- Countries Visited: 6, plus a stopover or 2
- Travel Wishlist: Ghana, in Africa, I was born there, and I’d love to go back
- Locked down in: Ringwood, Melbourne, Australia
“Taking precautions which includes not travelling is hard, but knowing its for the greater good makes it easier to cope with being stuck.”
For year’s I’d make the joke “I don’t know what I’m doing in 5/4/3/2/1 years’ time, I don’t have 20 20 vision” I thought I was hilarious! Turns out that was more of a premonition than a joke as I didn’t ever expect to find myself sitting at my dining table on a dreary Thursday afternoon in Melbourne attempting to work from home while missing the company and hugs of my best friends. Being in lockdown was never part of the plan. For me, 2020 is more of a “Tale of Two Lockdowns”, the first was in Queensland, where I was out every day, compared to the second in Melbourne where I’m barely allowed to leave the house.
I’m an engineer who works FIFO (Fly in, Fly out) usually on a weekly, if not fortnightly, basis. In 2019, I took around 70 flights over the course of the year. I’m used to being away from home a lot and missing my friends but coming home on weekends always meant catch ups over brunch, or movies on a Saturday night, or attending whichever house party/Scout event that was on.
2020 started like any other year, lots of flights, especially because I was balancing work with my Scouting commitments for State and National events. By the time March came around I’d already flown 13 times for the year and was working a 50-70 hour work week every week. That included working almost every weekend to make sure the new runway project would be completed by the 21st of May. Pretty much every weekend we were expected to work because of this imposing deadline, and weather had delayed us through most of January and February which made everything just that little more urgent. At one point we had 3 crews working on site which meant as part of the project management team we were stretched thin.
Because of this intense work pressure and long hours my mental health wasn’t doing too well. I’d completed my mental health first aid course mid last year and I’d finally worked out why I’d felt uneasy at times, I realised I had been dealing with some low-level anxiety. It’s not always prevalent but a previous toxic workplace did a number on my own view of my ability to do my job, and 3 years into my current job I still struggle with understanding my own self-worth. This tends to spike during times of stress and deadlines, and work at the beginning of the year was unintentionally the perfect storm for my anxiety to kick up a gear and it did. I’m not good at asking for help, and I let things build up more than they should, but eventually I crack and cry for a bit, but I have a good relationship with my bosses, so when I do ask for help, things change and we get an extra resource, but sometimes that makes it worse before it gets better.
Because of the massive work load, my options of flying home were limited and when the government started bringing in restrictions and enforcing quarantine to overseas travellers, my company put out a memo to limit, if not stop, all interstate travel. I can remember seeing that memo come out days before I was due to travel home, for the first time in a month and I was devastated. I’d been working so hard and was looking forward to spending a weekend at home with my best mates and my cats who I hadn’t seen in over a month. I had another breakdown because everything just hit me at once.
Fortunately for me my bosses understood how important me going home for a couple of days would be beneficial for my mental health and my ability to be able to carry on with the project, so I was sent home for 3 days knowing that this might be the only time for a while I’d be able to get back to Melbourne. I spent the weekend relaxing at home, saw my 2 best friends and minimising any risk of possibly being exposed to Covid, because if I’d picked it up while I was home and brought it to work, that would have major implications to our team, the work we were doing and the whole project. I took a Sunday afternoon flight back to Queensland, for fear of border closures and whether I was deemed essential or not, and I made it back to the Sunshine Coast, that was March 22nd.
Work continued to power on, with extra rules about social distancing, sanitising shared tools and hand cleaning now a regular part of our work process. Very quickly I watched the boulevard at Mooloolaba shut down, with limited businesses operating even just for takeaway, it had become a ghost town. I didn’t mind so much because it meant that I had less people to avoid, I chose to spend any free time I had outside of work in my apartment for risk of accidentally picking something up because I still needed to go to work every day. I didn’t have the luxury of being able to do my job at home.
The days rolled into weeks, and we even planned on working through Easter, because we all didn’t have anything else to do, but due to access on site, we all ended up taking a few days off. With most of the work complete by the end of April, I was given permission to go home again.
I got to come home to Melbourne for a weekend at the start of May and flying at that point was bizarre. We sat a seat apart filling 2/3 of the plane, but the person in front of me decided to put his chair back for most of the flight, and I can remember thinking how foolish this person was, as if the virus could only travel side to side and not forward and back. I kind of wish I’d coughed so I could have my own personal space back. I can remember landing at Melbourne Airport that day, it was terminal 4 at 4pm on a Friday and it was such a strange experience. I can remember thinking that this would be a great thing to describe at the beginning of a story. Fortunately I’m considered an essential worker which helps with border crossings, even then, the forms, letters and general paperwork to cross the border was pretty intense, especially talking to military personnel just to do the same thing I’d done countless times before.
During my trip home I went for a walk with friends (socially distant imposed by umbrellas) because I was craving non-work human contact and spent a lot of time enjoying the company of my cats again. I am so glad I chose to get pets 12 months ago, but that’s more part of the second part of lockdown. I headed back to Queensland for what was supposed to be another month, but a month turned into 6 weeks, but when I left Queensland in early June, most of the paperwork had been sorted and the runway was ready to open. I missed seeing the first plane land on it by a week, but getting home was more important and I got to watch it online which was really cool.
During the last swing in Queensland, I’d picked up from both my housemates that there was a bit of tension at home and both of their mental health was impacting on each other in negative ways and I knew after working long days at work that I wasn’t capable of dealing with the situation so I got help. My work has an Employee Assistance Program with free counselling for a number of sessions. This gave me a 3rd person perspective to the situation that I was walking into and I’m glad I did, it was really good to have someone to talk to (but sometimes even just at) and gave me some coping mechanisms. When I got home, I got to play mediator, and was able to help both housemates deal with their struggling mental health by encouraging them to get help and make healthy decisions.
As the weeks of being home continued on, things were looking ok, it was still a little tense at home, but it was looking up. Being home and working from home was ok, I got time to catch up with friends whenever I wanted, sit in a café and work, or hang out with my cats on the couch. What I should have done was make more use of that time when numbers were low, but with the virus still existing I was concerned I could accidentally pass it onto my grandparents who are both 90 with pre-existing conditions. I eventually got tested, I’d had a niggling cough since March, and I wanted to know I was ok before visiting them. Unsurprisingly I returned a negative test and because I’d isolated myself between test and visit, I felt comfortable enough to go see them. That was after the few suburbs had already gone into lockdown.
I had planned to head back to Qld for a quick trip in late July, but with border closures kicking in, the trip was cancelled the night before. I hated that I couldn’t leave, I’ve always been a bit of a gypsy growing up and I love to travel. Taking precautions which includes not travelling is hard, but knowing its for the greater good makes it easier to cope with being stuck.
As we went into stage 3 lockdown, one of my housemates made the decision to move out, she wasn’t going to cope with the situation that she knew was coming, being permanently stuck at home. I understood her difficulties and knew it was best for everyone so she moved back to her parents place. This definitely helped the tensions in the house and not wanting to pay an excessive amount in rent, we went housemate hunting (safely of course) and we found a new housemate within days. He’s much more suited to our house and the tension has definitely dissipated.
The second lockdown has definitely been different than the first, now being stuck at home, rather than away made it even more sucky not being able to see friends, so as we started Stage 3, my brother and I decided to host trivia nights on Saturdays. This gave us an opportunity to see lots of friends and family on a weekly basis. It was supposed to be something we did for 6 weeks, not a massive commitment, but tonight I’m hosting our 15th week of trivia. I have to admit, I’ve not yet run out of trivia questions, but I’m getting close! We have 30-50 – people dialling in each week, so I’m glad we’ve been able to provide some entertainment and a place to hang out on a weekend! We’ve also got family zoom calls on Friday nights, connecting 3 to 4 generations across 3 states over the computer. It’s good to talk to the family while we are so physically distant, and I’m super impressed with my grandparents dialling in every week, usually beating the rest of us to the call.
The second lockdown has been tough, watching the numbers grow so quickly was terrifying, but having cats who snuggle and moving my work space out of my bedroom into the dining room which is half windows has helped so much to change my frame of mind, particularly as the weather has improved. I must admit the Zoom Fatigue has definitely kicked in a few times, with some weeks having a call every night but it is how us extroverts connect. Taking time for myself to recharge and do crafty things has helped me too. As the rules have changed, getting out and walking with mates has also really helped my mental health, enjoying the sunshine (and sometimes rain) to bitch and moan or to share stupid stories. Unfortunately, not all my best friends live within my 5 km’s and it sucks that I can’t see more of them. Hopefully things change soon which will allow me to get to catch up in person, sooner rather than later!
As a side note, I have to say how important music has been for me to get through each day, my favourite band have started releasing songs from their upcoming album, the first track, “Happiness” is such a poppy love song track that just makes me feel good about getting up in the morning, it definitely puts a pep in my step! Their newest track though has really struck a chord though, I swear I’ve listened to it on repeat since it came out. The song is called Tonight is the Night, the lyrics just resinated, it’s all about asking for help when you are low. The lyrics are below:
Just one of a thousand people
Scared of asking for help
For my own mental health
Had to say to myself
Tonight is the night
Tonight is the night
I might have wasted the tears
But I won’t waste the years
Tonight is the night
Tonight is the night
I admit to myself that I’m asking for help
That’s my message to people reading this project, it’s ok to ask for help, we all need it!