James' Story

‘We’re all in the same boat’ is something we continue to hear throughout the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic – a nice sentiment that rightly encourages unity and supporting one another, but I can’t help feel that it somewhat misses the mark when it comes to the mental health struggles we are much more likely to be facing after weeks of lockdown, potential financial squeeze and ongoing uncertainty.

For those having to work from home, some will be enjoying the increased time with their families or the perks of the 30 second commute in their dressing gown, but equally there are times where 24/7 with partners and small people can be… ‘trying’! My household for example simply isn’t used to this setup, and we can sometimes feel we are stepping on each other’s toes as we share a cosy studio office – with both of us trying to take conference calls, several phones ringing, a 2-year-old pushing beef Hula Hoops into the keyboard and trying to put the webcam in their mouth… you can easily picture how these situations (as humorous to the onlooker they may be) do not make for the productive or focussed working environment that both our professions require.

We will (hopefully) soon be longingly looking back at ‘that corona summer’ - when we spent so much time together, getting to witness every step of our daughter’s learning and discovery first hand whilst her nursery was closed. As the world (hopefully) whirs up its gears again, I wonder if we will soon forget these minor domestic issues that also took place - my family in our modest boat, bobbing along and hitting a few moderate waves, but not everyone is in our boat, nor do they sail in the same way. By comparison, I speak with an increasing number of friends, colleagues and contacts who are feeling the loneliness of the lockdown solitude - a discomfort that facetime and insta-stories simply cannot overturn. As much as the families squeezed into the confines of their homes and gardens may be rubbing each other up the wrong way, they also have the hugs and comforts of human company, and someone to sit and talk things through on those occasions where matters do get too much.

For many, a solo voyage through the rough patches is not a case of hitting a moderate wave in the family boat, but enduring a series of bigger and bigger waves as they desperately cling to a saggy dinghy.

We are not all in the same boat, but we are all in the same storm.

In one of my invaluable WhatsApp group chats for ‘the lads’, my former university housemate (and education-specialist) Rob Dutton dropped this pearl of wisdom when several of us reported a general lull in mood and positivity: “Don’t beat yourselves up over not managing normal life, as there’s nothing normal about the current circumstances”. A poignant sentence to reflect upon that I wished to share.

It is completely normal for us to be feeling unusual, strained, or for the proverbial ‘stress bucket’ to be getting heavier, full or even overflowing.

Planning and breaking down large tasks into smaller activities can be a helpful way of bolstering your mental health and minimise that overflowing, or overwhelming feeling, but I agree at how hard it can be to plan ahead with such times of uncertainty.

By making preparations for the short, and longer term situations you are facing, you are empowering yourself, and perhaps your family, contacts and colleagues too; whether this is adapting a project plan to a more realistic, achievable timeline that reflects the impacts on suppliers or reduced workforces, taking some dedicated actions to improve your own wellbeing and mental health (perhaps with outside time, exercise and scheduled catchup time with friends), or by offering greater flexibility and enabling / encouraging more personal support measures to your employees.

This week I spent 90 minutes with business analyst Luke Williams, reviewing and visualising workflow processes in order to evaluate a busy order book, identify bottlenecks and start to transform a daunting and complex task list into a digestible overview.  This enabled me to organise a potentially overwhelming level of information at a time that already has added stresses, anxieties and much-reduced working time. Although not everyone has access to such a specialist on tap, the principle in play was to allow some objective perspective of the situation, and remove some of the more trying subjective elements that often aren’t helpful – notably for stressed, anxious and overactive minds.

To continue our ‘same boat’ analogy, the result of today allows me to take a daily trip up to the crow’s nest, where I can get a better view of the options ahead of me, and ensure the overall voyage is heading the right direction.

On both a personal and professional level, I would recommend giving yourself the space to enable an appropriate level of consideration for all matters, big and small – seeking out that perspective overview, so you may positively reflect, rather than unhelpfully dwell.

Apathy, depression, anxiety, stress… any issue or combination of poor mental health can make it all too easy to ignore some of the issues or concerns we face, but simply wearing a summer shirt and flipflops won’t stop you getting wet in the rain. I warmly encourage you all, regardless of your work sector, to take heed of some of the advice and learning experiences offered here: go easy on yourself, grab a raincoat, stock your boat and ultimately give the time for self-empowerment to best weather this storm.

As with all things, ‘this too shall pass’.

I look forward to catching up in person with everyone once it is safe and possible to do so, but in the meantime I’m always around to talk with all who need a chat about your day, your mental health or your work – I’m only ever a call, text, whatsapp, email or video call away. If you want to be more anonymous, I implore everyone to remind themselves of the organisations such as the ABS, who are ready and waiting for your contact if you want to discuss support measures available, or aren’t sure where to turn.


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