Pandemic Life Lessons Year 2022

We’re going into year three of the pandemic or what some like to refer to as the healthcare crisis. The word ‘crisis’ has a negative connotation but looking at the year ahead, lets focus on the positive lessons it has taught us and reflect on how we can make life even better going forward. I’d like to share a few things I’ve learnt:

1. Identify and manage stress

Admittedly, the first year of the pandemic was extremely stressful (and still is) as I found myself reading and consuming as much information about the virus as I possibly could. I wanted to know what it was, where it was, how it spread and what I could do to protect my loved ones and myself from it. It was an obsession, though an unhealthy one. To reduce stress, it was important to identify sources of stress and for me it was fear of contracting the virus and overthinking.

To limit overthinking, we learnt that it was best to just turn on the news for the morning, midday and evening updates. In between those hours, we could focus on work and on things that mattered to us. To reduce possibility of contracting the virus, stocking up on food and limiting exposure to others reduced stress. As long as we were home, we were safe. Home became our safe-haven, our sanctuary.

2. Make your home comfortable

Prior to the pandemic, Alex and I would often joke that we were boarders at our dogs’s house. They lived at the house all day, but we would just go home to spend the night before rushing off in the wee hours of the morning to work. Weekends were spent doing errands, meeting family and friends and so time at home was limited. Holidays were often spent abroad roaming the streets of a far off country.

The pandemic allowed us to really sit and observe the house. We rearranged furniture, decluttered, and bought new furniture that better suited our needs. Finally after ten years ‘living’ in this house, late last year we both commented how finally the arrangement was where it should be. We finally felt comfortable with the use of all our furniture.

3. Do things that give you happiness

An article in the New York Times talked about how we turned to baking and crafting during the pandemic because it gave us a sense of ‘control’ when everything outside was not in control. This was certainly true for me. I spent weekends finishing off craft projects, learning new skills, getting healthier, sleeping more, and rekindling my love of baking and trying out new recipes. There were foods I wanted to eat, but our house was far and delivery not an option. We cooked more, baked more, had less processed foods and lost a few kilos in weight each. Our epileptic dog became healthier with daily walks, and our plants also started living their best life and were no longer left to the “will of the gods.” We took our first family photo with our dogs after 9 years together.

4. Set up a routine

When you are home 24/7 its important to have a routine that gets you ready for the day and end the day to avoid the blurring of ‘work’ and ‘home’. We set up a routine, woke up at the same time each day, unless we were very tired, exercised, had breakfast, read the news then get ready for work. To end the day, we’d walk out into our garden, water the plants and walk the dogs. The routine gave us a start and end to the working day.

5. Have compassion, be grateful, and share

This may be one of the most important lessons of all. Time is limited and you never know when your time will end. You cannot tell what a person is going through by just looking at them or seeing their actions at a certain time. Everyone also handles stress differently and was experiencing the pandemic through different lens. Some live alone, some with large families and elders, some in small apartments, some in large houses, some with family in other countries. Whatever the circumstances, we must all respect others and be compassionate and grateful for what we have. Be kind and show kindness.

This pandemic, I’m grateful for my life and the opportunities I have. I’m grateful for being able to work from home, have a job and my loving family. I’m also grateful to the quality of Thailand’s internet network allowing us to work from home with ease. I’m grateful for all the little things like hearing birds chirp as I work, feeling the soft fur of my dogs as they lay by my feet, and being able to have lunch and dinner with my husband.

6. Seize the opportunity

Every cloud has a silver lining. There are always opportunities if we look for it and work for it. In less than a year, many companies were able to adopt technology and switch to online work. Businesses converted to online stores and reduced overhead costs. (Many companies are still suffering, but I am not going to discuss that here). Nothing in life is permanent and so we must therefore do the best with what we have. Many, at each their own capacity, were able to show their best versions of themselves, helping others who were not as fortunate. There is always a way to help others if only we looked for it.

We don’t know how long this health crisis will last. Let this year be a good year and one where we achieve our goals, get our health in order and become better versions of ourselves. We don’t know what will happen, but we know that we can start it out on a positive note and try to make each day better than the last. What have you learnt these past two years, what are you grateful for? What do you want to do next?

I have a few goals I want to achieve, and one of them is my return to writing. Miss you all.

Jesse Doesn’t Speak

Little Jesse is our husky dog who isn’t “little” but because he is the baby of the pack, he is Alex’s and I “Little Jesse.” We admittedly have a soft spot in our hearts for him because last year we almost lost him and his epilepsy has gotten worse. Before we got him we didn’t know dogs could get epilepsy nor be allergic to meats. (Our James the labrador is a vegetarian.) I suppose that’s life: there is always something new to learn.

Jesse has taught us a lot about life in his little ways. For one, he’s taught us to be more observant and remember that there is more to life than the daily grind of work. He’s a dog that demands attention and has his routines. He knows what he wants and when he wants it. He will stand there making hungry almost complaining kind of noises while I dish up his food. After he eats, he will need to drink his water. If the bucket of water isn’t there or its empty, he’ll stand there looking at you. Then he’ll beeline for the door. He has to relieve himself before coming back for a long nap. If you forget, he’ll give you his paw and turn his face to the door. Nothing wakes him during this after meal nap.

When his brain goes fuzzy (because of his epilepsy) you have to really watch him and see what he wants and what are the triggers that set it off. He’ll feel uncomfortable and restless and need a bit of love. Sometimes a sit on our lap calms him down, sometimes its a dark corner or a little ice cream. When this happens, he reminds you what are the priorities in life. We stop whatever we are doing to give him a hug or to just lay down by his side. It’s moments like these that make life and its moments like these that reminds us that not everything can be controlled and that you will just have to make the best of what you have.

He is a constant reminder that life can be taken away from us at any day. Most days when we get back, he’ll run to you, give a little jump and kiss you on the cheek. But one day we know that he may have a series of seizures while we are out and perhaps it doesn’t stop. We give him medication and love, but that is about all we can do. He has his own battle to fight. Nothing in the world can replace the “little moments” and memories. I know he’s a dog, but dogs too have emotions and love and a part of our family.

Covid-19’s Message

2020 is a year I am sure most of us will never forget. It’s a year when we realize that even the highest level of technology is no match to to the power of nature. It’s so powerful that the world has been forced to take a step back, turn around and slow down.

We’ve all slowed down somewhat, at least on the weekends. I used to jokingly say that our house belonged to our dogs which enjoyed it 24/7 while Alex and I would visit to spend the nights here. That was the weekday work life. Weekends, were sometimes spent running around doing errands. There was always things that needed to get done, family to meet and friends to keep in touch with, events to attend and trips to plan. It was a busy life in cosmopolitan Bangkok. The shut down and subsequent no-travel restrictions have forced us to change our way of life.

With all the ills that Covid-19 brings, it is also perhaps Earth’s way of reminding us to not take for grant the simple pleasures in life. Being able to have a leisurely morning at the coffee shop, visiting family and friends, giving hugs and kisses, or even the simple act of taking a walk. Covid-19 has shown us how easily and how fast this way of life can be stripped away from us. It’s nature’s way of telling us how fragile we are and how small we are in this world. It is a message we should all take to heart.

Paying it forward with Pann Imm

The past few months has toppled the world upside down and inside out. Lives for many will have been changed forever. It’s been around a hundred years since the last pandemic of the Spanish flu and we are the generation that have been born at a timely manner to experience this special time. It’s a devastating pandemic but there is some good to it.

The pandemic is bringing out the best in people and encouraging each other to help those less fortunate, to reach out to our friends, and to be more caring and attentive to those we may have lost touch with due to “life” as we used to know it. These are just some examples but one such project that I want to share with you is a local crowdfunding program called “Pann Imm.” The name means to share the feeling of “being full” as in after a good meal.

The program was initiated to help the vulnerable groups affected by the pandemic. They are usually the service providers we rely on and who are paid for a day’s work and cannot afford to lose their jobs. These “temporary workers” are usually the first to go when companies make cost reduction decisions. As a result, millions have lost their jobs in Thailand without adequate savings to see them through the month. Imagine the situation now that this has lingered on for over a month. We all have families and mouths to feed and with everything in shut down, life isn’t easy.

The program helps by “Paying it Forward.” A friend of mine, together with local businesses, has worked together to put in place a system where meals are paid for in advance by donations. A sign in front of the restaurant indicates the number of meals available for those in need. Those who need a meal can then come to the restaurant for a meal or even ask to bag some back to their family.

Although less than a week old this program is already making a difference. If you want to make a difference, you can contact the administrator via her facebook page “@pannimm” – https://www.facebook.com/pannimm/ – and you can discuss with her regarding developments. I’ve known the founder of this wonderful program for twenty years and she has always had a heart of gold, helping others. Make a difference and help Pann Imm pay it forward.

The Elder Gentleman

I’m tired and sleepy, but this story has been whirling around my head all day and it’s one I’d like to share .  Like many mornings the past eight years, I woke up and got myself to the gym for a run before work.  Over the years I’ve come to know a few ladies through locker room chit chat, and to recognize the regulars by face. After eight years you start to know who comes on what days, what time, and who likes what kinds of exercise. I’ve also grown accustomed to being greeted by a gentleman who must be in his late seventies or early eighties. He’s a regular and spends around an hour each day on the treadmill followed by the bicycle before lifting a few weights. In between he’d greet people with a big smile.

I always thought to myself how active and pleasant this man was.  He’d smile and go around asking people how they were.  If I had gone missing for a week or longer than a two days, he’d ask me where I’ve been and remind me that I should keep coming regularly. He’d encourage you to keep up the good work when he sees you working out well. I’ve grown accustomed to seeing the familiar face at the gym even though I don’t know his name or anything else about him.

Then he disappeared for a few weeks.

I wondered where’d he gone. If it was for a holiday, it usually wasn’t more than a week but this time the absence was noticeable. Thoughts crossed my mind. I wondered if he’d fallen ill or passed away. After all he wasn’t young anymore. I pushed such thoughts out of my mind.

This morning I found out what happened.  Walking to the fitness room, I saw him sitting on a bench just in front of the fitness room. In that moment, I felt a big rock slide down my throat.  I felt like my heart dropped.  He was surrounded by two helpers with a walking aid in front of him. He wasn’t his old self and most probably had suffered a stroke. I dared not ask. When greeted, his speech was blurry but he still recognized and remembered everyone. After awhile, he slowly started his rounds at the various weight machines.

I write a lot about death, but it’s events like this that remind us how fragile life can be. One day you are living your life, following your daily routines, and the next, you find yourself having difficulty just moving a few steps. The trick is to keep on going. The gentleman continues his recovery but no one knows what will happen tomorrow.  Live life and enjoy it before it’s too late. In the end there’s one truth we can’t escape and that death is always on our doorstep.  Time stops for no one. Do what you want to do before it’s too late.

Good night!

Ed Whitlock, 85 year old marathoner because he can.

Sitting on the plane from Sapporo to Bangkok, I read an interesting article in the Bangkok Post about Ed Whitlock, an 85 year old marathoner who ran the Toronto Waterfront Marathon in 3:56:34. It’s inspirational. He doesn’t do any specific training, doesn’t adhere to any strict diet or use any gadgets to monitor his heart rate and training. All he does is run by the cemetery by his house in 15- year old shoes. He doesn’t run for his health, or gets runner’s high. He runs because “the real feeling of enjoyment is getting across the finish line and finding that you’ve done OK.”

Numerous tests have been conducted and he apparently has a large VO2Max capacity and good muscle retention for his age. I suspect his genes play a big part in his being able to continue running at such an age. What I find more intriguing though is his attitude which I think is what really keeps him going. In the article he is quoted as saying, ” I believe people can do far more than they think they can. You have to be idiot enough to try it.”
This, to me is probably his secret. If you believe you can do something and truly work at it, I believe you can achieve anything you want to. It’s the story we tell ourselves that determine the story of our lives.

If you tell yourself you can’t do something, then you can’t and you won’t. If you tell yourself, and believe in yourself, you can accomplish whatever your goal is. That said, it might take some time before you accomplish your goal, but if you work at it long enough, you’d be closer to your goal than if you had never started. If you focus on the end goal, you might get frustrated at not being able to reach it, but if you focus on taking action towards those goals, then you’d keep moving forward. As Ed Whitlock showed us, age is not a limit and is not a constraint to living your life because at whatever age you start working towards your goal, you are one day closer to your goal than the day before. 

Thank you Ed Whitlock for reminding us that life has no limitations than those we set for ourselves. Now, the burden is on you. What are your goals in life? Let’s get moving!

Happy New Year 2017

Happy New Year my readers! First of all, I’d like to thank all my readers for your comments and for sharing your updates with me. Although I have not written as much as I would have liked to, some of you have continued to keep touch and in the meanwhile inspired me as well. 
Looking back, 2016 for me was probably one of the craziest, funniest and unexpected years in a long time. There were so many changes going on both globally, in Thailand and within my work itself. Changes to challenge us all. I’m also grateful for all my family and friends. It’s been a year of reunions with friends from times past and a year of unexpected happenings. So much is going on, the question now is what are we going to do in 2017?  
For 2017, I hope you continue to stay healthy, exercise and have some ‘Me’ Time. With those things, we can achieve anything we set our minds to. Stay focused and ‘just do it’ I wish you all lots of success in all you endeavour.

Lots of love from snowy Japan somewhere in between the airport and Otaru.

PS. I’m going to start blogging about Tokyo, Otaru and snowboarding now so keep posted!

To Love or Not Love the Rain

It’s been a long time since I last wrote and what better time than to write on a lovely cool morning after the rain has stopped. How I love the rain varies from time to time.

Most times I love the rain when it’s just light rain or drizzles. I love it for the greenery and freshness that comes with it when it stops. Lawns become so green and life beckons. Birds chirps and splash around in the puddles that form along the driveway. Snails and slugs appear along with other types of insects moving about slowly in their slow way of life. Toads hop around in my garden and give me a surprise everytime one unexpectedly moves in a dark corner. My dogs equally like it (I think) as they lie happily on the porch with the cool breeze that passes through.  I practice my guitar, and life is just wonderful.  I feel calm and settled.  I feel home like when I grew up in cloudy, rainy Brussels.

Other times, I feel less tolerent of the rain especially when it’s pouring down hard coupled with thunder and lighting.  The heavens roar and you wonder if Thor was having a fight up there.  On Earth, the grass grows at exponential speeds and if the rain is follwed by the sun, ticks and fleas re-emerge.  Roads get flooded and commute to and from work takes a couple hours.  The light reflecting on the road makes it harder to drive and accidents happen.  You see news of people’s houses with roofs broken and neighbors with water pumps working to drain water from their houses. 

In the end, do I love or not love the rain?   It depends on how much rain there is. I love it when there’s just enough of it to cool the skies and make pitter pattering sounds on the window pane. I don’t particularly love it when it’s accompanying by thunderstorms and lighting and comes in such large quantities that it floods. 

I suppose this is much like human emotions. Sometimes you like something but if you have too much of it, you might not like it so much anymore. For example, I love choux cream but I wouldn’t be able to have it everyday.  Emotions, like the rain, has ups and downs.  It all depends. What do you think?

Wishing everyone a wonderful Sunday ahead.  Have some ‘me’ time. 

The Impermanence of Life

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Life is strange. So many uncertainties yet one definite truth about life is that it all ends at one point in time. How it ends, how it stops, how we spend our last breath is one we do not know. When reading the many articles and literature on happiness (humans seem to be obsessed with finding happiness), one advice that often comes up is to think about life and death.

This week I’ve had many reminders. Many opportunities to think about life and death.

First, having dogs that are innately hunters, I am constantly reminded about the circle of life.
My happy dogs like to bring me gifts from their day’s play. Sometimes it’s a dried up dead lizard or snake. Sometimes its animals which I’d rather not see and have to ask Alex to dispose of. This week, I found a poor bird whose life has left its winged body on my porch. It was such a pretty little bird who had a ‘bad’ day. For dogs, hunting is everyday life and play. They hunt, they kill, then they lick me happily on the face and take a nap. I love them dearly.

My second reminder was on how weak physically humans are. I caught the flu. A vicious flu that showed its full strength just as I had to travel for work. I have had my annual flu vaccination and been exercising regularly. I believed I was in pretty good health, but yet it still took a great many days to overcome this vicious virus. I am still not completely well. I survived meetings through aids of medication and vitamins then spent nights trying to sleep amidst the fever and congestion. Once I got home, the adrenaline that kept me in working state vanished and I was left feeling frail and weakened. Muscle strength vanished and appetites disappeared. Thumping headaches followed. It’s been a long time since I felt so weak and such an invalid. Life is indeed fragile. Although a flu is nothing compared to other illnesses, it’s enough to remind me.

My last reminders were news of a dear friend’s family loss. The next day it was followed by the lost of a dear colleague’s family loss. Just a day apart, they have had family members who suddenly parted. One morning, you wake up to what will be another day, like every other day, but by evening it is not so. So quick and fleeting is life. So final.

So impermanent is life like everything else. Let’s remember to enjoy and be grateful for our lives. Let’s live in the present. Let’s not worry so much about the future, we forget to live in present.

Let’s do something to help our world. As Benjamin Franklin once said we should constantly remind ourselves and ask ourselves is “What good may I do in the world?”

I’m searching for a cause I would like to devote my energy to helping make a difference in this world. There are so many I can’t quite decide. What are some causes that drive your passion? Please share. 🙂

Our Journey Together:  Join our “Having Me Time” Community 

It’s a lovely cool day in Bangkok today after a blistering hot few weeks.  It’s 25 degrees celsius  outside, lovely breezy winds and just heavenly.   Perfect for reflecting and today thinking about my life journey these few years. Its been a little over five years since I lost my unhealthy me and 15kgs worth of weight.  That 15 kg was a big part of my life and I’m still adapting to my healthier body.  Being healthy and fit comes with a completely new lifestyle. It requires an altogether different frame of mind that often wants to get bumped off track tempted by all the junk food advertisements.

It’s amazing how many advertisements for burgers, ice creams and deliciously devilish desserts are around.   It’s amazing how much sugar is in everything and how much Thais love sweets.

The healthier lifestyle means having more balanced diets with vegetables and fruits.  Good food and quality now prevail over quantity.  Of course, the old fatty me would say, “Hey have both! Have both good food and in high quantities!”   Now, before I indulge, I wonder if it’s worth the calories and the exercise that follows.

Five years on, I still get my lazy days and weeks when I don’t feel like going to the gym. Sometimes I feel like just having lots of processed foods and ice-cream.  What keeps me going and motivated though is when I hear from readers of “Having Me Time” who are now pursuing healthier lives and on their new journey to a new and healthier person.  A few days ago, I heard from a reader who completed her first triathlon and is now signing up for an olympic length triathlon! Congratulations!  You did it!

You definitely are an inspiration. (You know who you are)

To my readers, my proposal is this:  Let’s all continue to inspire and motivate each other so that we don’t get bumped off track to the unhealthy life.  Together, we’ll embark on the second part of our journey that works best when we have a community of people helping each other and sharing our stories, and our journeys.  If we could each support one another, we would all be on the healthier and happier track.

Please feel free to share your stories on our wall or if you would like to share your personal story on Having Me Time, please email me your story  🙂

I’m excited, are you? 🙂 Let’s do it!.