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A Life Less Ordinary - by Sara Jayne.

I didn't realise, until I looked at my camera roll on my phone, just how many new & enjoyable experiences I have had this year, so I decided to write a blog about some of the positives that have come out of the many Covid challenged months.

To give you some background on myself, I have suffered with anxiety & depression on & off since the age of 18; that's 30+ years now! With the help of medication, counselling, CBT, a course on coping methods, a supportive husband, parents & friends, & my determination to keep upbeat, I will have survived 50 years by the time we eventually reach 2021.

So here is some of my 2020 story...

February - Diabetes UK

I started my 2nd 1 Million Steps challenge in aid of Diabetes UK. My husband is a type 2 diabetic. It motivated me to go on walks in the local scenic areas of Poole & Bournemouth in order to complete my daily target of steps. On 14 May I finished my 1 million total & received my 2nd ever medal in as many years.

23rd March - Introducing the Great British Home Chorus

On the day that the UK went into lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic, I saw that Gareth Malone was recording a daily choir session from the studio in his garden that was accessible to all on his You Tube channel. I quickly enrolled with the Great British Home Chorus Facebook group, and 40+ sessions later I recorded my harmony part for 4 songs Gareth had taught us, to be amalgamated with several thousand recordings from other members on a charity EP, with all the profits going to NHS Charities Together. It was a fabulous way to give something back to our dedicated & hardworking key workers. This was a 1st for me, my voice appearing on a CD released for the public to buy.

Gareth not only gave music lovers some structure to their weekdays, but the choir evolved into a GBHC Friends group on Facebook. I can now be part of local meet ups, live chats & singing tutorials, when I choose to. The group admins regularly organise Zoom concerts for those of us who would like to perform, and on 18 September, with encouragement from other participants, I took part in the talent showcase singing an 80's hit, on a day that was nearly written off thanks to my nerves. Three weeks later I recorded myself singing the song again without an audience. This time I was more confident & note perfect!

24th March - My choir

My usual choir, which I have been a part of for the last 4 years, moved to weekly online sessions within our Facebook group where our choirmaster retaught us old songs from the year before I joined, which was handy. We chat with our choir buddies on screen on Tuesday evenings and have a much needed laugh. A highlight of this summer was recording our harmony parts for a mash up song of 'You Are Not Alone', 'That's What Friends Are For' and 'Smile'. 1 of our choir members (Pat) is a DJ on Radio Solent & invited listeners to send in their recordings aswell. The finished track featured several times during Pat's shows, due to audience demand! The compilation video was emotional for us to watch. We are more than just a community choir; we are a family with a shared passion for music. It was amazing to see the finished production come together from the amateur clips filmed in our individual homes.

Being part of this video gave me the confidence to take up a lip sync challenge from another choir member - the only one brave enough! I had great fun miming & doing the actions to a funky dance track by Example. Our choir leader also asked us if we wanted to send him 'missing you' messages for fellow members, so I rewrote part of the lyrics to 'Have A Nice Day' by The Stereophonics and videoed myself singing it. I was revisiting my talent for writing comic rhymes once more.

1st April - A love of dance!

The instructor has been recording the weekly Clubbercise class I attend, so that we can stream the hour of dance exercise to our online devices at our own convenience. On the rare occasion that I can persuade my husband to shift his TV watching to our bedroom, I can be seen in the lounge waving my glow sticks, whilst doing Grapevines & squats to dance tracks reminiscent of the clubbing days of my youth. I finish with my own healthy 'glow' & an endorphin fuelled feeling of accomplishment having exercised...and enjoyed it!

3rd April - Getting Creative!

When I heard that vulnerable people had to shield from the outside world, I took photos of my artwork from school & college & posted a piece everyday on Facebook & Whatsapp for my family & friends to enjoy. The compliments I received inspired me to create another piece, the answers to a crossword our choirmaster set for us and I was pleasantly surprised at the results. I was worried for a minute that I had lost my artistic ability, after all these years. Maybe it was a good thing that our printer wasn't working, in this instance, to print the crossword off for completion!  I have also enjoyed learning how to create photo collages using an app, as an attractive way of displaying memories from particular events & times.

18th April - A lockdown birthday!

The weekend prior to my lockdown birthday, I organised 'seeing' some friends on the Houseparty app. It was not an app I was familiar with, so it was a learning curve. A fun evening was had by all by making virtual contact with my buddies from school, college and choir.

19th April - My Dad's birthday!

My dad was 80 and despite the pandemic, we wanted to make his special day memorable for all the right reasons, so I bought a cake and topped it with personalised decorations - my dad was a teddy boy in his youth. I got a full English brekkie delivered to him and a representative group of my parents' neighbours surprised him by singing Happy Birthday in the street, whilst remaining socially distanced from each other. It's amazing what you can arrange in difficult circumstances.  

25th April - Getting to know the neighbours.

My husband and I live in a flat, and a neighbour would barbecue our food in the walled garage area outside, whilst we caught up with other members from our block over drinks and food on our safely spread out camping chairs. This became a regular event on sunny days. It felt good to get to know the neighbours even more, as so often we'd just say a quick, "Hiya, you alright?" as we went about our normal busy lives. 

I met up with the 'Rule Of 6'friends from choir at a beach hut, in their gardens and at home, when possible. Previously I had worried that our flat was not pristine like theirs, but my friends loved our flat and were impressed with how I had coordinated the furnishings. They did not care that our dining room table disappeared years ago under equipment from the office (now fast becoming a store cupboard). On reflection, although our flat has that lived in look, it is warm, welcoming and adorned with momentos from our life adventures.

1st May - Online Shows!

My husband recorded me singing one of my favourite Green Day ballads, 'Wake Me Up When September Ends', alongside the lead singer of the group. He was performing an acoustic version in a TV concert of musicians' recordings in their homes during lockdown. I can say I have duetted with Billy Joe Armstrong now. It was a challenge singing to just my husband, but I had lovely feedback to the video from my Facebook community.

I took advantage of the free live theatre shows recorded & streamed on You Tube. Jonny Lee Miller played a refreshingly different role as the creation of 'Frankenstein'. I laughed at the comedy play 'One Man, Two Guvnors' with a fast paced plot skillfully performed by James Corden. I quickly became immersed in all the characters.

14th May - Revisiting my love of ballet!

I revisited my love of ballet by doing some online classes, as prior to Covid, the rehearsals in person had been fully booked. I studied ballet, modern stage & tap dancing from the age of 3 and a half to 16 at a dance school. I am a lot more 'cuddly' these days and this was the chance to try the exercises at my own pace. I was chuffed with how many steps I remembered; it was like riding a bike and in August, I was thrilled to choreograph a routine to one of those records you just can't sit still to. I used moves I enjoyed in my time at dance school, and in fitness classes as an adult, and I practised the routine numerous times to ensure I don't forget any bits due to menopausal 'brain fog' when I finally get around to videoing it. I can't wait to post it soon!

15th May - Virtual experiences!

Who knew I would be invited (virtually) into Sophie Ellis-Bextor's home to meet her family & have a front row seat to a mini concert of her hits & covers on regular Fridays? Her 'Kitchen Discos' helped to keep me sane, when the PM asked us to Stay At Home. There is nothing like lifting your mood by dancing around your bedroom singing, "Why Does It feel So Good?"

25th May - 'Run For Victoria' Challenge.

Wishing to make the most of the better weather & keep being active, I signed up for the Run For Victoria challenge in aid of a choir friend's running group friend. Victoria was a nurse who was tragically murdered by her husband earlier in the year. All profits from the challenge went towards a fund to give her 3 children a better life. I completed the required 13.1 miles in 3 days & was proud to be part of something so positive in honour of Victoria. The Run For Victoria Facebook group members still support each other's fitness today.

August - A film opportunity.

An amazing opportunity to be an extra in a short film arose! I quite fancied the idea before, but the circumstances weren't right then. A talented choir friend helped produce a video to be shown at film festivals in order promote a production company and a group of us from choir joined other extras & actors in a secret, picturesque countryside location. It was a unique, exciting day which I will always remember as a high point from the 'year of the virus'.

Well done to those still reading my blog! I think I need a lie down now. I may have had to battle my way out of 4 anxiety & depression flare ups so far this year, but how many of my recent experiences would have happened in an ordinary year? I may not have worked for 6 years, owing to reoccurring mental health issues, but when I am ready to apply for a job again, there will not be a shortage of leisure activities & new skills to list on my CV! So be kind to yourself on off days, do what makes you happy, be you & stay connected with those who lift you. To finish on a positive note, I'm sure there is still much more to look forward to before this 'annus horribilis' is out. 

By Sara Jayne.

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