Reflections #17: Where’s the Reset Button for 2020?

Cerith Wyn Evans at White Cube Gallery London 2020

On the last Sunday of the month I usually write my personal review of the previous four weeks and tell you all about the things I’ve been up to. About the travels I’ve made, films and exhibitions I’ve seen, and more of that. However, there haven’t been any personal Reflections so far this year. Because the first Sunday of January was the day after my best friend’s funeral. Barely being able to grasp the reality of that surreal fact, I felt my world had been turned upside down. Obviously, blogging was the least thing on my mind. Just getting through the day was hard enough. And while the thoughts and tears are still very much present every day, my urge to share stories with you is slowly returning again. So let’s start by telling you what I’ve been up to these last three months, shall we?

Dealing with a loved one’s suicide

It’s almost 2.5 months ago now that I got the phone call. The phone call that changed everything. The phone call that announced my best and oldest friend had taken his own life. Having just returned from the Netherlands to celebrate belated Christmas with family and New Year’s drinks with friends, I went back again barely two weeks later to say goodbye to my best friend for the very last time. A moment that should’ve taken place at least 40 years from now.

It’s still impossible to comprehend that the one person I thought I knew best could do such a harsh thing to himself. That the world was weighing him down so much, this unfathomable act seemed his only way out. I wrote about this heartbreaking loss on what would’ve been my friend’s 46th birthday last month: Happy Birthday to My Late Best Friend.

Those first few weeks after his death I spent mostly at the gym, cooking, hiding in the confines of the dark cinema or learning as much as possible about suicide. Not a topic I ever imagined I’d study so intensely. It was an attempt to try to understand possible motives, to understand the psyche of people struggling with suicidal thoughts and to learn about how those left behind are meant to deal with such a loss. I’ve read numerous articles, books, listened to podcasts and watched several talks about it in the hope to find … what? I don’t really know. Possible clues? Answers? Comfort? Support?

The Dutch-language book called Living with suicide contains 60 letters written by survivors of bereavement by suicide
This book in Dutch contains 60 letters written by survivors of bereavement by suicide

Looking back, I’m not sure how helpful this all has been. While the numbers of death by suicide are startling, every case is unique. Some people commit suicide after having struggled with mental health problems for years. And some suicides appear to have come totally out of the blue. Experts say that the vast majority of suicides can be prevented. This is extremely painful to learn because it makes me feel I failed as a friend. However, experts do also say that there’s almost never just one particular event or person that triggers one’s suicide. That the underlying reasons are usually a complex web of personal traits, several incidents and life events over time.

By now I’ve accepted the fact that I’ll never understand the real reasons. In the end all that I can do is learn to live with this loss for the rest of my life and honour the memory of my friend as much and in the best way as I can.

A week later I had my debut on Dutch national radio

When I was approached by one of the main Dutch national radio stations, 3FM, to speak live on the radio about ‘Brexit Day’ my first impulse was of course to tell my friend. I know we both would have laughed at this funny opportunity so much. Normally I would have declined it immediately because I’d be too scared to do such a thing. But feeling numb and not really ‘in the present’ I accepted the invitation. It went surprisingly well. You can listen back to the interview (in Dutch) via the link below.

And then life got even weirder due to coronavirus

When 2020 started, I thought my biggest worry was going to be Brexit. But then came my friend’s death. I was already living in the strangest bubble because of that, but with the current coronavirus holding the whole world in its grip, I have to say that life does feel like a really weird dream now. It’s all so bizarre, this surely can’t be happening for realz, can it now?

It’s quite remarkable that Hubby and I hadn’t booked any trips for this year yet. Usually we go on a long and faraway ‘escape the European winter’ trip at the beginning of the year and have several trips lined up for later in the year too, usually for work. But this year, the only trip we had planned so far was going to the Netherlands for my parents’ 30th wedding anniversary next month. Their first ever big party which is now sadly postponed until it’s safe to resume normal life again.

Although I love to travel, I’m also quite glad to have to stay indoors right now as I wasn’t particularly feeling social anyway. I only wished I could see my family right now as both my parents are at high risk. Just last October I already almost lost my father when he was admitted to ICU in a life-threatening situation due to sepsis. Thankfully he pulled through and I managed to visit him in hospital, but if something happens to my parents right now, I wouldn’t even be able to go see them which is an awful thought.

And as a result of the current pandemic, work has dried up significantly too. Lots of my Dutch-language tours in London has been either cancelled or postponed indefinitely. And Hubby has lost a great number of live performances, most of which won’t likely happen in the future either. It’s difficult to remain positive right now, but we are very well aware we’re fortunate in so many different ways so have no reason to complain in a sense.

To compensate his fans for the cancelled performance in Bristol last week, Hubby did a free live improvised set on his modular system. You can watch it back on YouTube here:

Cooking has helped me stay sane

I’ve always loved cooking but I have to say that we’ve never eaten so well as in the last few months. I’ve been pouring all my focus, energy and creativity into creating the most delicious dishes for lunch and dinner. Some were based on existing recipes that I usually mix & match according to my taste and the contents of the fridge and larder.

Here are some of my favourite recipes that I’ve been using in the last weeks:

Also exercising has been a great outlet

When it was still allowed to go to the gym, I vented all my frustrations, anger, sadness and sense of powerlessness during body combat classes. A few weeks after my friend’s death, people (unaware of this fact) commented on how much weight I had lost. ‘What’s your secret?’ people asked. Soul-piercing grief and stress would have been the real answer but all I could do was shrug my shoulders and just walk away as quickly as possible.

But now the gyms have all closed down I found a great alternative in Les Mills On Demand. I’ve done home exercises before, but never persevered due to lack of diversity. Having been a loyal participant of Les Mills classes for decades now, I’m so pleased to be able to keep doing their classes from home. The first two weeks are for free so you can try it out for yourself. Their classes vary from yoga-based programmes to core-strengthening to martial arts. (Non sponsored, I’m just a big fan!)

Photo of me participating in a body combat marathon
Photo of me participating in a body combat marathon in honour of the great London-based instructor Chris Cerclay who passed away unexpectedly three years ago

Blog posts I wrote this year

Over the years my blog topics have been very diverse but at the start of this year I decided to focus more on London-related articles. More specifically, about more unusual things to do in London. The year started off promising with visitor numbers and engagement increasing significantly. Obviously all came to a halt after my friend’s death and also coronavirus, but these have been my London-related articles for this year so far.

Mural by Sr.X on Hanbury Street just off Brick Lane

10 Best Places to See Street Art in London

An insider’s guide to the best places to see street art in London. It lists well-known London street art locations such as Shoreditch and Hackney, but also some fantastic gems generally not known to tourists (or locals).

Read More…

10 Unique Things to See in Shoreditch

From the notorious Jack the Ripper murders to Jewish culture, here are 10 unique things to see in Shoreditch! Being part of the East End of London, Shoreditch is soaked in history. And if you know where to look, you’ll find that the history of Shoreditch is literally written in its streets.

Read More…

I’ve also done some travel writing

Being unable to travel for the moment, I’ve been looking back at photos of previous trips including our holidays to New Zealand in the last two years. This actually inspired me to write a humoristic travel story of our failed attempt to locate the massive seal colony at Kaikoura. You can read the full story on my travel blog: Hitchhiking in Kaikoura, Whale Watching Capital of New Zealand.

Kaikoura seal colony

I’ve also used an excerpt of a yet-to-publish personal travel story about Cologne for my first ever travel writing competition. Considering there have been over 9,000 (!) entries I think my chances are slim, but I’m quite proud of the result nonetheless. Below you can read the first paragraph of my entry as a little taster. You can read the full story here: In the Heat of the Moment.

I’ve been in Cologne, Germany, for barely half a day now and already find myself arm-in-arm with a bunch of complete strangers. We’re gathered here, sober and in broad daylight, at the edge of the small Ostermannplatz square in Cologne’s historic part of town. As our bodies sway side to side, moving to the gentle humming of our own voices, our intimate circle closes even tighter.

Films I’ve seen in 2020 so far

My monthly film lists are often very long already, but these last months I’ve seen a crazy amount of films and series. In the midst of the corona pandemic, Hubby and I rewatched Contagion (2011) and it’s remarkable how many similarities there are between this film and reality!

As for new films, my favourite films have been Jojo Rabbit, 1917, The Dead Don’t Die and of course Parasite, the big winner at the Oscar’s this year. As a coincidence, Hubby and I watched The Servant (1963) last week and noticed some similarities in the story plot. If you’re looking for a simple feel good movie, then I’d recommend Long Shot featuring Charlize Theron and Seth Rogen, or the entertaining whodunnit Knives Out.

Below is the rest of the list of films and series I’ve seen so far this year. Titles marked with * are my personal recommendations for you! But before you go through it, let me say my goodbye to you for now. I hope you and yours stay well and healthy in these strange days and that I will see you back here soon again. I’m intending to return to my regular Sunday blogging from now, depending on where life takes me. In the meantime, do let me know how you’ve been doing these last months!

And in case you were wondering about the cover photo of this article: I took it at the Cerith Wyn Evans exhibition at White Cube Gallery Bermondsey, London, last month. I’ve been to a few exhibitions earlier this year, but considering this article is long enough as it is right now and all galleries and museums are closed anyway, I won’t add these here. But if you still need your art fix, then you might find some good options in this article about online galleries published in The Guardian earlier this week.

All the best!
Zarina xxx

New(-ish) films from 2019/2020

*Amazing Jonathan, The (documentary)
Bad Boys for Life
Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood, A
Birds of Prey
Bombshell
Color Out of Space
*Countdown
Curse of La Llorena, The
Dark Waters
*Doctor Sleep
Fanatic, The
Fast and Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw
Gemini Man
Grande Isle
Horse Girl (Netflix)
*In the Shadow of the Moon
Jumanji: The Next Level
Late Night
Lighthouse, The
*Lost Girls (Netflix)
*Marriage Story (Netflix)
*Pain and Glory (original title: Dolor y Gloria)
Personal History of David Copperfield, The
*Platform (original title: El Hoyo) (Netflix)
*Queen & Slim
Rainy Day in New York, A
Ready or Not
*Richard Jewell
*Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
Troop Zero
*Gentlemen, The
Uncut Gems (Netflix)
*Vivarium
*Where’d You Go, Bernadette

Older films

*Baby Driver
*Blood Simple
*Drive
Good Time
Ingrid Goes West
*In the House (original title: Dans la maison)
*Irrational Man
Marine 6: Close Quarters, The
Okja (Netflix)
*Pursuit of Happyness, The
*Raising Arizona
Snowpiercer
*Station Agent, The
Take the Money and Run
*Under the Sand (original title: Sous La Sable) 
Waitress

Series

Dracula (BBC mini series)
*Fall, The SE02-03 (Amazon Prime)
Gavin & Stacey Christmas special
*Good Place, The SE04 (Netflix)
Gunpowder (BBC mini series)
*James May: Our Man in Japan (Amazon Prime)
Lost in Space SE02 (Netflix)
*Loudermilk SE01 (Amazon Prime)
*Modern Family SE05-SE10 (Amazon Prime)
*Southpark SE23
*Succession SE01-02
Will & Grace SE10

5 thoughts on “Reflections #17: Where’s the Reset Button for 2020?

  1. Esther van den Bergh

    Dear Zarina, again I am sort of late with my reaction on your post but today I am going to react on all still pending posts. You know me by now, I never do nót react! 😉
    It sure was a hell of a start of this year, for you. And with the virus going round, it will not be back to normal soon, if ever at all.
    Never ever think you have failed as a friend because of your friend’s suicide. It does not work like that but surely you must have read this in all the books you consumed about this subject as well.

    Glad to hear you can find joy in cooking, and surely Robin appreciates it too!
    Excercising is alway a good thing, it is a very good stress relief.
    I actually answer truthfully these days when people ask me how I am doing, when I am having a bad day. Or when they ask me why I (again) lost weight. Stress, grief, those are real fat burners. It makes me feel more comfortable with myself when I am honest about it. You don’t have to elaborate why or how, but the fact that you don’t have to sort of hide your true feelings is important to you, yourself. And sometimes it even is good to just speak out, for some people can give you unexpected support or kind words or they, unexpected, share something personal with you that will then give a feeling of having made a real connection with someone. You really have nothing to hide or feel ashamed about, you are allowed to feel bad, sad or whatever…

    Hopefully you will soon be able to travel again and visit your family in The Netherlands, I am sure they miss you terribly as well! Stay strong and stay safe, both of you! ❤

    1. Dutch Girl in London

      Thank you for your sweet message Esther! I know it would be better to speak out my true feelings, but it was too soon for me to do so. I didn’t really want to talk to people at the time, especially not people I hardly know and only see at the gym once in a while. I haven’t seen anyone for months now, except for Hubby and the people working at Aldi, so not sure how I’d respond now. In a way being cut off from the outside world did me good for the first weeks, but now it’s starting to wear me down actually. But trying to remain positive of course! You are often in my mind actually and your optimism, love for life and strength are really encouraging so thank you so much for that 🙂 xx

      1. Esther van den Bergh

        In time you might be able to do so as well. And with people you don’t know it often even is easier somehow. And sometimes you will find or make unexpected friends through speaking out and sharing.
        Honoured to be able to give you some inspiration… ❤️

  2. Giulia Blocal

    Hi Zarina, I send you a big hug from The Netherlands. I’m sorry to read about your 2020 so far, but I wanted to thank you for taking the time to still write this post: I’m a big fan of your ‘reflections of the month’ series. Thank you also for the movie suggestions, I’m sure I’ll go back to it often in the following weeks. Stay safe and say hi to Hubby 🙂

    1. Dutch Girl in London

      Thanks so much for your sweet message Giulia! This was the reason I wasn’t feeling in the mood for coming to Nuart when you asked me about that a while ago. And nice to hear you enjoy reading my personal stories! I hope you’re doing okay there in Amsterdam and that your family and friends in Italy are safe and healthy too! Take care xx

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