Tuesday, October 4, 2022

A Year On From Lockdown & Redundancy: The Fear And Freedom That Comes With Starting Over

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It’s now been a year since level four and a year since we all lost our jobs on a Zoom call. The Capsule team takes a look back at a surreal, emotional and cathartic time and what we’ve learned since that particular clusterf**k kicked off. ***Yes, banana bread does feature heavily***

KELLY

The night before we went into our first lockdown, I grabbed a keep cup, poured in a fairly generous whack of wine and wandered down to the beach.

I knew it would be a while before I could sit on sand again, and in my privileged, wonderful world, that seemed like such a thing.

Coronavirus didn’t really feel real yet, the virus’ harsh realities still masked a little by the awesomely positive ‘we’re in this together’ movement from the team of five million.  

How bad could it be? How much could our lives possibly change? How could you ever get sick of banana bread?

How wrong we all were.

I don’t know anyone who is the same person they were BC – before Covid-19. A week after my final beach trip, reality set in hard for me and 300 of my colleagues as our magazine company was the first to fall.

Beyond that, the world was suffering like something out of a history book, with thousands of people succumbing to the virus every day. And while our losses were smaller thousands of Kiwis were battling with mental health and the financial implications of the biggest economic shutdown of recent memory.

A year on and four lockdowns later (for Aucklanders anyway – moving to the regions is looking better and better every day, trust me) all of these things have combined to completely altar who I am.

I’m definitely braver – the reason you’re reading this story now is that me and a few other former magazine editors started our own online magazine. I never thought I would be capable of starting a business, let alone during a pandemic.

I’m more confident – I’m proving to myself every day that I have what it takes to be my own boss and do the things I’ve wanted to do for years, the same ones that former bosses wouldn’t have a bar of.

I’m also so much better at relinquishing the anxiety that comes with not being in control. I mean, who the hell expected a pandemic in 2020? There’s not a single person on the planet that could control what unfolded, and for the first time in my life I accepted I’d have to ride the wave of uncertainty and it was glorious. I’ve somehow managed to unlock a c’est la vie side of me I didn’t even know existed, and it’s made so many other things in my life – money worries, relationship foibles, general life anxiety.

And perhaps most notably, I let go of the stuff that really wasn’t important. I used to always crave the next step up the ladder in my career. I wanted more money, a bigger house, a bigger wardrobe.

And I mean I’m definitely not saying I’ve given up shopping because a girl has needs, but I now know what I truly value – amazing colleagues, hugs, enough money to pay the bills and the occasional nice bottle of rosé, independence and freedom of thought. Why I needed a pandemic to realise these things, I don’t know – but I do know that I’m so much richer because of it.

So when the anniversary of lockdown hits, I’ll go back to the beach with my keep cup and think of all of those that have had a rubbish year – but also raise a glass to the woman I am now.

ALICE

In my previous life – now apparently just one year ago in this new, haywire time continuum – I was living off a precarious mix of caffeine, adrenaline and overly sweet banana bread.

It was the eve of Level Four lockdown and I was on deadline for the first issue of New Zealand Woman’s Weekly to be made entirely remotely. Little did I know, it would also be my last as editor.

In the early afternoon my partner and I left our computers to huddle in the kitchen over his phone, where we dialed in to a house auction. We’d been to a good half-dozen over the last six months, but this one seemed to be going our way – bidding had stalled well within our reach. But still, my heart was pounding – what the heck were we doing? What lay ahead of us? Were we insane to buy a house now?!?

My partner suddenly put the phone on mute, turned to me and calmly asked, “OK. What do you think we’d regret more here – missing out on this house, or buying this house then both losing our jobs and having this mortgage over our heads?”

The latter. The answer for both of us was most definitely the terrifying latter.

Just a week later, I woke up, joined a now infamous Zoom call and instantly lost my job. I sat watching the little muted/pictureless boxes of my former colleagues slowly log off and disappear after our CEO stood up and walked off, leaving us with an empty chair to numbly stare at.

Those first few weeks of lockdown were anxiety-inducing. Was everyone about to lose their jobs? And was that going to be the easy part – then having to watch those we love fall horribly sick to this invisible monster?

Pre-Covid-19 my life had been a cycle of overworking, sleeping and stretching myself. I was constantly managing flares of Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis – a disease I’d had for five years, and had recently added a second, stress-induced autoimmune disease to the mix.

But, when I lost my job and was forced to reflect, spending 24/7 with my family at home, I felt a shift inside me. The only person my job title seemed to matter to was me – no one loved me any less without it. Slowly, my former life didn’t make any sense to me – why had I prioritized work so much? Why did I act as though “being busy” was a badge of honour? And why would I let those things be more important than my health or spending quality time with the people I love?!?

Thankfully, some of my former workmates (who are also my wonderful friends) felt the same, and we built our website Capsule with a different ethos to what I’ve ever experienced in the workplace before.

And – it turned out that I didn’t miss out on getting to experience being a homeowner. We ditched the inner suburbs, and as I write this I’m feeling incredibly grateful to be sitting outside, watching tuis play in native bush that stretches as far as the eye can see. I didn’t realise it at the time, but my former life was suffocating – and this year, it feels as though I’ve learned to finally breathe.

EMMA

Most of my memories of the multiple lockdowns have completely gone from my brain, in a haze of banana bread and zoom calls, but there is one moment that does float to the surface.

Last Anzac Day, I sat on the deck of our flat, listening to the RNZ live service because, for the first time in my lifetime, I wasn’t able to go to a dawn service. Wrapped in a blanket, before the dawn broke, I heard two lone, separate trumpets play The Last Post from across the valley. It was a little bit magic, and a little bit sad.

That lonely Anzac morning felt like a strange version of something normal, which is a theme that has continued throughout the year – everything is the same, everything is different.

The events of 2020 managed to somehow be both mundane and stressful; in the same way that people say ‘the days are long but the years are fast’ about having a new baby, it feels that time has both stood still and rushed forward. Here we are, a quarter of the way through 2021 and part of me still feels stuck in March 2020, waiting to go outside again.

A year on from level 4, New Zealand has scraped together a semblance of a normal life – a semblance that most other major cities in the world would, frankly, kill for – and yet we live with the looming reality that everything can be cancelled again on an hour’s notice, that we can be shunted back inside again for a week, or two, or three, or four.

It can be hard to plan, or hope, with this knowledge hanging over us, but then on the flipside, there’s a sense of ‘get out and see everyone now’ before the next lockdown starts. The smaller, more basic things became more important – can you hug your family? Can you pay this month’s rent? Is everyone you love alive and well? 

I wonder how long it will take for us to be able to plan again – how long it will take for the ‘waiting for the other shoe to drop’ mentality to leave us. 

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