So how are you coping with this new normal? Have you come to terms with what the implications of what this means? I haven’t, and I’m willing to wager you haven’t either.
I’m a really lucky person. I work for an organisation which didn’t instantly lay-off most of it’s staff, and was able to set up home working almost instantly for the vast majority of staff. That’s not to say what I do hasn’t been affected – I work for an exam board, so we’ve been grappling with what cancelled summer exams means, and how we ensure students still get a fair grade this summer.
In saying that – I don’t work in the operational workings of my organisation, I work on future exam papers, and I’m currently working on 2021 papers. So my job role is largely unaffected. Instead of going into the office to do it, I’m sitting at home doing it.
I was off sick for a few months between November and February, and I had extended sick leave between 2015 and 2017. I suffer with anxiety and depression following an accident I sustained at work in 2015, and in that time I learnt a few things about myself:
- I need to get dressed everyday. I love the idea of staying in my pyjamas all day, cosying up on my sofa with a blanket, perching my laptop somewhere and working from home. Thing is, it’s a slippery slope. If I don’t get dressed, I feel different. I don’t brush my hair, I don’t eat properly, and all that makes me feel worse. Getting dressed makes me feel like I have a purpose, even if I don’t step out of my flat.
- I setup my desk area. Until recently, on days I worked from home, I sat on my sofa while I worked. It was fine for maybe one day, but a permanent situation (with my back problems from aforementioned accident) – it wasn’t going to work. I already have a desk, I just never got round to buying a desk chair. So I ordered one from Staples. My desk area was kind of a tip as well, so I organised it. I was granted access to my work building to pick up my work laptop, mouse and keyboard, and my notebooks out of my drawer. I don’t have desk drawers at home, so I made space in my new work area. It really helps to separate “being at work” from “being at home”. I know that’s not possible for everyone – one of my colleagues lives in a small flat and doesn’t have room for a desk, so she’s pulled out a drawer on her dresser and put some wood on top to make a desk! I know I need to compartmentalise my life, so being able to “leave the office” at the end of the day is crucial.
- Exercise. When I’ve been off sick before, my doctors have advised me of 2 things (the second point comes next). One is that mental health is improved by going out for a walk. And there’s no denying it – I feel so much better when I can get outside and clear the cobwebs out. Whilst I was off sick over Christmas, I would get in my car and just drive until I found somewhere I wanted to walk. Sometimes I’d get to the coast, or a National Trust property, or just see signs for a footpath. Now that’s not possible. I have to stay close to home. Unfortunately there isn’t anywhere near me to walk to – I live in a built up area. But I’ve driven within a 5 minute radius to find somewhere to walk, and it does really help. The only problem is that the news has been scaring me so much that I don’t want to leave the flat.
- Things to look forward to. The second point my doctors talked about, was planning things to look forward to. Each month, I would have an event or something to look forward to. This feels impossible right now. Everything I had been looking forward to (Country to Country music festival, Activate weekend away, Colour Conference, Keith Urban, The Shires etc) has been cancelled or postponed. We can’t predict what is going to happen in the next few weeks or months, so there’s no way we can feasibly plan anything to alleviate this tension. But we can plan little things. Like weekly video calls with family.
- Escapism. When you can’t physically escape from your situation, you find ways to cope with your situation with escapism. About a year ago, I discovered a passion for true crime. I love it. It started when I watched the Netflix series ‘Dirty John‘ starring Connie Britton and Eric Bana. I then discovered the podcast it was based on, and I loved it. I was completely hooked. But I wanted more. So I did a bit of research and started listening to a podcast called ‘True Crime All The Time‘, and guess what… I love it! It takes a killer (serial, spree etc) each episode (though sometimes split over two or more episodes) and delves into the murder(s). It sounds bleak (and my mum hates that I listen to them) but it’s ultimate escapism for me. When I listen to it – I’m so focused on the content, and listening to the story – that I forget everything else. I find the same happens when I cook. Before all this, I signed up to HelloFresh and their boxes are still arriving. When I have to cook, I’m so focused on what I’m doing, and what I need to do next, my mind can’t wander to places I don’t want to go. Find yourself a few things that totally absorb your mind, it will really help.
And then there’s a few extra points I’ve learnt about myself in just the last couple of weeks:
- Switch off. Quite simply put: I can’t handle the news. I’m a natural rule follower. I see a lot of myself in Lesley Knope (Parks and Rec) and Amy Santiago (Brooklyn 99) – I have an internal struggle when I find myself in a position to break a rule. So when the government advised that we should be social distancing, there was no part of me that thought I would break that rule. I understand why people are sharing things on social media to try and scare people into staying home – because there are idiots out there who aren’t following the rules. I am not one of them. So those pictures of doctors crying with very personal experiences attached to them break my heart and scare me to my core. The news of the growing numbers of dead terrify me. I’m doing what I’m told, I’m not leaving my flat unless I absolutely have to. I’ve been to the supermarket twice since lockdown, I don’t go out for my daily exercise because I’m scared. My anxiety is off the barometer and there’s nothing I can do to bring it down. I’m scared, and I don’t know what I’m supposed to do to make it better. I’m doing what I’m advised. I realised that the problem is the scaremongering that is rampant on Facebook, and the news headlines. So I’ve switched off notifications for my news app, and I’ve deleted Facebook from my phone.
- Be intentional. It’s no longer a given that you’re going to move as much as usual, or talk to as many people as usual. I didn’t think I did much exercise, but I did move more than I might have first thought – there’s a 5 minute walk from the car park into work, I’d get up and walk round the building, going from meeting to meeting. Getting up to fill up my water, or to go to the loo – going to the bistro for lunch. It all adds up. Chatting to your desk mate, talking to people over lunch, talking at meetings, bumping into someone in the corridor and chatting on five minutes – all these little things that just happened, you now need to be intentional to recreate. I haven’t managed to capture the social aspect very well, but I’ve made a decision to start and end the day with yoga – I know I can do it with my back (doctors have cleared me), and it’s nothing major, just salute to the sun a few times in the morning and then I’ve found this video which I’m doing before I go to bed. But it’s a start to keep me moving and stretching. I’ve already not wanted to do it a few times, but I’ve forced myself to do it.
I hope these few things might help someone else to make some sense of their world right now. We don’t know how long this is going to last for, or what’s going to happen. We need to stay safe, and that means the little things have become big things. It’s okay to be anxious – it’s just learning how to manage it. Delete the problem apps, buy a face mask from Etsy, and just trust that those amazing doctors we applaud on Thursday evenings are doing everything they can to help us. If we stay sensible, and stay home as much as we can, then we’ll be okay.
I’m aware that I’m single – so the things I struggle with a different to what couples struggle with, and different to families. I’ve encountered a lot of online shaming for people who don’t have children, which makes me feel guilty for struggling with anxiety. And the same from doctors and nurses. It’s difficult for me to do – but your feelings aren’t less because someone else doesn’t understand them. Don’t be like me and feel guilty for struggling – your feelings are completely valid, whatever they are.
Sending virtual love to everyone! Stay safe!