When the first cases of COVID-19 reached our shores, I admit I was one of the people who thought it was just like a flu…a flu that was hyped up by the media to instil fear in the public to attract likes and views. I was starting my sixth year of nursing on my local paediatric unit outside metropolitan Melbourne.
As we entered our first lockdown with stage 3 restrictions, I began to see things differently.
I remember driving down the street and seeing my neighbours wearing surgical masks. It was so alien and bizarre. The hospital where I worked was a chaotic environment of constant change with directives coming almost hourly from the government or executive management. Then, as we edged closer and closer to what would eventually be our first lockdown with stage 4 restrictions, I became extremely panicked—I had an anxious ‘certainty’ that I would not survive this pandemic.
In some ways I was fortunate. I was also extremely lucky to work on a unit with colleagues who were compassionate, supportive and patient with one another. That very much mattered because my support network increasingly shrank and for four months my colleagues were the only people I was allowed to see in person. My family, like many other Australians, lived well outside my five-kilometre radius, with some living across the Melbourne metro-rural border. My friendships became increasingly strained under the individual pressures and stressors we were suffering under the weight of the pandemic. My dating life also came to a screeching halt. So, my work and my colleagues were the only thing keeping me going.
Alas, even this one glimmer of hope would not last. As paediatric admissions to the hospital slowed—it’s difficult for children to get injured or sick when they are stuck in their homes—my colleagues and I were constantly redeployed and we rarely saw each other from shift to shift or week to week. Not only was I cut off from my friends and family, now I was being cut off from the colleagues I knew, trusted, and needed at this most vital time.
Meanwhile, my social media platforms were plastered with misinformation, conspiracy theories, COVID deniers and selfish, compassionless people flouting lockdown rules. I felt angry, like what I was going through at work didn’t matter, that keeping to the restrictions and staying home despite my crushing loneliness didn’t matter. And I feared that because of the people who flouted the rules, the pandemic and the lockdowns would only continue…with no end in sight.
There were even times when I felt guilty for feeling the way I did. I told myself I had no right to have these feelings. I was still working while so many others could not and were struggling financially. But working—and doing extremely difficult and taxing work—without a life to balance it quickly led to burnout, depression and falling out of love with nursing.
I was living in a waking nightmare of snap lockdowns, breakdowns, burnouts, tears, anxiety attacks, depression, loneliness and fear. I completely lost interest in all the things that used to bring me joy, numb to everything except COVID.
Eventually, it became so difficult to disengage from the chaos and provoking content that I decided to delete my social media apps and ceased listening to the radio and watching the news, solely to protect my mental health. I also began to use my government-sanctioned two hours of outdoor exercise more purposefully, spending my time sitting on the beach or walking through the local reserve with a few friends with whom I could talk.
Somehow, despite teetering between lockdowns and mental breakdowns, and brief periods of freedom with loved ones at all the places we had missed, the lockdowns ended and more than eighty per cent of Victorians were vaccinated, me included.
Looking back now, my life had been completely and totally levelled by the COVID-19 pandemic. After two years of continuous trauma, I felt as if I had to rebuild from the ground up, except instead of rebuilding my house or my neighbourhood, I had to rebuild social networks, my sense of security, my routines and healthy habits and my passion for nursing, and I had to re-empower myself.
For the first time in three years, I feel the spark of passion beginning to return…