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Do You Still Wear A Mask?

On the first day that the mask mandate was lifted here in B.C., I had an appointment at the optometrist in the mall. I was curious to see how many people would be without masks.

I was asked to wear a mask for my appointment, so it was hanging beneath my chin as I walked toward the mall entrance. Approaching the door, I placed it securely over my face, out of habit, or maybe just because I wasn’t ready to be without one yet.

How many people would show their faces?

When I opened the door, I was immediately surprised to see three ladies about my age, without masks. They were giving the thumbs up to each other. I assumed it was because they were happy to be mask-less, but I don’t know for sure.

I had half expected all of the mask-less minions to be young and male. Maybe that came from watching and reading too many stories lately about the so-called Freedom Convoy.

My guess was that about 90% of the people in the mall that day had masks on. They were all ages, although the majority were middle-aged and older.

Since then I think that number has gone down to maybe 50-60% or less.

The truth is that, for many of us, it feels strange not wearing a mask. Two years of heightened awareness, of strict protocols and news about upticks in COVID cases, deaths, and virulent variants, have made us extremely cautious. So not wearing one just feels wrong, somehow.

It took awhile to get used to donning masks in the first place, but in the beginning we used our creativity and embraced the notion of mask wearing in public. Well, some of us did. But it was a novelty, and as usual, the novelty wore off and the reality sunk in.

They were sometimes a pain to get on or off, especially with glasses or hats or hearing aids. They made it difficult to converse with people or to understand instructions. They made your glasses fog up. Sometimes it was just that much more difficult to breathe.

You’d think we’d all be happy to be rid of them.

I have a collection of masks from many different sources over the past two years. I have Christmas masks, funny masks, N95 and KN95 masks. I have mask extenders, ties and clips. I always have one in my purse, in my car, and in my coat pocket. Just like Kleenex.

But like many people, I’m not quite ready to be without them yet. “We need to support that. We need to recognize that we all have our own risks and our own vulnerabilities,” Bonnie Henry said at the news conference announcing the end of mandate.

I would add “anxieties”.

At this point, I find myself staring at people indoors without masks. Maybe I’m just not used to seeing naked faces. I have to keep reminding myself that masks are no longer required, at least for now, and people should do what they’re comfortable doing.

As long as the mask-less offer me the same respect.

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How’d You Sleep?

So how did you sleep last night? Wouldn’t you know, I lost sleep thinking about this post, and how to write it.

Apparently, it’s common for Boomers to ask each other how well they slept. I don’t know if it’s a generational thing, but I would imagine many of us are struggling to get a good night’s sleep these days.

Sleep is everything, isn’t it? After a great sleep, you wake up refreshed and ready to tackle whatever comes your way. It’s so much easier to deal with everything physical, emotional, and mental when your body is well rested.

A bad sleep ruins it all. All of it.

What’s worse is when you’re exhausted and you STILL can’t sleep. It just doesn’t make sense! But sometimes it’s a sign that your circadian rhythm is off. You know, your body clock. People who do shift work can often have issues with their circadian rhythm because we’re hard wired to be up and around during the day, and asleep at night.

But the inability to sleep can be caused by many things. Stress and anxiety are top of the list. I’d venture to guess a lot of us are dealing with that right now.

Bad habits before bedtime don’t help.

Reading your Twitter feed before bed can be a sleep disturber. Actually, reading Twitter ANYTIME can be disturbing. But it’s about that light from your device, or so they say.

I like reading my e-book at night just before bed. Yes, it’s a murder mystery, so what?

Just as there are many causes for lack of sleep, there are dozens of “cures” for it. Pills and home remedies, different routines, audio recordings and even YouTube videos, are just some of the options out there.

Since I’ve heard too many horror stories about sleep medications, I won’t even try that.

A hot bath helps. I’ve tried different teas, especially ginger tea. As long as it’s not caffeinated, tea is comforting and cozy just before bed.

People I know swear that listening to soothing sounds or even white noise, helps them to sleep.

Getting enough physical activity during the day helps. I walk most days, and often twice in a day. When I walk I try not to think about anything. I just try to listen to the sounds around me, the birds, the conversations, my footsteps.

It doesn’t always work, but when I succeed, it puts me in a much better state of mind.

There are a gazillion websites out there with tips for getting a better sleep.

Something that helps me a lot lately when I roll over to sleep, is a little story I tell myself. You might call it a bedtime story. I close my eyes and start repeating it, same story every night.

It’s just something I made up. I repeat the details to myself as if I were telling it to someone else. Sometimes I have to start over again a few times, but I always tell it the same way.

Eventually, I drift off. Who’d a thought a bedtime story would actually work?? At my age??

Then there are those nights when you get to sleep okay, but you wake up at 2 or 3am. It might be a dream that jolts you awake, or a sudden snort from your partner.

If you’re lucky, you roll over and sleep finds you again. But sometimes you’re not.

If I get on that crazy train of thought, I’m in trouble. You know the one I’m talking about. You think one thing and that leads to another, and another, and another.

The next thing you know, you’re imagining every possible disaster that could ever happen. World War Three, the Big Shake, the Apocalypse. Heat domes, heart attacks, what’s that damn noise in my car?

On and on and….ahhhhh!

Sorry. Please don’t read this just before bed.

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A Little Good News

I was stopped at a red light near a busy intersection recently when I noticed a man run out into the crosswalk just as the light was about to change. I was three cars back so I couldn’t quite see what he was doing, but when he came back into sight, I realized he was helping another older man across the street. The two didn’t appear to know each other.

The older man’s legs seemed to be collapsing out from under him so the younger fellow was practically carrying him along the crosswalk. It took awhile, but they finally made it to the other side. All of the cars waited until they were safely across.

It was so lucky the younger man was there to help. What occurred to me later was that social distancing and wearing masks suddenly went out the window in that moment, because it was more important to jump in there and give the older man a hand. The selflessness and compassion made my heart swell.

It reminded me of all of the health care and front line workers who do the equivalent of that a hundred times a day, every day. Jump in there and help someone out. We are so lucky to have them.

And a pox on those who dare to protest them! Yes, I know what a pox is…

There’s a song that Anne Murray released about 40 years ago called “A Little Good News”. The gist of it was that it would be great to have just one day where nothing bad happened. Anywhere.

Mostly, it was about being tired of the bad news. We’re all feeling that.

But the odd thing about human beings is that we’re drawn to bad news. Sometimes we even seek it out. The psychology of it is that our brains are wired to help us survive by being more attuned to the bad things happening around us. It’s called “negativity bias”.

It’s just that there’s been so much negativity lately, that it has become overkill. Literally.

Quite often these days when my students first come in to have their guitar lesson (socially distanced, of course), we sit there for five minutes and just vent with each other. But when the music begins, all else is forgotten.

There IS good news out there. I recently posted a link to a New York Times article on my Facebook page about how scientists say that the coronavirus will eventually just resemble an annoying cold. I mean, it’ll take time, but won’t that be great?

Something to look forward to. Never thought I’d say that about a cold.

The thing is, that post didn’t get one response. Maybe it was because people know the New York Times is behind a paywall, or they tried and couldn’t read it. But maybe, just maybe, their brains were experiencing negativity bias, or they were tired of reading, period.

We always hear the phrase “work/life balance”. I’ve decided to apply that my own way. Instead of ignoring the news completely, I’ve been working on trying to make sure I find a good news/bad news balance. I know it exists.

Because you know…

We sure could use a little good news today. ~ Tommy Rocco, Charlie Black and Rory Bourke

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The A-Zed Blues

I had just about a week or so to enjoy the fact that I had received my second vaccination and it was all done. I was officially a double doser. Then the NACI completely spoiled my fun. And, as you well know, there has not been much fun of any kind for a very long time.

In a statement on June 17th, the NCAI, or National Advisory Committee on Immunization said “…an mRNA vaccine¬†is now preferred¬†as the second dose for individuals who received a first dose of the AstraZeneca/COVISHIELD vaccine.”

Now preferred? Now you’re freaking me out.

Both of the doses I had were the AstraZeneca. It’s just mean to encourage us with “you should take the first vaccine you are offered” and then say “Oh, wait, not THAT one.” It’s not like a piece of clothing you bought that you can exchange when you change your mind. “Oh, I prefer THAT jacket.”

No. Now it’s too late.

Not long after that shocker, Bruce Springsteen literally left me dancing in the dark when he decided that those of us who were vaccinated with AstraZeneca wouldn’t be allowed to attend his concerts. He has since changed his mind. But now I’m really wondering what we AstraZeneca double dosers are going to have to face in the coming months. Or as I like to refer to us, the AZeders.

Will we be shunned in other venues? Will they have specialized AZed dog sniffers at the malls causing a commotion when they corner us? Security guards yelling “Put that down, ma’am. Back out of the store slowly and go home.”?

Will border guards be checking our vaccine passports to assure themselves that we’ve taken the “preferred” vaccines? “Eh, zed? Go back to Canada!” How humiliating.

I understand that these are extraordinary times. None of us alive today has been through anything like this before, so we are just feeling our way, especially with the vaccines. And those in authority have the double duty of not only getting the right information out there, but battling all of the MIS-information.

But I also think there is such a thing as too much information. Because a lot of us are not smart enough to know what to do with it anyway. And we’re already over-anxious as it is, so it’s not a great idea to make us even more so.

I have never before thought to ask where my flu vaccine comes from, I just trusted whatever was put in my arm. It would be nice to feel the same way about the COVID vaccine, but it’s already too late for us AZeders. We took what we could get, with only the intention of protecting ourselves and each other.

Our aim was true. So please don’t Astra-cize us.

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You Are Not Alone

This has been a more difficult post to write because, usually, I try to be light about everything. Sometimes it’s not so easy. There have certainly been enough opinion pieces, news, and statistics about anxiety and depression these days because of the pandemic we are experiencing, so who needs more of that? But there is light at the end of the tunnel. I promise.

I didn’t get on an airplane for many years because of my fear of flying. It’s called aerophobia. It started after a flight back from Hawaii on our honeymoon. We hit a bumpy patch during the flight, as often happens, but I was on my way back to my seat from the washroom during one of those drops, and almost got knocked off my feet. Of course, we landed just fine and I didn’t think anything more of it.

What happened in the following months, however, was that I started to have nightmares about planes crashing. Over, and over and over. And I convinced myself that it might be some kind of premonition, so I decided I would no longer set foot on a plane.

And I didn’t. For 20 years. One time I even had the opportunity to go on a free trip to Hawaii. I didn’t go. Instead I got really mad at myself for being so scared. What the heck was the matter with me?

I started to research it a little bit, first of all realizing that a LOT of people have the same fear. Many people take anti-anxiety medications before they fly to counteract it. Some have other forms of treatment like cognitive therapy. And then there are those who never get over it, and stop flying all together.

Me? I turned to one thing I thought might help. I got back into mindful meditation and practiced it as much as I could. Ommmm…

A couple of years later, we took the chance that I might be able to handle a flight, and booked a trip back to Hawaii. It was a celebration of my daughter’s graduation from high school. This would be my big test. Leading up to the trip, I worked really hard to not let those anxious thoughts overwhelm me. It didn’t always work, but I kept at it.

On the day of our flight, I sat in the airport lounge and did a lot of deep breathing and tried to stay calm. I remember the walk onto the ramp and into the plane, trying not to panic. Strapping myself into the seat, I wondered how I would keep myself from screaming for them to let me get off.

On the taxi down the runway, I grabbed my daughter’s hand and clung to it. We finally took off into the clouds. Over the next while, I tried to relax a little bit. It took a couple of hours, but eventually I could smile a little and looked out at the puffs of clouds and the blue water below.

I can’t tell you how wonderful it was to finally walk barefoot on the sands of Waikiki. The picture you see here is from that first moment. I’m not saying that I overcame my aerophobia in one trip. It took many. But I have had lots of successful, anxious-free flights since.

I’ve been anxious about many things in my life, but that was a major one.

And now anxiety has reared its ugly head again, as it has with so many others during this pandemic. I started worrying about getting sick. Not just from COVID-19, but pretty much anything. Any time I felt a twinge of pain or an upset stomach, I “catastrophized” it, convinced it was a serious illness.

After weeks of this, I decided to tell my immediate family about it, and they have all been wonderful. My daughters have both dealt with anxiety too, and know what it can do to you.

I’ve gotten back into my meditation. I take frequent walks outdoors when I can and remind myself of the “okay” moments. Hey, right now, I’m okay! I tried CBD, or cannabidiol, which is derived from the hemp plant, to help me sleep. Sometimes it works. I have a pretty healthy diet, but apparently certain foods can help with anxiety too, as can staying away from others.

I don’t let myself get sucked into all the negative stuff as much, especially online. Realizing how many stupid people there are out there can drive you crazy! And keeping track of COVID-19 numbers is not a great idea either.

Ultimately, I try to talk about my anxiety more, which is why I’m writing this.

I know there are many, many of you out there going through the same and much worse. Don’t be afraid to tell others. Be gentle with and forgive yourself. Don’t feel guilty or embarrassed. Talk about it. It’s been a long, long haul for all of us but we’ll get there. And you are not alone.

(For those of you in the Island Health region, if you need help or you are in crisis, please call 1-888-494-3888 or 1-800-588-8717, any time day or night.)