It would be an understatement to describe 2020 as challenging. I think most people are looking forward to waving it goodbye on December 31st, but probably for very different reasons. While we’ve all been in this together, we’ve all experienced it differently and found our own ways to cope.
For me, the pandemic involved having a baby with a congenital heart defect and stepping back from the world of internal comms to have a very unusual maternity leave. As you can imagine, it’s been a stressful time, but the good news is that my little boy had corrective surgery when he was two weeks’ old and is doing really well.
However, it’s been a strange time to step out of the internal comms world. As my colleagues have been facing enormous work challenges, at times I’ve felt like I’m living in an entirely different world, completely disconnected from them.
So, when Alive with Ideas asked me to take part in #YESvember, it seemed like a great opportunity to share some of the ways I’ve navigated a surreal year with my sanity just about intact!
Find your tribe
During my pregnancy I joined the National Childbirth Trust (NCT) and was lucky enough to join a course (via Zoom of course) where I was able to learn a lot of valuable tips and advice about having a baby. But more importantly, I got to meet a group of women who have become my support network during this strange time.
The thing I always loved about internal comms was the community aspect and knowing that there were always people willing to help and support you. I’ve really missed that since I stepped out of that world in July and it really brought it home to me how important it is during tough times to have people around you who understand the pressures and challenges you’re facing.
My NCT group have been this for me over the past few months and they’ve helped make a very unusual maternity leave enjoyable and memorable for the right reasons.
There are so many groups online that you can join now if you’re struggling with loneliness, and while we might all have Zoom fatigue, it does provide a human connection that we all very much need right now.
Do something for you
One of the online groups I’ve joined during the pandemic is Sutton Writers. Creative writing has always been a passion of mine, so when my friend Lauren McMenemy mentioned that her writing group had gone online and was accepting members from anywhere in the world, I jumped at the chance to join.
I’m not managing to join every session or do a huge amount of writing (I do have a baby after all!) but it’s been really good to do something for me, that isn’t about babies or work. It’s introduced me to a whole new group of people and kept my brain cells active.
I am of course in a privileged position of having a supportive husband who takes care of our son when I join writing sessions and I don’t have other children demanding my time, but even if it’s half an hour a week or even a month, having something for yourself is a great way to stay positive and help manage your mental health.
Keep in touch days with work
As part of my statutory maternity leave, I’m entitled to some ‘keep in touch’ days. This had been a great way to check in with my clients and remind myself of what I am capable of. A long period away from work surrounded by nappies and the endless routine of sterilising bottles (along with all the other truly wonderful things about having a baby!) can quickly erode your professional confidence.
If any other communicators are on parental leave during this strange time, I really recommend taking advantage of these types of days to remind you of who you are away from being a parent and to make the transition back to work a bit smoother – after all it may not end up being the transition you quite expected.
These words are thrown around so much at the moment, but it really is true. Having a poorly baby at a time like this has pushed my mental health to the limit. Trying to keep him safe has felt overwhelming at times but the kindness and understanding from our friends and family has been incredible.
Even when the rules were relaxed in the summer, no one minded social distancing in our garden, wearing masks around our son, sanitising their hands constantly and not being able to hold him. It probably did seem extreme to some of them, but it meant everything to us that we were able to share him with our friends and family in a way that made us comfortable.
We all feel differently about the risks and rules around Covid but taking the time to understand and respect how someone else feels about it can make a huge difference to someone’s mental health.
No one will ever forget this year, but the things I want to remember are the birth of my beautiful, long awaited son, the incredible doctors and nurses in the NHS who saved his life twice, and my husband, friends and family that supported me along the way.
I know I am one of the lucky ones, I’m able to find positives in what has been for some a truly terrible year. But I hope for all of you who can, you can find and focus on the glimmers of hope and positivity.