23rd March 2020. The day the UK entered lockdown and the beginning of a bizarre journey for us all; physically, emotionally, socially, you name it. An unprecedented set of events that brought the country to a standstill. It’s fair to say that adapting to the “new norm” took us all on a roller-coaster. Who doesn’t love the feeling of imminent death filling you with dread followed by a confusing invigorating sense of self!?
In an attempt to make sense of it all, I wrote. Then wrote some more. So here’s my lockdown journey so far.
My stages of Lockdown
I distinctly remember impulsively shouting “a whole month!?” when my colleague from work predicted we’d eventually be unable to work from our little office in the theatre and would spend “at least a month” working from home.
That same week, I went to what would be the last dance class before lockdown where I overheard someone say “don’t worry guys, this virus doesn’t affect young people very much so we’re fine.”
Is this seriously happening?
When something so colossal and wide spread happens (like global warming or a global pandemic) the human brain struggles to process the enormity of the situation with all its complexities so I did what most people do when they don’t know what to do – I followed the crowd (metaphorically, obviously).
On the last day at work, I gathered up my office supplies, asked my team mates if I could borrow the mini freezer during the ‘apocalypse’ and grabbed some board games we had lying around the bar (we do strange things when under pressure).
The penny finally drops
And so does the economy, social life and any sense of normality.
This was the most uncomfortable stage for me. I remember the evening of Tuesday 17th March when I called my mum and suggested she and my 15-year-old brother come stay with us (my partner Tom and I) because we predicted things would only get worse.
It felt like a bold move as lockdown had not yet been announced and they were both still going to work/ school. Plus, my brother was just weeks away from his GCSEs and we had invested so much time, energy and money into books, revision, and extra tutoring. I felt super anxious with a heavy sense of responsibility over my family’s safety.
Who knew the apocalypse came with so much admin?
And so my lively Brazilian mother, and X-box mad teenage brother moved in the following day (yep, a lot of family dynamics here!) and the anxiety subsided. Although, not for long as the weeks following this quickly filled with a frenzy of emails and calls; what’s going to happen to GCSE exams? Can tutors deliver revision sessions digitally? What is this ‘furlough scheme’? Can I still get my prescription? Why are all the grocery delivery slots sold out? What are we going to do about holiday bookings?
A Day In The Life
Here’s a a glimpse into what a typical morning entailed during this time…
It’s 7:56am and I’m in full “morning routine” flow. Feeding our two pet bunnies who are running excitedly around my feet whilst making breakfast and setting up my work area for the day. My mum approaches me and tells me she attempted to buy a present online for her friend but is now unsure if the transaction went through and has received some text messages from the bank that she’s ignoring because all this kafuffle is too confusing for her. I can tell she’s trying to use a casual tone, as if only mentioning this in passing yet it’s clear she wants me to offer my help.
It’s now 8:28am and I’m sat at my dining table working on reconciling the theatre’s credit card spending for the month. My mum’s phone rings, and I can hear an automated voice message spitting out oodles of digits and asking for confirmation that the four transactions made at 00:56 that morning were made by her and are not fraudulent. She, however, cannot hear this as her hearing aid is on her bedside table (my mother & her hearing aid; a continuous battle in our house). After several minutes, the call automatically switches to the customer care line where a cheery voice greets her. My mum proceeds to placing the call on loudspeaker and walking over to me. Like a knee jerk reaction, I take over.
I loudly repeat security question after security question to my mum and slowly we make progress.
We’re 37 painful minutes into the call when the patient voice on the other side of the line asks “How old will you turn next year?” My mum answers “60 years old” which prompts Tom and I to exchange puzzled looks and I let out a spontaneous awkward laugh and ask for a second to speak to my mum. Speaking in Portuguese, I remind her that we celebrated her 58th birthday 4 days prior. We laugh it off then submit our revised answer of 59 et voila! 40 minutes and 8 seconds later, the call ends and my mum pledges to never do online shopping again.
I still don’t know what she bought.
Lockdown vs Hélène
In the days that followed, an increasingly uncomfortable feeling developed. Dealing with change plus the added pressure of helping others navigate these strange turbulent times culminated in me crying on a Zoom call to my team.
A definite low point. Lockdown = 1, Hélène = 0.
Thankfully, my team is made up of three lovely and very empathetic humans that sat and listened quietly whilst I struggled to put my feelings into coherent sentences.
The summary of my babbling to my team was about how the lockdown had intensified my role as ‘head of the family’, especially my relationship with my brother.
It breaks my heart a little to think that in times like these my brother sees me more as a secondary carer than as a sibling. Having said that, I’ve reflected on it since and have rationalised that relationships are fluid and change over time. Therefore, one day, the need for my role as his secondary carer will recede and we’ll just be siblings with a strong bond (and when that day comes I expect to receive a gallon of wine as a thank you for my services as ‘guide & guardian’).
Another reflection brought on by this period was that apart from my fiancé (who has the patience of a saint) and two very close friends, I had never mentioned, not even in passing the central role I play in the familial setting. Previous employers had no idea that the reason I sometimes asked for annual leave was to attend parents’ evening at my brother’s school or to help my mum with admin. I had ‘absorbed’ this stuff for so many years for fear of judgement or discrimination that it never occurred to me that it’s ok not to be perfect. It’s ok to put the ‘corporate mask’ down and share the slightly messier bits of life because my abilities will not be questioned.
Sharing this part of my life with colleagues felt like a huge step forward and shifted a massive grey cloud, which in retrospect has previously stood in the way of people getting to know me. This is something that would not have happened if it were not for the blurring of ‘professional’ and ‘personal’ spheres during lockdown. Lockdown = 1, Hélène = 500.
We’re 3 or 4 weeks into the lockdown at this point and what a ride so far!
Exhausted just reading this? Well you better not be because we must make this time count!
Let’s clean the house, whilst listening to an audio book and baking a cake and video calling your aunt, cousin, brother, neighbour, dentist… oh! And do not forget about the quiz!
There is the family quiz, friends quiz, work quiz, reading club quiz, music quiz…
The assumption that everyone suddenly has all the time in the world brought about a wave of expectation and online activity that would be draining if not monitored. Made more tiresome (and hilarious) if you have terrible broadband connection resulting in an unintended game of statues with not much actual communication. So much so, in work meetings I gained the nickname “robot Hélène” and “R2-D2”.
Having said this, the calibre of quizzes across the nation has improved by 400%. Examples of this are provided below.
Productivity & Balance
As the household settled into the new routine, I noticed my energy levels increased, my mood lightened and the sun came out over Yorkshire! Is it possible that Spring & Summer in the UK are actually glorious, and we just miss it because we’re crammed inside office blocks? If so, we should do something about that. #workfromhome #fourdayweek
It was around week 5 when we began listing things we felt grateful for whilst eating together around the dinner table.
Over time, we noticed a healthy urge to use time in lockdown as an opportunity to do a few of the things we don’t normally have the time for. For instance, my mum baked eleven cakes in the twelve weeks she lived with us. I can live with that kind of ratio! Plus, there were priceless and rewarding moments like birthdays, sharing at the table every night and spontaneous relaxed conversation that rarely happened in our previous busy routines.
Also, am I the only one that has grown accustomed and completely comfortable with kids roaming the background (as well as taking centre-stage) of work calls? In fact, their lighthearted and unfiltered presence breaks barriers and sets a precedent that yes, we are workers but first and foremost we’re human. Once this lockdown is over, I will miss hearing the spontaneous laughter of kids and being shown magic tricks in the middle of a chat about finance. It brings a certain je ne sais quoi, non?
It’s a Challenge
Week 11 of lockdown, things felt tough. Every aspect of my life pushing me outside my comfort zone. Last night, my fiancé and I sat and talked whilst the sun went down. These chats are priceless and always help me make sense of my role in the different spheres of my life.
Work feels uncomfortable and challenging but not in a negative way, in a way that signifies growth.
I am a marketeer. I am knowledgeable in marketing, this is my area of strength. However, entering the world of Arts & Culture, I feel very much the small fish in a big pond. The best example I can think of to explain this is for you to imagine moving to a different country.
You are a human, you are knowledgeable in being a human, this is your area of strength (stick with me). However, this does not automatically mean that you will find it easy to be human in another country. The language, acronyms, attitudes, opinions, and behaviours that are considered “normal” in everyday life in one country are not so in another. This is what I have observed so far, being a marketeer in the Arts sector after years of working in the corporate sector is like learning a new way of being.
In fact, if you had told me 12 months ago that I would be voluntarily writing blog posts about really personal stuff that puts me in a place of huge vulnerability AND these blogs were being made public for other people to read AND that I’d be doing this through work. Nope, no way. Wouldn’t have believed you.
In context of the wider world, there are brave and necessary conversations happening. I am lucky enough that the organisation I am a part of wants to talk and shine a light on these challenging topics and feel grateful for it because although uncomfortable at times, the honesty & sincerity feels like freedom.