One year since we arrived in North Devon after our travelling adventures (please see all previous posts going back to October 2017!) we are now thoroughly underway – week 7!!! – with social distancing, Corona virus updates and trying to get any sense out of my Mum during Skype calls.
There is a thought that keeps popping into my head though.
Which is how come so many of the things I learned while travelling on a catamaran from Puerto Rico through the Bahamas and as far as North Carolina are bang on target for coping with this mess!?
As anyone familiar with our travelling tales – or any other seasoned travellers – will know, travel often presents a series of challenges, mishaps, boredom, stress, disasters and downright peril loosely strung together with new experiences, stunning places, interesting people and perspective altering revelations about yourself.
After 18 months “on the road” with husband L (the invisible one) I had assembled quite a few coping strategies and the things that would send me off the deep end were somewhat reduced in number!
I am finding them really helpful and relevant while under “house arrest” and I am also enjoying mulling back over how and where I learned them – I hope you will too!
Try To Make Each Other Laugh Every Day
Living in a small space with someone for a long time can really put you off a person – which is no good if they are your partner/travelling companion and captain too. A boat can be horribly poky, hard to escape from (there is no simply popping out to the shops via the front door) and less comfortable than home.
It can sometimes seem that the only bit of privacy is actually sitting on the bog…unless the wind generator bounces off its 7 foot pole in rough seas one night and you get hollered at to get back on deck from that little sanctum. Anyway…
My good friend and experienced sailor Candis has great advice on living in close quarters including “Learning to Ignore Each Other”, “Wine” and “Finding a Place To Hide” in her blog here https://echoesandseaalice.com/2020/03/31/a-sailors-8-tips-to-marital-toleration-while-sheltering-in-place/
To her list I would add the goal of trying to make each other laugh. Every day. It is the best cure for temporarily loathing the very essence of a person that I have ever come across…
Don’t Eat All The Tomatoes On Monday
When you are living on a boat, sometimes ordinary life chores like shopping take up the whole day…and that’s OK! By the time you have lowered the dinghy down off its davits, loaded in the bicycles and rucksacks and yourselves, climbed back up to lock the boat and get your forgotten sunhat, started the dinghy outboard motor, putt-putted to the beach/dock trying not to get soaked, dragged the dinghy up the beach, tied it hopefully to a rock and walked or cycled towards civilisation and a shop, you really feel like you are earning your next meal.
Once you have bought slightly more than you can comfortably carry between you, from a selection of randomly available items, carried it back across the island to the dinghy and dropped the tin of pineapple juice to the bottom of the sea while passing it all back up into the boat, the thought of doing it all again tomorrow just because you fancy a REALLY big tomato salad is just not on!
So according to your situation you are either picking what you can from half empty shelves “Soviet style”, waiting for a kind neighbour or the Govt to drop round a food parcel, or too scared/cheesed off/exhausted to head to the shops more than once every 10 days.
Top tip – have a bit of this, a bit of that, drink smaller cups of coffee if you have to and don’t eat all the tomatoes on Monday…
Two Jobs a Day – Anyone Can Achieve That!
Talking of being cheesed off…When we lose our routine of the expected ups and downs that come with lifes automatic pilot, the brain initially seems to revel in the freedom. Then for me it tails off into a “slough of despond” with the effort of trying to understand the world and what to do with it every bloody day, from scratch. Even floating in paradise in the sun in perfect freedom with the one you love can be a surprising challenge some days!
Our method for keeping the ball rolling was to make ourselves do “Two Jobs A Day!” and this mantra served us well as we always had a list of crappy, smelly, dirty and difficult boat maintenance to do or challenging problems to solve like learning how to sail.
Funnily this method also works pretty well just to motivate you to make something of the day when needed or to crack on with far less onerous stuff. Need to perk yourself up with a bit of exercise? Clean the bathroom? Skype those friends you haven’t spoken to for a while? Get out that upholstery project that has been dragging on for 6 months?
Note *1 horrendous mega-job such as cycling 24 miles to buy a rope counts as 2 jobs.
DO NOT attempt 3 jobs. Stop and enjoy the after glow and the achievement of your day in having pushed life forward by your 2 jobs well done. Hurrah for you, have a beer!
What Pleases The Eye Pleases The Heart
I think I just made that up? Let me know…
I am a nester, homebody, decorator and creative fiddler by nature but one thing I do know is that everyone feels better in a room that is tidy, pleasing, interesting to look at and nice to use.
On the boat there were limited opportunities to fiddle as the furniture is nailed down (hopefully).
But I managed to find ways to rearrange the seashells, add a few colourful kitchen items and generally throw out loads of horrid tat belonging to the last owners, until I actually felt pretty good about the space.
If you are finding being in your own house annoying and stressful take a honest, clear eyed look at it room by room as a stranger would and think about what you could do to improve things.
Are things constantly in your way and in awkward places to use them? Move them! Are surfaces cluttered and ugly? Clear them off and find proper places for things. Having a place for everything is the #1 rule for being able to put stuff away without having to invent the damn wheel every time by thinking about it!!! I did not learn this until I was about 46 unfortunately. Obviously cleaning the place will help too..
Sometimes just rearranging your stuff in a room or moving it between rooms can be such a breath of fresh air it’s like having new stuff!
Move the lamp, the pictures, put the plant in a better pot, rotate the sofa, rearrange the contents of the shelves.
Try it – you’ve nothing else to do after all…
Travelling 2500 miles by sailing catamaran and then switching to living on a bus in the USA was plenty of adventure – perhaps enough to last me for the rest of my life!
Now that we are staying put for a bit I have taken up a ridiculous amount of hobbies, each one a mini-adventure and most of which remain in a half accomplished state but no matter!
I like the philosophy that even an impulse to turn up an unfamiliar street can also be a mini adventure – every town has streets, views and corners you don’t know.
It is not easy to conjure up the new when you are confined to 4 rooms and a daily walk but think of something…eat Japanese style on floor cushions, sleep in a tent in the garden, wear things from the back of the wardrobe for the day, attempt Skype Scrabble. Anything!
Be Like a Seal. A Navy SEAL
When I was pondering ways (ie. searching the internet self help world) to cope with some of the more tricky travelling times I came across an erudite chap called Charles Chu. He has read book after book in his search for wisdom and he published an excellent blog, which is unfortunately no longer online.
One very practical article which I used again and again concerned The 6 Secrets Of Mental Toughness of Navy SEALs, a renouned cadre of hardcore American military types. In his research of several SEAL memoirs, Charles learned that despite the extreme physical training aspects it is not only fitness but crucially the “bullet-proof mind” techniques that actually get a recuit through. These are the 6 secrets of a bullet-proof mind…
- Eat The Elephant…One Bite At A Time
Don’t think about the whole challenge, break it down into small, achievable tasks or time frames.
When we were facing a long tricky sail, perhaps involving night watches, sandbanks to be dodged and intimidating weather to be endured we learned to not think too far ahead!
This is a key technique for long distance athletes and marathon runners, which helps them avoid pondering how long they will be in lockdown and just get through the next day!
2. Visualise Success
Dreading the day ahead? Tempted to stay in bed which you know will only make things worse. Instead lie in bed a wee bit longer…but visualise the days challenges going really well! Plenty of detail, all the senses and lots of positive emotions please.
Apparently in one study, basketball players who visualised their shots improved by 23% and players who actually practised the shots by just 1% more than that at 24%. There is something in it!
3. Control The Emotions
Easier said than done..
Having those stress hormones blasting round your body can be very useful when you are on the night watch or on the look out for cargo ships out at sea.
But after a while you just need to switch off before you can’t ever sleep again and your immune system takes a nosedive.
This is how the SEALs do it, with a technique they memorably call 4 by 4 for 4:
- Breathe in for 4 seconds
- Breathe out for 4 seconds
- Repeat for 4 minutes
I love this – it is what yogis have been doing for thousands of years. Our brain affects our body, and the reverse is true as well.
4. Reframe Events
“Men are disturbed not by things, but the view they take of them.”Epictetus
We can’t control what happens in our outside world, but we can control our interpretation of it; a cornerstone of philosophy both ancient and modern from Seneca to Victor Frankl.
One SEAL talked about choosing to “reframe” negative events in a more positive light by looking for the opportunity, what you learned from it or how it all came right in the end, for example “now we know never to empty the composting toilet into black sacks on a windy day, ever again”.
Once you have “reframed” a crap day in a more positive way you also have a more positive memory too and let’s face it – it will be good to have some of those from this period, when we return to our normal lives.
5. Small Victories
When things are difficult and morale is low thoughts can easily go in a downward spiral but I loved this technique to think smaller…and then smaller still…until you can find some small victories in your day! It is really just good old fashioned gratefulness, but I found it really works.
In his article Charles Chu suggested listing 3 things which you are grateful for at the end of each day for example 1. A lovely peaceful bath 2. A tasty lunch (one of mine will ALWAYS be food) and 3. You still have plenty of toilet roll left.
I go even further than 3 when I can’t sleep or after a nasty day – my niece rolls her eyes when I tell her about my pyramid of positivity.
Imagine if you will a triangle/pyramid divided into horizontal shelves.
Stack the bottom row with the smallest, most trivial things you are grateful for that day or are pleased to have achieved (see “Two Jobs A Day”) then stack the next mental shelf with more significant stuff.
In this picture of me preparing for a night watch in the Atlantic ocean I am most likely reminding myself that I love these sailing dungarees, that I am avoiding a cold November in England and that I pulled up the anchor like a pro!
Finally crown the top of the pyramid with something of the fundamental caliber of “Yes, I am still alive!!”
6. Find Your Tribe
Like-minded people, a sense of community, your tribe, common interests, your platoon buddies – all different names for the feeling of connection and shared endeavour with fellow humans that lifts the spirits. Charles Chu found a interesting quote…
“Humans don’t mind hardship, in fact they thrive on it; what they mind is not feeling necessary. Modern society has perfected the art of making people not feel necessary. It’s time for that to end.”Sebastian Junger, Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging
In these days of limited interaction I am rediscovering how to keep in touch with family and friends remotely. When we were travelling I was often away for over 3 months at a time and the morale boost of a chat or a Skype call is amazingly effective at quelling that homesick and lonely feeling in the pit of your stomach.
Social media has its evils but it can also be a boost when you can “join your tribe” virtually. We most us have things we feel passionately about – some of mine currently are how lucky we are to live on beautiful Exmoor, why books are way better than the telly and that proper cake should always be made WITH BUTTER!
I can bond endlessly with people on these points – on the Insta and facebook feeds for now – and it makes feel content at finding my place in the world amongst those who also believe that margarine is the Devils work.
It’s not a profound meaning of life but it’s a start!
So…if I have added something to your list of mental tools for getting through this tricky time then I am delighted. See you on the other side xx