Ejo #158 – The Extraordinary People I Know: Melinda Norris (aka My Gratitude Partner)

Last month I wrote about the gratitude practise that I have shared with my beautiful friend, Dr. Melinda Norris, for over eight years.  This month the two of us sat down (virtually speaking) and had a chat about our project, its benefits, and how easy it is to incorporate an everyday gratitude practice into your own life.  Please give a very warm welcome to my close friend, and longtime gratitude partner, Mel. 

I’m still basking in the afterglow of the wonderful day we spent together when David and I were in Australia last month. After dinner at your place, I noticed a copy of your thesis for your doctorate in Psychology being used (egad!!) as a keyboard stand.  And I was absolutely blown away by it.  It’s such an impressive work.  Can you tell us a little bit about it?
Of course. My thesis was an applied PhD as part of a longitudinal project with Victoria Police.  I followed 7,000 staff over three years with a focus on wellbeing.  My research particularly looked at how people cope effectively with the daily hassles and stresses in work and life.  Which strategies are most effective?  How stable is our behaviour over time?  And, how much can be predicted by our personality, versus learnt by life lessons.  It highlighted the value of humour and seeking emotional, and practical, support as three highly effective coping strategies.  It also showed that a lot of our stable patterns of behaviour are just as much, if not more, learned rather than purely a product of our personality.  Which is great, as it means we can learn new ways, and improve how we cope with the challenges that life throws at us!  

Mel’s opus

This might be an obnoxious question, but do you ever take inspiration from our gratitude practise and incorporate it back into your work as an organisational psychologist? 
It’s really rewarding to tap into my passion, research and personal experiences to help others.  So I do take inspiration from our gratitude practice all the time, and build it into work, formally and informally.  For example, I try to explicitly express my gratitude for any support and collaboration with leaders and team members.  This builds relationships and trust quickly, leading to more effective collaboration as a result.  It also helps me to appreciate the small things every day, and to get through setbacks better.  I notice I don’t get stuck in a negative mindset anymore.  I can bounce back quicker, and find a more optimistic outlook. 

Trust me, I’m a doctor.

I think I got really lucky that you asked me to be your gratitude partner. You’re someone who’s made the wellbeing of others their life’s work, and I don’t think it gets any better than that! Do you remember how our gratitude challenge started all those years ago? 
Yes, I clearly remember how it started.  I was reading your Freedom ejo in our kitchen and getting really engrossed in your story.  I got the clear sense that you were committed to staying in Dubai for a variety of good reasons (career, travel opportunities etc.), but that you missed Australia desperately (your friends, family, the environment and climate).  And I got the sense you were struggling with the downsides of your day-to-day life.

I still miss my friends so much.

I could relate.  I too was struggling to feel the joy in my daily life, but for different reasons.  I was working in a high pressure, deadline-driven job with a lot of responsibilities.  Working four days a week, but squeezing what felt like at least five days of work into those days.  I was also a parent to two gorgeous young boys, and I wanted to be more a part of their lives.  I felt so much guilt and sadness, having to utilise before, and after, school care.  I found a solution with a nanny for a few years.  Kim picked the boys up from school, helped them with homework, and prepared dinner three days a week.  Still, I felt incredibly torn.  I wasn’t succeeding in all my roles in life like I wanted to.  And that was just the two most consuming roles.  I also wanted to be a better wife, a better friend, and a better sister.  There just weren’t enough hours in the day, the week, the year!  I was efficient like a ninja, making every minute count.  Doing so much work on my daily commute, so that I could drop everything when I got home and be fully present.  But I still couldn’t help feeling torn between my career and my family. 

I’d been trying different strategies to enhance my wellbeing and help make my life more enjoyable, and less stressful.  As a psychologist, I knew of the power and benefits of practising daily gratitude, empathy and mindfulness.  I tried writing a gratitude journal, but found it tough to stick with, so that strategy didn’t work well for me.  Something was missing.  A key ingredient.

As I read your ejo that day Chryss, I was inspired by the idea of a gratitude partner.  Adding a social component to any wellbeing strategy has an amplifying effect on the benefits.  Just like exercising with a fitness partner; you enjoy it more, you keep up the habit, and therefore you experience the full potential benefits on your wellbeing.  I was so delighted with the idea and thought that you would be the perfect gratitude partner for me.  You seemed like you’d be open to it, like you needed it too; and we were good friends.  Friends that had lost touch a bit over the years, but you were a friend I could trust, and be open with.  A friend I wanted to stay close to, but found that hard with the tyranny of distance. 

So I wrote to you then and there in my kitchen, letting you know that I’d read your ejo, and that I could relate; that I thought we’d both benefit from sharing the things we were grateful for with each other at the end of every day.  I suggested that we keep it simple.  I didn’t want it to feel hard, or like a burden for either of us.  I hoped it would help me to stick to my commitment and form a new habit.  But more importantly, I hoped that you would reciprocate, and also experience the benefits of practising daily gratitude.  What eventuated was much more than I’d ever really hoped for!  It certainly proved that my idea of adding the ingredients of social connection and reciprocation was incredibly beneficial. 

After the success of our first year of gratitude, we both decided that we wanted to keep it going.  What is it about our gratitude project that’s kept you wanting to continue, year after year? 
I’ve found it so helpful to have you as my gratitude partner.  It has definitely been the key ingredient that’s contributed to the desire to keep at it, and to continue the routine.  For me, it makes it so much more than just searching for, and noticing, all the good things that happen each day.  It makes it interesting and rewarding. And it’s the reciprocal nature of the relationship that makes it really special.  Having you, Chryss, as my gratitude partner, was a winning selection!  You care as much about it as I do, so we are well matched in our commitment to the habit.  You’re also a friend whose opinion I value, and a friend who I want to stay close to.  One precious outcome was that our old friendship was rekindled and deepened.  Actually, I don’t communicate this regularly with anyone else!  So the relationship provides me with a strong social connection, and frequent deep exchanges that I really enjoy, and need, to experience my best life.  

Another surprising benefit for me has been that I’ve felt heard, understood and even supported through some incredibly difficult times by our relationship and regular contact.  We agreed not to communicate negative things, or use it as a place to complain.  We didn’t want that to creep in.  We’ve both been very good at keeping that promise, demonstrating discipline and sticking to our commitment.  And I believe that has maximised our experience, and the benefits.  We keep each other going, encouraging each other and reinforcing the practice.  There are days, here and there, when we don’t communicate, but we always catch up.  These pauses tend to happen when we are on holidays, or deeply engrossed in a busy and challenging time.  Which is when it matters the most to keep at it.  The other partner keeps sharing and asking questions to nudge and help the other person along, but without guilt or judgement.  It has always felt supportive and uncomplicated.  Never a burden or a hassle.  Just a reminder that this helps, and that there is someone who cares and notices, in loving kindness.

It has also cultivated empathy.  You share in the other person’s triumphs and challenges. You realise that everyone has small and big struggles in their lives, regardless of how “successful” or “happy” they seem on the surface. You live through that with the other person.  Another thing Chryss, is that you always have a way of asking me very insightful questions or making thoughtful comments that trigger self-reflection, or just help me feel really understood and supported. 

Thanks Mel, I feel exactly the same way.  I always love getting your feedback, or a question probing more deeply into something I’ve shared with you.  And I think that’s another facet of our routine that has contributed to us becoming closer.  It’s never just a list of things.  It’s a real conversation. 

So, you and I have both experienced some pretty big emotional challenges over the last eight years.  Can you talk about how our gratitude practise may have helped you get through some dark times?
Our partnership started just fourteen days before Cara, one of my closest and most treasured friends, was diagnosed suddenly with terminal breast cancer.  It came out of nowhere, and at a stage that ruled out the hope for remission.  The only options were lots of treatments to prolong and preserve her life.  It was devastating news; news she only shared with me and one other close friend for a long time.  During that period I had a demanding job that required a huge amount of my energy and brain power.  And I was a mum to two beautiful primary school aged boys that needed me too.  Around the same time, my oldest son was suddenly, and frequently, hospitalised with recurring post viral myo-pericarditis.  Essentially, his heart, and the lining of his heart, became inflamed every time he became unwell with a cold or flu.  So as you can imagine, my life at that time, and for the next five years, required a lot of emotional energy each day.  It made practising daily mindfulness, gratitude and empathy critical for my own wellbeing.  Critical for sustaining myself during significant upheaval.  I think this helped establish a strong habit early on in our partnership.  I really needed it!  It got me through five incredibly hard years, and the death of a dear friend.  I coped well with this, and felt resilient, even greatly in touch with the meaning of life.  Trivial upsets, I could see clearly as being just that!

Three months before Melinda’s friend, Cara, passed away, she and some friends took a very special trip to Uluru.

Over the years, things have improved and I’ve not had so many huge challenges in front of me.  Or maybe I have, but my perspective has changed me forever!  Actually, when I reflect on this now I can see that there have been huge challenges – a global pandemic, my son having surgery on his heart in between lockdowns, and my nephew being diagnosed with leukaemia.  Mostly, I’ve come to realise that it’s like going to the gym each day to stay fit.  It’s only a habit if you keep it up; it only has the desired impact if you keep the recipe consistent.  You can’t expect to stay fit, if you don’t work out regularly!  Practising gratitude daily is the same.  It only works well if you form a rewarding habit that keeps you coming back for more!

Do you have any suggestions for people wanting to start their own gratitude project with a friend?
Find someone you feel you can share this experience with.  Someone who matches your commitment, and also desires the same outcomes.  Someone you care about and are motivated to help.  Most importantly someone you can be honest with, that won’t judge you, but simply offer support and encouragement.

Develop and agree to your own guiding principles for how you share.  Maybe you love writing in a journal each night.  You could simply photograph the page, and send the photo to your friend.  Maybe you send an email, or start a chat in Signal or WhatsApp.  You can make this your own.  But whatever you do, I’d recommend making it easy to do each day for you and your partner.

The only core element that I’d say must be included is finding and communicating at least three things each day that you were grateful for, no matter how small.  The secret is in noticing and being grateful for all the little things each day that we often take for granted.  If we only notice the big positive things in life there can be a long time between drinks!

In last month’s ejo I offered to be a gratitude partner to whoever was interested in trying it out for themselves.  A lot of people told me that they enjoyed the ejo and that they loved the idea, but so far no one has taken me up on my offer.  Why do you think that might be?  
Perhaps they need time for the idea to take hold.  I think you have to be ready for it, and really want it.  You and I had already been working up to it, so our desire and readiness was matched.  Snap!  Perfect timing; perfect partner.  I wonder if people also see that you already have partners in me and your sister, so they don’t want to add to that.  Perhaps they’d rather find their own special partner?

Fair enough.  I do hope that more people give it a shot.  But if the idea of doing a gratitude sharing project like ours feels too daunting, what is one piece of advice you can give to people right now to find more gratitude in their lives?
Even the act of thinking about what you are grateful for is beneficial!  So I would try to notice gratitude in the moment, to be mindful of it.  Most importantly, to express it then and there if another person is involved.  Express your gratitude to others explicitly in the moment, when you feel it.  They’ll appreciate it and you’ll feel better for it.  Be specific about what you’re grateful for, and why.  What’s the impact on you?  A simple wave when someone lets you in, while driving.  A clear thank you to your partner for making dinner.  Thanking your colleague for offering to buy you a coffee. It’s not that hard but it makes your day, and the day of others, so much better. 

I know you’re a super busy working woman and mother Mel, so I really appreciate you taking the time to have this awesome chat with me. I’ve really enjoyed taking a deep dive into our very special gratitude ritual, and I hope that by sharing it with the world we’ve been able to inspire others to look for, and express, more gratitude in their day-to-day lives.  And finally, at the risk of sounding terribly corny, I’d like to express how very grateful I am to you for being there with me, every day during the last eight years. And how grateful I am that I can count on you being there with me again tomorrow.

I’m grateful every time I see Mel’s megawatt smile!!!

Ejo #157 – Gratitude

Today, I was grateful to get up early, watch the sun rise and put the finishing touches on this ejo.  Yesterday, I was grateful to be able to give my friend a hug after learning that his mum had died the night before.  And on Sunday, I was grateful to spend the day picnicking with my sisters, aunt and cousins in Cape Schanck.  I am a gratitude queen, able to find things to be grateful for, even in the most difficult of circumstances.  Damn, I could represent Australia at the Gratitude Olympics.  I am that good.  But how did I get there?  How did my gratitude muscle get that strong?  Just as an elite athlete needs a team, a coach, and a training partner to improve their physical performance, I too have a training partner. A gratitude partner.  Someone who has committed to the challenge of sharing gratitudes with me.  Every. Single. Day. No. Matter. What.

I’ve known my friend Melinda for about 28 or 29 years (shut up, you’re old!).  We even lived together for a while in the mid 1990s with our friend Svetlana.  But after we all moved out and went our separate ways, Melinda and I didn’t stay super close.  Like most of my friendships after I moved to Dubai, we’d exchange an email every now and again, and we’d catch up at the big parties that David and I throw whenever we visit Melbourne.  And that was OK. It was enough.  

But that all changed eight years ago today, when Mel and I started a challenge to email each other one gratitude a day for a whole year.  We both happened to be going through a rough patch at the time, struggling to find positivity in our day to day lives.  Melinda was feeling overwhelmed as a working mum to two young boys, trying to balance work and family commitments.  And I was missing my friends and family in Australia.  I yearned for the easygoing way of life back home, and wasn’t enjoying living in Dubai at all.  Everything about the city was getting on my nerves, and bringing me down.  And I wasn’t afraid to write about it.  In fact, some of you might remember that I used to write a very acerbic ejo series called Things I Hate About Dubai, in which I unabashedly bashed the shit out of the city, on the regular.  I used to really enjoy doing that, but in January 2015 I decided to decommission that series when a reader of mine called Flo wrote to me to express dismay at my attitude.  

Flo scolded me, “I am so disappointed by your latest post, and this will be the last one I read from you, as we do not share the same vision of expatriation.  Indeed I am very disappointed by the way you think.  I experience this every day in France where I keep hearing people say they don’t like anything (or anyone) about it, and it just pisses me off.  This is so disrespectful.  You may not understand, and you might even be angry at me, telling me not to come back to your ejo if I don’t like it.  But I just need to express myself!”

For my January 2015 ejo, which was titled Freedom, I responded to Flo, and defended my right to express dissatisfaction with certain aspects of life in Dubai.  But secretly, Flo’s words had pierced my heart like an arrow.  I had imagined that I was coming across as mischievous and spicy, but what was happening when I allowed myself to wallow in my negativity was that I just came across as… well, negative.  And I didn’t want to be negative.  I’d spent too much time and money on therapy to allow myself to slide back into old thought patterns and behaviours.  So while I publicly justified my opinions, I privately resolved to not write a single bad word about Dubai for a whole year.  For my own mental health and wellbeing.  I wanted to change.  I wanted to do better.

While I was making an effort to be more positive by not slinging shit at Dubai, Mel was doing something even more proactive and constructive to bring more joy into her life.  You all remember the #100happydays challenge, right?  Post a photo a day of something that makes you happy.  For one hundred days.  It was a lovely idea, encouraging participants to focus on all the positive things in their lives.  The challenge went viral, generating over 30 million happy moment posts on Facebook.  I probably should have taken part in the challenge, but I remember just not feeling it.  It seemed a little forced and superficial to me, which is probably an indication of where my head was at.  Melinda did take part in the challenge, and she got a lot out of it.  But once she’d finished the hundred days, she was left with a feeling of “now what?”  It occurred to her that a longer term commitment to a daily practise of positivity would be more beneficial than a flash-in-the-pan, social media challenge.  Something she could share privately with a trusted friend, rather than posting online.  Being a Doctor of Psychology, Mel knew that the idea was a good one, but she was unsure of how to implement it in a practical way. 

And then she read my Freedom ejo.  And she had a lightbulb moment.  She wrote to me, “My unrequested thoughts/suggestion for you to do with as you wish.  For improving your ongoing wellbeing in the place you reside, I think there is much to gain in training your mind to see and appreciate even the smallest positives around you each and every day.  Even in the country I love I’ve found myself in the mental habit of critiquing every experience and overlooking so many positives.  The 100 happy days challenge helped to shift my mindset, as I was struggling to focus on the upside of everyday life.  It definitely helped to be publicly forced to find something, anything, each and every day.  I often consider doing 365 happy days!  Instead I’ve decided to do “gratefuls” this year.  Here’s what I’d like to propose.  I will send my grateful to you each day.  Don’t feel you have to respond in detail, or at all.  If you’d like to share your gratitude in return, well, that would be an amazing honour.”

Of course I said yes.  And the rest is history.  Along the way we negotiated some guidelines.  We’d exchange a gratitude, every day for a whole year.  We would make an effort to not repeat ourselves, so that we would always be on the lookout for new things to be grateful for.  And our gratitude emails would be a no-complaint zone.  The goal of the project was to be totally focussed on things that we were grateful for, and not an opportunity to whinge about life.  We both understood that the intention of this wasn’t to paint an unnaturally rosy picture of our days, but rather to acknowledge that despite the inevitability of things not always going our way, we could still find something to be grateful for.  

Melinda and me in 2015, less than a month after starting our gratitude challenge.

I remember how delighted I was after just the first few days of exchanging gratitudes.  From the very beginning it felt like a really positive and optimistic ritual, and I really enjoyed reconnecting with Melinda, and reigniting our friendship, getting to know each other all over again.  Getting to know each other even better than before.  

But devastatingly, only fourteen days into our challenge, Mel’s mettle was sorely tested when she received some terrible news about her close friend Cara.  She wrote to me, “Today I’m struggling to be grateful as I learned some very sad news that one of my closest friends has cancer that has metastasised to her bones.  So I guess I’m grateful for my health, and that she feels supported by me.”

Over the next five years, our daily gratitude practise helped Melinda deal with the burden of initially having to keep her friend’s diagnosis a secret, of being there when Cara needed her, and of knowing when to step back when she needed space.  Melinda was there when her close friend battled chemotherapy and radiation therapy, and she supported her when she became sicker after taking part in an experimental trial.  She held hope for her friend, even when things were hopeless.  She honoured Cara’s final wishes, and at the end she said goodbye, long before she was ready to let go.  Mel tells me that our daily gratitude practise got her through the hardest five years of her life.  And I am beyond grateful that I was able to be there for her, in that way.

Today marks the 2922nd day that Melinda and I have exchanged daily gratitudes.  What started as a one year challenge, blossomed into something that I can’t even imagine my life without, and the two of us have been at it for eight, glorious, years.  Along the way we’ve both become more positive and more resilient.  We’ve both learned to laugh in the face of adversity, and we’ve developed the ability to find acceptance and peace when things don’t go our way.  For instance, on Thursday, 19th January 2017 I had a skiing accident on the slopes of Nagano, Japan tearing the ACL in my good knee.  My email to Mel that day read, “Today I was grateful beyond belief to everyone that helped me when I crashed on the mountain and hurt my knee.  David, who came running down to check on me and then carried BOTH our pairs of skis back up a very steep slope.  The ski instructor who noticed I wasn’t well and called the ski patrol.  The ski patrol people who skied me off the mountain on a special stretcher.  The hotel who sent someone in a car to pick us up so we didn’t need to catch the bus, and then drove us to the doctor.  The clinic where they looked at me straight away and were so kind.  The lady at the hotel who was SO concerned for me and let me lean on her as I limped to the elevator – later on, at dinner, she made me a beautiful origami crane and told me she hopes I feel better soon.  It’s been heart-warming to the max.”  

I know that in the past I would have let that accident wreck my day, my holiday and even the next few months of my life, as I hobbled around in pain.  I know that I would have wallowed in self-pity and misery.  And the reason I know it is because that’s exactly what happened in 1995 when I tore the ACL ligament in my other leg in another skiing accident (no, I’m not a very good skier).  But my gratitude practise gave me the ability to rise above it this time, and to deal with it positively.  It allowed me to see that my injury didn’t have to define me, and that despite it being a bit of a bummer, there were so many other, wonderful things to focus on.  I was getting really good at this gratitude thing.  

And then my Mum died. And somehow, I was still able to find a number of things to be grateful for, even on the worst day of my life. On the 26th March 2019, I wrote to Melinda, “I feel tremendous gratitude to my Mum for all her unconditional love my whole life.  I am grateful that she and I texted yesterday, and that we got to see her recently on our trip back home.  I am grateful to David for being so supportive and caring and loving and gentle.  And for buying us both tickets back home.  I’m an absolute mess right now but really grateful that even during something as devastating as this I can still find things to be grateful for.”

When you can look around you and see things to be grateful for, when everything else in your life is falling apart, you’ve reached a higher state.  You rise above.  You transcend.  And that is a super power.  Daily gratitude has given me fortitude.  No matter what happens, everything is OK.  It’s always OK.  

Melinda’s not the only person I exchange daily gratitudes with.  My sister Mary and I also do it, via text.  We started about four and a half years ago when we both took part in Zimmy’s Happiness Project, a three month course designed to rewire our thoughts and actions, creating new habits scientifically geared towards increasing our happiness.  A major pillar of that course focussed on gratitude, and one of the tasks was to share five daily gratitudes with a partner.  I was already really adept at finding gratitude in my day to day life with Melinda, but Zimmy’s project required a little more.  Not only did it call for five gratitudes a day, it also required them to be shared with someone in person (or via video).  I was really grateful that my sister was doing the project with me, and that she accepted my invitation to be video gratitude partners.  It was still a task that took me slightly out of my comfort zone, but doing it with a family member, someone I loved and trusted, made it a lot easier.  During the three month project, Mary and I exchanged videos every single day, talking about all the things we were grateful for, which was a beautiful way to feel more involved in my sister’s life, something which I’d always felt I was missing out on, living so far away from her.  It was a wonderful and easy way to get to know her better.  It deepened our relationship and helped us create a more enduring bond.  

I feel the same deep bond with Melinda.  She shares her intimate life with me.  I know when she’s had a great Pilates session, when her husband cooks a yummy dinner, when her teenage sons help around the house, and when she’s had a good night’s sleep.  And I share parts of my life that no-one else in the world, apart from my husband, knows.  Melinda knows when I’m happy.  She knows when I’ve had a good day at work.  When I’ve had a relaxing bath.  When I’ve had an earth shattering orgasm.  When I’ve found what I’m looking for at the supermarket, or when my favourite colleague is rostered to work with me.  Melinda knows when I’ve had an interesting dream, and when I’ve been upgraded to business class on a flight.  She knows when I’ve had a satisfying shit.  When I’ve been paid, and when I’ve been able to bring one of my houseplants back to life with a little extra TLC.  She knows when I’ve found a spare lip balm in my car and when I’ve discovered a really cool new TV show.  She knows when I have fresh towels, and when I sleep on fresh, clean sheets.  She knows when there’s soft toilet paper at work, and when someone’s recommended a great new podcast.  Melinda knows when I’ve had a breakthrough in one of my sessions with Zimmy, when the price of Bitcoin’s trending up and when the tower toilet, which is prone to blocking, is flushing again.  And she knows all the wonderful, thoughtful, kind, generous things David does for me every single day. She knows everything about my life, and being able to share that all with her is a beautiful gift for which I am very grateful.  

Melinda and me a couple of days ago. Gratitude partners for life!

In 2015, when Melinda and I first committed to our daily gratitude challenge, it was a challenge.  Sometimes it was hard to find something to be grateful for.  Sometimes I really struggled.  And sometimes it just felt impossible.  But we stuck it out, and we got better.  We got really fucking good at it.  I really do feel that if more people practiced daily gratitude, the world would be a much better place.  My life is undoubtedly better for it, and I want to be able to pay that forward.  If sharing a daily gratitude with a friend sounds like something you’d like to try, then I’m your girl, so hit me up and let’s do this. It might be hard at first, but if you stick to it, it’ll get easier.  I promise. 

Ejo #156 – The Coronavirus Diaries

Monday, 5th December 2022
David and I treated our friend Kayte to a night at a desert resort yesterday, as a present for her 50th birthday. Sadly we could only stay for one night, but we all had an absolute blast.  And yes, we are amazing friends.  When you visit us in Dubai as many times as Kayte has (five!), we might even do the same for you. 😉

The Ritz Carlton Al Wadi Resort in Ras Al Khaimah

After a leisurely buffet breakfast this morning, Kayte indulged in a relaxing massage at the spa while David and I indulged in a naughty skinny dip in our private pool.  Before we knew it though, the fairy tale was over and the three of us piled into David’s car for the 90 minute drive back to reality.  On the way home my throat started feeling scratchy, which I put down to the dry desert air playing havoc.  But as the day has worn on, my throat has started feeling worse, and I just know that I am coming down with something. 

I’m hoping against hope that I don’t wake up tomorrow with the same terrible flu that’s been spreading around Dubai like wildfire lately.  I had lunch with Zimmy last week and she’s been really sick with the flu for several days, so I’m a little worried.  I really can’t afford any more time off work.  I’ve already used up 14 days of sick leave, and any more time off will be docked at half pay.  Don’t judge me, it’s been a bad year for me.  I had influenza in February which laid me up for nearly two weeks, and I broke my ankle in October, so I’ve been quite the sickie this year. 

Kayte’s flying on to Australia tomorrow morning, but David and I have to wake up at an ungodly hour for work, so the three of us said our goodbyes, and went to bed.  As soon as I lay down, I started trembling uncontrollably, despite my skin feeling hot to the touch.  I shivered with a fever well into the night, until David gave me some paracetamol and ibuprofen and I finally drifted off to sleep. 

Tuesday, 6th December 2022
I woke up feeling OK.  Not great, but not fluey, thank god.  I went to work and napped during both of my breaks.  David and I had an early dinner and I’m getting ready for bed now.  It’s early, only 8pm, but I have another 4am wake up tomorrow and I’m just so tired. 

Wednesday, 7th December 2022
I woke up feeling pretty shit and my nose is super blocked, but I slept like the dead last night.  I think I just have a cold.  It doesn’t feel like the flu, so it looks like Zimmy’s off the hook.  I went to work and felt OK at the beginning, but slowly started to deteriorate later in the morning.  When I returned to the tower after taking a quick nap on my break, my colleague Bradwin took one horrified look at me and told me that I should really [his emphasis] go home.  At that moment, I would have loved nothing more in the whole world than to turn around and go home, but I knew that it would be frowned upon if I took another sick day, so I snapped at him that I was fine, and went back to work.  On my next break though, I realised that I wasn’t fine at all and that I was getting a lot worse.  Maybe I have the flu after all.  I told my manager I wasn’t feeling well and he sent me home without docking me sick leave, which I was really grateful for.  When I got home David made me a hot toddy, and I texted Zimmy to let her know that I was feeling ill and that I must have caught the flu from her.  Which is when she dropped the bomb.  She doesn’t have the flu at all. She has covid.  Uh oh.  

I immediately took a rapid antigen test to see if I also have it, and the test very definitively showed a positive result.  Did I already say uh oh?  David quickly arranged for a home PCR test for us, and the doctor arrived a couple of hours later, sticking his swab eye-wateringly deep into our brains.  Ouch.  We have to wait until tomorrow for the results, but during the evening, I have progressively become worse.  My head feels like it’s full of wet cement, and I feel dizzy, almost like I’m hallucinating.  My eyes are burning.  My nose is dripping, but when I blow it nothing comes out.  My mouth is dry.  My throat is scratchy, and my voice has become raspy.  The glands in my neck are swollen, and I don’t feel good at all.  David isn’t feeling great either, but I think he’s slightly better than me.  I really hope he doesn’t have covid.  I hope I don’t have it either. 

Thursday, 8th December 2022
We got our results this morning and we’re both positive.  I kinda feel like I just lost a global game of lethal tag after nearly three years of dodging this damn virus like a ninja.  Hopefully we don’t die! 

Today my brain feels way too heavy for my head, and my head feels too heavy for my neck, so it’s just kind of swaying around a bit, and it feels difficult to keep it upright.  My ears are completely blocked, so everything sounds muffled.  My eyes feel like they’re about to pop out of my head, and are watering non-stop.  My body feels numb, tingling like it’s entered a weird quantum state; a probability vibrating in place, with some kind of foreign, dirty electricity violently coursing through my veins.  So this is what coronavirus feels like. 

There hasn’t been a lot of movement today.  I’ve been sitting on our balcony looking out and not doing much at all.  The coughing is getting worse, triggered by a dry, itchy throat.  A doctor once told me that coughing makes coughing worse, so I’m trying really hard not to cough and to keep my throat lubricated, as I’m prone to chest infections, having suffered chronic bronchitis since my twenties.  Funnily enough, the pandemic was the first time in years I didn’t have my annual bout of bronchitis.  Masks, they work! 

Feeling like wet shit is coming in waves, like a heavy blanket being lifted and dropped on top of me, over and over again.  I’m really tired despite doing nothing, and all I want to do is lie on the couch.  I made an appointment for us to have a teleconference with a doctor to try and get some antiviral medication to help us feel better, but she told us that we didn’t need it and that we should just treat our symptoms.  Oh well.  I haven’t had much of an appetite, but I craved Chinese hot and sour soup for dinner so David ordered some for us and it really hit the spot.

Friday, 9th December 2022
Today I woke up early to watch the sun rise and get some UVA light in my eyes.  I’m planning on taking plenty of naps during the day so I don’t mind getting up at daybreak.  I wasn’t sleeping well anyway.  David tells me I was moaning all night long.  I plead no contest. 

I still feel weird, at once fuzzy and dense.  When I put my feet up, they prickle with pins and needles.  My head is so fucking blocked, all the way from the back of my throat, into my sinuses and up to my ears and eyes.  I feel light headed and tired.  Lethargic.  I’m not having trouble breathing, but the act of breathing feels laborious.  I’m trying to read a book but finding it difficult to concentrate.  We can’t leave the house, but we’re spending a lot of time outside on our balcony getting lots of natural sunlight and fresh air, and I feel like that must be helping. 

It was midday when I noticed that I have lost my sense of smell.  During a brief phase of feeling well enough to get off the couch, I went through the stack of unopened packages that have been piling up near the front door over the last few days.  I unwrapped a white jasmine reed diffuser that I bought for the bathroom and took a whiff to see how it smelled and… nothing.  I’m quite blocked up so I asked David if can smell it and he can.  A couple of hours later, when we were having our lunch, I realised that I could no longer taste anything either.  It truly is such a strange feeling, to be chewing on something that I am very familiar with the taste of, and not be able to taste it.  My brain keeps trying to fill in the gaps, knowing what steak should taste like, but it’s really not the same.  David confessed to accidentally over-salting the meat, but my taste buds were completely oblivious. 

Hmm, I think I’m hallucinating.  I was looking at some NFTs that I bought the other day and one of them seemed to change size, getting bigger on the screen.  I can’t tell if it’s supposed to do that or if I’m just imagining it.  It might only be 8pm, but I think it’s time for me to go to bed. 

Saturday, 10th December 2022
I’m grateful that I don’t feel any worse today, but I don’t feel any better either.  I still don’t have my senses of smell or taste, but I’m not too worried about it.  I’m trying to be patient, and just hope that they return soon.  This is no ordinary virus and I’m one of the lucky ones so far.  My cough does appear to have settled a little deeper in my chest, which is of some concern.  It’s also changed from a dry cough into a productive one.  That’s a polite way of saying that I’m hacking up phlegm. 

David and I are both still really blocked up.  We have trouble hearing each other at the best of times, but now our conversations sound like a comedy sketch, “Huh?”, “Huhh?”, “What?”, “Huh?”, “Did you say something?”  Despite being sick though, there’s nowhere else I’d rather be than with my husband in our beautiful home, locked in and everyone else locked out.  It’s a balmy 26° outside, and we’re chilling on our balcony in the glorious winter sun.  So it’s not all bad. 

My sense of chronology appears to be playing tricks on me.  Time feels slippery, and bouncy.  Things that I remember happening yesterday, apparently happened the day before.  And things I was sure I did only two hours ago, David assures me I actually did yesterday.  It’s very weird, but again, I’m trying not to worry too much about the dreaded “brain fog”, one of the legacy symptoms of covid.  I am in a total fugue state and nothing feels real right now.  I’ll just keep writing it down, and try to make sense of it all later, once the delirium has faded. 

Sunday, 11th December 2022
Today I woke up having turned into a big ol’ ball of phlegm.  Cannot stop coughing up the phlegm.  Cannot stop blowing the phlegm out of my nose. It’s phlegmageddon!!  Last night I had one of the worst headaches of my entire life so I’m grateful that I just have a regular headache this morning.  

I just received an auto-generated clearance letter from the Dubai Health Authority congratulating me on the completion of my mandated isolation, optimistically (and quite absurdly) declaring me asymptomatic and wishing me well in my return to work. Hahaha!

Today’s mood: I lay on the couch at 11.30am, knocked back the cough medicine that David slipped me, and passed out for the next five hours.  I just slept the day away, and still woke up feeling like a zombie.  David’s getting better every day, so I’m hoping tomorrow is the day I start feeling better too.

Monday, 12th December 2022
I did wake up feeling better today, for the first time since getting on the coronavirus rollercoaster.  The phlegm party is over, no more phlegm.  I’ve slept 13 out of the last 19 hours, so I’m well rested.  But I still have no energy.  I do one simple task and then flop for the next two hours.  This is no fun. 

This morning, while flossing my teeth, I was abruptly king-hit in the schnozz by the overwhelming fragrance of jasmine.  Just like that, outta nowhere.  I ran over to the reed diffuser and took a deep sniff of it, but couldn’t smell anything.  So bizarre.  I tried again, but nope, nada.  Had I imagined it?  I didn’t think so; the smell had been so very intense.  A few minutes later, a powerful punch of jasmine once again violated my nose.  I am starting to smell again.  Yay!!!  Taste is still nowhere to be seen, but one of my senses returning to life, albeit intermittently, gives me hope that the other will also soon reawaken. 

Tuesday, 13th December 2022
Overall, I’m feeling better today.  But the phlegm is back.  Where has it been?  Why did it return?  What adventures has it been on?  I’ll never know, but I do know that it’s all up in my shit.  And that it’s brought a friend back with it.  Hello again, sore throat.  My sense of smell is playing more games with me too.  While I was preparing breakfast, the stench of pig shit suddenly filled my nostrils.  It was only fleeting, but as you can imagine it was pretty fucking unsettling.  My sister has warned me of the horrors of parosmia, a common symptom of covid where normal everyday smells are interpreted by the brain as unpleasant, disgusting and even putrid.  Nice, right?  Also, I’m smelling the jasmine all the time now and I’m not even sure I like it. And why does the whole apartment smell of it? Is that the parosmia, or did I just buy a terrible bathroom fragrance? 

I feel gross today.  Dirty almost, as if there’s something toxic and metallic oozing out of the pores of my skin.  My cough has definitely worsened too. When I write about these symptoms, it’s not as black and white as oh, I have a cough.  Or oh, my throat is sore.  All of it is experienced through a thick veil of severe lethargy and fatigue.  Just sitting down and staring into space feels exhausting.  Every bout of coughing results in exhaustion.  Everything is an effort.  That’s what makes this so crap.  The good news is that David is almost completely better. 

Wednesday, 14th December 2022
I feel much, much better this morning so I think I’ll be fine to go back to work in a couple of days.  Today was the first time the veil of darkness hasn’t engulfed me.  I was also able to taste my food today, and while my appetite still isn’t what it used to be, it tasted really good (and was, of course, perfectly seasoned).  I am still coughing, and the cough has become raspy and wheezy, rattling in my chest, but apart from that I mostly feel OK.  Hey kids, this might be the beginning of the end of covid for me.  I’m keeping my fingers crossed that there will be no long-term health issues, and that I recover fully. 

DAY 10
Thursday, 15th December 2022
In a step backwards from yesterday’s progress, I once again feel the veil of fuzziness and lethargy enveloping me like a dark shroud.  What a palaver.  I just had another PCR test.  The person administering the test didn’t want to come inside (fair call, our place is a den of viral contagion) and so I had to submit my nostrils to being swabbed outside, in the corridor.  Oh, the humanity.  I’ll report the result as soon as I get it. 

I’m still being hoofed in the face every time I go to the bathroom.  The smell of jasmine is oppressively cloying and sickly to my newly sensitive sense of smell.  And ever since yesterday, I’ve had a funny taste in my mouth.  Not quite metallic, a little bit plasticky.  I imagine this is what the white jasmine oil would taste like if I drank it. Every damn day, it’s something new with this virus.  And I don’t like it at all. 

I got the test result back at 1.21pm.  Negative. 

More than two weeks after testing negative to covid I am almost back to normal.  I did feel tired in the days after returning to work, but not in a covid way, just in a regular shift work kind of way.  I was very gentle with myself and went to bed early every night, waking up early to watch the sunrise and get my hormones back in balance.  There was only one day, about a week ago when I experienced what felt like a relapse.  The cloak of exhaustion absolutely flattened me and I could barely move all day.  It was as though the production of energy in my body had simply shut down.  I was digging deep to find the strength to just get up off the couch, and there was nothing there.  I was empty.  I do think that this episode was triggered by going back to shift work so soon after being sick, but thank goodness it only lasted one day and since then, I’ve been fine. 

One symptom that has lingered, as feared, is this terrible, hacking cough.  I’ve been diagnosed with acute bronchitis, and have just finished a course of antibiotics which has improved it a little bit, but it’s still pretty bad.  Talking exacerbates it, but unfortunately my job requires me to talk to pilots all day long.  That’s what I do.  And so the worst coughing spells are at work.  It’s a horrible, irritatingly dry cough and it’s extraordinarily annoying – for me, and for the people around me.  My colleagues are being so lovely about it, expressing concern and offering me cups of tea and honey to soothe my throat.  But nothing seems to be helping.  I was told by a doctor, and a nurse, that my cough will probably last a couple of months.  Sad face. 

Oh yeah, and it turns out that the jasmine reed diffuser really was a dud.