Reflections of living and working through a pandemic so far: Part 1

I was talking to a friend the other day, and I asked her what she enjoyed about my podcasts and blogs and what got in the way, of enjoying all of them. Now normally I would avoid asking questions like that, but I trust her opinion and as I was thinking of recording a few more podcasts, I wanted to understand what would get her to listen.

The podcasts she enjoyed were the ones that were spoken from the heart, and full of personal experience. It makes perfect sense, when I think about it, and to be honest it did not surprise me. The numbers confirm it too, all the blogs I have written and podcasts I have recorded that are about my personal experiences have higher reading and listening numbers. I suppose they hold more relevance to people, and maybe I preach and lecture less when just talking about what is going on in my life.

We then talked about recording another podcast about mental health and well-being that reflects what I have experienced and learned over the past year. Now I will record something in good time, but I thought I might write a few things first, maybe just to put into some kind of order, to help me make sense of what has happened and what might happen next, as well as maybe help you make sense of what is happening to you.

It was probably February when a sense of nervousness started in the hospital and probably in healthcare settings around the country and no doubt the world. What had been happening in China and what was beginning to unfold in Italy, had a lot people worried about what was coming our way. What we could not imagine was how much our lives were about to change. A change that would impact every aspect of our lives. Now matter how resilient you think you are everyone had something that sent them emotionally over the edge. We all had some change to how we lived that we really struggled with. I would find something everyday to get emotional over. But in February and March I was just scared about what was coming, and whether all of us (my family and friends would make it through to the end).

In early March my work life changed completely, in fact the hospital changed the way it operated in what seemed an instant. The initial nervousness had shifted into action. It was incredible to witness. I moved from working in Organisational Development to manning a staff advice helpdesk. I did that for a couple of weeks. If I am honest that was probably one of the most challenging things I have ever done. I felt completely out of my depth. The thing is, everything we were experiencing was completely new for everybody, at times it felt like we were fumbling in the dark, sometimes we got it wrong, and other times we were right. On reflection the times I got it right was when I didn’t try to advise, and spent time listening to the person on the end of the line. All the general straightforward calls were handled by the usual employee service centre staff, and then there were one or two of us experienced clinical (or newly ex-clinical) staff to field the more complicated calls. It was easy to fall into the trap of advice giver, and that is often when things went less smoothly. We learned quickly to spend time listening to what they had to say. That in it’s self brought challenges, it was difficult taking calls from emotional, unwell, terrified people, whilst trying to manage your own emotions. I kept having to remind myself that this was new for all of us, and to give myself a break.

After 2 weeks I started with a persistent cough. I was on a day off, when it started. I kept on saying to myself, it will go in a minute, I am probably just being over dramatic. I will give it another 5 minutes. I felt quite well! Lisa was due to be at work, so I knew I could not pretend it was not happening. I had to jump and ring in. So that was it for 7 days for me and 2 weeks for Lisa and the boys. I was fine for the first day, apart from the cough. There was no testing back then so we all stayed in, I got sicker and sicker and nothing happened to them. I kept on questioning myself, wondering if I really had it, and then I would try to do anything or the coughing would start. Some days I felt fine and other days I felt like I had been run over by a juggernaut. On a few occasions around day 7 or 8 of the symptoms I was quite scared, I had never felt so ill before. Then after I returned to work, the brain fog kicked in, followed by coughing fits, headaches and waves of emotion. It was May before I was back to full-time work, and August before I felt anywhere near normal. A lot of what happened between March 24th and August is a bit vague to be honest. I am grateful that I wrote a blog during that time, at least I have something to spark my memories.

When I went back to work, I went back to Organisational Development, only now we were working with the Clinical Psychology team and the Chaplains providing staff support, both in a virtual setting and in person. This evolved and developed over time as we adapted to what was presented to us, and learned to work to each others strength. Professionally the time from August to now has probably been the most fulfilling of my career. I have met and worked with some incredible people. Listening to the stories of staff across the hospital (non-clinical and clinical alike) has been inspiring and humbling, and has taught me so much about being a coach. It has however been an incredibly challenging time, balancing work and personal life. Regulating my emotions has been at times very difficult, hearing the emotions of the staff I have been talking to, whilst sitting with my own emotions has been demanding. As you will know my Mum has cancer and lives on the other side of the country. Despite speaking to her everyday, there have been times that have pushed us all to the emotional edge. When able I have been to visit her, for both of our well-being. We needed to see each other, talk about feeling so sad, and remember that the sadness comes from the fact that we have such an important loving relationship, that we never want it to end. Reminding ourselves of that is so helpful, it makes every moment we have talking to each other or time spent in each others company so precious, even if we are crying. You will also know if you have read my blogs before that both my boys have left home and now live in Manchester, that has happened the past year too, so that has caused heartache for both myself and Lisa. We are incredibly proud of them but at the same time so sad that they have gone, especially after the first lockdown as Ben came home and Jack was in the last year of sixth form. By August both of them had left and were living together in Manchester. The fact that they share a house is very helpful. We know they have each other to rely on. We are also so proud of the young men they have become. Since they have both been in Manchester, they have recorded and released their own music, as well as studying for their respective degrees. Again the feelings of sadness we both experience are because we love being their parents. The role of a parent is to nurture and develop the adults of the future. We are proud because we have helped shape 2 adults that share a lot of our values.

In March I started a project, on reflections of leadership through a prolonged crisis. I was interested in understanding what kept people going during such a challenging time. I interviewed around 30 leaders, from a variety of businesses and NHS organisations. Now I am still analysing the results of the interviews, so I am not going to pre-empt what the projects shows apart from one thing. That was either said or implied by everyone. It was hard, they were scared, they were unsure what the outcome would be, but they did it anyway.

The past year and half has no doubt be the most challenging of my life, and no doubt yours too. But that sentence above really resonates with me. It is hard, I am scared, I don’t have a clue what is going to happen next, all I can do is keep checking what I value and keep working towards that. One of the interviewees said to me. “I had no choice, so I just got on and did it.” When we are clear about what we value, and always work within our values, it makes it easier to have that level of conviction and determination. I keep reminding myself what is important, what I value, so I can continue to just do it anyway.

That was my first reflection on how I looked after my well-being over the past year and half. I suppose this has reflected on how acknowledging emotions and living within your values can help you pick yourself up and carry on. I found the process of writing this as ever very helpful I hope you find something helpful within it.

Published by Matt Smith Personal and Professional Coach

Performance and Life Coach

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