Words by Steph, 28 VIC
I’m supposed to help people.
I’m supposed to help fix problems.
That’s my job.
And this, I absolutely cannot fix.
Depending on the day, or moment my thoughts around the pandemic change. I work in a mental health hospital. On any given day, I come across a variety of people and afflictions, which act as a constant reminder of the fragility of life. I run therapy sessions with individuals and groups, my role demands I be vigilant and compassionate in the hope I can form a trusting relationship with my patients.
So, in some ways, I am incredibly lucky to have a secure job (let’s be honest, this pandemic sure as shit ain’t healing our mental health). But some days, being in a role where people look at me for guidance and support – it can leave me feeling stressed, exposed and deflated.
I float between being envious of people who are working from home in their pyjamas to feeling privileged to be able to go to work. To have a job. To be in a position where I can try to help lighten the load for people in some small way.
The majority of the time I’m glad to say it’s the latter, but on the days when my face shield leaves a sweaty red imprint on my forehead and the internet cuts out during therapy over telehealth (as if discussing tough stuff isn’t hard enough, without having your therapist freeze on your screen) – I find myself sharing the same fear with my patients, and on those days, I do struggle.
I have patients who manage their distress by walking in the middle of the night, it’s often the only soothing thing for them to do. They can’t do that anymore.
I have patients that are not safe in their current homes and need to find a new place to live. The current restrictions mean house inspections are not possible. Many have been left trying to determine if a potential new home will be a safe place for them from photos. And that’s if they’re in a financial position to be able to look. Emergency and crisis accommodation is almost impossible to get into at the best of times, let alone during a pandemic.
I try and problem solve but sometimes I just don’t have the solutions. I feel as powerless as they do.
All of these difficult conversations happen behind a mask, with a face shield and from a distance. It is so hard listening to someone share their pain and stories and try to communicate with them during this time. To be able to empathise, build a rapport and let them know you are on their team (especially when they think no one is) all whilst wearing PPE that makes me look like a bloody sweaty astronaut lego human.
People can’t see smiles. Sometimes that’s the only thing I can give them, and I don’t even have that up my sleeve. I love smiles and I hate that I can’t see them and share them at a time when we really need them. Not just at work either. If I can’t bloody hug someone at least let me smile, ya know?
Despite all of these physical, financial and psychological barriers, people are somehow managing these difficult times with such grace, adaptability and resilience. I’m in awe of that. Not only are they managing but they even laugh at my lame jokes! That feels nice, given I’m dressed like I’m going to space.
Reflecting on my experience with perspective has helped me carry on. It’s always about perspective.
I need these if I have a shot at coming out the other side half-human.
I’m lucky to be surrounded by people (colleagues and friends) who understand this. We remind ourselves – not of the ‘coulda, shoulda’ bullshit politics that has come from this, but that yes this is hard, incredibly so. Yes, this sucks but we don’t actually have any control or choice but to be where we are, and therefore we need to save our energy. Maybe we do our best to use it as a chance to reflect, to breathe, go back to basics and focus on enjoying the simple things.
I cannot WAIT to be surrounded by people who won’t take the little things for granted. To go to the pub, to go out after 8 pm, to be sweaty – not from PPE but from a dance floor, to go to the dog beach, be in the same room with my loved ones. Most of all to have a long-awaited, love-squeezed hug from my nana. (How good are nanas?)
Kindness. This is what we must remember is important.
Even the most teeny, tiny acts of kindness can shift everything, for someone right now.