Introspective action

‘WOW. So.’ Martin looks thoughtful, a small smile creeping onto his face. ‘Yeah. A lot’s changed.’ He pauses. ‘When we spoke last time, in May 2020, I was still living in my house, I was still married, I was working from home, it was sunny, and everything Covid related was a novelty.’

Fast forward to December 2021. ‘I’m now in the process of getting divorced, I’ve put in my papers to leave the RAF, I’m living in an RAF house with my dog, I’m about to go out of area in January and Covid has started to cause a division, like an extension of Brexit.’

Martin found the second UK lockdown in late 2020 really isolating. He says: ‘Just before Christmas, I wasn’t able to see anyone, and I was living by myself. Twitter became a really big thing for me. When I first joined I didn’t get it, didn’t really understand it, but once I’d got the hang of it, it soon became a social hub. I couldn’t go and see people but all of a sudden, I could have conversations with real people in real time.’

He explains something called Square Eyes. ‘During a week someone would be nominated to pick a film, and at 8pm on a Friday a group would all press play at the same time and we’d have a tweet thread with banter and comments while we all watched the film. It actually became huge for me, because it was the only time I was really talking to people outside of work. I’ve built up some amazing relationships with people on there.’

Pre-Covid, Martin had a big social network. He worked in an open plan office every day with over 20 other people, had a big group of friends at the local pub and through football, and his family. These were friends and people he’d grown up with and had known for years. He says: ‘Then we went into that first lockdown and I was restricted to just me and my family, then last year I was living by myself in a strange house in a different town, only seeing my daughter every couple of weeks. The only reason I left the house was Winston [the dog]. I felt like at times I was just by myself in a wild wood, in the middle of a bleak, bleak winter, cut off from the rest of the world. I literally just had Twitter. It was bizarre.’

‘It definitely impacted my mental health. I wasn’t enjoying work at all and made a decision to leave the RAF. I was on the cusp of promotion but I just wanted to do something else, get a job I’m passionate about.’

He started to notice the impact it was having on Maggie, his daughter. He says: ‘On Christmas Day, on the way home I asked her if she’d had a good time, and she said ‘I did Daddy, I loved it. The best bit was playing with little people.’ I suddenly got a taste for how she’d felt. As isolated as I’d felt, as an only child Maggie’s only social interactions were adults. That must have been really isolating for her as a kid. She couldn’t wait to go back to school, she loves it – it’s her only time with little people. I don’t know what the long-term affects will be. Kids are resilient, but things do leave little imprints on our make up.’

I ask Martin whether, or how, Covid contributed to these life events. He says: ‘I think they would all have happened anyway. More importantly, they needed to happen. What Covid did was make things a bit more extreme, highlighting the not-so-great things in life, like unhealthy relationships.’

Since his marriage break up, he’s done a lot of self work. He says: ‘I’ve had a lot of counselling, done a lot of meditating and read all the books. Isolation gives an opportunity to learn a lot about yourself, and I’ve certainly done that over the last 18 months. I’ve had unhealthy patterns from quite a young age and I’ve really been able to look at instances in my life where things have happened and work out my behaviour and how I was reacting to situations. I’ve learnt so much.’

Martin’s social network is much smaller now. He says: ‘I’ve looked at friendships I’ve formed and realised I put a lot of energy into the wrong friendships. I’ve learnt about attachment styles. I’ve gone from thousands of Facebook “friends” to a couple of hundred. I’ve gone from seeing friends down the pub to not going to the pub anymore. I’ve detached myself completely from my old life. Turning 40, Covid, leaving the RAF, my marriage breakdown and everything that’s happened in the last 18 months has given me the chance to strip everything right back down to me, my daughter, dog and immediate family.’

Martin sees this as a chance to start again, a blank canvas. He says: ‘The point I’m starting from has everything that’s good. I have the people who are going to stick by me, I’ve got much healthier boundaries and I’m getting a lot less triggered by people not being in alignment with me. I’ve got a better grasp of my hierarchy of needs, and have improved relationship boundaries – both mine and other peoples. It’s like I had this mess of a painting that I’ve put a load of paint thinner on, cleaned it all off and was left with a fine outline of something that now made a lot of sense to me. I’ve slowly started to expand on it and I feel like I’m getting towards building up the picture and colouring it in.’

I ask what’s next for his career, and he says: ‘I’ve booked myself onto a course to potentially become a professional coach one day. That’s my passion. The best part of the RAF was being able to mentor and help people, and it’s so rewarding to feel like you’ve had a positive impact on someone. I want more of that, and I’m in such a better position to listen to people now.’

Straight after our conversation he’s going to an Open Day to find out more about going into teaching. ‘My approach at the moment is to keep following my gut, my interests, trying things, speaking to people and seeing where it leads. It doesn’t necessarily mean I’m going to become a teacher, or a coach, but if I follow the things I’m interested in and passionate about, it might lead to something else. I’ll be surrounded by like-minded people, putting myself into areas that are aligned to me, and the more I do that, the more I might see opportunities.’

Martin says he’s in a fortunate position that he’ll have a pension from his time in the RAF. ‘I have some sort of financial security there, and that’s important to me. It’s hard for kids to get that nowadays, it’s hard for people to buy houses now.’

‘I feel like I’m taking baby steps into a new life. I’ve always looked from the inside out, for as long as I can remember, but now I’ve been looking at myself from the outside in, I have so much less baggage. I’m in such a privileged position where losing a lot over the last 18 months has provided me with the opportunity to gain so much more, and I’m happier now than I’ve ever been.’

Published by Paps

I love running, writing, travel and adventure. I'll give anything a go once, and am always up for a laugh.

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