5. Well/Being? – Overwhelmed

Wellbeing Overwhelmed

Loss of routine
When I think back now to that time in March last year, I can recall the initial anxiety I felt leading up to the PM’s announcement. I knew from watching the news that it was going to be likely that we were going into a lockdown and the week before, I prepared myself for what was going to follow; that everyone in my family would be at home, I had to continue to write a particularly challenging PhD chapter and underneath it all, wondering just how ill we might get. Previously, I was settled in a routine that worked. It worked for me because I had access to different spaces and conversations that enhanced and stimulated my thinking and work.  #15

Intense fear
My initial reaction to the pandemic during February and early March 2020 was one of intense fear. At the end of 2019 I had met an academic from Wuhan; he and I kept in touch and so I received his personal insight as to what was unfolding in China. My daughter has asthma and my mother also has many health challenges so I was very anxious and stressed worrying about both of them. I could not understand why others were not feeling so scared.  During 2020 I was such a mix of emotions. I was incredibly scared for my loved ones (daughter, mother, nanna) testing positive with COVID due to health issues. I had such a struggle with screen fatigue and increased email traffic.  I’d got into this bad cycle of delaying getting up… because normally in a normal non-pandemic I’d be getting up at say six, leaving the house at say quarter to seven, whereas some days I was struggling, I’d still be like half nine still in my pajamas. And basically I was like kind of on the computer all day, cook a meal, go to bed and it just felt like I just, what am I doing just working, eating and sleeping and that’s it. So then I thought right I’ve got to change.  #11

Finding headspace was enormously challenging
At the beginning of the pandemic I found it really hard to concentrate on my work. I found myself overwhelmed by the enormity of what was happening and worried intensely about my family. I also worried about losing my job due to the impact of the lockdowns on the University.  Finding the headspace to write and conduct research was enormously challenging and it took at least three or four months after the start of the first lockdown for me to feel calm enough to write research grant proposals and articles.  #5

The little blue circle of doom …
I felt incredibly alone as I struggled to manage. I experienced gouging panic when unable to access the technical help I needed to teach, sometimes moments before an online lecture, I was watching the little blue circle of doom, cycling on my screen as I competed with so many others in my street working from home. I was suffering from brain fog and screen tiredness and did not always retain what had been said to me about details of folder names and changing dates and times. I am not making excuses for myself; I could probably have gone for more walks, scheduled quick meditations and learned a new language!  Every hour I had problems I had to solve by myself and students were looking to me for guidance and steady reassurance. As I taught, I often found I was breathless and exhausted. Sometimes, I realised I was working without thinking, distracted at the thought of making administrative errors, fearful of failing probation. Now the overwhelming feeling of being asked to do a bit more than I can manage continues. I am having counselling to address the problem of scattered thoughts, but the isolation and struggle remain at the edges of my everyday life, just below the surface, waiting, fearful of a resurgence, another, god forbid, another spike.  #3

My heart started racing
One of the days, I started feeling like I was having a bit of a panic attack.  I was on in one of my classes, it was a Wednesday morning, I had lessons back-to-back for two days, maybe I had a bit too much coffee, I’m not quite sure, but my heart started racing, you know, I was thinking oh God, I’ve got all these assignments coming in.  I felt pressured, felt like oh, the kids are being neglected.  Lunchtime, I messaged my manager and said, “I need to take a step back.  I need to change my class this afternoon.  I’m going to put up my detailed PowerPoint with some readings and I think that’s the work I need to set for them.  I can’t do a three-hour stint, I’m feeling very panicked.”  She did see my message but she didn’t reply so I spoke to my colleagues  and they said, ‘Just do it, don’t worry about it. They’re lucky you’ve got internet connection at all!’  #8

Drowning in domesticity and my Chapter of Shame
I wasn’t sleeping well and would wake up during the night alarmed and having heart palpitations.  I noticed that tears before breakfast were becoming a routine feature.   My daily walks consisted of me complaining about every little thing to my husband and I realised that I didn’t even even recognise who I had become. I felt vile and I said vile things The rage I felt was unreal.  All these layers of stuff, you know, and then just not knowing what the future looks like for the kids, of other kids their generation. That rage, yes, it was about my personal circumstances, but I think it was a lot bigger.  It’s just like the mess of it.  I constantly worried about some writing that needed submitting at least 5 days before supervision and what was I going to do? Nothing made sense. I was overwhelmed. I was at home with a computer and TIME but couldn’t write – everyone on social media seemed to have started making sourdough, banana bread or started an online book club. My husband was absorbed his own work and discussions, lobbying the government and writing blogposts.  Meanwhile, I was drowning in domesticity and my Chapter of Shame.  I remember on one early morning walk and I think I sobbed all the way through the park.  I was sobbing like a child.  You know, just inconsolable like I’d been kicked in my stomach, and I couldn’t explain what was wrong.  I think being hemmed into the end of my PhD where I’ve got supervision every two weeks for an hour and there’s three faces on my screen waiting for me to say anything. So, that was another layer, and then the other layer of my parents who did not understand lockdown.  They’d either rock up on my doorstep or they’d ring up and say, “Why aren’t you coming over?” #15

We talked of end-of-life care
I was beginning to find a routine to my working week, although I knew I wouldn’t be ‘productive’ in the conventional sense. My brain fog was clearing too. Then my dad had a heart attack. Thankfully it was small, and the clot dispersed on its own, but it was a long week whilst he was alone in hospital, on a ward with no mobile phone signal, with staff stretched to breaking point. I don’t know whether we were more frightened of the myocardial infarction or whether he might catch Covid on the ward, but he returned home with a holdall full of medication and without his shoes. The hospital had lost them. Dad was glad his DNR wasn’t needed. We talked of end-of-life care for him, my mum and my aunt who lives with them. They all have chronic conditions; all were shielding as if their lives depended on it. They probably did!  #26

Lonely, hurt, isolated
The students were feeling anxious overwhelmed, they were having arguments with their partners, they couldn’t keep up with home school. I couldn’t keep up with homeschool either. I was teaching them but neglected my own kids. I thought, why are you coming to me with your mental health problems, I’m just a teacher. I have had no training on mental health. I am feeling all the same things as you students but no one supports me. In fact my husband and I split up a week before lock down. I was feeling lonely, hurt, isolated, and now work was pressuring me and invading my home.  #8

Eventually my fear eased …
During the first lockdown I suffered with a serious lack of motivation, as I struggled to find a balance between work and home in a situation where these things were becoming increasingly interlinked. I also struggled with intense anxiety around my own health and the risks associated with me contracting Covid-19. I found it really difficult that I couldn’t even go for a walk.  It was just immediately everything was taken away but also the thing with the clinically extremely vulnerable list was that I was constantly getting text messages, letters, emails, from the government reminding me to stay at home.  Basically, you’re being told twice, three times, four times a week that if you leave your house there is a high possibility that you might die. Once the shielding advice was paused, I forced myself to make small trips outside. First just for a walk around the local area, next a car journey, moving on to a drink outside in a quiet pub garden. Eventually my fear eased and I was able to do more and more as the country opened up again over the summer. Despite this, in the back of my mind I still had a nagging doubt that it was really safe for me to be out and an underlying anxiety about catching Covid and ending up in intensive care. However, having the freedom to leave the house helped me to gain a better work-home balance and I began to enjoy working on my research and teaching.  #28

On my own so much
I struggled with lack of sleep and then also just worried about future job market, worried about the university sector.  All I kept hearing was funding pots are drying up, there’s no money and you know like losing all those opportunities for like networking and meeting colleagues that I’d been looking forward to. I felt very isolated during my pregnancy. My employers were great, I just want to keep saying that, any time I needed any time off or felt ill at anything it was just like ‘work when you can’ attitude. I couldn’t ask for better employers, managers, colleagues. But, you know I also suffered from really bad acute antenatal anxiety during my pregnancy and I think this was because I was on my own so much and had so much time to just think about things that could go wrong.  Being trapped in the house all day on my own, I am absolutely certain that’s why I got unwell.  All the health services, they weren’t face-to-face and it was just a way for me to live in my own little denial bubble I think, like not I’m going to tell anyone how bad I feel and just going to put my head down and get on with it and just hope it goes away.  #23

Letting everybody down
I simply don’t know how to keep sustaining this intensity of effort for much longer – both from a work and personal perspective.  Time has warped in many ways, but yet no aspect of my life seems to have been given the time and care it really needed or warranted.  The sense of being pulled in all directions, of being needed but not being able to deliver enough for anyone has been amplified to an extreme.  It was very much that sense of work just taking over everything, I mean, I think that was the overwhelming feeling, and that so many other things just…  And, you know, I think of it particularly related to my kids who were just basically abandoned, you know, they were…  You know, everyone else was talking about home-schooling and I was talking about… Well yeah, whatever electronic device they wanted they got because, you know, I just was so completely absorbed by the immediacy of work.  So it was that constant feeling of letting everybody down and not doing any of my roles in life well and I think that was, you know, just amplified to the absolute max through that whole time.  #21



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Physical wellbeing
Mental health