Whilst Covid has us tightly in its grip and lockdown has no end in sight, even the most positive soul can despair. Let alone people who struggle a bit anyway.
I would like to introduce you to a book about depression called 'Lost Connections' by Johann Hari. You don't have to suffer from depression to find this book enlightening. It sheds a light on why people have a crisis or feel a bit 'meh' despite seemingly having it all.
Without denying the usefulness for medication the author takes us on an intriguing journey and identifies 7 key 'connections' that can erode happiness when they are 'lost'. I am barely touching the subject and don't offer solutions, there is not enough space, but maybe it gets you thinking and you want to read the book or listen to the podcast.
Life used to happen on the doorstep, we were connected to friends, neighbours and the wider community - our tribe. Things have changed, and loneliness is plaguing our society. We spend our time indoors, don't know who lives around us, and even if we are surrounded by people, we often don't share what matters to us with anyone. But we need the connection to a community to thrive. That's close friends for meaningful conversations and experiences. Neighbours that you know, support and in return can count on. Acquaintances for a chat in the streets. Local shopkeepers or waiters who know who you are and generally people who return your smiles and friendly words.
The pandemic and endless lockdowns have increased our feeling of isolation, but there is also hope. Consciously connecting to others has never been more important. Scheduling walks and phone calls with friends and family. Checking in on neighbours and helping community members. Signing up for a phone befriending service run by Camden Council and having a chat with isolated and vulnerable people - email: firstname.lastname@example.org Phone Number: 09483145587
Growing up in East Germany, your connections was all you had. With no telly or internet beckoning, we would play outside all day until it was dark and the streets were filled with kids' noises. We lived in a block of flats, our door was always unlocked (seriously, there was no key necessary, you just pressed the door handle), there were regular parties of all families in the house, and I could be left alone with anyone - apart from the drunkard that lived on our floor, he was a bit dodgy. We were all equal, apart from the shop assistants, they were a bit more equal. You wanted to befriend them because they knew when Nudosi (= East German Nutella) was available (not often) and they would sell it to you under-the-counter. It all changed after the reunion. Unemployment became a massive problem, no one knew how capitalism worked, crooks tried cheating us, we locked ourselves in and became cautious. Money ruled instead of connections. There were a lot of winners. But also many many losers.
Fast forward a couple of decades ... 15 years ago I lived in a flat in Belsize Park, I didn't know anyone around me. I gave birth at home, but no one knew, and I never saw anyone else in the house. We moved to Kew for 2 years, and it was the same. There was no sense of community, I had a baby and a toddler and didn't know a soul.
In 2008 we moved to Holly Lodge and got an invite from all the neighbours. That was weird! Over the years, I started to know a lot of the people living around me. Close neighbours and people passing by and chatting whilst I tend the front garden. It's hard to get anything done, really, I spend half of the time talking instead of gardening, but it is brilliant. Through yoga, I met so many wonderful human beings enriching my life. I cherish going for walks or swimming with friends or putting the world to rights over a cup of coffee (decaf with oat milk, but the barista knows that). Going to the Farmer's market or the Heath, you are bound to bump into someone you know. All these connections nourish me. We are very fortunate to live in such a unique area of London. But it is nothing in the air or in the water - it is us, the people, who make it so special.
Right now, it is hard. I haven't seen my family and friends in Germany in 1 1/2 years. But I remain positive and have lots of calls with everyone.
Doing something that you are good at, that you love, that the world needs and pays the bills. A luxury that a lot of people simply don't have. Being trapped in a job we hate, maybe because it is monotonous or because we have no say in what we do all day, can be soul-destroying. Or not having a job - something women often experience after sacrificing their career to childrearing. Childcare is so expensive that having a job is almost a vanity project. Mothers can't work the hours required to make a career. And years later, we are lost with nothing worthwhile to do. On the other hand, the 'breadwinner' might be stuck in a job that he/she hates but cannot get out. No matter if that is a well-paid or badly paid job. There are the bills to pay and mouths to feed (and school fees to pay) after all. Individually, we can get jobs we enjoy or change careers, but we need to change society on a larger scale to make work more meaningful for everyone and give people more control and the opportunity to choose what they do (basic income, democratic workplace, co-ops, true equality for women, ...).
During the pandemic, many people lost their jobs and now play a role they didn't sign up for (housewife, cleaner, teacher, entertainer, ...). Not everyone is equipped to handle it. Hope can come in the form of spending time to brainstorm or gain qualifications. Maybe also rethinking our values and what is important in life - more money or more time spend with family or hobbies?
After studying Sociology (loved it!) I got a job as a research assistant at a university in Germany. But I ended up sitting around days on end with nothing to do. It was miserable. Fast forward 5 years and I found myself being at home with two small kids after having to give up a job and career in M&A (which I actually liked). Sitting at a playground for hours was not fun. I was bored and not fulfilled until yoga found me (or the other way round?). I never wanted to become a teacher, it just happened. I was and still am extremely lucky and privileged. I discovered my ikigai, my 'raison d'etre' - my reason to get up in the morning and look forward to the day. Teaching yoga gives my life meaning and purpose. Switching to zoom was tough initially, and I am grateful to everyone who kept coming to my classes.
We are the children of Mother Nature. We evolved outdoors, slept under the sky and adapted to the seasons. That's mostly gone. We swapped it with air pollution, insomnia, Netflix binges, deforestation, consumerism ... and depression.
Living in London can be challenging. Especially right now, we cannot escape this moloch, and a walk on the uber-busy and muddy Heath feels as relaxing as a stroll along Oxford Street. We are stuck indoors - screentime instead of skytime. Spring is around the corner though, we can start gardening and getting out and about on the bike can be a life saver.
As a child, weekends were spent either on the allotment or roaming the woods. Or climbing village church steeples putting rings on baby barn owls! My father is ornithologist, you see. I am a woodland fairy, the Savanna beckons me and I am happiest outdoors, either digging and planting in my garden or cycling or hiking in the countryside. I need the wind in my hair like the air to breathe. Not escaping London for a stroll in solitude or a holiday in the mountains is a bit challenging. Our girls don't seek out these adventures, but I can see the change in their mood after getting a good dose of woodland air into their lungs. It makes everyone happier. And sleep better.