As the end of this year draws closer, I’d like to put some spark into the often gloomy discussion around COVID-19. Without a doubt, it has been a year that has impacted many people very negatively; the following is shared with an acknowledgement of the trauma experienced by some. My heart goes out to all who have lost someone or something important. I feel very grateful for the privilege that has sheltered me from the impact of much of this, and allowed me to take on some positive lessons.

What I have learnt about myself during 2020.

An extrovert in ISO

I am an off the scale extrovert – the needle goes to the far end in response to all those silly ‘what type are you’ questions. My energy feeds off of being surrounded by people. Before COVID, I chose to work in open plan co-working spaces, loved a lunch and found that meeting people filled my energy tank.

Being locked away for weeks on end with only my family and two dogs was an experiment that was never planned. One bizarre discovery is that I can still get the same buzz from Zooming people! So I get to save time by not travelling, and can still fill my people energy tank – I would never have picked that one!

Body matters

Before COVID, getting out of bed to work out in the early morning required meeting someone. I’d have been prepared to let myself down by just rolling over and going back to sleep, but I would never let a friend down or waste my gym membership.

During the pandemic, I set myself the goal to get COVID fit and surprised myself! I have been motivated at least 3 mornings a week to get up and run 5 km alone, ride 18 km on my bike and row nowhere, followed by an abs workout – all by myself!! Now I am allowed to meet up with people I ride with a friend, but I am still running alone and rowing / working out alone. As a result, I have come out of both lockdowns fitter than when I went in. Another surprise – BUT it is still much more fun and easier with a buddy!

Staying in place

Before COVID I worked with clients interstate and overseas using online platforms. It was easy, and the few that ‘got’ it loved being able to work with me, despite being far away. The world has now caught onto this being possible, and I am now working with way more people around the country – WA, NSW, QLD & SA –all since lockdown. Thanks for catching up with the times people! Hope the crash course wasn’t too jolting …

Before COVID I would get my best work done in my Bendigo office. I would pack up my toys every day and transport my laptop and ‘kit’ to and from work. Then I was forced to work from home during both lockdowns.

So I bought a standing desk and set up the spare room to be my home office. The surprise is that I LOVE it. The oval directly opposite my house has a steady procession of people from all walks of life – on bikes, scooters, wheelchairs, Zimmer frames, with dogs of all shapes and sizes leaping in the air after balls and the sound of happy kids racing around having fun in the fresh air. All visible from my desk.

Could it get any better? – Actually yes. An entire wall of my office is a white board – 2.4 x 1.2 m of space for me to map out my projects and great ideas. I love it. Yes, I still have an office in town for when I need to meet people in person and need a change of scene, but home is where it happens!

Dawn sky

I have spent some time in lockdown taking photos of the natural world.

Social distance

Before COVID I loved eating out for lunch at least once a week. It was something I automatically lined up in my diary, to discuss business and to catch up with friends. Now going out for lunch feels really special. It means so much more! Same for dinner at the pub. I wonder if it will ever go back to being automatic – for now I am enjoying the ‘treat’ feeling.

Before COVID I’d talk to my mum on Skype maybe every couple of months. The first 5 mins would always be a sound / tech check and trouble shooting. Since the first lockdown, we now chat weekly – and I love it. I am enjoying being much more in touch with each other’s lives. I have also been calling my Aunty Sally in the UK more frequently – during the first lockdown, it was weekly. Plus almost weekly chatting with the in-laws, too. They are all a long way away, and, as we are all busy, sometimes time just slips by without being in touch. The lockdowns have created the space to regularly be in touch, which feels good.

Social media distance

Before COVID, social media drove me mad. During COVID I removed all social media apps that remained on my phone and now only log into Facebook monthly (if I can’t avoid it for work). My disdain for people yelling their views with little regard for others has turned to a real intolerance. Instead of yelling back, however, I just refuse to engage with or personally support a platform that has values that clash with mine.

Instead, I have upped my support of independent media. I subscribe to Schultz Media’s The Weekly, The Monthly and The Quarterly. This week I also removed the ABC news app from my phone, as I listen to ABC Radio National most days, which keeps me informed. It has taken a while to get used to not sitting down after work with my phone in my hand. I have also purchased a digital alarm clock so I can leave my phone in the office on charge overnight … that was big, but I love it, as I am not tempted to look at it before sleeping and when I wake up. Feels good to choose when I pick up my phone, on my own terms.

The balancing act

Before COVID, I thought I had my work / life balance nailed. However, now I am working from home, I have created much clearer boundaries. This has resulted in more quality family time and two dogs that get heaps more walks. Don’t get me wrong: as a family we are not in each other’s pockets all day (that would not be a good outcome), but I feel we have nailed the balance of quality time vs respecting the need for space. Having a year 12 student in the house has really helped to get this balance right – it’s not just our mental health which is at stake, but also our daughter’s. The removal of all things ‘busy’ that comes with commuting, travel for work and the teenage taxi service has resulted in clear space for just being and doing as a family. I like it.

Periods of intense change are draining. We are continually having to re-evaluate and make decisions, and that requires effort. I found the heightened state of trying to predict what was coming next, scouring the news feeds for updates, a strain. Were we at risk, how was that risk changing, what was new, what did we need to know, what did we need to be doing? This required a state of hyper vigilance which for me became the new normal. Add in a full diary of work, 5 volunteer board roles and a family, and I soon realised in the first lockdown that I’d go mad if I didn’t start to put up some boundaries. I found some reframing was required: to look at what I could control – my fitness, my schedule, my surroundings – and making some choices to support my mental health. Not just once, but every time I felt my anxiety rise, I needed to consider what was within my control and what I could change. If hearing the news caused me stress, I stopped checking it or removed the app.

I hope reading this helps you to consider what you can control at the moment and what choices might help you to reframe and improve your mental health. Again, I feel extremely grateful for the privilege I have and acknowledge that for some people a reframe and change of choices is not possible.

Community matters

The other side to all this personal growth is the need to give back. During the lockdown, I have also been supporting the local women’s refuge, by collecting much needed clothing donations and by supporting my daughter to make masks to fund raise for them. Now is the time to look out for ourselves and for each other. As a community we need it.

Clare Fountain

Spring wattle in bloom