I remember all too vividly, a month or so before lockdown turning to Amanda Smith, one of my peers, and saying - this is going to hit us - what are we going to do about it? Never in a million years did I imagine what was going to happen next. We both looked at each other and discussed all permutations of what could happen, what was coming through from my sister on the front line (she’s a biomedical scientist - one of the testers) and what was happening already in China. Then popped downstairs to get a coffee (as was normal back then!).
Then we went into lockdown.
It was one of those moments where I could have said ‘I told you so’ but who was I going to say that to?... Nothing positive would have come of it either. Everyone was in new territory at that point.
During lockdown my experience of parenting took a whole new level of ‘OMG I have no idea what I’m doing’! My workload was expanding. My father was seriously ill, my mother was seriously worried about my father (and as he was the main breadwinner also had money worries), and then was faced with both my children being at home for me to educate them. On top of all that I’d just lost a dear friend, my best friends’ brother, to bowel cancer the week before lockdown and wasn’t allowed to go to his funeral.
In all honesty I just felt completely overwhelmed. It’s the only way I can describe it.
I do feel extremely lucky to have a very understanding manager with regards to family. I have been in organisations where I was not only the only woman in the team but also the only one to have kids too. Even with that, there was always a thing in the back of my head saying I’m a failure:
- at teaching my kids: quite frankly there were times where I just wanted to run as far as I could just to get away; some days they just didn’t want to do their homework. I got so frustrated about it with them, we’d shout at each other sometimes. To say in words how that made me feel - guilty doesn’t do it justice.
- at doing my job: a complete crisis of confidence and thinking that I just wasn’t good enough and not being able to stretch my time across anything or for anyone.
- and then thinking I might take Covid-19 to my parents, one of whom has been given not long to live (my father has MSA and has already had a heart transplant) and my mother who has been diagnosed with heart disease, bowel disease, COPD and arthritis.
What to do at that point?
On a check-in call with my manager and peers where I had broken down and cried, I had an epiphany - get help. Yes some of you may think this should have probably come sooner - but actually sometimes it can be hard to say: ‘I’m not ok, I need help’. Especially when you love being the one who is calm and composed in any situation.
From seeking help I’ve learned some really good coping skills - I feel like I’m starting to understand what ‘resilience’ means for me.
It’s about knowing when to get help and when to say ‘actually I’m not ok’ and am so grateful we have a lot of support available to us here at the MoJ:
- The Employee Assistance helpline is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
- Access to 6 free counselling sessions per year for all MoJ staff
- Access to the Employee Assistance Programme website at work or at home, for all staff working in MoJ.
Some coping mechanisms prescribed to me:
- Breathing and meditation (sometimes I fall asleep… and that’s ok too).
- 15 mins (at least) of natural light a day: your eyes need light and your body needs fresh air. Vitamin D is hugely restorative and good for the soul.
- Keep a diary by your bedside table to shape some of your thoughts or feelings.
- Low mood/angry/feeling guilty? That’s normal at this time: we need to acknowledge it and maybe go into a room and let it out. Shouting into a safe space can help (pillows are good). Watching (or reading) a comedy and laughing out loud helps lift your mood.
- A balanced diet: fruit, veg, protein - I know even this can be tough as we all love a bit of comfort food but diet is the main trigger for me. If I eat gluten (root of all evil in food terms) I can bet you I’ll feel rubbish the next day.
- Create a schedule - so you know what’s coming next: I bought a £20 whiteboard and mini super sticky post-its to put my ‘to do’ list up on.
I would recommend giving these a go if you too are feeling overwhelmed...never be ashamed to ask for help.