The Doors were right when they said: ‘Strange days have found us.’
As I write, it’s eerily still. I live in a city, in a vibrant neighbourhood of shops and cafes, of ethnicities and religions and languages and food. Here, you can take a trip around the globe just by stepping out of your front door.
But now, out there spells danger. I have not left my house for what feels like an age. The students and visitors were sent away weeks ago. Locals are hunkering down, waiting for the silent storm to pass. Random bicycles and cars whizz past, keen for their destination, while pedestrians hurry along the street with shopping bags, away from others, secretly willing themselves back to safe seclusion.
The sky is a perfect cerulean blue, but even the birds are perching noiselessly. They know something’s not right too.
If you’re feeling weird, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. Weird is the new normal.
Since Coronavirus reared its red-pronged, ugly head, people have had to shift to existence at home. I’ve been writing about freelancing and remote working for six years, and I know you, dear reader, are already across the practical stuff.
(That said, if you do happen to have stumbled into this blog and are new to freelancing or remote working, start here.)
I’m not going to importune you with the same old nuts-and-bolts schtick about surviving at home. You ace Skype and Zoom, know what to wear, eat well and schedule like a boss. You’re seasoned at getting things done, super-creative and well across proactive downtime. You definitely don’t need me to lecture you how to be productive.
I won’t even bang on about setting goals, or bore you with the kind of fatuous self-development guff that apparently we’re all supposed to be focusing on, now we have so much extra time.
For that, just check into LinkedIn for the predictable line-up of tone-deaf narcissists who are only too happy to newsjack a life-threatening pandemic:
As for extra time – who gave anyone that idea?
Not everyone is on furlough. For many freelancers, life under Covid-19 is more pressured, a domestic upheaval of homeschooling kids, remote working partners, assorted housemates, and caring for elderly, disabled and vulnerable loved ones, until the storm subsides.
And that’s before we can even begin to think about how to keep our enterprises afloat while the economy is bashed, financial markets are volatile, and the business world seems to be grinding to an inexorable halt.
Anyone could be forgiven for wanting to scream into the void at a time like this – and if you need permission to do so, you fully have mine – because right now, the world does feel like it’s quietly going to hell in a handbasket.
No, what I want to do is to talk with you, lovely freelance friends, about getting through this emotionally in one piece.
Forgive the truism, but many of us are worried. (Personally, I’m pretty keen on the idea of staying alive. But that’s just me.)
To be serious for a moment, such an extreme level of threat of this nature is unprecedented in living memory. We’ve been lucky: medical science has developed at such a pace as to kept us safe and healthy for the most part, insulated from shock. There have been minor outbreaks in the last decade such as H1N1 and SARS, but nothing as vicious, fast-moving or rabid as Covid-19.
The thing is, we’re so used to operating at the higher level of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, that a single crisis event has us plummeting right back down to the bottom.
It’s no wonder we’re finding it hard to concentrate. Social distancing is keeping loved ones apart; self-isolation and quarantining more so. Anxiety can set in, even for the most mentally robust among us.
Everyone has their own challenges to deal with, and it would be extraordinarily crass to paper over the cracks of something as grave and consequential as what we are facing today.
Instead, what I’m going to do is to make a suggestion. Bear with me, as it will seem blindingly obvious – but it needs to be said:
Stay connected. Talk to people. Don’t let yourself become isolated.
Last week, I met online with 18 editorial colleagues across the western hemisphere for a couple of hours of shop talk. At the end we went round, one-by-one, just to check in with each other. The meeting was so positive and reassuring that we agreed on interim catch-ups sooner than the next official meeting date. Call it a virtual watercooler to chat, vent – whatever anyone needs.
I came away from that meeting uplifted, feeling much less alone. It’s only too easy at a time like this to let the shadows descend, to fall prey to fear.
Now that we’re in lockdown, our basic human need for contact is more urgent than ever. A need to connect. To be open about how this is affecting us. To befriend.
Yes, we all moan about the internet: the scams, the trolling, the puerile, annoying idiocy on social media. We hate it – but we do have one thing that all our ancestors suffering during their pandemics, which cut a merciless swathe through the planet, never had.
We can only do this one day at a time. But we can go through it together.
Don’t suffer in silence. If you’re worried, reach out. If you’re scared, reach out. If you simply want to chat, have a laugh or blow off steam, reach out.
We freelancers are gutsy, resilient – more so than most. We can channel our strength to support our solo-flying friends when turbulence hits.
The online 24/7 world can be put to so much valuable use. So, let’s do it.
Take very good care of yourself. Be well, and stay safe.