Staying Home Away From Home

Right now, all of us are doing our best to #StayAtHome, but for some of us, the home we stay in might not be our own. We are now in Week 5 of our coronavirus reality, and I can genuinely say that experiencing this global crisis across the world from my family has been the biggest challenge that I have ever faced in my life.

I’m no stranger to homesickness. When you’ve lived as far away from home as I do for as long as I have, you learn to spot the waves of homesickness when they are still out on the horizon, and for the most part let them wash over you without knocking you down. However, there is a difference between longing for home and being homesick for a place that, at the present moment, does not exist. I could get on a plane to Chicago right now, but it still wouldn’t change the fact that I won’t be able to hug my grandma, to go to a White Sox game, or to drink martinis until midnight at our favorite Italian restaurant. Still – what I would not give to be at home with my family, playing board games and watching The Birdcage and all of our other favorite ‘feel-good’ films. Quarantine would be nicer with my mom’s homemade mac and cheese and my dad’s Manhattans. What I wouldn’t give to spend the days inside teaching my baby sisters how to do their makeup, and letting them teach me how to record TikTok’s.

Currently, I am quarantined at my boyfriend’s family’s home in Lincolnshire. There’s not been a moment being here that I haven’t felt so incredibly grateful both to this family for taking me in, and to the universe for bringing them into my life at just the right time. When I think back to my life a year ago, whilst I loved my little ‘Bridget Jones’ flat, I genuinely don’t think I would have survived being quarantined there alone. Being here means having a garden to run around, dogs to walk, and a family to laugh with – all things that make a massive difference to my mental health during such challenging times. Still – nothing about this crisis comes without challenges. 

For starters, I am an extremely emotional person. I wear my heart on my sleeve, and I cry. I cry when I’m sad, I cry when I’m happy, I cry when I laugh, and recently I have been crying a lot for no reason. I’m not particularly ashamed of this aspect of my personality… it’s who I am! However, it’s not something that I like to put on display for just anyone, and especially not my ‘in-law’s.’ I’d prefer that they see me as my normal, bubbly, and extremely grateful self, and I try to keep the mental breakdowns to a minimum. However, after weeks of doing this I have definitely noticed feelings of bottling up. I started losing the ability to be my usual outgoing self, and found myself spending family meals appearing incredibly quiet and anti-social. This is the ultimate burden of an extrovert: if you have branded yourself as a person who is always chatty and sociable, people take immediate concern the minute you become more shy or reserved.

It all came to a head about a week ago when I FaceTimed my parents and my mom took one look at me and said, ‘Okay, honey. That’s the sad Megan face. Why don’t you go ahead and cry… I’m guessing you haven’t been able to cry in awhile.’ What followed was an absolutely tsunami of emotions. I literally sat on FaceTime bawling my eyes out while my parents consoled me for at least an hour, and to be honest it was incredibly cathartic. There is something about crying in front of your parents as an adult that immediately makes you feel like a child again. In that moment, I swear if you had held a mirror up to me I would have seen a 6 year old, gap-toothed Megan. While it’s not the most mature feeling, it’s incredibly comforting. I was able to express all of the emotions I had been bottling up in an attempt to appear like the calmest, most collected girlfriend in the world, and by the end of the call I felt like I had gotten it all out.

So, whether you’re staying with your family or with someone else’s, if you feel like you have been putting on a brave face for too long and it’s starting to take a physical and emotional toll, I encourage you to find a way to let it out. Pick up the phone and call someone who you are comfortable being emotional with. WRITE! Watch The Notebook or Steel Magnolias or any film that will help you do some crying if that’s your thing. The reality is that we are all experiencing trauma right now. Everyone’s trauma looks a bit different, just as everyone’s means of coping will as well. However it may be manifesting itself for you, just know that you are not alone and you are not weak if you need to take time to break down every once in awhile. Knowing when to let yourself breakdown is not a sign of weakness, but rather a sign that you are still fighting to be strong.

Things That Are Not Cancelled

  • Having dirty feet from running around the backyard barefoot
  • Laughing (albeit virtually) till you cry with your family
  • Tea and biscuits under a gigantic duvet
  • Watching crap reality tv shows until 2AM
  • Birds chirping to announce spring 
  • Rainstorms against the window
  • Overly competitive family board games
  • Red wine and a piece of dark chocolate
  • Being moved to tears by an advert for dish soap or laundry detergent
  • Sending your friends endless memes
  • The smell of coffee in the morning
  • Golden hour and knowing the days are getting longer
  • The first feeling of sun beating on your face like a gigantic warm hug
  • The feeling of swapping out chunky winter clothes for light, breezy spring ones
  • Dancing around your house to your favorite song 
  • Eating peanut butter straight from the jar
  • The tinge of nostalgia after hours of looking through old photos
  • Eating cold pizza whilst standing in front of the fridge
  • Laughing hysterically at an old episode of Friends
  • Becoming obsessed with a new podcast/tv show/book/film
  • Seeing a photo of a cute baby or dog
  • Finding a piece of clothing in the back of your closet that you forgot you loved
  • The joy of finishing a workout 
  • The feeling after you successfully cook a new recipe
  • The warm fuzzy feeling of doing something kind for someone else
  • Giving love and being loved in return

Expressing Myself Through Fashion During Quarantine

If there is one extremely first-world and trivial struggle that I have encountered as a result of #COVID19, it is finding a way to express myself through fashion as a person who A.) loves to show off outfits out in public and on social media and B.) hates anything relating to ‘leisure-wear.’ Don’t get me wrong, I love a pair of trackies and a baggy jumper, but they have a time and a place, and in general if I’m not sick or hungover I’m not interested. After four weeks, I am now absolutely desperate to get dolled up and put on a pair of heels, so much so that I am contemplating doing it just to go to my living room, or perhaps for my next Zoom call.

Image may contain: 1 person
The Bahamas, 2003

As you can see, fashion has always been an important part of my personality. For as long as I can remember, I have used clothes, jewelry, shoes, hairstyles, purses, etc. as a way of expressing who I am and whatever phase I might be going through at the minute. As I have grown older and become financially independent, my affinity for all things fashion has only grown. So, you can imagine my sheer horror in March when it became clear that we all needed to start staying indoors as a matter of life or death.

Paris, 2020

This horror was amplified when I realised that I had only just invested in my first pair of Jimmy Choo’s, a gorgeous pair of ballet pink pumps that will now not see the light of day until further notice. I buy clothes to wear, not collect dust, and the idea of spending every single day in old marathon finisher shirts and leggings with holes in them makes me feel dead inside. I find myself spending hours of my newly found ‘free-time’ at home perusing Silk Fred, TopShop, ASOS, and every other website I could think of. My wishlist on each of these website is astromical, but the risk to my bank account and more importantly to delivery drivers forced to deliver non-essentials has kept me from actually purchasing anything.

Image may contain: Megan Czajka, standing
London, 2020

So, how do I cope with my primal need to express myself through fashion when I’ll ultimately be all dressed up with nowhere to go, AND my chosen form of therapy (retail) is largely unavailable? I’ve been thinking about this for awhile, and I finally had an epiphany. While I love fashion and clothes, and I also will never turn down an outfit related compliment, I’ve realised over the course of quarantine that my love for fashion does not actually come from a need to be seen or complimented. While obviously in an ideal world I prefer to get dressed up AND go out (I am a restless extrovert, after all), when forced to stay inside I’ve found that wearing clothes and makeup that make me feel inspired help to make me feel more like me. Truthfully, this makes a lot of sense. I have a small handful of followers on Instagram, and I can count on one hand the number of times in my life I’ve been complimented in public on my fashion choices. If external validation was really my motivator for looking my best, I don’t think I’d have much motivation at all.

This is probably the least earth-shattering thing that you’ve read whilst in quarantine, but I think it’s important because, in a way, I finally feel like I might actually gain something from this miserable time. My self-imposed embargo on ordering clothes online means that I can actually take time to slow down and appreciate the clothes that I already have. I might actually finally have time to create new outfits from my existing wardrobe and refresh my wardrobe without spending a penny! Additionally, dressing up for no one but myself is a helpful way of distinguishing one day from the next and maintaining my confidence and self-expression in an otherwise extremely BLAH phase of my life.

So, if you are also someone who gets an immense about of joy from buying, styling, and wearing clothes, I implore you to not let quarantine get you down. Of course, I will be and am spending most of my days in leggings and t-shirts (and if you are someone who is relishing in the chance to pack away your work attire until further notice, I totally understand)… but where you feel inspired to put some effort in, DO! As soon as I am back in my flat in London, I plan on putting on my Jimmy Choo’s and a cute pair of jeans and strutting all over my flat (thank goodness we live on the ground floor). Royal Ascot, one of my favorite fashionable events of the British summertime, has been cancelled and will likely be held behind closed doors. I already plan on hosting some sort of Royal Ascot themed barbecue and wearing the dress I had (obviously) already picked out. If we all flex our creative muscles, we can find ways to dress up and stay in. Everything might be different now, but not everything has to go away. There will always be a way to Vogue.

London, 2020

Oooh La La La La La Let’s Live in the Moment

If there is anything quarantining has taught me, it is how much I used ‘looking forward’ as a way of coping with the daily mundane before all of this weirdness began. To clarify, right now I would pay a ridiculous sum of money just to experience what I thought was ‘mundane’ about pre-coronavirus life. But, before I had all of the perspective that this experience has already given me, I definitely lived my life looking forward. The idea of curling up on my couch with a tasty snack and indulging in Netflix motivated me to get out of bed at 6AM and head to the gym. The idea of a gigantic plate of carbs and an ice cold beer got me through a long marathon training run. The idea of setting my Out of Office and traveling abroad got me through long work days. Now, the vast majority of things that I used to fixate on in order to push myself through less desirable activities are cancelled or massively on hold.

After two weeks of this ‘new normal,’ I’ve found it quite interesting how I’ve already begun to fill those gaps. The sensible mentality would be to stop looking to the future as a crutch to get me through the present, but instead learn to enjoy the present. I’m not quite there yet, and I find my brain desperately searching for things to look forward to. While I no longer had a weekend in Madrid to look forward to last weekend, my brain eagerly anticipated drinking a few beers and playing board games with family. During the week, I’m finding it hysterical how much I look forward to a shower. Before the coronavirus crisis, I only really looked forward to a shower after a hard workout or to warm up after being in the cold. All other times, it was just something I needed to get done every day. Now, I relish my daily shower as a time to myself to wash off the previous day and feel new, in a period where it is exceedingly difficult to distinguish one day from the next.

I think many of us are wondering what each of us as individuals, as well as the entire world, will look like after this is all over. Obviously, our hairstyles and economy will be in need of some serious TLC, but I wonder what will change about how we live. For as much as I used to resent the cliche idea of ‘being present,’ I’m hoping that a positive byproduct of all of this suffering is that I finally learn how to just be in whatever moment I have to be in without relying on what could be coming next. It would bring me so much peace if I could get to a point where I am able to enjoy the little things as they come along, and conversely not feel so utterly heartbroken when the future doesn’t work out exactly as I intended. Of course when this is all over I will still look forward to holidays and going to the pub after work, but I hope to be more emotionally equipped to appreciate now for what it is and accept the uncertainty that the future will inevitably hold. Like I said, I’m definitely not there yet, but we are only two weeks into quarantine! Who knows what the future will bring… until then I am going to take a very nice, long shower.

Gin and Beer It Social Distancing Virtual Run/Walk

Hi everyone!

Like everyone else, I’ve been feeling very lost given the current situation and have been trying to think of something that I can focus on that will also do even the tiniest bit of good. I’ve written and spoke on the podcast on numerous occasions about how for the past 8 years running has been my therapy. It clears my head in the darkest of times and gives me a sense of purpose. In other times of hardship, this would be the perfect time to get everyone together for a race. Unfortunately, we can’t do that – but fortunately we can get together in a way that actually includes everyone, regardless of where they are from or whether they want to run.

So.. with that… I now introduce…

The Gin and Beer It Social Distancing Virtual Run/Walk !!!!

Here is how it will work:

Between now and Sunday, April 5th, you will be able to enter the event here.

All you need to do to enter is to make a donation of any amount to any charity of your choice, and upload a photo as proof. Alternatively, you can do any coronavirus-related good deed, i.e. buying gift cards to a local business to help them during this time, or dropping off groceries for someone in isolation.

You will be able to enter as a runner, walker, or mover. I want everyone to be able to participate in this event, and I do not want to exclude those who are not runners or who are living in a place that has advised against running outdoors. Movers are anyone who is doing any form of exercise, whether that is dancing, indoor cycling, or weight training. Once you choose your participant type, you will have the option to enter into an array of challenges (i.e. Most Miles Logged, Most Hours Logged, Most Consecutive Days).

From Monday, March 30th to Sunday, April 12th, the event will begin! You will be emailed details on how to upload your workouts. Regular posts will be made every day tracking everyone’s progress and seeing if you are head-to-head with any other participants. There will be prizes, but these are TBD as we find a way to accommodate participants all over the world, as well as the ever-changing limitations of COVID-19.

So…. let’s get moving! Please enter using the form here, and please please please share wherever you can! The only way to get everyone involved is by word of mouth! Throughout the course of the event week, please share photos on your social media with #GinAndBeerItVirtualWorkout so that everyone can see how everyone is choosing to move. In a time where we all have to be away from each other, let’s get together virtually and move our bodies to prove we are stronger together.

The Quarantine Diaries

How are you?

I’m struggling. I feel like I’ve been writing this in my head for the past four days, but things have changed so drastically every single day that what was in my head and my heart a few days ago is already massively outdated.

Personally, I feel miles behind the positivity and optimism that I am seeing on social media. I have nothing but admiration for the people who have already used the pain to create good, whether that be through volunteering or expressing themselves creatively online. I’m not there yet – but I want to be and I’m going to try.

My boyfriend and I were walking around in what is already a post-apocalyptic south London yesterday and thinking about what these next few weeks were going to be like before this all unfolded. We were going to spend this weekend welcoming Harry’s parents home from there trip to Barbados and celebrating Mother’s Day with his mum. Next weekend, we were going to go to Madrid to get some sun and celebrate the end of the project I’ve been working on for the past 9 months. In less than two months, we were meant to fly to America for a two week holiday to Chicago, New York, and Walt Disney World that we’d been saving for for nearly a year. By all accounts, the next few months were meant to be the beginning of what was going to be a really incredible year.

In reality, we have both been working from home for nearly a week. I’m required to work from home for at least four weeks… and whispers are saying it could be 12 or more. Our trip to Madrid is cancelled, and we can only feel fortunate. We were able to get refunded in travel vouchers, whereas so many others have not been so lucky. We have spent the entire afternoon debating whether we should stay in London or flee to Harry’s parents’ home. After 40 tube stations in London were closed this morning, it is abundantly clear that a military enforced lockdown is imminent. I spent last week stressing that our hard earned trip to Disney World would be cancelled. Now, my fantasies of taking Harry to The Happiest Place on Earth are a distant memory. All I can think about now is that I have absolutely no idea when I will see my family in America again. I am not included in the travel ban as I am a U.S. citizen, but flights are dwindling and I have even read reports that Heathrow is in danger of closing. I visited my doctor yesterday, and she told me the next time I am due for an appointment the office might be permanently closed.

My suffering is an absolute blip on the radar of humanity compared to others. One of my friends had to cancel his wedding yesterday. Another one of my friends has been in lockdown in Hong Kong for two months, only getting to leave her flat once a week for groceries. I am lucky to work for a company with paid sick leave that is able to maintain a semblance of our operations during this time. Numerous friends and family members have no source of income for the foreseeable future. I find myself in a constant state of fear. I am afraid for myself, I’m afraid for everyone else. I’m afraid of how long it will go on. I’m afraid of the mental health implications. I’m afraid of how things will continue to get worse, I’m afraid of what things will look like when this is over.

In spite of it all, I can see the good. Family members that I don’t speak to regularly have downloaded WhatsApp to check in on me. Colleagues with a historically stiff upper lip are softening and expressing concern. I’m not the beam of positive light that I’d like to be right now, but I’m taking baby steps. I start Roaccutane treatment for acne tomorrow, and if all the doomsday predictions are correct, that means by the time we are let out of the house my skin will be positively glowing!

I hope wherever you are in the world, you’re doing okay. Thank you for taking the time to read this, and if you feel like you are struggling, just know that you are not alone! I hope that with time we will all adjust to this new normal and become stronger as a result. I am inspired by the positivity and altruism of those around me (not physically around me because… social distancing), but I think we are all going to have good and bad days in this, so try not to beat yourself up if you’ve got the blues or the mean reds.

Sending love to you all…

 

Why Do We Always Put Love On Top?

I spent my entire single early 20s resenting the value that our society places on being in a long term relationship and, ultimately, getting married. I come from a family of couples who met when they were teenagers and against all odds have stayed married for decades. Growing up I always felt, especially as a girl, that the greatest achievement in my family’s eyes would be getting married and having kids. This is through no fault of anyone in my family. Nobody has ever put pressure on me to have a partner, and my mother is also the single most career driven woman and person that I know. However, when you grow up surrounded by people that were with their ‘person’ by the time they were 20, it gives you the impression that this is how life should be.

I was single for nearly all of college and largely for the first half of my twenties. Like many other single, overdramatic twenty-something women, during this period I believed I’d be single forever and ultimately die alone. Would I be a failure because I never became a wife? I was convinced that despite achieving my dream of moving to London to work in finance at the age of 21, without a boyfriend no one viewed me as a success story. I felt myself resenting my friends and peers who were in long term relationships, and rejecting the idea that just because they’d made the (questionable) decision to snog the same person for the most free years of their life, that they were more successful or settled than me.

Then, as is always the case with life, I got thrown a curveball in the form of a goofy and gorgeous boy from Lincolnshire. As soon as I knew that things between us were serious and real, I felt an internal shift. For as much as I resented all the happy couples and their OTT anniversary posts on Instagram when I was single, once I was in a committed relationship myself I resented the people who (like single me) begrudged me the ability to celebrate the fact that I’d actually found a boy who wasn’t a complete shit-dick. Finding a boy who will even text you back in 2018 London was a massive feat, and I wanted to be able to celebrate us without feeling like I was placing more weight on my romantic achievements than my career and personal achievements.

This entire experience was extremely enlightening for me, and it gave me one massive, eye opening takeaway. We SHOULD celebrate our relationships. Finding love is extremely difficult and often heartbreaking, so if we are lucky enough to come across it, even temporarily, that is absolutely something to celebrate. Where society gets it wrong is putting so much emphasis on celebrating romantic love. I have known my best friend Zoë since the day she was born, and we have been inseparable for nearly 25 years since. I have maintained for years that Zoë is my life’s greatest love story and always will be. The odds of staying friends with someone for a quarter century in this day and age is about as likely as the odds of finding a boy in London who doesn’t ghost you after 3 dates, and yet there isn’t a day on the calendar dedicated to roses, chocolate, and female friendships (except for Galentine’s Day… but that is less a holiday and more a recent internet fad).

So, let’s stop judging each other for whatever form of love we choose to celebrate. Love, whether it is romantic love or friendship love or the kind you have for your sister when she surprises you with Starbucks, is fucking hard to come by and even harder to hold onto. Frankly, I think it is a good thing that society puts so much weight on it. At the end of the day, our careers will ebb and flow, but what will matter is how much we were able to love those around us. But if you are single and frustrated and resentful of all the loved up people around you, just remember that romantic love is not the only love worth celebrating… and if you want you can even celebrate it by snogging everyone in sight.