The pandemic has changed life in monumental ways. Our lives have become different to anything we have ever known, and we have had to adapt in a multitude of methods. Life cannot come to an abrupt halt, but individuals and services across the world have had to react, flex and respond to an influx of illness, fear, crisis and the unknown.
I work as an Area Manager for a National Charity, supporting homeless people, people with complex needs, and those fleeing domestic abuse and modern day slavery. Throughout the Covid 19 crisis, our services have continued to operate, across the board. We have invented creative, responsive ways to support vulnerable people. Our urgent 24/7 accommodation services and outreach have continued to operate over this critical time. Nothing can stop us from providing safety, shelter and support to those at their most desperate time of need.
The demands on our frontline staff have been and continue to be acute. Nothing has slowed down, and in fact, the pace has quickened as other services cannot meet need. During this challenging time, I have witnessed the true humbling dedication, resilience, compassion and humour from our unmoveable workforce. Those who arrive at work and help keep our individuals safe, happy and well during long shifts in uncertain and anxious times. Their support is unwavering. They are our heroes.
But with our lives going at 100mph, 24/7, do we actually ever truly embrace the concept of self-care? The pandemic has made me reflect on this in a way I always told myself I should previously, but never really managed to execute.
Intentions can be there, but life gets in the way. We have lists of commitments, both in work and outside of work. Pulls, pressures, obligations, priorities. Things we try and do to unwind and relax, which inevitably take up our time and can create increased stress of less time to do the rest!
During the pandemic, many of us have never been so busy. But in an ironic way, we have never had more time to think about our lives. To pause and reflect, both within our career and in our personal lives. Things changed over-night, literally, and life in many ways, may never be the same. A daunting thought. For some personally impacted by the pandemic, through the loss of loved ones, financial struggle, trauma and heartache, life will forever change. Their pain is felt to a degree in us all, through compassion and we hope that in time they heal as much as possible.
Albeit life will never be the same for us all to some degree, there are positives in this. We have heard and witnessed nature reconnecting fully with their habitat. The air feels cleaner, the sky brighter and wildlife once hidden due to human’s encroaching on their territory, have begun to peak out from their surroundings and boldly take a little piece of land, air and sea back.
None of us will come out of this unchanged and my hope, perhaps naively, is that the world is a kinder place. That people smile to strangers more, that we show gratitude to people who work in thankless jobs serving the community. That we appreciate and love the people in our circle a little deeper. That we retain the wonderful sense of community that has happened and that the neighbours that were once strangers are now friends. I also hope that we slow down our pace, know our own limits, and appreciate the personalities and qualities of people in our circle. That people moan less about insignificant things, and instead we are more humble and grateful.
Working in our front-line, critical services can be challenging at the best of times. Like many other support services, it can be an hourly emotional rollercoaster. We are elated with the news someone has secured safe and sustainable accommodation, that they have made the break from a toxic relationship. That they have gotten out of bed with a smile for the third day in a row. That after years of torment, they haven’t wanted to die for two full weeks. The massive highs. The reasons we get up in the morning and come to work. But the flip side is the crushing lows. People overdosing, suicide completions, terminal illness, children being removed, emotional, sexual and physical abuse, relapse, poverty, mental health and the tragedy of complete unhappiness some of the people we support feel.
We relentlessly instil hope and belief in the people using our services. We all know that sometimes seeing a smile from an individual is the best feeling in the world. That absolute will from the pit of our stomach that we have for someone to achieve, to get better and to be safe. We solider on, with great determination, resilience and humour.
But wellbeing is never far from our minds. How do we look after ourselves after 40+ hours of looking after others? Life is challenging without working in the field. What are our buffers? How do we decompress? Especially those of us who have entered this career following our own experiences of addiction, homelessness, abuse and trauma.
We have people we gravitate to, both in and out of work. Our voices of reason, people who let us offload and rant, people who lift us up, boost us and just get us. But we all have different methods that work for us, some of which we can’t practice in this current environment.
During this frightening time I’ve laughed a lot, including at myself. I’ve sworn a lot (mostly in an articulate manner!) I’ve checked in with people. The “How are you?” has never been more important. I’ve had more people ask how I am, instead of seeing me as “one of the bosses”, they have seen me as a person first, and I have appreciated every single sentiment. During conversations, in and out of work, we’ve talked about our families a lot more than ever. It’s been wonderful to hear more about people’s partners, children, extended families and friends. We’ve had pets on the screen of video calls, discussed what we’ve been eating (in excess), had conversations about wallpaper and acquired taste art. We’ve talked absolute rubbish alongside the urgent business, but this rubbish has never been as important. The balance has truly helped. On days of personal struggle, it has been the tonic my heart has craved. I have had kindness, thought and genuine care from family, friends, neighbours and colleagues, and it has nourished my soul greatly.
My loved ones have never been so important and I will never hold back on my expression of gratitude for having each and every one in my existence. I have seen so many selfless acts, people doing for others when they struggle themselves. Lockdown has sadly also highlighted those who will always put themselves first or who perpetually lean on others, without autonomy.
My own reflections have felt almost spiritual, some of which I have wanted to do for years, but have never prioritised. I have realised I need to stop repeating myself to people who don’t want to hear, To stop rescuing those who can only rescue themselves. I have eventually realised that all relationships should be based on equality and communication is a two-way street.
I have finally absorbed that my work life balance is fundamental, and I cannot change the world alone, merely be part of an army of activists for social justice, equality and empathy. I’ve picked up my guitar for the first time in a decade. I’ve wrote, read, danced and did YouTube exercise videos with my beloved. I have ate far too much, without concern that a few extra pounds are the end of the world. I have rested and the anxiety of always cramming my life into 24 hours has ceased.
I am thankful that the destructive path Covid has travelled has not destroyed me personally. I feel eternal empathy for those who’s lives it has, as well as our community, society, region, country and world. I hope reflections and lessons are much wider than mine and I hope we all bounce back individually and as a collective, healing together from a catastrophe we will never forget.