Pandemic Survival Answers

Question

There are some mysteries, wonderings or questions to be answered so here’s an update:

RE: Pandemic Survival 7: Reality Bites

I am pleased and relieved to advise that the Youngest Son has tested negative for COVID-19. He still has to see out his quarantine for a few more days but the spectre of illness has left the building. And I can go back to work. Although not in quarantine myself, because of the vulnerabilities of the kids I teach, it was deemed best I stay away until we knew if the Youngest Son was infected. Unfortunately as a casual, no work = no pay, so I’m doubly relieved for a negative outcome. Or a positive outcome in a negative way…. Or a negative outcome in a positive way…. Or something….

 

RE: Pandemic Survival 6: Pubbing on the Couch

Thank you to those who attempted to locate this blogger in a sea of 1500 faces in Pub Choir’s latest video. Unfortunately (but predictably) nobody won the TimTams. However, for those of you who are still wondering, this is me:

Me in Pub Choir

 

Now, don’t you all feel better? Because I sure do!

Pandemic Survival 6: Pubbing on the Couch

Specifically, this couch:

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The pandemic and its lockdown necessities has certainly set many people on some steep technological learning curves.

Teachers, students and parents alike have had to learn about new apps and software and how to recreate lessons in purely online and electronic settings including, in this household at least, how to conduct an English exam through remote learning.

Those who have never had to work from home have had to see how that can work and to make it work. Admittedly, this now has possible positives in giving employees ammunition to argue for more family-friendly flexible working arrangements. (“See, I can do the work from home, so how about I do that two days a week from now on?”)

Restaurants have turned themselves into gourmet takeaways or suppliers of meals to essential workers.

And in the world of Arts and Entertainment, creatives have courageously embraced the technology available to make it Happen. From filmed stage productions being shared on various platforms to casts of musicals getting together to record songs via isolation to books and plays being read by all manner of celebrities all the way to small community outfits doing whatever they can to share their creativity.

As someone for whom singing forms a key part of my wellbeing, I have survived this pandemic and the inherited income adjustment in a number of ways.

Firstly, let me just say how grateful I am for streaming services and YouTube that provide a plethora of musicals to watch and join in. As a lover of and previous performer in many musicals, this has been an easy and inexpensive way to have a sing when I feel like it. (And yes, even if I wasn’t such a big Star Wars, Marvel and Pixar fangirl, joining Disney+ would have been worth it just for Hamilton.)

Secondly, I was lucky to be offered work in my role as a casual special education teacher despite schools being closed to all but the necessary. Singing is a big part of my teaching so getting to sing every week with some very special students kept me upbeat day after day.

Thirdly, my bar choir of which I wrote not long before the shutdown, scored some funding from a local government to offer Back Bar Choir Iso-style. This was conducted over Zoom every Thursday night for 6 weeks for free. Because of the time delay in the program, we all had to be muted other than the lovely Anna and Kate but even though you couldn’t hear the others, just seeing their happy faces on the screen made you feel like you were singing with a group of people. And, when restrictions eased a bit, I was able to turn my little she-shed into a bar for two. Singing Aussie classics like Horses and You’re The Voice in full throttle with a special friend in person and a collection of yet unknown ones on the screen in front of me whilst enjoying a glass of wine was enough to fill up my week with joy.

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One of those cupboards may or may not contain the ‘bar’. 😉

And then, just recently, fourthly, I joined Pub-turned-Couch Choir because you can never have enough of pub singing. Pub Choir was started in Brisbane by the lovely Astrid Jorgensen and just before the pandemic hit, had become an international sensation with a tour of the USA underway. (My local Back Bar Choir is obviously based on the same model, something of which Astrid is supportive as long as it isn’t called “Pub Choir”.)  Rapidly closing borders caused Astrid, Waveney and the Pub Choir team to cancel the rest of the tour and hightail it home. Not to be squashed (Astrid seems a very upbeat type), Pub Choir launched Couch Choir as shown in this short documentary:

The procedure follows the usual pattern – learn one song in parts and sing it. Only, this time, Astrid teaches the parts via video and participants firstly learn their chosen part and then record themselves singing it. This recording is then sent to Couch Choir and through the monumental magic of video editing (thank you, Paris), all of it is put together to form one sensational performance. You can check them out here. I’d recommend the David Bowie song Heroes. Six thousand people from around the world submitted a video including many of our health workers. It’s quite moving.

But at the very least, check out the one below – the most recent one – because you may spot a familiar blogger. Mind you, with more than 1500 singers from 30 different countries, you’ll be hard pressed to find me (you’ll need a magnifying glass and a quick eye) so if you do manage it, I will send you a packet of Tim Tams.

 

It’s an incredible feeling to be part of this stunning community collaboration in a love of singing. I’ve wanted to participate in Couch Choir since I first found out about it through the documentary but it always takes me a while to convince myself I can do something and the usual three day turnaround just wasn’t enough time. For this song, we had a week to prepare and submit a video so I was able to spend a few days telling myself I could do it, then spend a day learning my part and then another recording and uploading it. What a fabulous reason to spend an afternoon in my shed and sing!

This pandemic has certainly stretched us all in a myriad of ways and I’m so happy people have discovered new means of sharing their skills and art for us all to enjoy.

Have you managed to find ways to pursue your joy?

A Claytons Resolution

June

It’s June. We’re almost at the middle of the year 2020.

So, how’s it going for you so far?

Yeah. I know.

I doubt any of us is experiencing the year we thought we would on January 1. Nothing quite like a global economic downturn on the back of a global pandemic to put a kink in your plans.

Although, as the world protests and campaigns against racial injustice on a scale not seen in decades, I can’t help thinking that this forced global awareness and time to reflect has some up sides.

I’m wondering if you made any New Year Resolutions for this year and how they’re faring in this “new normal”? Are you still on track as planned, on track but in a modified form or have you abandoned them altogether?

Did you give up on “going to the gym every week” or just adjust it to online classes? Did the lockdown actually make it easier to “learn a new skill”? Did it become just too challenging to “spend more time with friends”? Did you lose your job making it impossible to “save more money”?

2020 new year resolution

At the end of last year, I announced that I wasn’t making any resolutions for 2020 because the family was already facing enough challenges with an ending of long term employment and high stakes final years of education. Just surviving the year intact was enough of a goal to achieve.

But now, at the midpoint of a year that threw in even more challenges to exacerbate the ones we were already facing, I’ve realised I actually did make a resolution of sorts. A Claytons resolution. The resolution you have when you don’t have a resolution.*

At the end of last year, on the back of some work I had begun on improving my mental health, I made a commitment that in 2020 I would put my wellbeing first, closely followed by the needs of my own family. I would no longer be “on call” to others and if something wasn’t right for me and my wellbeing, then I would politely refuse/withdraw.

I also took on a mantra from a card I read early in the year: “I did not cause it. It is not my job to cure it.”

This wasn’t easy. I’ve been known to answer the call when unwell, when it inconvenienced my own family and when it probably wasn’t appropriate and it’s in my nature to want to step in and make things better in any way I can. But I knew I couldn’t go on the way I had the last few years and for my own health I had to change.

Of course, when the pandemic and subsequent restrictions hit, it became even more important to try and maintain this promise to myself as anyone who has followed me through the last three months will be aware.

But with support, I stuck to my plan. And, as it turned out, reaped the rewards.

Lessons Learned:

  1. It is not selfish to take care of yourself. In fact you owe it to the people around you to do so.
  2. You can look after your own wellbeing and good things will still come your way.

Even in the midst of all the challenges this year has wrought, I have been blessed. I’ve reached out and discovered the true friends in my life, been acknowledged and respected in my work, found joy in running for fun and explored new places to be fed spiritually and creatively.

Looking at stars

 

My wish for you at this midpoint of A Year For The Ages is that you are finding the kindnesses in life and that the route you are travelling while occasionally bumpy has stretches of smooth straight road in the company of people you love and who love you just as equally.

Blessings from my heart to yours.

 

*This phrase comes from a drinks commercial in the 1970s whose catchphrase entered the Australian vernacular to mean anything that you have without it really being that thing. More info here. Unfortunately I couldn’t find a video of the original ad with Jack Thompson but here’s a blooper:

 

 

Pandemic Survival 4: Good Karma

Do you believe in karma?

I like to do things for other people. It’s not because I’m saving up brownie points to get into heaven. It’s not because I think it will allow me to come back as something better. It’s not because I’m hoping I’ll get something in return. I do it because…. well, because it’s just who I am.

In my last post, I wrote about my way of coping with losing a job I love by making resources for others to use in my own time. I didn’t do it to show off or to look good. I did it because I saw a need and I like helping people. Well, okay, and I also like making things and this seemed like a good use of my time.

I’ve also written about losing my job and how it wasn’t about the money.

As a casual relief teacher in an environment where students are now studying from home, I knew there would not be opportunities to teach until schools fully reopen so I found a way to fulfil the joy I have for teaching in other ways. It felt good.

Do you believe in karma?

Today I did my first of three days of work at my school.

I know.

I still can’t believe it.

For some reason, they were short on teaching staff and a member of staff I had chatted to recently on one of my runs around the river mentioned how crushed I’d been to lose my job and how much I would miss the kids.

So they called me and offered me three days work with a possibility of more in the future.

I don’t know if I believe in karma in the full religious understanding of it but after the events of this week, I have to believe that what you put into the world will come back to you.

Be kind.

Do good things.

Give what you can.

It will come back to you.

 

Kindness

Pandemic Survival 3: Finding a Way Through

The announcement finally came. It was predictable and I was expecting it but it still hit hard.

On April 7, our state government announced that students would continue to learn at home for Term 2, due to start after Easter. So another three months of unemployment for me.

But, as a dear friend said to me, “You can take the person out of the teaching but you can’t take the teaching out of the person.”

I’ve been finding a way through.

I have you wonderful people in this amazing blogging community to thank for the first step. When I first wrote about losing a job I love, many people asked if there was a way to communicate with the students online. Being a casual teacher, I don’t have access to those platforms at my school but then Dan mentioned recording videos and a germ of an idea sprung up in this still fertile mind (it’s all that bullcrap I store in there).

My ‘thing’ when teaching is music. I get a lot of jokes about moving out of home when I’m working because I walk in and out with an enormous suitcase and a guitar on my back. The suitcase holds a collection of instruments and song props – my own ‘bag of tricks’ as all good CRTs carry. I’ve previously mentioned that a favourite song is “When You’re Happy and You Know It” done with all sorts of different emotions and different actions to match.

So, I took a deep breath and I videoed myself singing this song, doing eight different emotions. (Trust me, this was huge. I am not a fan of being on camera.) I then split them up into different videos and edited them to include the PCS (Pictorial Communication System) card for that emotion before and after the song.

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Sample of PCS cards for feelings

The videos are not flashy. They are just me singing and playing the guitar with no great video effects. It’s because I wanted it to accurately replicate what it would be like for the kids at school. Truly. It’s not at all because I honestly couldn’t be bothered doing that much editing. Besides, there’s a plethora of flashy songs on the interwebs for the kids to access. How often will they get to see ME this term?

I also tried to keep the file size as small as I could while trying to keep a reasonable standard because some of our kids won’t have access to great internet.

Here is where I want to thank my lovely friend Naomi who has been my cheerleader through this process. She was the one I sent them to first because I knew I could trust her to tell me honestly if they were okay.

Fortunately she thought they were more than okay.

The next step was to send them to a suitable focus group. Luckily I am great friends with a number of preschoolers (even related to a few) so I sent the videos off to this treasured cohort and received a very positive response.

Last step – send them to the music specialist teacher at my school. I needed a gin and tonic before I could hit that send button despite all the previous positive feedback. Sharing your own creation with others is like sharing some deep uncertain part of yourself.

To my enormous relief, my work was received with great enthusiasm and gratitude.

Phew.

The videos are on YouTube but marked as Unlisted so you won’t find them without a direct link. While I wanted them easily shared, I didn’t particularly feel like making myself available to the world’s troll network.*

However, in the spirit of community and doing new things, I’ve included one of the videos here for you to have a squizz at what you helped create. I chose Sad because this is the one the kids always find hilarious at school and the great-nephew also declared it his favourite, with a giggle.

 

My other task to keep the sadness away has been to build activity boxes for a couple of three-year-old coffee buddies I know. I knew their parents would appreciate a bit of help keeping these bright and active little boys occupied over the coming weeks. Along with my colleagues Fellowes and Carl, I’ve been madly producing resources over the past week to box up and deliver as an Easter surprise.

If I were to list activities that help my mental health, I would definitely include laminating with rotary cutting close behind. I’m also a big fan of Velcro. So making these resources was like being in my happy place.

I knew I well and truly had my teacher hat on when I found myself with fifty gazillion tabs open in my browser from eleventy hundred different education websites and blogs looking for ideas and resources. If you think I’m exaggerating, you’ve obviously never done lesson planning.

As is always the case, it started out as a tiny idea that probably would have fit into a standard envelope that then morphed into a major undertaking for which I had to buy a packing box for delivery.

But boy, did I have fun? You bet your last dollar. Or my last dollar. In light of my current situation, I probably shouldn’t have been wandering the virtual aisles of the local office supplies store and hitting that Buy button quite so regularly but it’s always been way more fun to spend money on other people than on myself so really from a mental health perspective it’s money very well spent. Cheaper than therapy anyway.

And this little episode during a video chat with one of my little friends after he opened his box made my day:

A: Thank you for my box of things just for me! It’s awful!

A’s Mum: Awesome. You mean awesome.

My little teacher soul has been fed and will feel able to carry on for a little while.

I’m finding a way through.

How about you?

*If you really want to see the full playlist because you’d love to see all the videos or you can think of some little person in your life who would enjoy them, you can email me at mosyet42@gmail.com and I’ll send you the link.

Pandemic Survival 2: You Will Be Found

One of my survival methods in those times when I’m feeling overwhelmed by thoughts of what may lay ahead in these Lockdown Days (and those waves rise up several times a day) has been to take myself out of myself (if you get what I mean) and reach out to others to find out how they are faring.

The act of caring for others brings a surge of positive energy and helps keep the feelings of isolation at bay. One of the most important things we can do in this crisis is try and maintain a sense of community and mutual care.

Taking ourselves out of our own heads for a while and listening to someone else can help put our own problems into perspective. As challenging as our own issues may be, we need to put our heads up once in a while and check on the other people in our lives.

So, when I saw this clip from James Corden recorded at the end of the At Home version of his Late Show, his words resonated with what I have been experiencing.

“Reaching out to somebody else who you think might be struggling too is pretty much the best thing we can all do right now because we absolutely will get through this.” – James Corden 31.03.20

And then he finished with a performance of the song “You Will Be Found” by the cast of the musical Dear Evan Hansen via social distancing rules of course. (Yes, there is something of a consistency of musicals in my coping mechanisms…)

Watch it. It will lift you up. It may also make you cry but in a good way. And then go and check in with someone you know. You’ll help them and you’ll help yourself.

Stay safe.

 

Even when the dark comes crashing through
When you need a friend to carry you
And when you’re broken on the ground
You will be found

A World Gone Quiet

One of my favourite books is Quiet by Susan Cain. It’s one of those books that made me go, “Oh. So it’s not just me then.” It describes all the great things about introverts even though it’s a struggle to get that known because we live in a world designed for extroverts.

The subtitle of her book is “The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking”. Well, the world has just gone a little quieter.

Containment measures are being implemented across the world to try and stop the spread of COVID-19. People are being asked to stay in their homes and only go out for essentials. Non-essential activities have been cancelled.

The Australian Football League has just suspended the season. My son messaged me with the news and Messenger gave me the option to reply with “Yay!” It’s a little worrying that my phone knows me so well…

Of course, introverts around the world have responded to these extreme measures with “You mean I have to stay at home, limit contact with people and avoid crowds? Sweeeet!”

 

But what does it mean for the extroverts of the world? Well, dear extroverts, you get to walk in our shoes for a while. It’s uncomfortable, isn’t it? It feels unnatural and way outside your comfort zone, doesn’t it? It has sucked all the energy out of you, hasn’t it? Yeah, tell me about it. I live it every day.

Do not fear, extroverts. Help is at hand. I have long advocated for extroverts to make friends with at least one introvert. Introverts make deeply thoughtful, compassionate and loyal friends. We may not be good at chitchat but we’ll give serious thought to a request for advice. We’re unlikely to want to go to a party with you but we’ll come around and help you with a task whenever you ask. We won’t be the ones making the speeches but we’ll make sure the dishes are washed and the chairs are put away.

But now, we really come into our own because we know how to spend vast amounts of time alone.

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This will be good for you, I promise. You’ll have more time for reflection, for new activities, for careful thought and consideration.

It doesn’t have to mean hours in front of the television. Read a book, do a jigsaw puzzle, make some art. Lie outside on the grass or sit on your balcony and just watch the clouds go by or contemplate the stars. But do it slowly and deliberately. It’s not a thing to be completed as soon as possible, it’s something to spend time on and as much time as you have (which is likely to be lots, let’s face it).

If you’re craving physical contact, go outside and hug a tree.

If you’re allowed to leave the house, find a remote natural area and spend time in the nature. I promise it’s just as rejuvenating as a boisterous crowd if you allow your mind to settle in it.

Trees

Since contact with others has to be so limited and deliberate, utilising various virtual arrangements, take the opportunity of one-on-one contact to really talk to someone. And, more importantly, listen. Really listen. Who knows what you may discover about a friend that you never knew about them?

Take the time to be less task-oriented and just BE.

Extroverts, you can do this. After all, introverts have survived in an outgoing world for millennia. Surely you can survive a few months?

And remember, if it is all getting too much, your introvert friend will always be there for you. Because that’s what we do.

Just don’t expect it all the time. We’ll be enjoying the lockdown.

Beer Pong…Er…Song

There’s been a recent phenomenon in community activity known as the “pub choir”. People gather in a pub at a prearranged time, learn a song, sing it together and share a drink (or two).

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It’s funny that it’s seen as a recent phenomenon. Singing in alcohol-selling establishments dates back centuries. A singalong in the local tavern was a common sight in days gone by.

But then came records and movies and tv and Celebrities. And people began to believe that singing was the domain of only the supremely talented.

Community singing groups have done an admirable job in recent decades to try and disprove that view but if conversations I had the other evening are any indication, they can still tend to be seen by some as only for ‘singers’. If one does not see oneself as a singer, it’s easy to be scared off by an official singing group no matter how welcoming.

The pub choir, on the other hand, seems open to anyone who wants to just have a crack at singing a song. Perhaps it’s the beer hall vibe where raucous and imperfect singing is seen as acceptable. Perhaps it’s the attraction of being able to lubricate any nerves with a glass or two of an adult beverage. Perhaps it’s just that video footage of such events always makes it look like a whole lot of fun.

The other night I attended my first pub choir event. And I’m sold on the concept. It’s a simple set up, with a well known song chosen (and, it appears, one that just cries out for enthusiastic singing), easy-to-learn harmonies divided into high, middle and low and words and simple guidelines projected on a screen. Accompaniment on this night was a keyboard and drums.

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The whole process only lasts a couple of hours with time for breaks factored in (for further lubrication if required). I went alone which was a challenge for me but before long I was singing along with newfound friends having a wonderful time.

And we well and truly built this city on rock and roll.

 

Have you ever attended a pub choir? What was it like?

Triple Threat

Have you ever heard of the term triple threat?

No, not that triple layered chocolate mousse cake with the ganache icing and chocolate biscuit base.

No, not the punishment your parents declared they’d unleash if you did that thing you really weren’t supposed to do.

No, not living under a local/state/federal government all of one political persuasion that you don’t support.

I mean the one in theatrical terms. A triple threat is someone who can act, sing and dance. Think Hugh Jackman.

Mmm… Hugh Jackman…

(The #1 pick in this list is also one of my favourite clips. Definitely worth finding to watch the whole thing.)

The musical movies of the 1940s and 1950s were obviously full of triple threats – Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor, Debbie Reynolds (yes, okay, so my favourite musical film is ‘Singing in the Rain’), Judy Garland, Doris Day, Fred Astaire. (Did you know Fred Astaire’s first screen test report read “Can’t sing, can’t act, can dance a little”?)

Just imagine being able to do all three of those things.

Imagine having to audition for a musical by doing all three of those things.

I don’t need to imagine it. I did it.

Correction: I tried to do it. I am not a triple threat.

If the reactions of the production crew are anything to go by, I think I can act and I can sing (I have a piece of paper to prove it) but I most definitely cannot dance (and I knew that going into this exercise).

Back in the dim dark ages when I used to do musicals, you didn’t have to be a triple threat. If you were happy to plonk yourself in the chorus, you didn’t even have to audition. As long as you could sing in tune and move about a bit, you got the gig. You only had to audition if you wanted a part. And you only had to dance if you wanted to be one of the dancers.

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HMS Pinafore with my sister and brother-in-law in 1984. No dancing required.

Sometime in the last thirty years, things got more competitive and now most of our local theatre companies require you to audition with the triple layer horror cake of acting a monologue, singing a song and demonstrating some dance moves even if you just want to be in the ensemble.

I don’t know why I do these things to myself.

Really, I just wanted to go back to theatre so I could hang out with a group of great creative people again after a three year absence. I could have just volunteered to work backstage and skipped the humiliation.

But being a Jack of All Trades has always meant having a crack at almost anything so that’s what I did. I had a crack.

And cracked the egg all over my face.

Side Show title

I didn’t get in. Unsurprising really. Unlike poor acting or a weak voice, bad dancing can’t be hidden even in the chorus.

So I have two choices. Wait for a musical that doesn’t require dancing (perhaps an ensemble in wheelchairs) or move on to trying out for straight plays and think about other ways to push my voice.

Either way, there are boundaries to be pushed and comfort zones to be breached and this Jack of All Trades will always be ready to have a crack at something.

With a cloth handy to clean up the egg.

 

Listening For The Answer

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Last Thursday was R U OK? Day in Australia. Founded by Gavin Larkin after the suicide of his father, it is a day to remind us to check in with our fellow travellers through life starting with the simple question “Are you okay?”

This year’s R U OK? Day took on particular poignancy in the wake of the death a few days before of a well-known Australian footballer and coach in a single vehicle crash that investigations seem to indicate was deliberate.

We can never really know the pain another is carrying so it’s important to start a conversation that may save a life.

But before you ask the question “Are you okay?” here’s a couple of things to think about:

1. Be prepared to listen to the answer

This is no “How are you?” automatic piece of politeness. If you’re going to ask someone if they are okay, you need to be prepared to listen to the answer. And don’t take any preconceived ideas into the conversation about what you think may be wrong. If the answer doesn’t match your preconceptions, you run the risk of dismissing the answer or ending the conversation because it’s not as bad as you thought or you don’t think it’s something worth talking about. Which brings me to the next point.

2. The experience of pain is unique to each person

The “Orchid Hypothesis” put forward by David Dobbs supposes that some children are more strongly affected by both positive and negative experiences in their lives while ‘dandelions’ thrive in whatever life throws at them. In a similar vein, Jerome Kagan researched the effect new experiences had on a group of 4-month-old babies and predicted (correctly) that those who reacted strongly by loud cries and rapid movement were the ones most likely to grow up to be introverts while those who remained quieter and calmer would likely be extroverts. He introduced the terms “high-reactive” and “low-reactive” to describe those who are deeply affected by new experiences and those who are less so. And this has a physiological basis. High-reactive people have a more reactive amygdala, the part of the brain that controls many of our basic emotions such as fear.*

All this sciencey stuff is just to say that people have different pain thresholds for mental and emotional pain just as they do for physical pain. So, when you ask “Are you okay?”, the other person may describe an experience that has made them not okay that may seem trivial to you. But the pain to that person is real and deserves as much care and attention as any other experience.

It’s also worth noting that high-reactive people are often aware that their reaction to an event may seem minor to others and may use words such as “It’s nothing”, “It’s stupid” or “It’s really nothing worth talking about”. They need to be told that it is something, it’s not stupid and you do want to listen if they want to talk about it.

3. Empathy not sympathy

In responding to a person’s answer, it’s important to respond with empathy not sympathy. I could explain the difference but I think this video does it in a much clearer and more entertaining way:

 

So, take the time to look around you, notice the people in your life and find out if they’re okay. The R U OK? website has some fantastic resources for having these conversations.

I’m not going to expect you to answer “Are you okay?” in the public forum of the comments on this blog but I do ask you that question and hope you can find someone you trust to talk to if your answer is “No.” There are also trusted services such as Lifeline you can call.

Blessings.

*Reference: Quiet – The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain.

PS I’m also not going to answer the question in this public forum. I will admit to some mental health struggles in recent times which has prompted this post but I am receiving good support and assistance and while the seas are still a bit choppy, I am no longer feeling swamped. Thanks for asking. 🙂