It’s the second year of the pandemic. September 2021. I’m in lockdown, working as a clinical supervisor. It’s my role to help supervisees reflect critically on the work issues they want to talk about. I’m conducting a telephone session with a woman I’m supervising when our conversation is broken by a rumbling. The ground moves. The walls vibrate. It takes a moment to register.
‘Oh my god, it’s an earthquake!’
My supervisee stops talking about her homeless client. We sit in our respective home offices, holding our mobile phones to our ears, suspended in disbelief. I hear her dog barking.
‘He’s anxious,’ she says. ‘He knows whatever’s happening is not right.’
‘Give him a pat from me,’ I say.
Then I pat myself for reassurance and say to both of us, ‘Well, everything else has happened in this pandemic, so why not an earthquake?!’
We laugh nervously to soothe the jolt we’ve just had. Then we carry on, as if it had never happened, as if it were just another day, another supervision session.
Except it’s not.
But that’s what we did in the pandemic. Despite everything we were going through—lockdowns, social distancing, illness, death, changes to work life, schooling disruptions and the lack of physical contact with others—we just got on with it.
So, after eighteen months in a pandemic world, when Mother Earth woke one morning, grumbled at what she saw, shook her head and shuddered in disapproval, we all thought, ‘No big deal.’
But we wondered quietly to ourselves, ‘What’s next?’
Before the pandemic and the earthquake, I would often travel to see the people I was supervising or supporting. Face to face, in quiet spaces away from the scurry of the organisation, I would sit and listen.
They would tell me stories of their work, letting me in on the frustrations and heartaches of the job. With my own heart open, I heard what they were saying, felt what they were feeling and met them where they were at.
In their angst, their awe, their compassion and despair, we connected, as they laid out their vulnerability and their strength for me to honour and hold.
The pandemic took these face-to-face heart connections away.
I’m in front of my computer in a video session with another supervisee. She sits on the edge of her bed with the laptop on her knee. Her kids and husband are using the kitchen table, so today she is relegated to the bedroom as her office.
Next minute, her dog walks into the room to find out where she is. She apologises for his presence, that the door was ajar and he got in. But we take a welcome pause while she talks to him. In his responses there is a hello bark to me. Meanwhile, her budgie flies in, lands on her shoulder and joins in the chorus.
‘He’s come to check out what’s going on,’ she says, ‘because he heard the dog bark. He’s a real sticky beak.’
We laugh. It lightens the load of a long Victorian lockdown.
Before the pandemic, I sat with groups of supervisees in meeting rooms and we talked about the work. Then the world changed. So did the work and the workplace. I was lucky—and grateful—that I had a home office, but many of my supervisees had to make do with their kitchens, bedrooms, lounge rooms or the back deck as their new workspace and meeting room.
Some supervisees had to use their cars to talk to me, the only private space away from the children. Through an earpiece or the screen of our phones, they told me their struggles to juggle the demands of increasing workloads against the needs of family. Kids who missed their school mates and couldn’t concentrate for long in front of a computer. Teenagers who withdrew into themselves. Partners who weren’t natural jugglers. And family pets who wanted to be in on the action. Dogs invited themselves to meetings, cats walked across work desks and computer keyboards, and toddlers, rightly so, cried for mummy or daddy, even if they were in a meeting.
I take my hat off to the brave and confident nurse who, with her baby on her hip, opened an online training program that I facilitated.
And hanging over us like a black cloud was the virus, its growing numbers, the constraints of lockdown and the uncertainty of when it would end.
To find meaning in the chaos, and to manage my own internal disquiet, I wrote, walked, played my ukulele and rode my bike into the wind, asking the Māori god of weather, Tawhirimatea, to blow the pain and stress of the pandemic out of me.
Out walking, I waved to people I barely knew from the other side of a lonely street or an empty beach to remind myself I still lived in a community. I took to social media, Zoom and FaceTime to share and to belong and to kiss my grandson’s face.
Somewhere in there, I started an online ukulele group in my wider neighbourhood, bringing together others like me who loved this little instrument and were desperate to connect. We found a teacher and every second Sunday we zoomed in, listening while he played, our microphones muted as we practised alongside. At the end of the lesson, we shared lockdown stories, a virtual cup of tea and laughed.
If the whole of the pandemic was an earthquake and not just one of the shocks we had to go through, I’d give it a magnitude 6 on the Richter scale. Because the way I live and work now has forever changed. Forced social isolation has taught me how much I need people.
Post-pandemic, after an extended break, I have cut back my work hours and I place more emphasis on wellbeing.
And when I can’t touch my grandson’s face, I still kiss him through the screen of my phone.