Reflecting on the rollercoaster that this past year has been highlighted for me a layer of resilience I didn’t know I had. Choosing to acknowledge and celebrate this feels important, in these times. I recently read through the journal I started at the beginning of lockdown and was surprised by some of the insights I gained. Reading back over my own words, penned during one of the most challenging years of my life, took me on a journey that was uncomfortable and painful to read; however moving through the discomfort, I was able to gather lessons on survival, vulnerability, bravery and joy.
For agents of social change, it can be easy to focus so heavily on the issues we’re trying to tackle that we overlook the personal growth we encounter along the way. Looking back at the onslaught of challenges I’ve overcome, lead me to ask myself “how did I survive?” – reading through my journal, I was able to discern five main themes which I’d like to share with you:
1. Setting and maintaining boundaries
I have had to become a lot more rigid with my boundaries. On some days, this entailed writing detailed lists of what my day would look like hour by hour and making sure I stuck to my plan. On other days, this has meant leaving zoom meetings before they’ve ended when they are overrunning. This has not always been easy and I know I still have a long way to go when it comes to the topic of boundaries, but I am proud to say I’m becoming increasingly better at setting and maintaining boundaries.
I am someone who values flexibility, particularly in the context of work, which in the past has made it difficult for me to maintain boundaries when they’d been set. This past year has taught me that it is possible to be flexible within my boundaries and actually, this is where I feel happiest and produce the best results. I’d like to acknowledge that setting boundaries will look different for each of us and that’s ok, but for me, paying attention to boundaries has been imperative for maintaining my wellbeing. For anyone engaging in social justice work, boundaries ensure we are working sustainably and help to minimise burnout.
2. Learning to check in with myself and my needs
Before being able to communicate my needs to others, I first need to identify them for myself. One week I wrote about feeling particularly disillusioned; to combat this feeling there were days where I scribbled a line every hour describing how I was feeling and if I could identify anything I needed. Prior to living and working in lockdown conditions, I would have considered a task like this neurotic and unnecessary, yet these circumstances have emphasised the importance of knowing what is going on for me internally in order to be able to access my needs.
Admittedly, I’m not the best when it comes to feelings stuff, but engaging with my feelings throughout lockdown has helped me to better measure my needs. Moreover, I also cultivated a habit of checking in with myself each morning and seeing whether I was in a high functioning or lower functioning mood. This helped me manage which tasks I engaged with, on days where I had less energy or felt lower functioning, I would ensure I was tackling tasks which felt achievable given the space I was in and on days where I had more energy, I would engage with the harder tasks. I know many of us work in contexts where every task feels urgent, leaving little room for ‘lower functioning’ days. When this is the case, I have learned the importance of breaking bigger tasks down into sizeable chunks in order to centre my care and well being. I’ve found this approach to working supports me to work more efficiently than attempting to run on empty.
3. Creating space for joy
I need you to trust me when I say that in our current context, I know how difficult it can be engaging with the concept of ‘joy’. At the beginning of the first lockdown, my thoughts seemed so dark and morbid, aside from my personal struggles, knowing there was so much suffering around me accompanied by such limited structural support and guidance, there didn’t appear to be much room for joy. I soon learned that I had to create room for it. Since making the decision to be intentional about creating space for joy in my life, I’ve begun to find a lot of joy in the simple things. Going for walks with my mum, observing nature, listening to a good playlist or podcast, cooking a nice meal or ordering a McDonalds from UberEats! I realised that when I decided to look for joy, it was not so difficult to find.
There have been points where I have been overwhelmed with sadness or anxiety and although sitting with that can be tough, knowing and trusting that I could create moments of joy provided me with a sense of balance. Though exacerbated by the pandemic, feelings of overwhelm or anxiety are not new to me; I’m sure many of us working for social change can relate to this.
Learning to create space for joy in the face of some of the challenges we’re working to change feels both revolutionary and necessary. In an entry written on one of the difficult days I ask myself “what will you do this week that will bring you joy?”. I encourage you to ask this of yourself too.
4. Valuing community
One of my favourite entries to read over was written in May 2020 after the Erykah Badu and Jill Scott Versuz battle on Instagram. These formidable women are two of my favourite artists of all time, yet ironically most of what I wrote about did not centre their performances, but the sense of community on my Twitter timeline. I write about forgetting momentarily that the world was upside down and feeling deeply connected to people through a shared love of music. Something about knowing this was a shared experience only enhanced my joy.
One of my greatest challenges has been battling feelings of isolation whilst having very limited energy (and desire) to socialise through screens. Noticing pockets where I am able to connect with loved ones has nurtured some really beautiful moments for me.
Acknowledging that we are all experiencing difficulties has been humbling, but also highlighted the need to lean on each other through this.
Personally, I have had moments where social media has felt overbearing causing me to plug out, during these times I have appreciated friends reaching out to me. Learning people’s preferred methods of communication (text/whatsapp/zoom/facetime/calls etc.), has helped me develop a flow in maintaining effective communication with loved ones and staying plugged in to the various communities which serve as a source of strength and hope.
5. Slowing down or even stopping when necessary
There have been many moments where I have simply had to stop and recoup. The reality is that living and working through a global pandemic is difficult and being gentle with myself has been a necessity. I have had to become a lot better at slowing down, which has included saying ‘no’, taking regular breaks and accepting I have less capacity than I was previously used to; oftentimes completing tasks can take longer than they used to pre-pandemic. Learning to embrace this new pace of life has helped me be more mindful about processes and not just outcomes. I’ve realised that things always get done but embracing this new pace just allows me to be kinder to myself along the journey of completing tasks.
Through reading over my lockdown journal I realised that many of these lessons were learned in hindsight. Despite categorising this period of my life as one of the most difficult, there was something beautiful and freeing about being able to look back and develop a more balanced account of affairs. I don’t say this to minimise the difficulty or suffering we’ve collectively experienced during this pandemic; rather to emphasise, that through it all I have found ways to keep going – we have found ways to keep going.
And in the midst of surviving there have been moments of learning, joy and connection. This post highlights the five main practices which have supported me to show up for myself and my loved ones, practices I plan on maintaining as we transition into a new world, one which I am hopeful will adopt these lessons of self awareness and compassion for ourselves and each other.
About the author
Ez (she/her) is Act Build Change’s Collective Care Trainer. She is a writer and creative facilitator with a background in youth work. She specialises in working with young women exploring issues such as healthy relationships, labels and identity and has worked mainly with young women involved in the criminal justice system. She is also the cohost of The Echo Chamber Podcast which we recommend you check out!
You can follow Ez on Twitter.