Raining! Thus another chapter of my lockdown one sort-of-memoir today …
Day 7 – 11775 steps
The Queen turned 94 today, Donald Trump referred to coronavirus as “the invisible enemy” banning all immigration to the US and I, Pip Lincolne, discovered that my undies could chafe the tip-top of my inner thighs savagely when I did a longer walk.
My research aka reading the running books written by Bryony, Bella and Alexandra had taught me that Vaseline would create the required barrier between skin and most items of clothing so I made a note – Hey Siri. Make a note. Buy a giant tub of Vaseline – and was transported against my will back to the film adaptation of the book Puberty Blues. Shudder. If you’ve seen it you will understand exactly what I mean. (Let’s just say it involves very clunky teenage sex, if you haven’t.)
Today I wandered past scores of surviving mushrooms (take that stompy man!), past a fallen tree (I told you!) and past the spot where my swamp hen friends hung out. They were otherwise engaged, apparently because the clearing was deserted. I briefly wondered what the social calendar looks like for a swamp hen.
I braved the tunnel without so much as a backward glance. I did not falter, not even when a man stopped at the other end of the tunnel, bent down, rummaged about with something out of my sight line and then entered the underpass, walking towards me.
Okay. I faltered a bit.
I told myself nothing was amiss and he walked past me without incident. But I was wrong. Something was amiss. The awareness of men who behave this way when a woman is walking near to them. Why on earth would you slow down and creep alongside her when driving? Why would you rummage about as she walked towards you? Why would you stop your car a little ahead of her and stand by your open boot. It makes me so bloody angry that men can be so bloody clueless when it comes to womens’ experiences in public places.
A 2019 study by girl-focused non-profit Plan International and Monash University highlighted the experiences of girls and women in public spaces. What they found will not be surprising to women.
“In the case of city parks, two thirds of all women engaging with the Free to Be Sydney survey who had stated they had an unsafe experience in a park said they would never go back alone,” Monash’s Dr Nicole Kalms wrote in piece for website The Conversation, following the murder of Melbourne woman Eurydice Dixon in an inner city park. “And 13% said they would never go back an all.”
Never go back at all.
Dr Kalms’ are of special interest is making cities safer for women. The Free To Be survey she worked on with Plan International asked women to document and pinpoint specific positive and negative experiences across various city parks. The negatives were the sorts of things I’d been hearing about across mainstream and social media – only there were sadly even more of them than I’d imagined.
“Whenever I pass under these bridges near the water where the CityLink runs overhead, I often become suddenly aware of how dark and remote these spots are, even in the middle of the day,” one woman wrote of Melbourne’s Capital City Trail.
“Am a regular jogger for the past 7 years. Most people are great but have had three instances of being followed by non-jogging men and sometimes men sit in cars watching runners at certain car parks,” another wrote of her Botanic Gardens route.
If you are a man reading this please be aware that this sort of shenanigans on approaching a woman may make her feel worried at best and stop exercising – and then living with the resulting negative health implications involved with inactivity – at worst. And all because you cluelessly drove slowly by her as you adjusted the radio or fumbled around in your jacket for some mints as she came into sight.
And if you are deliberately watching, stalking or approaching women in inappropriate ways, head directly to a psychiatrist or at the very least phone a men’s help line because you need treatment.
My own worries about coming to harm were grounded in reality for sure, as this important study confirms. The trouble was they were enhanced and exaggerated to unmanageable levels by my anxiety. I was so keen to overcome this fear. I wanted to get out into the world without expecting the worst.
I walked on without further incident, fuelled by my crossness, along the path beyond the tunnel walking parallel with the little creek. I walked beyond the clearing where just a few days before I had first realised the creek existed, past the playgrounds and some ancient trees I was sure Powerful Owls must have settled in thousands of times, long before the freeway was built.
At this point, my hands were starting to swell up. What was that about I wondered, wiggling my fingers like jazz hands.
When I investigated this later I found out it was something hilariously dubbed ‘big hand syndrome’ and it’s a super common condition experienced by walkers and runners.
One theory on why it happens suggests that your blood flow increases when you exercise and your body directs resources away from extremities (like hands and feet). This means they get colder and that the blood vessels open up more causing swelling. These swollen hands are a sort of sister woe to my numb feet, I figured.
Drinking a little water after the first hour of exercise, holding an object and switching it between hands as you walk and stretching out your fingers and then making a fist are all suggested strategies to keep swelling at bay.
I walked on, further than I had on the days before, stopping at a spot overlooking the creek and watching two ducks playing amidst the little waterfalls created by the (also ancient) rocks in the creek bed.
I caught my breath, noted my numb feet, wiggled my fingers once more for good measure and started the walk back home.
I’d tucked my credit card into my phone case – and tucked my phone into my bra – so I could grab a coffee at the takeaway only café close to home.
I should note here that the phone case was cracked so I spent a lot of the walk worrying my credit card would fall out. Clearly my superpower is worrying and I can always come up with something to ruminated over.
You might be wondering how I passed the times on these longer and longer walks, apart from chatting to swamp hens and congratulating non-scary men on the adorableness of their dogs.
I listened to audio books. On this day I had just begun listening to a book called Pants of Perspective by Anna McNuff. It’s about a woman who hikes from the bottom tip of New Zealand to the top of NZ. It got me thinking beyond the pandemic as I walked past fellow exercisers, keeping the required 1.5m distance between us.
One day exercise will not be limited to my own neighbourhood, I thought. One day I will be able to do other sorts of walks in other places where there are other people.
Perhaps I could walk even longer distances, I dared to think. Perhaps I could make bigger plans? Perhaps these walks were a way not only to ward of depression and make friends with the things that scared me, but also a springboard to a much bigger shift in my life?
No. I thought. Shut up. Don’t get ahead of yourself. Just keep plodding along. You’ll get sick of this soon. Don’t be an idiot. It’s just a fad. You won’t be able to keep this up when things start to swing back to the new new normal.
As I listened to Anna talk about nearly getting lost in the first days of her walk, bathing alone in the forest and sleeping in a tiny hut something WAS stirring inside me, though.
The idea of being alone on a long walk (although in Anna’s case she ran) and not being paralysed with anxiety was something that sounded very, very exciting.
What was stopping me from doing that? I wondered. Nothing buy my own fears, I shot back.
One day, I thought. But for now I should just keep walking.
The idea that this walking could be preparation for something even bigger was a real epiphany. I was not merely treading the pavement at the end of the park in some kind of aimless stagger. I was getting my body used to moving and out in the world again after a long, sad, fearful period of clinging to the couch and home.
What had started as a desperate effort to avoid a depressive episode had catapulted me into the sort of mindset I could never have imagined. And all in one astonishing week!
No. I thought. Shut up. Don’t get ahead of yourself.
But when I got home I started looking up hiking, walking and adventuring videos on YouTube. Then I watched Wild, the film adaptation of Cheryl Strayed book about her experience walking the 1770km Pacific Crest Trail after the death of her mother. Then I looked up interviews with ground-breaking marathon runner Katherine Switzer who was nearly tackled out of the Boston Marathon by one of the race’s owners. She had managed to sign up for the race by using just her initials and despite this physical tussle managed to finish the marathon, the first woman in a numbered bib ever to do so.
Just keep plodding along. I told myself.
Day 8 – 8768 steps
The night before there had been terrible news that four members of the Victorian police force had been killed on the freeway that rang alongside the park. One police patrol had stopped a speeding driver in the emergency lane of the freeway. They’d drug tested the driver who was a bit of a repeat offender. He came back positive, so they called for back up. A second police car arrived and as they went about impounding the car and arresting the man a truck swerved into the emergency lane hitting everyone except the speeding driver.
The morning after, the accident scene was closed off and traffic was crawling along either side of the closure, being directed off the freeway and through the suburban streets instead.
I’d been thinking about the crash as I went to sleep. It was such a senseless tragedy in the midst of an already challenging time. I wondered how on earth the affected families were coping at a time when we all had to keep our distance, funerals were limited to just a few people and hugs between people who did not live together were outlawed.
When I finally got to sleep nightmares came back and the next morning I turned off my alarm and promptly fell back to sleep.
I started awake and decided to take another rest day because it was now a full 45 minutes later than the time I had planned to leave home. This is how much of a routine stickler I am. One little thing shifts and I find it totally unsettling and am tempted to throw everything out the window.
Not today, stickler. I told myself. What exactly have you got to do anyway? You don’t even have a job!
You can leave home an hour later than planned if you want. You can just shift what loose plans you did have (writing this book about walking) back a little. Walking IS your job at the moment, I reasoned. Go to work.
I drank some water, got dressed and headed out. I felt tired, tense, grumpy, stiff.
When I got to the park I could see the almost stationery lights of the freeway traffic through the trees. A helicopter hovered overhead, no doubt beaming footage of the bumper-to-bumper vehicles and the accident sight to some traffic report. How horrible.
My mood darkened as I walked along the track, unable to get the crash out of my thoughts. I could feel the familiar grip of depression, slipping like a coat over my shoulders, gripping my chest, pulling my heart into my throat. I shook my head, attempting to shake it off and tried to think of a distraction.
On the grassy paddock beside me four black dogs galloped between to laughing women.
That’s a lot of black dogs, I thought. Is this a sort of secret sign that a lot of people are living with depression like me? I wondered.
Ahead two more walkers were approaching each with a black dog, as if to confirm my illogical yet (to me) very, very insightful wonderings.
The traffic was crawling along between the trees. I could see it out of the corner of my eye and I willed myself not to look at it. To focus on the path ahead, the trees, the grass, the happy black dogs.
Think about something else. I told myself. Think about … what you might eat today.
My appetite the day before had been non-existent. Despite the long walk I’d managed, I did not feel hungry at all. I eventually ate something at dinner time, when I cooked potato and chorizo quesadillas for Ari and managed one with some salsa made from tomatoes out of my garden and some wonky avocadoes I’d bought a few days earlier.
Maybe I’ll feel like eating when I get home, I thought hopefully. I was generally a very good eater, but losing my job had taken the shine off lots of things I was usually good at.
Stop feeling sorry for yourself, I scolded.
I walked quietly on, past the swap hen haunt (no hens!), past the playground loo, past the leafy saplings and onto the gravel path to complete the loop and start back home.
I know, I thought. I’ll make a list of all the things I cooked while writing this book!
The meatballs, the falafel, the quesadillas, I thought. I can put a list of recipe links in the book’s end pages, I thought.
I began to think about my own favourite recipes, things that I’d cooked for my family over the years. The potato curry, my famous ‘beans with burnt bits’ which is so much nicer than it sounds, concussion beef which is so much less dangerous than it sounds. I loved this idea.
As I looped the gravel, I noticed a woman standing between two trees. She’d looped two straps tautly between then. One a few inches above the ground and the other much higher. She was balancing on the bottom strap and slowly walking along it – above the ground – like a tightrope walker.
“As I approached her she cried “Good morning!”
“Wow!” I called back. “Amazing!!”
“It’s a lot of fun,” she replied enthusiastically and I kept walking, wishing that I had asked her what the heck she was actually doing (in a nicer way than that.)
My mood had lifted now and I was relieved to note that that I’d shrugged off the coat of dark feelings for now. I picked up my pace and spotted the Pink Lady walking with various dogs and people. She was deep in conversation, so I did not wave, but I noted she was wearing more of a berry coloured jacket on this day. I wondered what her house looked like. Did she have pink carpet? Was her garden full of pink flowers? I walked on heading back past the swamp hen haunt where three birds were scrabbling about in the dirt.
I was listening to Anna’s book about her NZ run, and it was – as promised - providing some excellent perspective on today’s confusing walk.
She talked about the struggle of her incredibly difficult route. About the kindnesses other people showed her. And about one character she met along the way who sought to make things easier for those who came after him.
That’s what I want to do, I thought. I want to talk about things that are hard, in the hopes that other people will feel less strange about their own difficult feelings. Granted I might not be scaling a mountain (not right now, anyway) but for some of us just getting out of the house and down to the park can feel like a mountain when mental health is proving a challenge.
My walk today showed me how easily circumstances could trigger dark feelings … Something that seemed wholesome – empathy for families who had lost loved ones – could spark the sort of heaviness I was trying to fight against. But I realised that it was possible to move through those feelings and come out the other side. Today, even though I was quietly catastrophising that my own non-cute, non-gallopy black dog was set to seep in and undo all the good walks and good feelings of the days before … it didn’t.
I’d stumbled along trying to ward it off, eventually finding that the further into my walk I got, the less dark and worried I felt. I also noticed that when I started to hatch creative ideas – thinking about sharing recipes in my walking book’s end matter – that it switched on another part of my brain and dulled the sadness. It felt as if creative thinking had some magical pain-relieving power which helped to turn off those unwanted dark feelings.
By the time I got the café that morning to grab my cappuccino, I was sweaty and a bit dizzily numb. I was still thinking about the poor police people.
I walked home up the hill to my house, and by the time I got in the door and out into the backyard to drink my coffee amid the birdsong I was in a sort of meditative state. I was relaxed and distant and calm and quiet. The dark feelings had well and truly gone away.