How I’m Managing Life and Work in 2020: It’s OK to Not be OK

Over the past 6 months, we’ve shared the stories of HorizonOne team members as they navigated the challenges of the COVID-19 lockdowns and remote working.

While the worst of the restrictions in the ACT appear to be over, we are wary that they may return at some point in the future – especially considering what our friends in Victoria are going through.

To wrap up this series I want to share my personal story, now that I can reflect on it with some distance…

A month of adrenaline

When COVID-19 first hit Canberra and the possibility of a lockdown became real, I remember feeling so much adrenaline because of everything that needed to get done.

In the first four weeks, I focused on getting set up at home and then diving into work. Initially, it felt like a challenge and I kept extra busy making sure everyone in our team was coping well and connecting regularly via video conferencing.

I was also working closely with Kate who had returned early from her honeymoon and was transitioning back into work.

There was so much going on, it really felt like a fight or flight situation – and I am a fighter! Back me into a corner and I will come out swinging. Give me a tough problem and I will work my ass off to solve it because I pride myself on rising to the challenge.

But once things started to level out…

This is sh**!

I live in a one-bedroom apartment with a small two-seater dining table which had become my new “office”. I have two lovely cats to keep me company, however it only took a month before my workload started to level out, routine set in, and I found myself looking around thinking WTF!?

With where my “office” was located, and the fact that I couldn’t leave the house, I just worked all the time because it was impossible to avoid. I couldn’t separate work and home life, and everything I normally love to do outside my house was put on hold. I purposely distanced myself from my family because I didn’t want to put them at risk, and with everything closed there wasn’t a whole lot to do with friends.

I think I went over eight weeks without seeing a single person I know face to face. Other than the weekly trip to the supermarket, I didn’t come into contact with any 3D humans which is incredibly isolating. I almost cried when I had to pick something up from the office and ran into Andy. It was just so nice to see someone I knew in the flesh!

Depression sets in

There’s no doubt the lockdown was hard on everyone. No matter your work or personal situation – whether you live alone, suddenly added home-school teacher to your resume, or had to fight over desk space with your partner – everyone experienced differing and challenging circumstances.

I’m thrilled to heari stories of people who loved (or still love) working from home. But for me, it was absolutely brutal. Even Liam and Victoria (my beautiful and normally very patient cats) began to look at me like “Is she seriously home again today??”

Victoria (L) and Liam (R) reactions to hearing me play Amazed by Lonestar for the 678th time….

I have struggled with depression in the past and am usually good at recognising when the “clouds” are coming in. So I was pretty disappointed in myself when it managed to sneak up on me this time. Perhaps because it was a completely different situation and under circumstances no one could ever plan for – but it came on all the same and took me a lot longer than usual to realise that I was really struggling.

The signs of depression aren’t always as straight forward as feeling emotional or numb. This time, for me, it started with a lack of focus. I found it really difficult to concentrate on anything, which quickly spiralled into a complete lack of motivation with zero productivity. I simply wasn’t functioning.

I went into hermit mode and stopped going out, even just for a walk. I started sleeping more, and I found it really hard to get anything done. My brain literally felt like it shut down. Because I really enjoy working hard and thinking logically and being social, I felt I was letting everyone down – including myself.

Taking action to recover

In a strange way, I feel almost grateful I’ve experienced depression in the past. This is because once I realised what was happening, I already had the tools in place to help pull me out of it.

I booked appointments with my therapist and had a conversation with Simon. He was very supportive and started checking in with me more regularly. I also told him I needed to physically go back to the office even though I would be the only one there.

Luckily, the office was in the ACT’s allowed travel distance because I needed to find a way to separate work and home. I had to get out of my apartment as I was just feeling so claustrophobic – both mentally and physically.

Once I started working in the office a few days a week, everything started to improve. The restrictions were easing too and after a few weeks, others began to return.

My 2 cents…

As humans, our mental health is constantly evolving. It’s never a fixed state, and there’s never a specific set of signs to tell you when you’re not at your best.

We’re always learning how to look after ourselves, and how to give ourselves a break when we need to. It doesn’t mean it’s a fail, because I believe everything is a lesson to help us move forward.

If you struggled with depression during the lockdown, and perhaps are still struggling with it now, please know it’s OK. You are not alone and there is nothing to be ashamed of.

The first step is realising there is a problem and taking the steps to reach out for support. There are a lot of really great existing support networks and tools available, even if you are not ready to talk to those close to you. I really like this article from Beyond Blue about mental health during the pandemic.

We’re not infallible. We’re human. And while people may appear one way on social media (or avoid it altogether as I did during my tough time) it’s almost certainly not what’s going on in real life. There are many others out there who feel like you do – you are not alone, and it is ok not to be ok.