Vienna in the time of COVID – Chapter 27

Today marks the end of the sixth week that I have been writing this blog series. Six weeks! That is six weeks of spending 23 and a half hours a day inside my apartment, six weeks of having physical contact with only my wife, six weeks of sweatpants, and trips to the supermarket that feel like heists, and yoga in the morning, and working from my dining table, and social isolation. 

Only it hasn’t felt overtly isolating. Some of that is because we live in the future where I can literally talk to my magic handheld computer and instruct it to let me view and speak to my brother and it does! But another big part is because of this, what you’re reading right now, these words, this act of writing. 

Because, while technology is definitely an act of magic and I’m sure my laptop is just full of tiny wizards making it all work, there is an older magic at play here. Writing is magic and reading is magic. I sit here alone in my room in Vienna and put down a string of words to represent a ridiculous thought I’ve had, maybe about how Austrians like to scream “meal time!” at each other, or how an old tortilla will do if you’re out of toilet paper, or how my wife wants to stab people with a fork from time to time, and I express these images through a series of squiggles, and then you in your home maybe a thousand miles away from mine open up a page and decipher these squiggles until you too are picturing screaming Austrians, or sanitary tortillas, or a fork-wielding Alex. We have communicated, from my mind to yours. Magic.

Writing this blog and having this magical communication has helped me tremendously during this surreal and abstract, and any other art movement that applies (expressionist?), time. I have been able to funnel my anxiety and nervous energy, my questions and thoughts and actions and stupid jokes into this medium, and by doing so get them out of my head where they can breathe a little, see the sun a little, and not feel all pent up inside my skull where they would endlessly bounce around (much as I image kids are doing during this quarantine. Those poor, poor parents). 

Writing is a crystallising process. Putting words down forces me to reach into the fog of fragmented thoughts and hazy half ideas and decide how I really think and feel about a thing, to put it into a sentence that I can read back on and think “Oh yeah, that’s how it is”. And because I have formed it into a single clear statement, it’s as if I have permission to stop chewing over it, to let it go, to know it’s there if I need it, in black and white, and move on feeling a little lighter because of it. Magic.

As I have been doing this process for the past six weeks, the good/bad news (depending on if you’ve enjoyed these blogs or not, and if not, nobody made you keep reading them, that’s on you, friend) is that I have nothing left to say. All current concerns and questions, quibbles and queries about life in the time of COVID have been expunged onto the page and shared and communicated with you lovely people. The brain tank is currently clean and empty, and ready to be refilled. 

To all those who have read along, my deepest thanks goes out to you for taking this time to be with me, to communicate with me, for keeping me company and removing some of the isolation from my social isolation. These have been and continue to be strange times, but I am incredibly proud of how we as a community are getting through it together even while being forced to remain apart. That is another kind of magic.

I am sure there is more weirdness to come, more challenges and more adaptation, and so I’m sure it won’t be long until new perspectives and observations and silly jokes begin circling in my head, needing to be written down and shared with all of you. As such, this is not goodbye, instead let me just say, as is said in German, auf Wiedersehen (literal translation = on seeing again. I told you that language was literal!).

Until next time.

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Vienna in the time of COVID – Chapter 26

With the days warming up over here, Summer is knocking on the back door, waiting to get in, which means all Europeans’ minds are turning towards one thing: the holidays. While things are improving in Austria in regards to the COVID restrictions — shops are reopening with strict guidelines in place regarding masks and the number of customers allowed inside at one time (it’s progress!) — the idea of being able to go on the usual beach holiday is still pretty much out of the question. As a consolation prize, the Austrian government has announced that travel to Germany and the Czech Republic may be allowed, but given that these locations are basically cookie cutter countries to Austria, at least in terms of topography and landscape, this is not proving to be a particularly exciting prospect for many Austrians. I imagine it’s a bit akin to booking an AirBnB only to find out it’s your neighbour’s house. It’d be interesting for a day, and for sure you’d snoop through their stuff for a while, but then you’re just staring at the same scenery from a slightly different perspective. 

More and more this holiday season, it’s looking like any vacation will have to be of the internal variety. But maybe, with a bit of imagination, it’s still possible to replicate the travel experience from the comfort of your own home. Let’s see what we’re working with:

THE JOURNEY

In order to truly capture the thrill of the flight, my first suggestion would be to find the most uncomfortable chair in your house, the one you keep in the basement or shed and every time you look at it you think “I should really throw that out” before closing the door and leaving it there forever. Set this chair up facing a wall or directly behind where your partner is sitting; the key component is to ensure there is only so much space between yourself and the object/person in front of you that your legs remain constantly bent at a 45 degree angle. 

For the next twenty-four hours, give yourself that real jetsetter experience by remaining in the chair at all times and doing nothing but eating reheated food and watching a collection of movies that never really interested you before, but will do to pass the time. 

For additional authenticity, every time you get up to go to the bathroom, spin yourself around a few times. This will ensure you get that genuine dizzy and slightly disoriented feeling whenever you’re sitting on the toilet. Bonus points for anyone who props up a mirror on the back of their toilet door so they can watch themselves as they do their business and consider how terrible they look. 

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THE BEACH HOLIDAY

As a landlocked country, the beach getaway is an important pilgrimage for the Austrian people, and while there’s no replacing the real deal, it is possible to create a poor facsimile of the real deal. Begin by coating the floor of your bathroom with fine-grained white sand, the type that feels soft and warm beneath the soles of your feet and pressing up between your toes. If your access to sand is limited, cat litter is readily available at most supermarkets.

Set up an electric heater in the room to simulate the tropical warmth you are used to finding at the beach. A tan is essential to ensure you look and feel the part, so sit as close as you can tolerate to the heater until you can feel your skin literally baking. When it is the colour of a freshly cooked spit roast pig, you’ll know you’re ready to strut your stuff.

Next, fill the bathtub with lukewarm to cold water and tip in as much salt as is available in your home. You’ll want enough to ensure that the fashionable second degree burn you have just acquired will sear upon contact with the water and that you will emerge with eyes as red as your skin. For additional authenticity, throw in strips of the slightly sludgy lettuce you forgot was in your crisper, as well as any old plastic bottles or bandaids you have in the trash.

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THE WILDERNESS GETAWAY

For many of us, a holiday is all about communing with nature. This experience can be replicated in the home with just a little effort. Begin by surrounding yourself with any and all house plants that you may own and try sparking up a conversation. Congratulations, you are now communing with nature. If you continue to the point that the plants begin to talk back, you have gone too far.  

Exposure to wildlife is also a big part of a wilderness getaway. Alex and I have taken up the pastime of attempting to lure the local cats up onto our balcony or in through the front door. While your neighbours may view this as the kidnapping of their beloved pets, you’ll know you are just doing your part to love and support the native fauna. If you start seeing “missing pet” signs being hung around your apartment block, you have gone too far.

A picnic on the bed is a great way to enjoy some rustic eating. Buy some bread and dips, some cheese and meat, be sure to remove any cats you may have trapped in the bedroom, and tuck into some wholesome food. If you can’t remember the last time you ate anywhere except the bed and wake up with salami slices stuck to your skin and ants in the bedding, you have gone too far.

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Those essential elements to a vacation are obtainable with a little out-of-the-box thinking, at least enough to fool that internal travel bug long enough until the world is once again open for business. And if all that fails, pop up any and all of your travel shots as a slideshow on your television, sit as close as possible, and get drunk off home-made cocktails. Before too long, you’ll forget where you are entirely and fall asleep to views of the beach. Just like on a real holiday.

Tomorrow: Writing.

P.S. For a, possibly, more enjoyable virtual vacation, check out Sir David Attenborough’s interactive tour of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef: http://attenboroughsreef.com/

Vienna in the time of COVID – Chapter 25

Over the past five years I have lived a rather mobile life. In many ways, I maintained three places of residence: London, Vienna, and Melbourne. Granted, my time in Melbourne was far less than that of the other two locations, but given that all my junk still fills a bedroom in my brother’s house, that some of my mail is still delivered there, and that Damian and Holly still refer to the room as “Jono’s room” despite the fact that they live there alone and have done so for five years now, I claim squatter’s rights. 

Unsurprisingly when attempting to stretch oneself between three countries of habitation, I have become very familiar with the various modes of transportation available in this modern age. Between long haul international flights to and from Australia and Europe, and regular smaller flights skipping across from London to Vienna, I have mastered the process of moving through an airport while allowing for time to drop off luggage, get through passport control and customs with some minutes allotted for a good frisking should the need arise, have myself a sneaky coffee and a sandwich, and locate my gate with just enough time for a quick dash to the toilet before boarding my plane. To date, I have yet to miss a flight, however there was one close call that had me sprinting through an airport praying to a god I don’t believe in. In this instance, I joined the tailend of the boarding queue and collapsed into my seat, relief and sweat pouring out of me. A win for me but not so much for the passenger beside me breathing in the byproduct of my relief and sweat.

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While district nursing across all the compass points of London, I learned to navigate the spider web of bus, tram, and train routes, and got to see the city from this variety of perspectives, as well as to meet and mingle with the people of London, including but not limited to that one gentleman who asked if he could light my hair on fire (I declined his invitation, for anyone wondering). To date, I have absolutely missed buses, and trains, and trams, and gotten myself so horrendously lost that I found myself wandering through industrial and distinctly creepy parts of London in the very early hours of the morning (for a full accounting of this occasion, please refer to LIFE IN LONDON #01).

The past few years has bred in me a distinct animosity towards these various modes of transportation, of being crammed in with strangers, the delays and cancellations, and of being herded here and there like cattle, the chewing habits of my co-commuters helping to complete this image. But, as is always the way when a viral pandemic sweeps across the world, now that the object of my disdain has been taken away from me, I find myself longing for those earlier golden days. Much like after a break up, I catch myself romanticising those elements that previously drove me mad. Oh, to be back in that train carriage, the moist armpit of an overweight passenger crammed in beside me hovering centimeters from my face, wavering ever closer as people attempt to push in despite the fact that there’s scarcely room to breath as it is. Not that I was breathing all that deeply, what with the armpit. Oh, the glory of moving with my community.

One of the highlights of my train trip into work used to be as the U2 trundled across the Danube River. I would look up from the meditative trance I had put myself in in order to pretend that I was in a quiet rainforest instead of squeezed in next to all the other morning commuters, and soak in the view of the winding water reflecting the colours of the rising sun and bracketed by the city of Vienna and the mountains perched behind it. It made me feel lucky to live in this city. I miss that.

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As an expatriate, the other thing I miss about transportation since the worldwide lock down is access to said world. It’s not always easy to be the one whose homeland it isn’t, to not get the references everyone else around you grew up with, to not always know the culturally appropriate thing to say (I have learned that Australians come on strong with the niceness and it can be confusing and unnerving to Europeans when we talk to a stranger like they’re already our mate), to miss your own country, and family, and in-jokes, and landscapes, and food, and friends. It was a comfort to know that, technically, if it all got too much, I could board the next plane out and be back amongst all the things and people I miss within twenty-four hours. I mean, super expensive buying a ticket that last minute, but technically possible.

Knowing that that option is no longer there is scary. For the first time since moving overseas, I truly feel cut off from my family. Already, trips away to see them have had to be cancelled and the reality is, I don’t know when I’ll next see them in person. In a time of uncertainties, that uncertainty is proving to be the hardest to live with.

So I’m just taking it one day at a time. Thinking about the unknown quantity of time between now and a future reunion doesn’t do me any good, so instead I just focus on the next twenty-four hours. I keep eating overnight oats and doing yoga with my wife. I keep writing silly blogs and going for strolls in the evening, thankful to have Alex in all of this. I keep messaging and video calling and sharing photos with my family so I can feel them close even if they are, in fact, far away. 

And I’ll keep doing this until enough days have passed that I can once again be herded like livestock through the maze of an airport, be packed in with all the noisy and smelly passengers, sit in those cramped seats and eat that crappy food, and do it all with a smile on my face, grateful for the miracle that is transportation, and ready to see my family at the other end.

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Tomorrow: Vacationing.

Vienna in the time of COVID – Chapter 24

I was not a sporty child. Or, to put it another way, I never understood why someone would sit back and watch a game when the latest Harry Potter book had just come out. Why put yourself through the tedium of a ball being kicked back and forth when you could lose yourself in Ron, Hermione, and Harry’s magical exploits? This perspective did not win me as many friends as you might think.

But I was raised right and when it came to AFL (the Australian Football League for any non-Australians reading), I knew I supported the Hawthorn Hawks. When the attributes of my team were questioned, I knew to parrot back lines I had learned to defend the honour of my team.

“No, [insert opposition team here] are worse at playing the game.” Got him.

Hawthorn Hawks

My father and older brother were passionate supporters and observing their excitement made me want to get into the sport in the same way. From the outside, watching them watching a match was like seeing someone riding a rollercoaster, pulled along on the exhilarating highs and gut-wrenching lows. But every time I settled into the beanbag on our living room floor, determined to enjoy the game in the same fashion, I would watch the kick and catch of the ball, hear the referee’s whistle and then wait for game play to resume, and after ten minutes would find my interest wandering and, invariably, I’d be asleep by the second quarter. 

In my defence, you couldn’t really find a better source of white noise. The muted roar of the crowd, the drone of the commentators, mutterings of “You bloody goose” from my father and the odd screech of “Kick it! Kick it!” from my nerve-wracked mother all wove together to hypnotise me into sedation. Maybe that was the origin of my need for rain sounds in order to fall asleep? I’m sure if I could go back in time and make a recording of our living room of a Saturday night, I would never have a problem getting a good night’s sleep again.

My parents reasoned that perhaps what was missing was the immediacy of the sport, the smell of the crowd, the dazzle of the flood lights, and the slap of skin as two players collided, and so we regularly drove down to Waverley Park to watch the mighty Hawthorn Hawks in action. I would proudly adorn a beanie and scarf bearing my team’s colours (brown and gold, definitely not yellow, and definitely not the colours of the human digestive and urinary systems as many of my classmates not-so subtly insinuated), and would take my place amongst the sea of supporters also decked out in our noble colours. 

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And, to be fair, I loved the experience. The hot pies with sauce, the cans of soft drink, bags of chips, and sitting with Damo and making each other laugh all combined to make these matches incredibly memorable. The game I mostly ignored, but sitting in that grandstand, I got some of the best reading done of my life. When driving home, Dad would ask if we’d enjoyed ourselves and we’d all chorus “Yes!” and he’d look satisfied until I’d elaborate by telling him what a great book I’d read during the match, and then I’d see a disappointment come into his gaze that I never quite understood. Maybe he was wishing he’d taken the opportunity to read a good book too?

But having grown up, I now see the value in sport. It’s not just a game of kicking a leather ball between sticks (again, for any non-Australians, that is the primary objective of AFL), it’s about the competition, the community that grows around that competition, and the chance for a community to get a win now and then. Sport can be a distraction in the best way as it allows a person to switch off from their intimate worries and care about something bigger than them and yet something that doesn’t ask a lot from them. 

Right now, for the first time in my lifetime, there is no sport to watch, no victories to tally, no team for a community to get behind. At a time when we could all use the distraction of sport more than ever, we have been deprived of it, and I know for those people who used it to vent and switch off, they are feeling its absence. 

There is no easy fix for this. The sacrifice of sport is done to ensure the safety of the very community that supports it. My only suggestion would be to transfer that passion and that pride to those who are still out there, working hard and playing the game until our world can return to normal. Instead of your sports club, cheer on the teachers, and the supermarket workers, and the delivery men and women, and the healthcare workers. Applause when you see the number of cases drop and cheer when the recovered return home. These are the wins we can get behind and celebrate, and we can do so knowing that each victory brings us closer to the day when we can return to our sports where the stakes aren’t so high. 

Tomorrow: Transportation.

Vienna in the time of COVID – Chapter 23

Given that all hairdressers and barbers are closed along with the rest of the world, and that I am sheltering away from humanity like a mole person, I had mentally committed during this time to taking on the hairstyle and grooming habits of prehistoric man. However, my wife and quarantine roommate made it very clear that, as she has to cohabitate with me, spend the majority of her day looking at me, and is associated with me during those few times we mingle with the public, a long matted beard and head of hair would not be the look of the season and that basic self care still applies in the time of COVID.

I am one of those men who, despite approaching his mid-thirties, is lucky enough to still sport a full head of hair. Or, as my mother so lovingly stated to my wife the other day, “You got the hairy one.” Thanks, Mum. You always know how to sell me.

But being of the hirsute persuasion does raise the question: what does one do when all professional groomers are closed? When Alex raised this question, my answer was joyous and exclamatory “You could cut it!”. 

To comprehend the exuberance behind my reaction, you have to first understand that I am someone who does not enjoy going to the hairdressers. I don’t know if it’s the intimacy of a stranger running their hands over my head, or the way they sharply angle my head from side to side and up and down, or the forced efforts of holding a conversation while my head is being jerked in various directions by a violent puppeteer. Regardless of the reason, I dread having to go for a haircut and usually delay until the point that I look like a sheep that has been lost in the wilderness for the past year. 

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As such, for the past five years I have been hinting to Alex that I would be more than fine if she wanted to have a swing at trimming the follicles, you know, if that were something that might interest her, no pressure. Despite my subtle efforts at incepting the idea into her subconsciousness of her becoming my resident hairdresser, Alex has declined all such invitations and I have had to go to the barber like a proper adult. But the closing of the door that is the world shutting down due to a pandemic has opened the window of my wife attempting a home haircut. It’s all about looking for that silver lining. 

After spending the last few weeks suggesting that now would be the ideal time for her to take up the new hobby of hairdressing, what with all access to professional trimmers being denied and with all socialisation being forbidden, meaning no one would see her efforts were they less than satisfactory, Alex eventually capitulated and agreed to cut my hair. Her only stipulation was that she do so after her birthday. Given that she wanted to avoid people looking at birthday snaps and saying “You look great, but who is that homeless man who has apparently been wrestling with an active lawnmower?”, that seemed more than reasonable. Alex turned twenty-nine on Thursday and so on Saturday this guy got a haircut.

For those of you playing at home, here is what my hair looked like pre-snip:

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Alex approached the task with some trepidation, due in part to her complete lack of practical experience, her desire to not destroy my self-confidence by making me look like a toddler who just figured out how scissors worked, and because, rather than a set of professional hairdressing implements, the tools at our disposal were a beard trimmer and some kitchen scissors. I reassured her that she should just give it a shot, that it would grow back, that currently very few people would see it anyway, and that my self-confidence was not wrapped up in my looks. It is wrapped up in her constant approval, but given that Alex is locked inside with me 24 hours a day, I currently have that in spades. Swish.

We set ourselves up in our tiny bathroom, clicked on the beard shears, and got to work. We had some music playing from our bluetooth speaker, hair was falling around my feet like rose petals, and Alex was far gentler with the head angling than previous hairdressers, so I was feeling pretty good. This was until I heard a soft “Oh-no” from my wife. My concern deepened when I asked her what had happened and was met by a long beat of silence followed by what can only be described as maniacal laughter. 

Thankfully, it was only a closer than expected shave and by no means disastrous. She persevered and after a few breaks to allow the beard trimmer to recharge (poor thing wasn’t used to tackling a whole head), my hairs had all been cut. Alex even went so far as to change heads on the shears and make the back and sides a little shorter so my hair had a bit of shape and style rather than just looking like a cue tip (not a fault of my wife, more the shape of my head and my hairs’ propensity to stick straight up and out when short).

The end result was better than I had dared to dream, to the point that I am proud to peacock about and show my face in public (of course I can’t, what with the need to wear a mask, but I would if I could).

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These are strange times and things that we have always taken as a staple, such as the ability to go out and get your hair styled, are no longer available. But some good can come out of these restrictions. We are being forced to adapt and get creative, and along the way people from all over the world are learning new skill sets. People are in their kitchens discovering the joys of baking their own bread. Others are playing and inventing new games with their kids. And in our house, my wife has unearthed a talent for trimming that may mean I will never have to go to the hairdressers ever again. It is a weird, surprising, and sometimes fortuitous time to be alive.

Tomorrow: Sport.

Vienna in the time of COVID – Chapter 22

Yesterday was the anniversary of my wife’s birth, an occasion that requires the utmost of fanfare, obviously, but fanfare in the time of COVID is a tricky thing to come by. There can be no gathering of Alex’s adoring public, no party with a chorus line of handshakes and warm embraces. Luckily, Alex and I share everything, including microorganisms, so I could distribute the warm embraces on everyone’s behalf without the risk of being infected. It took up the better part of the day, to be honest. She’s a popular girl.

Given that restrictions dropped into place in Vienna almost a month ago, I had some time to prepare and make sure isolation didn’t get in the way of a proper celebration. Firstly, it’s important for you to know that my wife’s glee in birthdays hasn’t diminished over the years like the rest of us cynic adults, but rather she will bounce up and down and tremble all over at the mere mention of her birthday like a puppy who just heard the word “park”. As such, there is no such thing as overdoing it when it comes to birthday decorations, which is why I was out of bed at 6:45 to ensure our living room looked like the inside of a clown car. 

The first step was to deconstruct our home office as Alex had made it very clear that monitors and office equipment do not set a birthday mood. The next was to coat the walls and roof with every possible decoration we had. As this is not my first rodeo, I had some already prepared, but had intended to buy some more up until the world went into lockdown and my access to party supply stores became severely limited. But, dredging up memories of making Christmas decorations in primary school at that time of the year when the teacher has all but given up and will use any time-killing activity at their disposal, I set about making some of my own. I had scissors, sticky tape, wrapping paper, and a whole lot of time on my hands, and from this collection spun out some of the best paper chains the world has ever seen. 

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The birthday cake is often the lynchpin to a birthday celebration, so I approached the task of baking with some trepidation. My apprehension was doubled as my wife is an amazing baker of cakes, both in flavour and appearance, and tripled as cakes hold great importance to the Austrian people. Coffee and cake is to the Austrians what tea and biscuits is to the British, or what vegemite toast and milo is to the Australians. Needless to say, the pressure was on. Fortunately for me, my wife is very direct when it comes to matters of food, so when it was time to select the variety of cake to make, she said “I want that one” and no further research was necessary. The result was a lemon sponge with raspberry cream, with a ratio of one part cake to two parts cream. This is a ratio I fully support. 

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Once cake and decorations were unveiled to a reaction of happy foot taps from Alex, which immediately made all efforts worthwhile, it was onto the real deal. The present giving. Being a creative guy, I normally like to make something by hand to give the gift that personal touch. But after five years together, Alex has about all the paintings, drawings, crocheted beanies, and pieces of writing that any sane person would need, so this year I went in a different direction and just spent as much money as I could to compensate. The gift was a set of Bose noise-cancelling headphones that I had intuited that Alex might want after picking up on subtle clues, such as her stating “I really want those”. She planned to buy them herself with any and all birthday money she received, not thinking I had budgeted to buy her such a gift, but she severely underestimated how far I would go to buy her love. 

The noise-cancelling headphones were originally intended to be used when flying to exotic destinations, but the whole global pandemic resulting in all planes being grounded really put a wrench in the gears of that plan (thanks COVID). But a new and better use for them has arisen in the meantime, one which could see an improvement to our time in quarantine, and even, in the long term, our marriage: Alex can wear them to avoid hearing me eat.

I no longer have to live in fear of getting a fork to my baby-soft skin every time I go to eat an apple. Sometimes things just work out for the best.

In addition to this gift, I also lashed out and got her the most luxurious birthday card that money could buy.

The rest of the day was made up of video chats, socially distant visits from friends, cake, walks in the glorious Spring weather, phone calls, cake, a socially isolated trip to the people responsible for Alex’s birth in the first place (her parents), different cake, and then crashing early to lie in bed and try to digest all the cake we had eaten.

My wife is an incredible, generous, considerate, loving person (see Easter post Re: “Angel in a human suit”) whom I love to bursting, and it pained me that someone who so loves their birthday would have to spend one in isolation from the people in her life. My heartfelt thanks goes out to all the beautiful people who texted, phoned, video chatted, sent photos, and voicemails, and videos, sung happy birthday, left Facebook posts, who sent cards, and presents, and flowers, and made pasta salad, and showed their love à la Love Actually, and made Alex feel as unisolated and as special as these times will allow.

Rather than it being a birthday that was forgotten, you all made it a birthday she will never forget. Thank you.

Have a great weekend, everyone, and whatever else you do with these days, make sure you eat some cake. I know I will.

On Monday: Grooming.

Vienna in the time of COVID – Chapter 21

A fun little fact about me: I often suffer from insomnia (maybe fun was overselling it). Not every night, and not so severely that I’m so exhausted during the day that I end up in wacky situations wherein I’m on a date and fall asleep face first into my soup bowl and come up sputtering, my date asking if I’m okay, and I deliver some witty line like “Sorry about that. It just smelt so good, I couldn’t resist”. Look guiltily to camera B. Cue the canned laughter. But it happens enough for it to be a thing.

Alex and I have a pretty set pre-bed routine: do the dishes, read for a bit, lights off, snuggle down and watch an episode of a comedy show until we feel sufficiently drowsy to commit to another night of rest, asleep by ten. Winning at life.
#earlytobedandearlytorisemakesamanhealthywealthandwise 

But about once a week we’ll go through this procedure, Alex will whisper a goodnight, roll over, be asleep in approximately four seconds, and I will lay there in the dark quietly resenting my sleeping wife, already knowing that the sandman has overlooked me yet again. Now, I’m not a great sleeper on the best of nights, but usually if I wait it out for about an hour my body gets the message that I’m not just killing time here and I’ll pass out. But on an insomnia night, it’s as if my ability to transition into unconsciousness has been turned off. And the worst of it is, I don’t really know why. 

The easy solution would be to blame the ol’ ball and chain for stealing all the blankets, but the Austrians are a sly people and have gotten ahead of this problem by agreeing as a culture that everyone gets their own doona. As such, Alex curls up all cosy in hers and I burrito myself in mine and nobody wages a silent tugging war for major territory rights over the duvet.

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Another go-to explanation could be that I have nagging doubts and anxieties keeping me awake, only I’m not really all that anxious a person. I have considered that perhaps I have squished and crammed my anxieties deep into my subconsciousness where they are bubbling away beneath my notice, robbing me of sleep when attempting to slip into that altered state of consciousness, but if that is true, and all it costs to have anxiety-free days is a little lost sleep, then I am reluctant to rock that boat.

So, rather than deep and profound dives into my subconsciousness to challenge the foundations of my id, I play rain sounds on my mobile phone. A duct-tape solution, maybe, but it works like fifty percent of the time. 

I figure that with everyone holed up inside watching endless news cycles about the growing number of cases and deaths, and given that the future is an unknown entity and the ability to make plans and feel secure has been robbed from us, I’m probably not the only one losing a little sleep at the moment. I’m not one for bragging, but I’ve been struggling with sleep for years now and have put in my 10,000 hours, which makes me something of an expert. As such, I will happily walk you through a few techniques I use to wrestle my way into dreamland.

  1. Make it rain! As mentioned, I use an app on my phone to simulate the sound of rain. Having a consistent noise to focus on can stop the inward focus of cyclical thoughts, of replaying your to-do list, or reliving that time in 7th grade when your crush caught you picking your nose and you told her you were only scratching it and tried to prove it by putting your finger up there again and this time all her friends saw too and you realised you made a terrible mistake only it was too late, far too late.
    Instead, your focus turns outwards to the peaceful pattering of rain.
    Of course, it doesn’t have to be rain. Some people enjoy the sounds of a babbling brook, crashing waves, whale song, or the wind. Some also claim to enjoy falling asleep to the sound of radio static, but these people are clearly psychopaths. Don’t trust those people.
  2. Mattress mathematics. People have stated that maths puts them to sleep, so why not turn that to your advantage! The classic option is to count sheep, but having an endless queue of livestock marching through my imagination isn’t a particularly restful image for me, so I count my breaths. This also helps me focus on taking long deep breaths, which has been shown to help bring on sleep. Doubling this up with the rain sounds will help as the noise from your app will drown out the sound of your deep breathing in case you share your bed with someone who is just straight up mental about breathing sounds coughAlexcoughcoughIamdefintelytalkingaboutAlex. Cough.
  3. Have fun with futility! Lay awake staring at the ceiling and consider the enormity of the universe and the scale of time that has passed before you winked into existence, and hold in your head for just a fraction of a second how infinitesimally minute and short-lived your life is against the backdrop of everything. Once full comprehension of how small and powerless you are is achieved, a sense of peace will wash over you and you’ll be snoozing like a baby in no time! (Disclaimer: This technique can have the opposite effect on some individuals and result in lying awake in a cold sweat until the sun comes up. Use with discretion.) 

Losing sleep at a time like this is a completely normal, some might say even logical, reaction to life in the time of COVID. It’s easy to get caught up in the anxiety wave of statistics and uncertainty and to just get dragged under. For some, the slowing down of life has opened up pockets of time that didn’t exist in their previous hectic routines, providing space to contemplate fears and scenarios that were normally buried under the next item on their to-do list.

Sleep and mental health are a tied knot, so do try and take some measures to ensure you’re able to switch off at night. Meditate before bed, keep a normal schedule, try and exercise throughout the day, and, if necessary, do what the Austrians do and get two blankets for the bed. It may seem like a sacrifice of intimacy with your spouse, but you won’t care when bundled up like a burrito and sleeping like a baby.

And if all that fails, then at least lay back, relax, and listen to the rain.

On Friday: Celebrations. (Tomorrow is Alex’s birthday, so I will be dedicating the whole day to fulfilling my husbandly duties towards the birthday girl).