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COVID on your mind?

It is now mid-August 2020. Australia is now into its fifth month with COVID-19 having the nation firmly within its grips, writes Wayne Debernardi.

COVID on your mind?
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  • Wayne Debernardi
  • August 14, 2020
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Many other countries are still grappling with the virus and have done so longer than us Aussies have. I state this as a reminder that while you may feel like you are over all the media, politics, restrictions and curfews that come with the infliction of this lethal virus; so is everyone else around the world.

I live in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne and have grown through the experiences of various stages of regulated restrictions. 

Stage 2 allowed my family to continue our Wednesday night family dinner tradition to a certain extent; our family extends to five adult children and their partners. The last gathering of all of us together was the Saturday before Christmas 2019.

Stage 3 COVID-19 restrictions were far more confining than the previous level. 

Don’t leave home unless shopping for essentials; work from home; residents cannot use holiday homes as a substitute (thankfully that one didn’t apply to me but I can still dream); cafes and restaurants take away only; gymnasiums closed. Strangely, in this phase I could still get a haircut.

The night before Stage 3, restaurants were open with reduced seating and social distancing. That night we met with our son and his wife to celebrate his birthday at a local Thai restaurant. I have never seen so many local restaurant and cafe car parks that full in our suburb.

School holidays were extended by a week and on resumption years 11 and 12 were allowed back to the classroom. Parenthood became that much harder as families juggled work, child care and education.

Stage 4 was instilled a couple of weeks later as Melbourne COVID cases continued to grow. Given a few days notice in some respects, and as I write, we are masked when we leave our homes; have one hour exercise outside; stay within a five kilometre radius and only for essential goods and services. My Saturday Bunnings-fix is out of the realm of options.

I feel lucky. I can go up the road and wait outside the local burger restaurant or cafe around the corner for a cup of coffee. We have a Nespresso machine but we want to support our locals as much as we can.

My local post office is a skinny storefront for a newsagency. I queue outside to put on lotto with the delusional pretence that a win may override COVID-19. Only one customer can enter at a time. The wind and sometimes rain slashes against bodies, hoping to post a letter or parcel – hoping the item will be delivered by a time-restricted postie in your neighbourhood. I don’t bother buying a newspaper as it only echoes what we already know.

However, that is a good segue to the point of this article; above is just a scene-setter.

In no way,do I want to undermine the suffering of individuals, small businesses and other entities during this pandemic. I am also mindful many thousands of people were drastically affected by the wide spread 2019-20 bushfires, followed by floods before COVID-19 became a constant extension of our vocabulary. We should never forget that people have been hit by a triple whammy; fire, flood and virus.

As for the vocabulary, I can’t wait for the next Macquarie; can you?

What does Stage 4 mean to me?

Personally, on the outside, which means the physical and physiological aspects of my life, my life has changed very little. Psychological changes have occurred and I will cover this later in this blog.

I have been working from home since March 2020 under COVID-19 restrictions. My colleagues in other states have returned to the office but that is not the case here in Victoria.

I am also one of the luckiest people alive. I have the most understanding and accommodating partner on this planet (and I don’t just say so because she is sitting next to me on the couch as I tap away at the keyboard). Similar attributes are afforded to me by my workplace at the Institute of Public Accountants (IPA).

My wife, Lesley (Lee) is on the front line. Lee manages non-clinical services across two private hospitals (cleaning, catering, waste and the list goes on). The Victorian government has again taken control of the private sector run operations and may deploy her and her staff at any time to a facility unknown. That causes stress within all of us.

I also understand the isolation affect of working from home. In my earlier career years when I was running my own small business, a corporate consulting company; it was isolation that finally made me decide to close business after eight years.

I would be a liar if I said that Stage 4 COVID-19 restrictions did not remind me of those days to a certain extent, even 15 years later.

The conditions of first-time restrictions, the isolation of not having that morning chat or a coffee with a colleague; the inability to spontaneously bounce off new ideas with a colleague that actually knows where you are coming from; all are small aspects that we have to learn to live with.

Again, I am very fortunate with the IPA and other organisations that have adopted a new way of working that has allowed me to adapt. My working day is filled with the normal demands and meeting commitments mainly via video conferencing in one format or another. Challenges in this current environment still exist. Work continues and for that I am truly grateful.

My mental wellbeing and coping strategies

I mentioned that there have been some psychological changes during this COVID misadventure; perhaps challenges would be a better word. 

Before COVID-19, I would often work from home one day a week. Instead of starting in an office 40 kilometres from home at 6:30am, I would afford myself a sleep-in and start at 7am. There is always plenty to do, so I would find myself still in my home office at 5pm or beyond. Don’t get me wrong; I am no martyr. The truth is; I was just plain stupid. I never acknowledged the need for life-work balance (note, I didn’t phrase it as work-life balance).

The first couple of weeks of working from home five days a week, was tough. I suffer from PTSD so my anxiety levels rose and depression kicked in, challenging my mind as to whether I was up to the task; regardless of what the task was.

However, let me tell you, just because I have a mental illness is not the telling factor. Many others also suffered, especially those that were normalised to a daily work-office routine. This was a new world of working; a new world of thinking.

Something had to give and I was forced to make changes that challenged my work ethics but most likely saved my sanity and my life. So, here are a few tips:

  • Your home office is not a prison; it’s a place where you get some work done, meet reasonable commitments;
  • You MUST work to live, not live to work;
  • Schedule ‘me’ time every day. It doesn’t have to be rigid and in fact fluency is preferable (for my persona, structure works best; I sit down every morning and plan the day. I write on what I call my ‘daily barometer’ the work and other activities I have achieved to ensure I have kept my promise to myself for a meaningful life/work balance);
  • Break up your day with a range of activities that you enjoy and gain a sense of purpose from and intercept work with these activities; and
  • Have a start time and a finish time for your working day – anything that happens outside of these hours will wait – if they can’t, the desperate person needing your services will call you and not just melt your email box.

So, after the best part of five months working from home, do I practice what I preach? Not always but I keep refining the skills. I love my work so I am tempted to continue but I also have gained a greater appreciation of living.

As much as possible, I walk our nine-month-old labradoodle, Charlie, each day. Under Stage 4 we are allowed out for an hour.

I am trying to learn how to play a guitar online and for someone who is probably tone-deaf and has never played a musical instrument, I have taken a decent go at it.

My veggie garden has been overworked.

In my mini breaks, I returned to completing the writing of my first novel and on weekends when it was raining, I continued this with a passion and recently launched my website (sorry to advertise) www.words-by-wsd.com and heralded the fact that my first novel has been published. This novel is several years in the making so I feel accomplishment.

COVID-19 has been disastrous; it has impacted every individual, every business, every economy. My advice is to make sure you are looking after yourself and your loved ones and if that means pursuit of the things you ‘always wanted to do but never got around to it’; make it happen. Share, whatever it is, with your loved ones and make sure they are also active in personal goals and pursuits. I promise you, it will give you a different lens on COVID-19 and where we, as individuals, sit in looking after ourselves and others.

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