Zara Sheldrake, Workplace mental health ambassador.
In thinking about the lockdown, something struck me. While a deadly virus sweeps the world and takes away so many thousands of people it isn’t only their lives we’re mourning but also our own.
I work in business change, where we’re taught that the impact of change on people who didn’t have a hand in determining it is the same as grief.
When the 23rd March came with an announcement that we would all be asked to stay home, save lives and protect the NHS I wasn’t surprised. Like so many others I had already figured that was the right thing to do and my workplace had already closed its doors a week prior asking us all to work from home where possible. But even then, as prepared as I was for this eventuality and truly believing it was the right thing to do, I felt a sense of loss.
It was a loss of my liberty. A loss of my ability to choose where to spend my time. Even if there was nothing that I needed to leave the house for, nowhere in particular I needed to be, I still felt sad that I couldn’t just go.
Adjusting to the lockdown meant acknowledging that I wouldn’t see my friends, meet with my colleagues or hug my family. For an indeterminate length of time, I was going to be isolated from those I love and have to find new ways to communicate and show that I care.
As time went on adjusted my routines, changing from exercising at a climbing wall to running on my local trails. Changing from shopping on the weekend to the middle of the working day when it’s quieter, from going out to see friends to staying in staring at a screen full of tiny faces. I’ve lost my job but put the time into volunteering. I’ve felt good about what I’m doing, but generally unfulfilled.
My mental health has always taken work, I have to pay attention to my mood, my reaction to events and my feelings and take action when sadness becomes depression. I guess this prepared me for lockdown in a way most people aren’t, I’m able to acknowledge my feelings in a way many people can’t. I wonder how those people for whom these feelings will be new and scary are coping.
Something else has been playing on my mind too during this extraordinary time. We hear newscasters and politicians talking about the ‘new normal’, telling us things will not be the same. We will be forever changed. We don’t know what the new normal looks like or when it will happen. It’s the spectre of another set of changes to our lives, perhaps permanent ones, that will be done unto us, asked of us in that way that we can’t say no. We will all need to adapt and adjust and that won’t be easy.
I wonder what the effect of this pandemic will be on the mental health of the world. A world forever changed not only by the loss of loved ones and the battles fought but by a deep economic recession and a deep scar on our collective minds. The effects of months inside our dwellings seeing only those we cohabit with and having too much time to think. The pressure we feel to emerge fitter, and more appreciative and grateful when actually we may feel less healthy and feel lost.
Never in our lives have we been more connected, yet less lonely. Never have we had so much choice and yet so many changes happening to us. Never have we had more freedom, but less liberty.
At some point, we’ll start to go about our lives again, and when we do I really hope that we know how to say that we’re not ok, that we’re scared, anxious, lonely, that we aren’t coping well and that we need help learning how we fit into this new normal world. I hope we remember to be kind to each other, and to ourselves as we adjust. I hope we can let go of the fear and find ways to thrive just as we always do when faced with adversity. Take care all.