Week 20: A story of grief, and how growth blossoms from it

This week’s story is one that has not been told many times, but has strongly shaped who I am today.

Throwback to some time in March 2020, the WHO announces a global pandemic, and shortly after, Melbourne enters its first lockdown. Never would I have imagined that 2 years later, I’d be 3 times vaccinated, and typing this story at my dining table somewhere in hot, humid Singapore.

We all had high hopes it would end “soon”. But little did we know that it would carry on for almost 2 years; 2 years of being locked up and let out and locked up again, 2 years of not seeing family and loved ones, 2 years of saying goodnight to an empty room and then saying good morning to a single cup of cold brew on the kitchen top.

I had thought I was lucky, being able to work from home. As an introvert, having the law dictate that you cannot meet more than one person was amazing. The streets were bare and eerily quiet, but I was safe inside, and I could shut out all the noise about “the virus” when I wanted to, for sanity.

Can you start tomorrow, in the office?.

And then the day came, when I received a text in the evening early in July (if you live/have lived in Melbourne in winter, you know that bone-chilling cold) — Can you start tomorrow, in the office?.

That marked the beginning of my life in COVID-19 reporting for the next year or so.

Photo by KOBU Agency on Unsplash

I arrived in the office at 8am the next morning to realise that despite the chaos going on in the world and on the news, it was actually quite the opposite in the office. People were serious about work, but at the same time there was a sense of tranquility, and people carried on about their day as if the streets outside weren’t quiet and empty.

It was physically tiring, yes. But that couldn’t compare to what went on mentally.

The nature of the job required us to work shifts. Some started at 5am, others ended past 10pm, some even worked ‘til way past midnight. It required teams to cover 7 days a week, which meant that some worked on weekends (though, back then, the concept of having a “weekend” didn’t really mean much). It forged a strong sense of comradery, which, in some instances, turned co-workers into the best of friends.

It was physically tiring, yes. But that couldn’t compare to what went on mentally.

You see, the nature of the job saw us getting the day’s COVID-19 case, death, ICU numbers, way before the press and the public did. And to put that into context, this was mid-2020, when there was no sight of a vaccine, when no one knew much about this virus, when you truly thought you could be the next to die.

Put that together with all the uncertainty in life, with living alone, my mind slowly festered into a ticking time bomb…

Photo by Camila Quintero Franco on Unsplash

Some time through it all, I remember walking away from my desk to cry it all out on the floor beside my bed, then picking myself up shortly after and returning to my work station. I remember googling signs of burn out whilst feeling very burnt out… I’ll spare you the details.

But most importantly, it taught me resilience and helped me identify my coping mechanisms.

At one point, I’d had to take a break away from it all. I took leave (strongly supported by leaders on the team) in the middle of lockdown. Whilst I couldn’t physically go anywhere, I spent time rediscovering reading, playing the guitar, binging on Netflix shows. But most importantly, it offered me a chance to take myself out of the chaos.

And that experience taught me how important it was to

  • have an identity outside of work. Because, when all else is falling apart, you are still you; wholly, and truly you.

It taught me that

  • although “helping the community” was a noble purpose, you still had to prioritise yourself. Otherwise, there wouldn’t be any of you to give to the community.

But most importantly,

  • it taught me resilience and helped me identify my coping mechanisms. For example, during the nth (because I lost count) Melbourne lockdown, I went on a challenge with myself to “run the lockdown down”. That, at least, kept my mind occupied and gave me something to look forward to every day.

It finally feels like spring has arrived, after 2 years of a long winter slumber.

Like many, the last 2 years were probably some of the toughest times I’ve went through in life. To a certain extent, it felt like I went through a very long period of grief. I grieved for the time I lost with family, for progress I could have made with my hobbies, for the self I had lost when the world I once knew changed overnight.

But looking back now, I am thankful for the way events unfolded. Would I want to relive that experience? Perhaps not. But I celebrate the fact that it has made me stronger than before.

Photo by Masaaki Komori on Unsplash

It finally feels like spring has arrived, after 2 years of a long winter slumber. And as the flowers bloom, as life resumes, you just know deep down inside, that when the next challenge arrives, you can face it head on. You can turn it into an opportunity to grow and blossom into the next, new, you.

Week 19: Women and innovation (destigmatising menstruation)

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