How are you? No, really. How are you?
I’m asking because we all have a tendency to just reply and say ‘oh fine’. It’s pretty much a reflex.
In the interests of full disclosure, and in the hope of encouraging others to do the same, I’m just going to throw this out into the world: I’m broken. I’m pretty sure I’m not alone. I’m pretty sure that if we were to be completely honest with each other, most of my colleagues would say that they are too.
Partly this is because I have a very exciting condition which reacts badly to stress. Its called Angio Oedema and makes my face and hands swell at random moments and has some very exciting gastric symptoms. Apparently working in Infection Prevention and Control during a pandemic does not lead to a particular zen existence. Who knew!?
My world is pretty much all pandemic all of the time. To try to step away from this, I’ve been listening to a podcast by Sandi Toksvig called ‘We will get past this’. Mostly because it focuses on women doing cool things in history, with a good dose of literature. It therefore ticks many of my boxes.
This morning on the way into work I was listening to episode 12, ‘Sandi’s Spicy Slow Pour from Sudan’, which talked about being in lockdown (the episode is from last April) and the joy of using it as time for reflection. It also talked about the freedom of, for once, not being so tightly controlled by time. It sounded joyous and the more I listened the more jealous I became. It really struck me just how vastly different our experiences of lockdowns and the pandemic are.
With that in mind, it’s probably worth all of us taking some of the limited time we may or may not have to reflect on where we are at. Maybe, when we are speaking to our friends and colleagues, we should take the time to really pay attention to the questions and answers we are involved in. Maybe follow up the ‘How you doing?’ with a, ‘No really, how are you doing?’ and making it ok to not be ok. I’m definitely living in the world of surviving, with the occasional slip into struggling (usually health driven: see below). Somehow I don’t feel like this is something I can admit to. There are are posters displayed all around my Trust telling me that I should, but the immediate response would be: ‘Have you tried the wellness app?’ This may just be me, but am I the only person on the planet who cannot get on with the idea that if I just tried a wellness or a mindfulness app that my life would be transformed *looks around*? Nope, just me then. Maybe it’s because I can’t stop thinking…
In contrast to my working life, which feels constant and never ending, I have friends who declare how bored they are via social media. Other friends talk about the amazing skills they have learnt or how healthy they have now become. I feel I will come out the other side of this with no new skills, pounds heavier, and in need of six months off just to put myself back together again. That said, I think it’s becoming quite universal across my networks that, no matter where we started out, we are all beginning to feel the strain.
So what am I getting at? I think that no matter where we started out, we all now feel we are well into stormy weather and that the resilience we had at the start, for almost everyone I know, is beginning to fade. When that happens, it is human to start judging everything from our own perspective and to feel that others have it easier or worse than ourselves. What I think we lose is the ability to truly reflect on where we are at, and try to view the situation of others with empathy and through another lens beyond our own. My friends who are bored are no less stressed than I am. Their pressures are just different. My friends who’ve picked up skills are also struggling, it’s just they are using a different process to deal with their challenges. One that their own circumstances permit. The storm is the same, it’s only our perspective of it that is different.
So, as mindfulness does not seem to work for me, I decorated my desk over Christmas and my eyeline is filled with things I love: like tea and shoes. I also have a sign to remind me that, like all things, heavy storms pass. The weather will clear and sometime soon our view will be of bluer skies, rainbows and crystal days, rather than of stormy seas.
So this is my plea: ask your friends and colleagues how they are, whilst knowing you can probably fix neither ‘it’ nor them. Sometimes knowing that someone cares is enough. Also, when the dark clouds surround us, try to be kind and not judge the boats that others are in. We don’t know if they have sprung a leak, no matter how luxurious they appear. It’s only by being kind to ourselves, and each other, will we get through this.
All opinions on this blog are my own