During the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, I spent around 18 hours a day leading crisis communications for several clients, virtually, live from a dark cupboard. Literally.
To be clear, it is a walk-in wardrobe the size of a small bedroom. And it was out of necessity given we had a full house of kids while multiple people tried to work. But the irony didn’t escape me. Because my work was solely focussed on COVID-19, the direct impacts on our clients and how they could emerge, somewhat intact, from their own proverbial darkness…(and yes, there were plenty of jokes about ‘when is Siobhan coming out of the closet?’)
Clearly, I was bunkered down. And when you’re knees-deep in a crisis so intense and life threatening, bits of information – many of which are gut wrenching – come in and out of view, almost washing over you. You deal with them swiftly, and then move on. You’re in the thick of it, fielding a bunch of calls, emails, and pressure, and putting your own emotions firmly aside.
It wasn’t until weeks later that I realised my fists had been clenched, and my jaw locked, for days on end. No wonder my entire body had been agony.
You see, something that a lot of people don’t know about me is that I was clinically diagnosed with anxiety several years ago and, while I have developed strategies in place to manage it, I still take medication daily. I’m not ashamed of that, but it’s not something that is spoken about openly in our industry (unfortunately).
Some would say that, with this in mind, specialising in crisis comms which are so high in intensity isn’t such a good idea however it has always been my forte.
Fast forward a few weeks, and it was a different story. I was out of the closet, thanks to a new desk setup. I’d been able to make time for a bit of exercise and felt a bit better. Reflecting on the weeks prior, I realised I’d created two different versions of my brain in order to cope. One which was almost robotic, dealing with multiple COVID-related highly sensitive issues, taking in each new piece of information then triaging it – act on, factor in or disregard, but do not get emotional. Do not allow it to intrude on your focus. It was almost clinical, I guess.
The other side was the ‘yep, we can totally do this BAU thing’ side, which forces an occasional smile and positive attitude, as we create strategies and campaigns for clients to utilise when the time is right. But I found it hard to comprehend coming out the other side.
The best description of this I could come up, in my tired, emotional, conflicted and scatty brain was…emotional limbo.
It can feel incredibly lonely. For those also struggling with their mental state, my only suggestion is to try take time for yourself. Stuck in the closet early on, I was not doing that. These days, getting out for a daily swim or walk is a non-negotiable.
In addition, discussing our stories is our lifeline. The mental toll of COVID will, I think it’s far to say, be far greater than the physical and financial, but if we just allow ourselves time to breathe, share, and do the things that make us feel calm and whole, we can thrive instead of simply surviving.