12 years of school were finally over.

What has all the above to do with Jane and her extra sensory perception? Well, for as long as she could remember, Jane had been able to know when someone was going to phone her, or when she would find a letter from a friend or relative in her letterbox. It had become commonplace with her, and she just took it for granted. Her mother had also on many occasions seemed to know what was about to happen before it actually did, so Jane never questioned her own intuition, as she called it.  It was obviously a gift which she had inherited. Somewhere in the past there had been an Irish relative who was reputed to have been able to foretell the future, so it must have been a gift which had been passed down through the generations.

When Jane was checking her e-mails later on that day, after a successful shopping expedition and feeling quite tired after lugging so many heavy parcels out of the boot of her car, she could hardly believe what she was seeing. After almost 30 years, there was going to be a reunion of her final high school year. No-one had bothered to do anything at all regarding keeping in touch and now, after all this time, how many of her class were still in the country, or even still alive? The reunion was scheduled for the middle of January, as the writer (past head prefect) felt that too many people would be away on holiday over the festive season. Jane replied in the affirmative and then sat staring at the screen with so many thoughts going through her mind.

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After leaving school, Jane’s family had moved to another part of the country and Jane herself had started working for a small engineering company as their receptionist, but had soon been promoted. She had studied book-keeping part-time and once she completed the course, she began keeping the books for the company and then went on to marry the owner’s son, Gary, much to her parents’ delight. She had virtually lost touch with all her old school friends except for a girl called Shirley who just happened to move to the same town as Jane’s family and who also, coincidentally, joined the same gym as Jane and her husband. Shirley was gay and had moved away from home because her family were extremely narrow minded and made Shirley’s life a living hell. Over time, Jane saw quite a lot of Shirley and her partner, Kay. As Gary was not really into socialising other than with his family and a few golfing friends, the girls made a point of meeting for lunches or dinners at local restaurants or coffee shops at least once a month.

Shirley must have kept in touch with some of the other old friends from school days and given them Jane’s e-mail address, otherwise how on earth would she have been included in the invitation to the reunion? As she gave it some thought, she realised that it would be a lot of fun to go back to the old town and re-connect with some of her ex-classmates. It could be interesting to see just how their lives had panned out and how they differed from hers. Also, it could be very interesting  to find out who had married whom, and which of them were on their second or even third partner! Would Maureen be there, or had she emigrated? She was probably leading a very exciting life, maybe she had even landed up in Hollywood with her looks, and the modelling classes she had always taken. She had a stunning singing voice as a teenager and took ballet classes as well as modelling. Who knew what life had been like for her? Most certainly a lot more exciting than Jane’s!

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Christmas came and went in much the same way as it always did. Martin, their son, spent the festive week with his parents before joining his varsity friends for a holiday down at the coast. Jane’s brother and his family as well as their parents always tried to spend this time of the year together and it normally passed without any squabbles or unpleasantness, unlike so many families to whom Christmas and New Year always presented stress and disappointment. All the cooking and preparations were shared, and the time passed all too quickly.

Before one could blink, Gary was back at work and Jane was into her usual routine. Her three half days at the local vet had become her refuge from the humdrum pattern of housework and shopping. She had been replaced as the bookkeeper at Gary’s company once Martin had arrived. Over the years she had been quite happy to be able to spend the time when he was growing up taking him to all his extramural activities and helping out at school fetes and other fund- raising activities. However, those days were over and she enjoyed her job meeting new people and lending a sympathetic ear when there was worry regarding the health of a favourite pet. It was amazing just how much she had learned just by listening to all the conversations between the vet and the pet owners. She sometimes felt that she was so knowledgeable these days that she could diagnose some of the ailments herself!

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The school reunion was approaching and Jane made the effort of buying an attractive outfit and having her hair re-styled as she wanted to look her best after all these years. Unlike many women of her age, she had kept her figure and always made sure that she wore make-up before she left home. She was really looking forward to the event and she and Shirley had agreed to drive there together and had booked into a local hotel for the night. It was too far to consider coming back home after the dinner and they were certain that the whole affair would probably carry on until fairly late. The woman who had organized everything had found a restaurant which had a large conference room which they were going to use, and music was planned once the meal was over. It all sounded great, and Jane was getting quite excited at the prospect of re-connecting with old friends. Gary was quite happy not to accompany the women to the reunion, citing urgent business as his excuse. Jane was actually rather relieved to be able to play the role of the single woman, if only for one night, as he could be a real party-pooper if the mood took him.

On the afternoon of the reunion, Shirley picked up Jane and they had enough time to take it easy on the journey back to their old hometown. It was quite strange, but on the way, Jane suddenly started feeling really sad and depressed, and she just could not stop thinking about her old school friend, Maureen. Try as she might, her mood became very morbid, and she really battled to shake it off, in order to enjoy this rare time of freedom from the humdrum routine which was her normal life. She tried chatting about all sorts of different things while Shirley did the driving but deep down she felt sad and couldn’t understand why.

The women booked into their hotel and parted company as they each went to their own rooms to relax for a while before getting themselves showered and dressed for the evening. Shirley’s partner had also decided to avoid any form of potential unpleasantness which may have cropped up by joining in on the occasion, and it seemed that Shirley too was quite happy to have some time to herself. The arrangement was that they would arrive at the venue around 7pm and dinner would be served at 8pm.  

When they arrived at the restaurant it was to find that they hardly recognized some of the people whom they had last seen so long ago. It was unbelievable how many of them looked like total strangers. A large number of the men had lost most of their hair, had pot bellies and bore no resemblance to the 18 year olds with whom they had matriculated. The women seemed to have fared better, although some of them looked extremely overweight, frumpy or, in some cases, mutton dressed as lamb. Very short dresses with high heels were fine as long as the body did justice to the overall look. Once the drinks started flowing, and people started introducing themselves to one another, a festive feel came over the gathering. Jane, however, although chatting away to some of her old classmates, still could not dispel the feeling of sadness and gloom which had been bothering her most of the day.

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It was interesting to find out how some of the classmates’ lives had panned out. Some of them had actually moved overseas but had made the effort to be there for the reunion, others were still living in the same town and their own children now attended the same high school as their parents and, unbelievably, some of the original teachers were still teaching there. Amazing how, although time marches on regardless, some things just stay the same. It turned out that two of the classmates had died over the past few years. One had sadly committed suicide when his business collapsed, and the other one had been killed in a light aircraft crash. Other than that, it seemed as though the passing years had been pretty kind to most of them.

It was almost time for them to take their places at the tables as dinner was about to be served. Suddenly two late comers arrived and all the chatting and laughing came to an abrupt halt. The late arrivals were assisted into the conference room by two of the hotel staff who held the door wide enough for the two wheelchairs to enter. There was a shocked silence, and no-one seemed ready to make the first move. The couple who had just arrived had hardly changed at all in appearance, but it was quite clear that their circumstances most certainly had changed, and not for the better either.

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It was Maureen who broke the silence by saying in her well- remembered, clear and melodious voice, “Hello, everyone! Thank you so much for contacting Simon and I. We wouldn’t have missed this occasion for anything!”

Everyone started gathering around the two wheelchairs and the whole atmosphere very quickly returned to its previous happy and jovial mood. No-one had expected Maureen and Simon to have remained friends, but it would seem that they were far more than friends. It was time to be seated at the tables and everyone had their name on their designated spot. It was ironic, but Maureen and Simon had been placed in the centre of the long table, as it was obvious that one of the old classmates had known their circumstances. It turned out, once Maureen started explaining, over the first delicious course of the dinner, that both she and Simon had gone their own ways for over 20 years, until bumping into one another whilst on an organized coach tour of Europe. Neither of them had married, and they each had several failed relationships behind them. They had found that they really enjoyed one another’s company and it wasn’t long before they moved in together, and a year later got married.

No-one wanted to bombard them with personal questions, but it wasn’t necessary as Maureen told everyone the devastating story which had resulted in both herself and Simon being wheelchair bound. It seemed unbelievably bad luck that within a year of their marriage, Maureen had taken a tumble down a flight of stairs at a local shopping centre and had broken her back in several places and would never walk unaided again, whereas Simon had been diagnosed a few months after Maureen’s accident with multiple sclerosis which was currently progressing rather rapidly, He was finding it increasingly difficult to keep his balance, hence the wheelchairs, which they now both needed. Maureen had enjoyed many years as a relatively successful dancer and singer and had travelled quite extensively until she found that she was getting very tired of the lack of permanence in her life. Simon, on the other hand, had qualified as an accountant and had held a high position but realised that he had an insatiable desire to travel. It was ironic that he should have booked for a European coach tour at the same time that Maureen had decided to have a really chilled travelling holiday, without having to arrange hotel bookings, theatre tickets etc. How strange that life had brought them together after all these years. They seemed so very much in love, and it was a real eye opener for many of the old classmates to see these two, with all the challenges ahead of them, being so comfortable with their situation, and so obviously happy.

Jane realised that those thoughts of Maureen which had popped into her head several weeks ago must have been her esp. along with the feelings of melancholy which had crept in today. Any sadness had now been dispelled as it was clear that Maureen and Simon had something very special, which many of the other people attending this reunion might never experience for themselves, even if they lived to be 100. Sad as their situation might appear to others, they actually had a relationship which was to be envied and not pitied. Life was full of surprises, good and bad, and having a sixth sense was something which you got used to and embraced. Altogether, the reunion just cemented the fact that life cannot be controlled and it is full of surprises, challenges, and good times which need to be savoured and stored in one’s memory, to be brought out in the years ahead to give meaning to everything. One just did not know what might lie ahead and, possibly, that was a good thing anyway.

Update and comment – 1 November 2020

It is a chilly, overcast day, here in Johannesburg, with more rain predicted for the next few days, and how welcome last night’s heavy rain has proved to be. Gardens were becoming parched and tempers frayed.  Weeks of extremely hot sunshine without even a drop of rain has made many of us very tired – not easy going about one’s day to day business in that kind of weather. Not everyone has the luxury of floating around on an inflatable pool lounger, drinking cocktails during the day and dreaming about life after Covid! Most of us have to face whatever it is that the day brings and try as hard as we can to be optimistic about the future and continue to try to make a living.

Being able to keep in touch with friends and family members during this challenging year has proved to be a very necessary lifeline. It is so easy to wallow in self pity and become bogged down with worries and concerns, many of which are fuelled by listening to news reports or reading articles loaded with doom and gloom and resonating from the mouths of dodgy politicians or so-called experts in every conceivable area of life. So, a phone call to a friend, a joke shared on WhatsApp, or just a quick catch-up with a relative can give you enough mental energy to carry on regardless.

I was advised several years ago by a well- meaning sister-in-law to buy one of those highly recommended colouring-in books in order to forget my worries and relax. Well, after all this time I decided to get out the crayons and chill! It just isn’t for me at all! I know that I am an A-type personality and, yes, I do have some vestige of creativity within me, but colouring in? Not a chance! I was so irritable whilst trying to get good quality crayons to actually give me a dark enough hue (maybe they have just been lying in the box for so many years that their pigment has died a death!) to actually show up on the abstract design I was attempting to enhance that I got more and more agitated, and less and less relaxed. So, after about 15 minutes, I gave it up (probably for every) and have decided that painting a wall, or doing some necessary home touch-ups is definitely more my style than trying to find inner peace with a crayon in my hand! What do they say about different strokes for different folks?

Whilst writing this little epistle, the sun has come out and I might just endeavour to go into the garage and get out the green paint which is used for the garden walls and put my creativity to a practical use! Here goes, and I hope that the rain holds out just long enough to allow the pva to dry!

Bye for now and see you on the Magic Roundabout!

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Update and comment – 30 July 2020

Many of us in the Southern Hemisphere are probably finding it pretty difficult right now to be full of the joys of Spring (well, it is in fact a very chilly winter’s day today, which doesn’t help matters), when all around we are being reminded of the Covid 19 pandemic. Even if we try very hard to concentrate on the positives in our lives, looking over our shoulder is that nasty little creature called reality reminding us that things are not the same as they used to be.

If one has children, and maybe even grandchildren, trying to put one’s worries and concerns about their health on the back burner, is an impossible task. If only we could put a blanket of safety over them all and keep them away from any risk of being infected, until the all clear is given by the powers that be. A pipe dream, but what an amazing thing it would be if that dream could become our new reality.

Then, in the midst of all this mayhem, something always seems to arrive to rock the proverbial boat. Why does the toilet decide to spring a leak, and a cupboard door collapse on its hinge? Is this a wake-up call from the universe to remind us that life still happens, despite the risk of attack by a vicious virus? Coping with these everyday household calamities just seems to be so much harder than in the days when our vocabulary was not dominated by words such as “cough”, “fever”, “mask”, “sanitizer” etc.

One of the worst occurrences though, at this challenging time was hearing that a family member had to face surgery with an overnight stay in hospital – when the pandemic is becoming worse by the day. No visitors are allowed, so that exacerbated the fear and stress concerning the operation. It has always been the norm for one to come around from any anaesthetic and find a partner or other relative at your bedside waiting for you to wake up. Thankfully, despite the surgery taking almost 3 hours, all went well and is now a thing of the past.

All that one can do is to try to be positive in these trying times and offer to be there to help in any way that is required when people have a need. Now, more than ever, human contact and emotional support (even if remote) is more important than it has ever been. In South Africa, the government has failed miserably to assist people who are desperate, not only to work and earn a living, but to be able to put food on the table for their family. Sadly, the bulk of those citizens who are desperate for food would still vote for the ANC despite the corruption, the lies and the lack of commitment to taking care of the poor.

So, the toilet will have to be fixed, as well as the cupboard door, and undertaking these mundane, irritating diy tasks will temporarily eliminate any thoughts of viruses and sanitizers. Without the necessary concentration and a steady hand, we will be faced with the expense of having to call in a professional handyman. Not an option at this time, so let’s get cracking and get the jobs done!

Bye for now and see you on the Magic Roundabout!

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Midlife Crises

All of a sudden you realise just how fast the years can pass you by without you barely noticing. One day you are writing final school exams and planning your future and, before you blink, you are wondering just where the time has gone. Looking back can be a positive thing to do, but more often than not it brings with it a feeling of loss and sometimes deep despair and disappointment.

Every stage of life has its good points and its bad ones. We all remember times during our childhood and teenage years when we may have had unhappy events which possibly contributed towards the way in which we subsequently handled our adulthood. Parents divorcing or perhaps even having died are always catastrophic things for children to handle, and the resultant sadness can manifest itself in long-term personality issues. Feeling that you may have somehow contributed to this traumatic situation can sometimes result in feelings of guilt and lack of self-worth. Nowadays, it is customary for victims of any kind of trauma to be offered counselling, but this wasn’t the norm in the past.

So, most of us just muddle along as we grow up and try to cope with those day to day challenges which life tends to throw at us, despite any childhood problems with which we may have had to deal. Then, suddenly as the years go by, life tilts a bit more than usual and we have to face the fact that our offspring are now grown up and often living far away and our own surviving parents are elderly and frail and may need help. As we recognise the longevity of so many of our family members and acquaintances, it can cause us to start to panic regarding our own future and how we are going to survive financially.Midlife Crises 2 350x227

We know for a fact that, in the western world specifically, the estimated life span of both men and women has increased dramatically over the past century. It is not uncommon these days for people to celebrate their 100th birthday whereas it used to be a wonderful achievement to be hale and hearty at 80! Insurance companies and investment specialists have jumped on the bandwagon and are hammering away at the fact that young adults need to start facing the possibility of having many retirement years for which they need to make timeous adequate provision.  At the same time there is world-wide unemployment and retrenchment, so this is not always viable. More and more people are becoming their own boss and no longer is there the enforced contribution to a pension or annuity fund. If you are battling to survive in your own business, putting money away for old age may be something which is sadly neglected.

2020 with all the challenges that Covid 19 has forced us to face hasn’t made it any easier to cope with all the above factors, but there is light at the end of the tunnel in many cases. There is absolutely no reason to retire totally from doing what you enjoy doing as long as you are still capable and relatively healthy. Many people have achieved or continued to achieve greatness in their latter years. To name just a few, the first to come to mind is the world renowned Sir David Attenborough who, at 93, has recently completed a very intense documentary pertaining to the damage that we humans have caused to our planet. The British actress, Dame Maggie Smith is still being cast in acting roles despite her advanced years as are others such as Dame Judi Dench. Let us never forget the music industry with the likes of Cliff Richard, Elton John and the ageless Mick Jagger and the Rolling stones. A critical factor is to try to remain positive, despite the changes which are inevitable as one ages.

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It is a tragedy to allow all the knowledge that is gleaned throughout life to be wasted. Becoming a mentor to younger people, either through actually giving talks or lectures face to face or online (more so now due to the Covid crisis), or writing a book or articles to assist students could be a way to avoid feeling redundant. It’s never too late to start a new career either. One just needs to take that brave step and give it a go. You may surprise yourself to find that a hobby you hardly had time for in the past, is now capable of becoming a vibrant and profitable business. Try to avoid the potential mistake of asking others for advice, as they will probably thwart your dreams before you even start – people often enjoy the prospect of you failing, as it makes their lives appear so much better and they probably lack your courage to do something different.  Just go out and do it, and you may amaze yourself (as well as them) with your success!

Good Luck and enjoy the journey!

“Our doubts are traitors, and make us lose the good we often
might win, by fearing to attempt” – William Shakespeare.

Little things please not so little minds

Isn’t it amazing how we often tend to forget that, as part of the human race, we are so lucky to have been gifted with emotions as part of our genetic makeup. This generalisation obviously refers to those of us who fortunately do not have any underlying conditions preventing the manifestation of emotion. We know that animals too have the ability to feel and to react in various ways to different stimuli, which we perceive to be their form of emotion. However, for this brief article I will concentrate only on emotions which are a common denominator amongst a large percentage of homosapiens.

Covid 19 and isolation apart, we are often so busy chasing our tails in the ongoing need to earn a living that we forget to “stop and smell the roses” for want of another more apt expression. That being said, the divine fragrance of a rose has the ability to elevate one above the mundane pressures always prevalent in life, and transport one to another world – a world where life is good and worries are banished. Surely this must be the reason for roses having been a symbol of love and devotion throughout the ages and still today, sending a bouquet of beautiful roses is seen as a sign of just how much the sender cares for the recipient. Sadly, cultivated roses tend to have no fragrance, so to own a rose bush which produces gorgeous smelling flowers and to be able to enjoy them for many months each year, is a real privilege.

Enough about roses, and what about the feelings which are stirred up from browsing through old photos, birthday or Christmas cards received from friends and family over many years. So often one tends to have forgotten just how precious a certain person was in one’s life and it can be a very emotional as well as therapeutic journey to spend some time just remembering the past. Nothing makes me feel more sad than seeing in a charity shop a photograph album which is full of old black and white photos which have no meaning to anyone other than the person who lovingly filled all the pages, and is now obviously long gone. A tragedy that there was no-one left behind who cared enough to keep the album, in memory of the relative or friend who died.

Ornaments which were purchased to embellish one’s home or as mementos of a much enjoyed holiday or given for a special occasion are items which often tend to just take up space in one’s home and periodically need to be polished, washed or dusted. Taking the time to actually think back to the reason for them being in your home can also resurrect all sorts of emotions, especially if they are connected to a place or time which created great memories for you.

Taking a little time to handle items which have been in a display cabinet, untouched, for years gives one the opportunity to take a well- deserved trip down memory lane and reconnect with the past in a very positive way. The smallest item may have the potential to make you feel a rush of emotion which may surprise you. We all know that the past is the past, but to have old memories conjured up by handling a small item which  has been in our possession for a long time can make you realise just how good life has been despite all the possible pitfalls and sadness along the way.

Being strong and not showing one’s feelings is all well and good, especially out there in the work force,  but sometimes we need to be able to let our defences down and allow our emotions to take over, albeit in the privacy of our own homes. To suddenly feel the need to dance around the lounge, to cry over some old photos or greeting cards, to giggle over memories of old friends – this is a gift which we humans have and we need to preserve it as long as we possibly can. After all, emotions and being able to express them are what make us human and show that we are all much the same despite our many differences. So try not to feel any guilt when you take the time to chill out, and to do those things which stir up your emotions and give you the much needed zest for life which life itself often manages to take away.

“Sometimes the smallest things take up the most room
in our hearts.” – Winnie The Pooh

The Effects of Lockdown on Mental Health

For a large number of human beings who have grown up in societies where freedom has been taken for granted, lockdown with all its restrictions appears to have had a massive effect on mental health. I have read recently, as well as having heard reports on the radio, that many mental health professionals and organizations such as Lifeline, have been inundated with calls from people feeling so down that they are contemplating suicide.

How do we explain these feelings of desperation? People by nature need contact with others unless they have chosen a life of solitude, such as becoming a hermit monk. I don’t think that the percentage of people who have gone in that direction can be very high, to be honest. Being isolated from family members and close friends has been very tough on most people but especially on those who live alone. Different countries have treated lockdown in their own way and with their own level of trying to control the spread of the virus. However, where it has resulted in the banning of friends and family members being able to come to one’s home, this has proved to be a very hard pill to swallow and has caused many people to feel extremely isolated and depressed.

“There is no greater sorrow than to recall in misery
the time when we were happy.” – Dante

Even if one has been able to carry on making a living whilst working from home, just having to think twice before going anywhere can, in itself, be a very distressing way of living. Is it really necessary to go outside one’s home? What is the risk of coming in contact with the virus? Are you in that age group which is seen as the vulnerable bracket or do you have an underlying health issue which could affect you very negatively, if you should you actually get Covid 19? Are you comfortable having to wear a cotton mask whilst you are outside the home? If you wear glasses, can you even see with the mask having the effect of steaming up your lenses? Oh boy, so much to take into consideration and you are more than likely happier to stay at home after all, and make do with the groceries you already have in your store cupboard or do the obvious and order on line.

Many elderly people living in retirement homes have been in total lockdown for months now in order to protect them and the rest of the residents from the possibility of being infected by visitors who may be carrying the virus. These individuals are not in total isolation as there are others living close by as well as nurses and caregivers in most cases. They would have been in a much more difficult situation if they had still been living in their previous homes, very often after having lost their partner.

Much has been said recently about the effect this lockdown, and the fear of the virus, is having on children and young adults. Although children are believed to be fairly resilient and able to bounce back in many situations, this Covid 19 pandemic is completely alien to us all. No-one has so far devised a fool-proof method of teaching them new coping strategies. Only time will tell just how severely this lockdown, with all its restrictions, has affected the mental health of many young people all over the world. One can only hope that it won’t be too long before we can all relax a little and start to put our rather fractured lives back together again, even though we are warned that a “normal” way of life will, in fact, be a “new normal”.

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In the meantime, whilst we are playing the wait and see game, children are slowly returning, or have already returned, to the classroom. Having to have their temperature taken each morning before going into the school building, wearing a mask all day long, and being sanitized at the school door, are all practices which have to be followed. Some parents have reported having to cope with children returning from school complaining of headaches and being extremely tired. This could be as a result of the new regulations in place forcing them to breathe behind a cotton mask whilst trying to concentrate on the work being presented to them by the teacher. It is critical for parents and teachers to take cognisance of these side effects which appear to be the result of going back to school.

Having been home schooled for so long, it stands to reason that it will take some time before students, especially the younger ones, adjust once again to being away from the comfort and relative safety of their home environment. The school year had hardly begun in the southern hemisphere when Covid 19 reared its very ugly head. Little people had just become happy to say goodbye to their parents in the mornings and the crying and clinging had stopped. Now, there is a big chance that this will start all over again as the smaller ones face going back to pre-schools and nursery schools.

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The excitement of seeing friends again and interacting with other children is obviously a big factor when it comes to going back to school. Online lessons, with the advantage of Zoom, is a good substitute but nothing can compare with the fun that often comes from interacting with one’s peer group. This mixing with their own age group is particularly important for teenagers, who often feel that only their friends understand them. Months of keeping friendships going via social media and mobile phone calls does not have the same meaning as actually seeing and interacting with one another.

Teenagers have been affected badly by the lockdown and isolation and they have always been a very vulnerable group where suicide is concerned. Without school classes as well as sporting activities it stands to reason that many young people would have experienced feelings of anger and frustration Those looking towards writing their final exams at the end of the year must have become very anxious, especially if it was impossible for them to study on line. Others may have suddenly had to give up the intense physical training they were doing regularly in their various sports. With so much having been halted in one foul swoop, it is no wonder that the result is often depression and a severe feeling of loss.

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Many parents too must have thought the end of the world had come when, having to work from home, surrounded by young children needing care and on-line lessons, they are totally exhausted every single day. Realising just how demanding trying to teach children can be has definitely raised the respect level given to the teaching profession. However, the feelings experienced by parents of not doing everything as well as they should, may also have caused much anxiety and despondency as this is not a normal situation, by any manner of means.

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One wonders whether the effects of this pandemic will be long lasting or will we all forget just how stressful life in 2020 has been. So far, we have actually lost a huge portion of the year which has included Easter, Mothers’ Day and soon, Fathers’ Day and one hopes that by the time Christmas arrives, things will be looking a little brighter. It seems that it is only countries like New Zealand and Australia who have been affected very little by Covid 19, whilst the rest of us are soldiering on and hoping for brighter days ahead. Well, hope doesn’t cost anything, but if you are suffering from severe depression then hope can be a pipe dream.

My wish at this time is that all those people who are at the end of their tether reach out to the organizations who are available when life seems worthless and that they find a listener who has empathy and the ability to assist them and prevent a disaster. After all, tomorrow is another day, and sometimes there really is light at the end of a very dark tunnel – as long as hope survives.

“I am so angry with myself because I cannot do what
I should like to do, and at such a moment one feels as if one
were lying bound hand and foot at the bottom
of a deep
dark well, utterly helpless.” – Vincent Van Gogh