Weeknotes SE02E11 — Mental Health Awareness Week

Black and white photo of a Post-it note with ‘How are you?’ written in black marker
Black and white photo of a Post-it note with ‘How are you?’ written in black marker

This year’s Mental Health Awareness Week runs Monday 10 May — Sunday 16 May, so I thought I’d share some personal reflections and thoughts after the really challenging, difficult year the world has been presented with. I’ll caveat this with saying that I am fortunate to have a lot of privileges afforded to me in my life and I share these thoughts only in the spirit of being open and with the hope that some of this might resonate with a few people.

I feel lonely working from home

I’ve got used to working from the dining table now, I’ve got a good set-up in terms of equipment and worrying about how to handle remote facilitation, recruitment, line management etc. is a thing of the past. But it’s only really struck me over the last few months that the thing I struggle with the most is feeling lonely.

I know there’s been lots of talk about missing those ‘water cooler’ chats but it’s more than that. It’s really hard not to be able to instantly share successes, challenges or just have a good old natter with someone over the desk. Every interaction has to be pro-actively thought about and planned or scheduled in. And my small flat seems to feel a bit smaller and more empty every day at the moment, with only the sound of my own voice on a billion video calls for company.

Realising I only had six months in the physical office before going fully remote and how that’s put the kibosh on making ‘work friends’ has also made me a bit sad. The network you usually create for yourself to get support or have a laugh with when you’re in an office just isn’t really there (although I do have a few go-to people that I’m very grateful for!). I have close friends from most roles I’ve had since getting my first job back in 2005 and after 18 months here, I feel sure I would have a few more Citizens Advice friends if it hadn’t been for Covid-19.

I can only imagine how much more intense that feels for people who have started new roles remotely over the last year and are yet to meet any of their colleagues in real life. So sending sympathy and solidarity to all those who are in that position.

But I think saying ‘I’m lonely’ and owning it has actually made me feel marginally better about it.

The routines and hobbies from last year have gone out the window and I feel guilty

My goodness I was good at keeping myself busy most of last year! Daily walks, lino-cutting, gardening, writing letters, drawing, reading, meditating, doing weights, hauling myself onto the exercise bike, organising Zoom quizzes (which we ALL detest now, right?) — I was a machine!

But since January I’ve really struggled to do any of that stuff. And I feel so guilty about it. I’ve even fallen back into ‘doomscrolling’ last thing at night and first thing in the morning despite the fact I know it’s bad for me!

I think what’s tricky is that lockdown is now easing and we’re able to do a bit more, it’s like I am hanging on for us to go ‘fully back to normal’ rather than taking what I learnt from last year and building it into daily life in a permanent way.

And at the moment on a day-to-day level for me (and lots of others), nothing has changed. I’m still working at home, still eating three meals a day at home, still ending the day and walking the two metres to the sofa and trying to think ‘OK, that’s the work day done, now switch off’.

The only thing I have continued to do is meditate, which is something I guess (I love you Yogi Bryan!)

Being on the precipice of lots of life changes is exciting but stressful (and I’m impatient!)

Between April and December last year, my girlfriend and I got engaged, I put my flat up for sale, we decided to move back to my hometown, and we agreed that we want to adopt in the future and started to research what that process will be like.

Huge life changes! So much excitement! So much to plan! Finding houses on RightMove that are 5 minutes from my parents or five minutes from my sister!

But now it’s like waiting for the dominoes to fall (it all needs to start with someone actually buying the flat) and I feel impatient and anxious most of the time about these changes, rather than excited. It’s like the stress is waiting for me in the room next door and I want to be able to plan how I’m going to manage it but that’s impossible until the wheels are in motion and I know what’s what.

And again, big old guilty feelings about not appreciating how amazing it is I have all these things to look forward to, most of which I thought would never happen for me.

Feeling invisible as a queer person

I know I’ve mentioned this before (Weeknotes SE02E03 — a lot of work stuff and a little LGBTQ+ stuff) but over the years I’ve been really involved in the LGBTQ+ community, whether that was hosting or performing at Bar Wotever back in the day, volunteering as a befriender for Opening Doors London, doing the press and marketing for a queer DIY film festival, working for Stonewall for 4 years, marching at Pride events or just hanging out with awesome LGBTQ+ people!

Thinking about the ‘languishing’ thing below, maybe one small goal I need to set myself is getting back involved with some volunteering or LGBTQ+ events or spaces, maybe starting with going to the first Bar Wotever back at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern on 1 June…

Lots of us might be languishing

I read this article in The New York Times and it really resonated with me. It probably says a lot of the things I am trying above to say in a much more articulate way!

So I guess in conclusion, I feel like times are still tough, even though there’s some light at the end of the tunnel in terms of Covid-19 restrictions and if you’re feeling any of the same things as me, that’s ok. And let’s talk about it.

A few final bits and pieces