Lockdown & Mental Health Awareness

As it is Mental Health Awareness week and we are in lockdown it made me ‘flash-back’ to my childhood which wasn’t a good one. I am glad the government is looking at the issues that can affect people when in lockdown, those that are diagnosed and those that hide under the radar. Being able to get outside is important. Escaping the pressure cooker of a home is vital. Cycling is my escape now in lockdown and it was my escape in my teenage years. Cycling always makes me feel better and improves my mood.

My childhood was like living in one constant lockdown. I was not allowed to go out or have friends when I was young, I was ‘excessively controlled’ by my mother. I therefore struggled at making friends at school and it was a skill I was never able to fully learn. My mother has mental health issues which resulted in her being both physically and verbally abusive and controlling. She would not let me have friends, she would open all my post, the only place I could go on my own was school. I could not go to social or school gathering. I had to be back from school on time, if I was late I would be punished.

The physical abuse meant I was a punchbag for her. I could be sitting watching tv or doing homework and she would come in and just start attacking me. I would be kicked, slapped and verbally attacked. The verbal comments from : ‘Your are a lazy’, ‘You ruined my life’, ‘You are ugly and no one will ever like/love you’, ‘You will never come to anything’. ‘I wish you had never been born’. The list of negative comments is endless. I am impressed that I managed to survive it. It was a close thing in my early teens. There was one time I will never forget where she had hold of my hair and was smashing my head against a wall and I was thinking, I am going to die this time.

Why didn’t I tell someone?– because she would say that if I told anyone I would be taken into care and it would be even worse there. Which based on the media reports was true, it was full of care/foster home nightmares of abuse cases which resulted in criminal action. I would never see the rest of my family again and would disappear.

Once I reached my teenage years I managed to get a bit more freedom, I think family relatives had picked up on the treatment I was getting as I was sent to live with an aunt for a while and I was allowed some freedom, a chance to breathe. When I went back home I was allowed to go out cycling on my own and I would take every opportunity to get out of the house. It was the only thing I was permitted to do on my own. My home was a dark cloud of oppression and it weighed heavily on my shoulders. I was never happy at home. The amount of physical abuse reduced in my teens but the verbal torture never stopped. My confidence and esteem was attacked at every opportunity.

My escape came when I left for Uni, I worked hard at school and saw that as my only escape. It was in a time when fully funded student grants existed so I was able to go and study. Leaving was bliss, a cloud disappeared and sunshine flooded in. I would go home occasionally and see my siblings, who could see that leaving home was the way to escape the oppression, my escape had meant they became the new victims. They soon worked on leaving home too. Going home was horrid as soon as I saw the house the cloud of oppression appeared. Any mail that arrived for me while I was away would be opened and inspected by my mother. She would respond to letters in my absence and forge my signature on forms and paperwork. I had no idea what she had done until I received any follow up correspondence.

I blocked her out of my life for a while after uni and she hated it. She would try to be nice and try to get me to see her, I would relent and do so but after about an hour she would revert back to character and start verbally attacking and criticising me. All my choices were wrong, my friends were bad influences on me, etc, etc.. Everything I did was wrong in her eyes. One of my boyfriends overheard her once and couldn’t believe the way she spoke to me. He told me to keep away from her as he could see what a negative effect it had on me. He wouldn’t leave me on my own with her to try and prevent it.

I still have occasional contact with her, she is family so I cannot block her from my life completely but I can keep my distance. I keep more contact with my siblings as we act as a united front when we go to see her. Safety in numbers seems to work. When things were reasonably good between us,  she had a key to my house and would house sit for me.  Which I thought was ok as she felt she was doing something for me while I worked, not being present meant I would not get any verbal attacks either, it seemed reasonable. This has become somewhat poorer decision now. I bought some security cameras for when I was working away and fitted them in my house and they were triggered one day while I was at work. I watched the recordings. It was my mother, she was in my house and she was going through my mail and rifling through drawers and snooping generally around the house.

I wish she would give me respect. I am in my 50s and she continues to treat me like a child. I have tried to talk to her about it but she says I deserve it, as a child and now. It is a relationship that will never get better.

She has impacted my own mental health over the years. I have anxiety, trust issues and bouts of low self-confidence but somehow I manage to keep going. I have somehow managed to find a motivator within me to forge a path through life.

These type of mother-daughter relationship problems are quite common and if they had been tackled earlier then maybe a better outcome could have resulted as it is I will continue to have a poor relationship with her.

Volunteering

I thought I would post about my volunteering as it is creating a structure to my week and giving me fulfilment and the motivation I need.

I have joined a facebook group in my local county which connects you to a local hub and the hub co-ordinator then ‘manages’ your contribution. They direct us with indication of demand and they collect finished products and distribute them to local hospitals, health centres, surgeries and other ‘customers’. They also distribute donated materials across the group so that we can make up the requested products.

This group has grown within a space of weeks, the setup and structure works really well and the sense of collaboration is strong. Everyone has a part to play.

The facebook group also acts as a feedback loop as posts of doctors and nurses in their received scrubs, hats, headbands, etc helps to motivate the group. There is no competition, everyone contributes whatever they can and everyone respects and praises each other. That feedback loop is important, it gives us motivation – something that businesses should think about!!

If anyone is stuck, they drop a message on the group board and someone will respond with advice and direction be that instructions, youtube links, expert contacts, etc… People want to solve problems and move forward and achieve the goals of the group. There is no blame or negativity. No, long meetings and management decisions and approvals, it is collaboratively solved and quickly. Pretty good going when we are all working remotely and have never physically met each other! Our shared goal binds us and makes us strive to achieve.

I have been making scrubs, cloth face masks and bags which gives a variety in the tasks to be completed.

What is becoming clear is that demand is reducing now, so we have succeeded in fulfilling the need. We are still working and probably have a few weeks left before the group will be disbanded.

What has become clear from comments is that members have enjoyed the boost they have received from this activity.

People are saying they have:

  1. a sense of purpose and achievement
  2. enjoyed the teamwork (in its virtual form)
  3. autonomy
  4. learnt new skills / expanded existing skills
  5. created something
  6. appreciation from the recipient

I find the last one rings true with me, I have worked at companies where you could see the end product in use and get feedback from the user directly. It was a great motivator, and they actively encouraged it. My last employer was the complete opposite, the end users were not appreciative or grateful which didn’t make me feel fulfilled.

Some people are already feeling sad that this group will disband and they will have to go back to the grind of their workplace. The sense of pride and achievement we will have when leaving the group will last for a long time.

Monthly Update – Apr 2020

Wow – the end of another month and one completely under lockdown.

This is a strange one. I have continued to focus on cutting my monthly expenses down to get back within budget overall for the year, I overspent at the beginning of the year on getting work done on the house which was quite expensive. My view then was that I would get a job and start earning money and that would offset the spending.

My best laid plans have been blown up in smoke. I am unemployed with no hope of a new job until this crisis is over. The agents I was using to find work have been furloughed and job vacancies have dried up – no surprise really. I can claim JSA but that is about it. So living off my emergency funds and looking to occupy myself with other activities.

I signed up for volunteering (no response), I signed up for paid farm work (no response). I looked for shelf stacking jobs at the local supermarkets to earn some money (no vacancies).

I am therefore sew scrubs, it gives me a sense of purpose and contributing to ‘making a difference’. I have a skill that is of use and I am using it. I may not be paid for it but it is giving me a daily routine and helping me get through this. I have sewn 8 sets so far and have just collected another set to do. I have noticed that the number of sets they are giving out has dropped, either :  they are running out out of materials, running out of funds or can’t keep up with demand. Not sure which one or more is the issue.

They now have a surplus of some items and have stopped production. There is still demand for scrubs as more locations start wearing them instead of uniforms, such as care homes, health centres, pharmacies & GP surgeries.

From a financial viewpoint, I have kept within my target budget for this month and managed to balance out the increase in food costs. I received a dividend from Glaxo and quite a few annual interest and dividend payments in tax free and ISA accounts which helped my income total for this month.

Overall my net worth is down 12% from the start of the year. My net worth is fluctuating as the markets move and react to the daily stories. When I look back at my annual figures, my net worth is up on 2018 but down on 2019 values. I have lost a lot of growth from last year. I threw loads of money into my pension while I had the chance to gain extra money from my employer & tax reclaims and maxed out my ISA. When I put my self assessment in for the last tax year, I am hoping I will get a refund due to the pension contributions I made as I was a 40% taxpayer then.

Next month will be a harder month as my tenant will not be able to pay their rent. This means I will have to cover the mortgage payment from my fund too, increasing my expenses, rather than have the rent cover it. They have applied for Universal Credit and waiting for a response which can take up to 5 weeks in normal circumstances – but I guess it will be longer in this current crisis. So until they get any housing benefit (which from what I read will not cover the full amount) that is more income lost. I have no visibility of the claim so have no idea how much if any will be paid. I have asked a number of questions of the agent who manages the property for me. I am waiting for them to respond, they are supposed to be WFH. There is no auto responses on their emails so I will have to just wait and see, if I get no response I will have to call them and see if I can find out what is happening. Some contribution towards rent would be gratefully received.

Next month – some dividends were due in May which will not be paid now and I will be watching my ISA income funds to see what payments they will be making this month and how they will be impacted by the crisis, I expect them to drop too.

In the meantime, I will stay safe and carry on sewing…a busy bee…

 

 

 

 

How’s lockdown going?

I hope you are all keeping safe and well?

I have been trying to keep to a schedule to motivate me especially as this lockdown extends into another 3 weeks (and likely to be beyond that too). A routine is important if you have no work to keep you busy and are on your own.

The recruitment agents I had been working with to find a new job have now been furloughed – which gives you an idea of the job market at the moment!

So in the meantime, I have tried to get a job shelf stacking at the local supermarkets but there is nothing going – they are fully staffed.

I have registered for farm work, it will probably be a physical shock to the system as I haven’t done seasonal farm work for over 20 years!! I used to fruit pick and sort and pack potatoes in summer term breaks ( In my student days). I think most are expecting you to live on-site so that is why its not too practical for UK workers who want to go home at the end of the day. The season hasn’t started yet for fruit picking so not sure if this will pan out but it is worth a shot.

So I am a volunteer sewing scrubs for the local NHS. There is a huge group on Facebook and I have joined them and have already sewn some sets of scrubs which will go to the local large hospital. I am no ‘super sewing bee’  ( lol…like the pun… in fact the BBC have their new series starting tonight )  but I have a sewing machine and the group supply me with materials and I sew them up, drop off and repeat. I have just completed 2 sets and now waiting for drop off and collection of the next set of materials.

I can do one set of scrubs a day but given the slowness in getting materials, I am now waiting to be resupplied as we are working on donations. I use to work for a retailer who stocked haberdashery so trying to find someone in their head office who may agree to donate and help keep us going, not surprisingly UK haberdashery suppliers are struggling to keep up with the demand and are running out of stock as NHS scrubs have a specific fabric specification requirement.

This activity gives me a sense of purpose and helping to contribute to the NHS during this crisis is a positive feeling. It’s great to see the pictures posted on FB of the staff with their scrubs, they are so pleased to receive them, it’s great feedback. The people contacting us to order are saying how they are trying to get scrubs and their official order lines are either cancelling or giving long lead times (in months) and they need them NOW….

I have also noticed how the supply and demand aspects are affecting the food chain too. Although my local supermarkets are starting to recover and shelves are beginning to be filled, some items are gold-dust to buy.   One is bread flour – I was making my own bread before the lockdown,  which was very therapeutic and also cheaper. I am trying to be frugal given I am living off savings/emergency fund. The bread flour problem started at least a month before the lockdown as I was struggling to find supplies in Jan and Feb. Now, all types of flour has become impossible to find in supermarkets. I have looked online but direct suppliers have closed their online shops.

I have also noticed that food prices are up too, sometimes this is because the shops are only stocking the more expensive brands, a lot of the value ranges seem to have disappeared off the shelves. I have spent about 25% more in the last month on food that I normally do.

Keep safe and let’s get through this so we can get out of the lockdown.

 

 

New Tax year

So now the new tax year is here, I will be looking to drip feed cash into my ISA and debate on moving my SIPP from HL to Vanguard (I have opened an account by transferring an old employer pension into it). I am not old enough to start drawdown on a SIPP, still a few years away so time for it to recover and grow. I will continue with my plan to rebalance my assets even in this time of woe. I will continue to monitor my cash as I am living on this at the moment.

I sold some shares which utilised last year’s CGT ( OK, I may not have made as much profit as I could have, due to the market drop, but I have made a PROFIT)  and will re-allocate this to tax-free accounts over this tax year and try to pick up cheaper fund prices and ride out for the long-term.

What are your plans for the new tax year?

 

 

And here go the interest rates…

So as well as cancelled dividends, I have also started receiving the dropped interest rate notices from respective banks/building societies, here is an example:

Old Rate                   New Rate

0.40%                       0.04%

0.20%                       0.02%

0.15%                       0.01%

0.10%                       0.01%

The list grows as more interest rates are dropped on accounts. They were not keeping pace with inflation as it was. Any interest whether taxable or not will be depleted for the remainder of the year as financial institutions claw back money. They have already been requested to withhold dividends to aide their survival.

I have heard that businesses are being offered loan interest rates of over 20% as part of the ‘support efforts’. There is no such thing as a helping hand in this crisis, just adding more debt.

 

Monthly Update – Mar 2020

Well, where do I start with this one?

I have lost 12% in net worth this month (month-on-month) due to the economic turmoil. This is in addition to the 5% I loss last month so not very good reading.  I have also done a little bit of trading. I have reinvested some dividends into some more shares while they are low. Hopefully the company I have bought will survive this event. These shares are within a tax-free account.  I have also sold down some of my taxable share holdings to use up my capital gains allowance for this year as I ponder doing the same next year to slowly get out of taxable holdings and move into tax-free accounts. I have made a good profit and managed to stay within my CGT threshold (just), I will feed this into my ISA in the next tax year so I can spread the risk across the market rather than have individual shares. I am not sure if all of my share holdings will survive this event so I need to have the option to sell out and use my new CGT allowance to take the profit if I need to and mitigate any tax where possible, I will then reallocate to other tax-free locations or use it to survive.

It’s been a hard month and sitting in lock down was not how I imagined or expected to be spending this month. I live on my own so this isolation is not the best way to spend my time. I was expecting to be out and about. The only good thing is that I can exercise so I can go out on my bike which helps my mind and clears the cobwebs. I don’t like being inside for too long, I start to get cabin fever and need to be outside for a period of time to prevent my head exploding. The benefit of cycling is that you have less chance of picking the virus up through contact with anything. Anything you touch when outside your home has the potential to carry the virus.

I have been monitoring sites for jobs and surprise, surprise they are drying up. Agents have gone quiet and I have been reading that even if I was to get a job now, if the employer decides to shutdown and put everyone into furlough I would not qualify as it is only employees on the books on 28 Feb 2020 who will be entitled. So I could end up being an unpaid employee with no ability to claim any help at all.

With the news comments that this could go on for 6 months, companies are rightly looking at their survival strategies. So I am going to continue to live off my savings and have the option to claim JSA (£280 per month) for 6 months at some point in the future.  When this lock down is over and the  job market picks up, there will be plenty of people seeking work and the numbers are growing each week, competition will be high. (Sigh) I have made this so hard for myself.

This wasn’t what I had planned for when I quit my stressful job at the end of last year. I was expecting to have some time off, get some work completed on my house, get out and have some ‘me-time’ and rejoin the workforce by the middle of the year…feeling more fit and buzzy… all hunky dory! I was starting to feel better and more positive about the future. Then the virus appeared on the scene.

Now, I need to re-budget to cope with an extended time out (This could last for 6 months!), so I need to plan for a year (plus?) out. I don’t want to end up back in another toxic/stressful workplace, it will not do my mental health any good. I want to find somewhere which can survive this crisis and has a long term future, working within a happy, collaborative team where I feel fulfilled and contributing to a greater good.

I continue pondering a change in role to find something that could fit that criteria. I don’t think I will be the only one doing that at the moment. This crisis will make plenty of people think about the why and how they live their lives.

It could get to the point where yet again, I have no choice and have to take something that is a bad fit just for the income and because my past skill profile fits. With the passive income drying up and possibly taken some time to flow again, my cash will only last so long.

On the passive income subject, the news just keeps getting gloomier as dividends are withdrawn and interest rates cut. I did receive some dividend & interest income this month but I expect this to reduce in value and appearance from April onwards. In fact, I have just received some emails notifying me of the drop in interest on some savings accounts, basically the interest is being cut to nothing.

I await to hear from my tenant about the rent situation too. They have applied for universal credit, with the nearly 1 million others, which will include housing but will have to wait and see what the rent contribution will be and what kind of payment plan can be created for the arrears. I can give them a rent holiday – all that is doing is deferring the payments to later when they are back on their feet and have other outstanding debts. They have been good tenants up to now but given my own situation, I cannot sustain ‘carrying’ them rent free forever. The rent was part of my passive income. I had diversified my income streams but for them all to stop at once was not an expected scenario!

I am fortunate in comparison to some so I am not whinging, this is an observation on what I am going through, which is easier than for some.  I have plenty to be grateful for. My back is not against the wall yet. I need to look at putting my oxygen mask on first.

On a positive note, I have registered to volunteer and await to be called to help where I can. Let’s hope this lock down works and freedoms begin to appear sooner rather than later and the deaths caused by the virus are kept to the minimum possible.

Stay safe and respect to all the key workers who are doing a valiant job is such difficult times, saving lives and keeping the country fed!

 

photography of rainbow during cloudy sky

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