2020 hasn’t quite panned out as I’d hoped, as I am sure can be said for thousands if not millions of people across the world right now.
I moved to Portugal in October last year and my plans were to get out exploring this beautiful country, discovering archaeological sites, places to go mountain biking, hiking and meeting new people.
November and December started well, and I was out regularly visiting museums, Roman ruins, went on a 4×4 deer watching day trip, had a day trip to Lisbon to sort out my Maltese passport and took part in an avalanche bike race in Lousã, not far from where I live.
In January, my sister and her wife came over to visit for my birthday and it was so good to see them! We took a day trip to Nazaré in the hope of seeing some monster waves, and visited the spectacular Convent of Christ in Tomar. It was a great week, although I didn’t realise at the time it would be my last human contact for months.
The first recorded cases of Coronavirus were reported in Portugal in early March, and soon after a state of emergency was declared, and then lockdown started.
It’s now 4 months into the lockdown, and there has been a recent uptick of cases in Portugal since they started to reopen bars and restaurants at the beginning of June. The same is happening in so many places in the UK and the US where they started to reopen. It was predictable and now, sadly it’s happening.
Where I live in the central region, is pretty rural, with just a few houses in the hamlet where I live about 10km up the hill from the main village. I have access to a big network of woodland trails and dirt tracks, straight from the house, a yard where I can sit and enjoy some gardening and great views. It’s pretty quiet. But that’s a good and a bad thing at the same time.
I do like the isolation, that’s one of the main reasons I moved here, and I love being in the countryside. I’m grateful that I’m not cooped up in a city apartment with no outside space, I can’t imagine what it’s been like for people living like that at the moment. I have to take the positives where I can find them and be grateful for the small things.
The thing I’ve missed most is human contact. I do see neighbours semi-regularly, but we don’t sit down for dinner or a drink, it’s often just a few minutes chat with a distance between us, or a passing wave from the car. Living by myself is something that I’ve done for decades, but at the moment it’s frustrating not to have the choice to go to Portuguese lessons, or meet someone in a restaurant, or to go to the cinema..
I took a risk about a month ago and met up with a guy for a date. In hindsight it wasn’t the smartest thing I’ve done, as he’d been spending time in Lisbon (a virus hot-spot) and then coming back up here. But it was so good to get a hug and to cuddle up on the sofa together. I can’t tell you how good that felt after months of being by myself!
I’ve been trying to keep myself busy, setting up semi-regular chats with different groups of friends on zoom, and occasionally with family. My aunt Pauline in the US is in a similar situation to me, home alone with just cats for company, and we both agree on how tough it is. There are some benefits though, like not having to deal with home schooling, or trying to keep kids entertained, but being alone is starting to wear thin for me.
I’ve become slightly addicted to playing speed Solitaire on my phone after work, I’ve been reading lots more than usual and I’ve been trying to get out for walks before work at least 2-3 days a week. Gardening has also been a good way to kill time, although now I have everything in pots and everything planted, there’s not much more I can do than re-pot bigger plants and move things around the yard.
Walking has also been good to steady my mental health, and I really notice the difference if I don’t go out one week. It’s something I need to make a concerted effort to stick to.
A friend reminded me the other day how much I used to paint and draw, and suggested I start doing that again, which I think I will once I’ve bought some canvases. My Auntie P suggested pressing flowers, which is another great idea. I see so many plants & flowers I’ve never seen before on my walks around the woods, so I might give that a try.
I might also try yarn-bombing some twigs or branches, although I don’t know what I’d do with them afterwards…
Being creative is definitely a good way to offload emotions, good or bad, I’ve always found that. Some of my best paintings were done when I was feeling either incredibly upset or happy. In any case, making things is just a good way to keep busy and kill a few hours.
If you have any single friends out there, spare a thought (in fact spare a lot of thoughts) for them. Whilst you may be living with a partner, children or other people, and have constant human contact with the things you do together keeping you occupied, they don’t.
You can get a hug or a cuddle or have some affection within minutes. They might have to wait months (or longer for that). Imagine if that was you? Pretty shit right?
There’s no sign of this virus going away any time soon, so spare some time for the solo people out there. Give them a call out of the blue, set up a zoom chat or a quiz. Just talk! Like a real conversation, not a social media message or a like on a post. Really reach out and speak to them.
Ask them how they are doing. Make time for them. Be there for them. Be a friend to them. Because if they are anything like me, they will LOVE to hear from you, and the next time you see eachother will be all the more special…
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