Cracks

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in

(Leonard Cohen)

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Spring seeps in through the cracks of the season.  Light creeps in illuminating a changed world.  A world of empty shelves, empty buildings, an empty diary.  The world is different and yet it is the same.  The seagulls are still on the roof opposite, probably the same pair that nest there each year.  The daffodils and crocuses follow the bloom paths of previous springs.  Blackthorn blossom has come, the hawthorns are clothed in green.  And the birds sing for the lives soon to be born.  For the past three months I have been obsessively checking sunrise and sunset times, desperate for the darkness to recede.  Finally light pushes it back.

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Christmas is hardly over when the cracks begin to show.  It is in the early hours of Boxing Day when my panic attacks begin in earnest.  A wave of fear and panic that propels me out of bed, downstairs, turning on every light in the house, then, paradoxically, out into the dark air of the yard.  A desperate need to escape, but there is no escape from the dark until dawn, so the fear remains.   Cold sweat, tingling in my body, pacing and fidgeting, quick breathing, utter dread and despair.  Panic has arrived and come to stay.

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I had an inkling the darkness would be hard for me this year. I tried to accept it.  It worked for a while, but then it came rushing in until I was at its mercy.  The fear isn’t fear of the dark.  I know this. The fear is about being trapped, out of control.  I know that nothing will happen to me. I don’t fear death or disaster.   I fear the feeling of fear and not being able to escape it.  I cry and wail at the  worry that this could be my life now.  I can no longer sleep without a night light.  I go to bed late because I dread waking in the early hours when fear might strike.  The hours between my alarm and dawn are excruciating.

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My fear expands.  From darkness into light.  First the evening, then coming home, then in the heart of the day.  I can’t sit still long enough to eat a meal (my appetite is gone anyway) or to watch a TV programme, before I have to rush outside in panic.  I cling to my partner, afraid to be in the house alone now.  There is a weight in my stomach that twists and burns. I’ve had bouts of depression before over the years and I would trade it in a moment for this panic.  Being outside is the only thing that brings a fleeting modicum of relief.

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I don’t know why this panic has suddenly arrived but I suspect it has grown in the lull after a very challenging couple of years.  A challenging decade.  Now that life has finally let up, there is a vacuum, and the vacuum has cracked.  I try all I can to get relief: meditation, yoga, chamomile and lavender, counselling.  I become worn down by trying to keep the panic at bay.  I am weary and depressed.  I don’t write.  I walk only as far as I have to.  I still go out to work but I am not myself.  Medication helps.  I’ve always avoided medication before, but I will do anything to get rid of the panic.  The anxiety recedes to night times again and is not as sharp.  During the day there is sadness and indifference.

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My dreams are vivid.  In them, I am often being hunted.  I flee from assassination or revenge.  I cross Europe, trying to find a place in which I can settle and be safe.  Unusually, I dream often of my late parents.  In my dreams I am sometimes me, sometimes someone else.  Part of me longs for change, an end to this period of my life, but I’m not ready.  I haven’t found joy yet.  After a few weeks of relief, the anxiety gets worse again.  I start a new medication.

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I don’t panic about the appearance of a new virus.  My internal fear is far worse than a fear of an external disease.  It is only when all our libraries are closed and I see the queues and empty shelves in the supermarkets that I think perhaps this might be serious.  We are told to stay at home as much as we can, but I have agreed with my counsellor to take a longer walk this week, to try to recapture something of the life I had before.  So Winston and I head to the dene.

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The streets are quiet but not empty.  It feels like a Sunday.  I give anyone I see a wide berth.  There will be no doggy greetings today.  Dandelions, daisies and daffodils bloom.  Dog violets peer between the undergrowth.  The blackthorns are just beginning to fade and the cherry blossom is just beginning to flower.  A wood pigeon sits in a hollow in an ivy-covered tree.  Its pecking makes a soft ticking.  A lone coot complains on the pond.  Delicate new fronds of willow catch the light.

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A group of strange mounds on the grass reveal themselves as sleeping mallards, as four small heads pop up to watch us.  We walk through bunches of summer snowflake and fallen poplar catkins.  Marsh marigolds illuminate the burn and a cluster of celandine peeps through ivy.  Suddenly, the voice of Vera Lynn at full volume washes over the park.  She sings about meeting again – of course.  A couple of verses and the last swells with a chorus of voices.  I wonder if this is on the recording, or if these are real people, having a last gathering before saying au revoir.

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I find it hard not to think there is a pattern to existence as there is to the seasons.  In these months in which climate change has been at the top of the news, when we have had some of our worst floods and fires, a virus comes which compels us to act in a way that reduces our impact on the planet.  This is an opportunity for the earth to sigh in relief.  Without wishing to downplay the fear and death the virus brings, I wonder if this should be a hopeful moment for our future.  I wonder if we will come out of it changed.

For now the world seems both different and the same.  My life had already altered before the virus happened and I can’t yet see what I will be when I emerge.  But there is light.  I have picked up a paintbrush again.  I have had good news about some of my writing.  My anxiety is much less than it was three months ago.  I am here, writing words down.  The cracks in our existence have widened this year, but there is always light waiting to pour in

113 thoughts on “Cracks

  1. Andrea, my heart goes out to you through all your panic and fear. My own is taking a toll on me, but not to that degree … I wish I could do something for you. Panic is a horrible, horrible thing. It has curtailed my own life in specific ways, but I can tell you, at least some of it can go away, perhaps in tiny increments, but over time. You’re a strong woman … you always will be.
    I, too, read regularly about the many assaults on our beautiful planet. Perhaps you’re right, and this will be some small help. It’s good to go walking with you again – now theres a crack where the light just came in. 🙂 Jeanne

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks Jeanne. Thankfully the panic is much better than it was, notwithstanding an attack last night when I dreamt I had to travel in a tiny lift. I can live with the other symptoms, but have never had acute panic like that before and it’s not something I’d want permanently.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Andrea, are you familiar with Bach Flower Remedies? I make up a little glass of water for the remedies I’d like for the day and sip it it on and off. Some days, no remedy mix; other days, a mix for what I need. They do have different remedies for fear, panic, overwhelmed, etc. – 38 in all. And they’re from flowers – interact negatively with nothing.
        I’m glad to hear you’ve been getting some relief. Carry on!

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  2. Bravo to you! This is a wonderful message of hope. Struggle for sure, but the resilience of we humans to face adversity and not give in to it. I’m sending you a hug of friendship from across the Pond. I love your attitude, and thank you for sharing your journey with us all.

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  3. Andrea, I am glad to see you posting again but feel for your pain.
    You start with such a wonderful verse by Leonard Cohen that it already cracks something within.
    As your story continues with so much beauty mixed with pain and panic my
    heart goes out.
    Your pictures speak of peace and harmony, your words move between light and dark. May the light win.

    Miriam

    Liked by 3 people

  4. I have had a sense that you would restart this wonderful, lyrical blog shortly. When I saw your name on a ‘like’ yesterday, I felt your re-emergence even stronger. This is a powerful, personal essay and thank you for your courage to share. Hope the cracks widen and the strengthening light continues to send your fear and panic scurrying back to the darkness where they belong. There are many good signs that the only plus side of this virus is that nature is getting a chance to heal. Less pollution and fewer people interfering with life in the tidepools. With Spring coming on, it’s easier to look on the bright side. It’s even still raining in southern California. 🙂

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    • Thanks Pat, sometimes it’s hard to come back, but I’m getting there. I do imagine the improvements in pollution that will do the earth so much good – despite our urge to hoard and rebel against advice as a first response. I hope something positive might come out of it.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Dear Andrea, thank you for sharing your beautiful heart with us. While my causes and triggers are different, I understand the panic. Not long before I left DC, I was just trying to get myself mentally prepared, psyched up — just to take my car for the yearly inspection. I didn’t even intend to go that day… but I sat in my car, trying to get adjusted to the necessity of going, imagine the route, etc. Suddenly my vision clouded, it quickly got worse until I couldn’t see at all. Just panic, not a physical cause. Of course, now I’m afraid of the fear, afraid of that or something else happening when I make myself go somewhere. All I’m trying to say is that you are not alone when the darkness comes.
    These beautiful photos are a gift. Thank you. Hugs on the wing!

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    • Thanks for your understanding Teagan. I completely get that vicious circle. I became afraid of going to bed in case I panicked which then led to panicking all the time. Unfortunately I didn’t have any choice about going to bed – or perhaps that was fortunate, because it meant I had to face the fear. I saw with interest something on TV about using virtual reality goggles to face fears such as heights, which did seem to work – it meant facing a fear but doing it virtually rather than in reality.

      Liked by 2 people

  6. Despite these issues you are dealing with, it is obvious from your photos that you still see beauty in even the simplest of things. Your photos are so crisp and proof that there is beauty all around us.

    I had anxiety as bad as you described for a brief time when I lived in Florida. That pebble of fear starts to roll down a hill. It gathers up dirt and muck until it becomes a bolder. Having experienced it myself, my heart goes out to you. Nighttime still isn’t my favorite, but so far, coping skills have worked. I must say that the media doesn’t help matters. We’re constantly hearing how the end is near and that we’re all to blame. They tend to sensationalize. This type of message can be of detriment to people who already suffer from anxiety. I almost got lost in anxiety a couple of times from the news about the virus and being stuck indoors. I’m mostly worried about my elderly mom who suffers from breathing issues.

    I need to ask how you take such crisp photos? Do you set your camera to certain settings, or do you use automatic mode? I can’t seem to get such clear pictures as yours. I just love photography, and your photos are magical.

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  7. As always, I am touched by your wonderful photos and writing. I can’t say how many times I’ve felt much the same way. It does my heart good to know the veil is slowly thinning for you. Gorgeous writing and thank you so very much for sharing.

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  8. I really liked this write, Andrea, and just to say I so agree with you in that I fear those emotions which have always played too big a part in my life over any virus that causes people to be fearful and anxious, not wanting to get on with living and life. Even those who have never been anxious or afraid now seem to be. I, myself, nearly died in 2015 due to heart failure and only recently (before all of the world seeming to come apart) have I been able to know who I am (at age 67, no time like the present) and have decided to try and meet people and to live life as fully as I am able. I joined an art studio not too many weeks ago and will not go back to the person I was before, one who certainly lived isolated within my own fears for a lifetime…even before heart failure. It is difficult to be amongst so many with the fears I recently decided to abandon but I must move forward, I must live life and as per your photos, see all the beauty in the world for beauty there is. Everything will change. That is our certainty. That is a very real truth. Take care and do keep on writing.

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  9. Good to see you back in here, Andrea.
    Your photos are very beautiful and life confirming.
    Thank you for sharing your journey through the fear and panic. Many people fight against this and might find help with your explanations.
    No matter the fear are rational or not, it is terrible to feel so. I do feel with you and hope, that the spring with more sunshine and warm will help you through.
    Take good care of yourself.

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  10. Sorry to read of your challenges, Andrea. Panic attacks are horrible as I well know. Do you supplement with Vitamin D? It helps my SAD symptoms. Interestingly, my SAD was much better this winter and I’m thinking it may be due to using my new Rife machine that I got in Nov. I noticed a difference right away. Perhaps there might be a practitioner in your area that may offer sessions? It could help. My best wishes to you for a beautiful spring.

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  11. Hi, dear Andrea. Thanks for the courage to share your journey with us. Clearly, you’ve had a tough time with the panic, but I sense and believe the cracks have brought you hope and light. I got lost in depression about 8 years ago and don’t wish to revisit that pain either. Please know that I’m praying and rooting for you. It’s so nice to see you back. May we rise together. I too believe this crisis is helping create a reset for us humans, the earth is demanding it. Maybe we’ll listen this time. Hugs and blessings…🙏

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  12. How very nice to find your post – a good sign if you are writing again. May you improve with the weather and sunshine. Light all the candles and turn all the lights you need! Turn away from the darkness and into the light! Ah, Leonard Cohen says it better!

    You will not be alone as we all try to fight the fear of this virus and carry on as if life is normal. I try not to worry too much and keep up my sense of humor. Your post today made me smile and gave me hope. Yes, spring is here, the birds are singing and the bay is still there. Perhaps Earth is making us stop and take stock of our lives. Sending virtual hugs!

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  13. Andrea, you know I can’t say anything that would be helpful – but am thinking of you. It’s the mushroom season here and the farmer put a herd of cows into the field and they’ve trampled all the wild mushrooms! I thought of your ability (you don’t recognize it) to turn most things (even a simple walk) into something wondrous.

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  14. Welcome back. Keep thinking of the light that is coming through the cracks. This lovely, lyrical, honest post is your light coming through the cracks. I believe this virus that is disrupting the entire world is a way for Mother Nature to re-balance the earth. We will come out on the other side and in a better way too.
    Just believe!

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  15. You are in my thoughts and prayers, Andrea, for whatever you need to come through these difficult times. Thank you for sharing your thoughts, and all these beautiful photos of spring where you are. Sending you a virtual hug. ❤

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  16. It’s heartbreaking to read what you’ve experienced, Andrea. I’m really sorry. As you know writing can be therapeutic during challenging times, so I hope that light continues to get in. Take care of yourself.

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  17. I’m so happy to read your words again, Andrea! I’m sorry to read of your struggles with panic attacks/anxiety…it is a very real sensation and can be very hard to manage…your beautiful words soothe my own thoughts about the societal changes wrought by the virus that now colours our world. What am I doing to tamp down fear, I drink endless cups of turmeric/ginger tea and go to bed each night with a book (and the odd Bailey’s nightcap!). I hope you continue to reach for the light…

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  18. Thank you. Beautiful, honest, raw, and thus inspiring.
    I, too, have felt that nature is trying to find an equilibrium, as harsh as that may feel to we humans. We should pay attention and learn.
    May each day continue to brighten for you. I look forward to reading more of your posts.

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  19. You remind me of Keats. Fittingly enough, your expressions are equally melancholic and lyrical. Some of those feelings claw and creep through the cracks in the crumbling cocoon of my own heart and crackle in its aorta and ventricles. But, as you have mused, cracks are the pathways to rays of light. I have felt your despondence so deeply, I would have said some of those words if only I were as good as you.

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  20. Great post, Andrea. You see, you can still write, and if you have taken up your brushes again, you’re on a good track. We have been through great turmoil as a family for the last few years, and art has been my savior. Both making it and looking at it. Also nature. I enjoyed being on your walk with you. Maybe the good side of all this will be better appreciation of the beautiful, small tho Gs that surround us. Virtual hugs! 🌹🌷🌸

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  21. Beautiful. Courageous. And filled with honesty and hope. Thank you, Andrea. Your resilience is an inspiration as we move through each ever-changing day. Take good care, lovely to see you back. Keep writing if you can 🤗💓

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    • Thanks Sandra, hope to see some more words from you too – I’ve been working my way through Louise Penny’s catalogue because of something you said and found them very comforting. That’s where I was introduced to the Leonard Cohen song…

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  22. Much of this resonates with me, Andrea. I have had constant, low-level anxiety for the past several years. I’ve experienced a couple of full blown panic attacks that were truly terrifying and disorienting. I’m glad you are walking and getting out into the landscape. Nature is really all that helps sometimes. I should add my kitties help, too. I’m glad you have a cute walking buddy.
    I’ve had dreams lately of leaving things on or unattended—running water, stove left on, doors unlocked. I know dreams are a mirror of waking life.
    These are strange times that definitely compound any anxiety, depression, etc.
    I’m glad the anxiety is lessening. Keep doing all that you’re doing, as I know you practice good self-care. I do much of the same things. It’s spring. There are more colors out, and it’s brighter. I love the photos.
    Take good care. Hope to hear more from you about your good writing news.

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  23. It’s good to hear from you again, Andrea, but so sorry to read of your present troubles. I do hope you will soon be able to ‘sigh with relief’ as your ’winter’ turns to ’spring’. We all need this at the moment. Our human world will need to come out of this present crisis changed. Please keep writing up your walks in the Dene –we always enjoy walking with you in your blog posts and seeing nature through your observant eyes. I will pray you find the ‘peace of God that passes all understanding’, which has been such a turn-to- point in my own life. I recently found this gem in one of Malcolm Guite’s Easter poems: ‘If spring comes, can heaven be far behind?’ — Blessings to you.

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  24. Andrea, I’m happy to see you back. You have my sympathy for what you’ve been through – I know from personal experience how debilitating panic attacks and anxiety can be. I pray for your continued recovery. Stay safe. ❤

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  25. While my heart was constricting for you at the start of this post, it started releasing somewhat as I felt that you are on a healing path. Able to write (beautifully, as usual) and share your wonderful photos gave me a sense of light ahead.
    And I wish for you much light (and lightness).
    Sending love your way. xoxo

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  26. Thank you for sharing your most intimate feelings with us, Andrea. I haven’t had panic attacks like this in fear. It must be really difficult to get a footing; and, maybe, that’s the point at this time, not to reach for that familiar footing but to let go for something different. It’s a little of what I’ve been experiencing – how to let go of the familiar.

    There was a post I wrote a number of years ago called “Scared of Letting Go” and I included a story in it that has always stuck with me. It’s called “The Rope” http://www.skywriting.net/inspirational/stories/the_rope.html

    Love and hugs, my friend, and hope the coming of new seasons and warm sunshine will comfort your soul and assure you that all is okay.

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  27. Andrea – I am sorry to hear about these difficulties! I think anxiety and panic are terrible things to experience. I do not want to press my own beliefs in this venue, and yet I do want to offer two scriptures that help me during times of anxiety, and I hope you will find them comforting. Psalm 94:19 – When my anxious thoughts multiply within me, Your consolations delight my soul. The other one is from the New Testament: 2 Timothy 1:7 – For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind. Prayers for you to have peace and calm. Sending my best hopes for your well-being! Thank you for the beautiful photos and for this moving account of the difficulties.

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  28. Thank you for your brave post, Andrea. I have some understanding of how you have been feeling as I’ve experienced anxiety and panic attacks over the years, at their worst when I was suffering with hyperthyroidism and Graves Disease. It’s lovely to hear from you and I’m sorry you have been suffering. Spring is a time for hope and even the virus can’t cancel that. I also believe this is a sign from the earth for us to develop new ways of thinking and behaving, and to reconnect with nature. The world is at rest. I hope you find some rest from anxiety and panic too.

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  29. Hello, Andrea. What a wonderful return, welcome back. It’s nice to see Winston out and about, give him a pat for me, please. Your mention of the Mallards made me chuckle. We’ve got approx 100 that use our pool. The noise they kick up on a morning at first light as they gather for brecky is astonishingly loud.
    After filling their bellies, they chase each other around for a while, then spend the rest of the day dossing on the lawns. What a life, aye. For the past week, a Drake Mandarin as joined them. Stunningly beautiful bird.
    I’m doing my final CBT exam at the moment; I’m far from being an expert in the field, but if I can be of any help, drop me a line.
    Take care,
    Mick.

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    • Thanks Mick, it is a life for those ducks. I saw three flying around in perfect formation today. Well done on your CBT exams – and good luck on the last one – I’ve got a CBT therapist at the minute – I’m doing behaviour re-activation, hence my walk and my re-appearance here.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Hello, Andrea. When I see our Ducks flying around, they remind me of The Red Arrows. The first ducklings of the season have hatched out and are now out on the pool with their mom.
        I’m sure that CBT will be of benefit to you. Dreams seem to be the trigger point, causing you anxiety. Try to influence your subconscious before sleep by reading about nice things.
        The Dawn Chorus as almost finished, time to feed the hungry hoards. Speak soon, Andrea.

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  30. I’m so sorry you are suffering so, but the very fact you have managed to forge such beautiful writing from the ordeal is a positive, and I hope lights the way forward.

    I have had similar thoughts about the planet. Outside, right now, the birdsong is deafening and the sky completely clear of vapour trails.

    If the seasons teach us anything, it’s that life works in cycles. Day follows night, spring follows winter, and in the same way, joy follows pain. It sounds as though you are starting to see the harbingers of spring, metaphorically as well as literally. Take care x

    Liked by 1 person

  31. Bravo for writing so clearly and courageously of the challenges you have been facing Andrea. I am pleased to see in the comments that they have been receding. At least during this lockdown week the sun has been shining, and if not then the days are getting longer and the darkness receding. May this coming weekend bring you more peace. Best wishes.

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  32. Andrea, I feel such an affinity with you, having been in a strange place myself but not as severely bad so as you’ve described here. You know I’ve been disappearing from blogging for long periods rather a lot over the last year, or longer. For me, I always imagine the worst, whatever it is. I’ve been taking CBD oil rather than prescribed medication, which has stilled the palpitations and anxiety, but dummed down my creativity. Anyway, your post isn’t about me, but about you. Just letting you know that you’re not alone.

    We’re probably about the same age, give or take a fw years, and I wonder if it might partly be a symptom of a sense of escalating, yet shrinking time — us not wanting to waste that time but wondering if some of our dreams and aspirations are ever going to reach fruition, while us not wanting to give up on them either.

    Anyway, if you want to talk or communicate by email and think it might help, I’m here. Keep enjoying your walks. I’m going out very early every day before breakfast when nobody is about. Have you noticed how clean the air is, since the traffic and planes have stilled. I agree with you about the planet. In fact, I don’t think that Greta Thunberg or David Attenborough needs to say anything just now, as the clean air speaks for itself! The great irony is that my usual cough and tightness in the chest has gone.

    Thinking of you, and sending you lots of healing thoughts xxxx

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    • Thanks for sharing your experience Sarah and for your encouragement. I’ve always avoided medication thinking it would make me zombie-like but actually it doesn’t, it just makes the anxiety go! I’m starting to feel creative again, which is good. I hope you find the balance that works for you too Sarah.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Dear Andrea, I’m so glad the medication has helped your anxiety and you’re starting to feel creative again.
        Funnily enough, when I took CBD oil for about 6 months, it was great at first, calming my racing heart and the jitters, but then I started getting really drowsy all day long, with not a single creative idea in my head. Then when lockdown came, I didn’t need the CBD anymore — that is once I’d got over the stress of thinking I might have to face one of my big phobias and go to the supermarket (which didn’t happen in the end, as I managed to get online slots),
        On reflection, I realise that my previous anxiety was primarily related to noise stress and people stress. With both stressors removed over the last 6 weeks, I’m having a reprieve from anxiety, and am busy thinking through tactics to deal with noise and people once the lockdown is lifted. It is definitely a time for “out with the old, and in with the new”.
        Sending lots of positive vibes your way 🙂

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      • Thanks Sarah, I’m feeling on an even keel at the moment though I do get drowsy and want to fall asleep in my chair, which is usually unheard of for me! I’m glad you’re getting some relief from your stress – and that you’ve got a bit of time and breathing space to plan for going back to ‘normal’.

        Liked by 1 person

  33. I’ve been missing your posts and suddenly (finally, thankfully) found this one, which twisted my heart in two. And yet. And yet, you showed so much light and hope despite the panic and fear. Only you, an amazing writer and thinker and being, can pull this off. Your words and writing send an arrow straight to my heart, Andrea, in GOOD ways. I hear your pleas for humans to change, to help the Earth to be what it must be. I so hope that you’re right, that with this stop to our “normal” existence, when we return to “doing” we can do better.
    And you, my friend? You are a sensitive being full of intuition. That’s why you go through these times of panic and hurt (in my un-doctorly opinion). We who feel so much, must I’m afraid at times, hurt too much. I hope your light is settling you down. Thanks from so many of us for being so open and honest and true in your writing. ❤

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  34. I don’t know what to say Andrea, except that I am familiar with both Depression and Panic attacks.
    But there is a crack yes that lets the light in and those wonderful golden daffodils.
    It’s interesting that I also used Cohen’s song in my latest post.
    Blessings and prayers!!

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