Buying our first house in lockdown

Being the superstitious worrier that I am, I’ve delayed writing this post to avoid jinxing the very motive behind it. Clearly the House-Buying Gods smiled down on me and appreciated my thought because thankfully this blog can go ahead. We own our own house!

Thinking back to pre-lockdown feels like years ago. Nevertheless, it’s only been five short months since we started looking at buying our first property. We fell in love with only the second we viewed and, one cold February night after our third viewing, excitedly called the estate agent from a local bar (obviously, liquid courage was necessary) and made an offer. My partner and I both work in sales so aimed to play the estate agent at their own game and after some back-and-forth it wasn’t long before we had our offer – which was nicely below asking price – accepted and mortgage confirmed. It only became real when this monstrously large figure was added to our direct debit accounts after moving in.

We had a week of blissful stress-free skiing in France and were, no surprise, sat in a local bar when we heard about the lockdown that had just hit Europe. We frantically called our mortgage advisor who started hinting at some potential outcomes and outlined a couple of additional considerations: delays further up the chain, halts in the housing market in the future, dramatic reduction in house-prices… Maybe the House-Buying Gods weren’t going to be so kind after all. We had 0 experience of purchasing anything more expensive than a car so the thought of gambling with hundreds of thousands of pounds (as well as the next ten years of our lives) was terrifying.

Being the worrier I am, I had visions of being stuck in a house for the next 30 years with no ability to sell because the house wasn’t worth what we paid for it. I had premonitions of wanting to start a family but with no hope of moving somewhere closer to our own parents in Devon. We couldn’t even go to see the house again because of lockdown restrictions and no number of drive-bys eased our concern. My partner is without question the less-stressed one in the relationship so thankfully his cool head and process-driven methodology kept us on the straight-and-narrow. We both spent time researching the housing market (which, in hindsight I like to think we would have done had lockdown not happened) and took our parents’ advice to sit tight.

Now, living hundreds of miles away from our friends and family and with both of us working from home through lockdown (and sans printer) made signing contracts and having witnesses for said contracts extremely difficult. What would usually take us an hour or two took us weeks, adding to the anxiety that we wouldn’t get our paperwork completed by our exchange date – which unbeknownst to us – was taking place six weeks earlier than planned. Cue extreme wine-drinking and feeling like we were in a scene from Money Heist gathering thousands of pounds for our deposit ready to send to our solicitor.

And then, there was nothing. We received polite emails to confirm our life savings had been safely stashed and were told to wait for a call on the day of completion weeks later to pick up our keys. We organised delivery vans and carpet cleaners and packed up about 2 weeks earlier than necessary, then before we knew it the 15th July was here and we were driving to pick up the keys (clearly we were driving far too hastily as we got caught speeding on the motorway. Great start.)

But, finally, we did it! We spent 2 solid days scrubbing the place top to bottom and running up and down *our own* stairs like children. Our first few nights felt like we were staying in a hotel and having cool glasses of G&T in the garden in the evenings felt like living in a dream. The weeks between our move-in date and today have been one huge blur. We’ve had both sets of our parents travel up from Devon and have spent more time in the sun in the last few weeks than we did in the entirety of last year (a garden with sun is 100% my favourite part of the house).

I’ve only started to understand just how stressed living in a built up area with no garden or sunlight was making me. I’m so much more relaxed being in our own place where I can see a sunrise and sunset and am in walking distance of a woods (and yes I’ve already scoped out at least 10 riding stables in the local area). Having our own base really is priceless and I’m so happy we stuck with our guns – particularly for a home that really is everything we wanted it to be.

I’m sat in the garden with a G&T on one of the hottest days of the year, the sun beaming down, feeling truly content. Next step… a puppy!

Mental Health in Lockdown

It’s in your hands

As someone who has notoriously struggled to prioritise improving my own mental health, I’ve always been great at finding welcome distractions to ensure it’s never at the top of my list. But, deprived of interruptions through lock-down, I gave time to think about the way I think.

What I found wasn’t great.

Working in a high-pressure environment and generally putting high pressure on myself in life, I learned I thrive off nervous energy (and black coffee), only feel I’m succeeding when working myself to the bone, and had stopped giving attention to hobbies I’ve always loved.

Lock-down meant I had no choice but to slow down. Spend weekends in. Have hours with nothing whatsoever to do. At first this meant panicking about not being productive and definitely drinking too much wine. Lately though, I’ve made a conscious effort to get back to old hobbies and find excitement in doing things I’ve always loved.

So many people are going through hardship and I imagine many feel the way I have: burnt out, stressed, nervous of what this pandemic means for our lives long term. Without realising, these thoughts can take over, removing the ability to find the positive.

I wanted to share some methods which helped me re-focus my mind-set and seek to find something good in each day, no matter how small.

What’s helped me see the good:

 ‘Positive emails’ inbox: My job involves a lot of highs and a lot of lows, meaning appreciation always goes a long way. Since joining BJ in 2018, I’ve started saving positive emails into a folder. When having a hard day I spend time reading these and reminding myself of times my colleagues and managers have gone out of their way to tell me I’m doing well.

– The ‘good things’ list: I was recently reminded of some really great things that had happened lately which I’d totally lost sight of in amongst colossal negatives in the world. It shocked me how easily I’d let these positives pass me by. Now, I give 5 minutes a week to think of at least 5 things which have happened in the last 7 days which were positive or that I’m proud of.

 Look around: Maybe lock-down has given you time to redecorate. Maybe you cleaned the windows for the first time since moving into your apartment (guilty). Maybe you nailed a job application, or finished a first draft of a CV. Maybe you binge-watched the entirety of Money Heist in four days (also guilty). Remind yourself of what you achieve every day and high-five yourself for it.

– Gratitude: There’s been a lot of anger lately. But there’s also been a lot of thanks. I’m so grateful for my partner making sure I eat lunch everyday and I’m thankful for my big sister who makes me laugh with daily videos of her home-schooling my nephew. Remind yourself of the people who bring positivity into your life without even trying.

– Hobbies that are just yours: I’ve found a new love of jigsaws, rejuvenated the love I get from writing, and go barely a few hours without reading some of Enid Blyton’s Famous Five (yes I bought all 20 books). Find/rejuvenate a hobby that you only need yourself to do. My guilty pleasure is Wasgij puzzles and Talk Radio on a Saturday night.

These have been a small selection of things which have worked for me. In no way do I mean for this to take away from the impact of what has been a monumentally challenging few months, but I hope that it provides some support to those out there who need it.

For anybody struggling with their mental health, please reach out to one of the following resources:

–         www.anxietyuk.org.uk

–         https://thelucyraynerfoundation.com/

–         www.menshealthforum.org.uk

–         www.mentalhealth.org.uk

–         www.mind.org.uk