When the ground falls away

Trigger warning: This post talks about anxiety, depression and PTSD. If you feel this would trigger you, please feel free to skip this post. The numbers of Australian help lines are included on the bottom.

“…For we were so utterly, unbearably crushed that we despaired of life itself.” These words written by Paul to the Corinthians spoke to me last year when I was suffering through a serious bout of depression, anxiety and PTSD. I’ve never liked the apostle Paul, I always thought he was a misogynist know-it-all, telling everyone what to do when he wasn’t even there to see the living Jesus, while Peter, James and the other apostles who were taught by Jesus, get the short end of the stick. That opinion changed after reading 2 Corinthians 1:8 and hearing Paul tell the Corinthian Christians of his suffering after and incident in Ephesus. His words brought great comfort, suddenly this man who is painted as perfect was utterly human, most likely ill with depression and so over burdened, he didn’t think he would survive.

Last year like Paul, I despaired even for my own life. The burden I carried was so heavy and I was so overwhelmed that I didn’t think I would make it. I felt like I was going to die, and it was terrifying. One minute I was well, and the next, down a hole so deep that I didn’t know there was a way out. I wasn’t emotionally prepared to get sick like that, I’ve always been able to cope with whatever life threw at me until I just wasn’t.

It’s taken me a long time to even start to find my feet again, months of medication, therapy and support. If there is one thing I’ve learnt, it’s that you can’t rush with your mental health, things take as long as they take. And yes it’s often uncomfortable – feelings are things you feel and for me, I’ve experienced that as tingling in my hands and feet, since I first got sick in December 2021.

Of course there were reasons I got sick – two years of isolation in the pandemic, way too many changes at work, a supervisor I didn’t really connect with and then the accumulation of years of trauma. I also wasn’t very good at reading the signs that I needed a break, in fact even when I knew I was burning out, I kept pushing because I thought I was invincible. But I thought I could control it but the fall was hard and fast, there is nothing more terrifying than losing control of your life.

When the ground falls beneath your feet, everything breaks – your pride, your security and threads of the life you knew before. I found myself in a place of bewilderment, unable to find any sure ground. Only surviving mattered now, making it through a minute and then another until all the minutes added up to a day and then the days added up to weeks, and the weeks months.

In the darkest of times last year, I clung to the only life rafts I had, my family and my faith. Sometimes I wondered if I’d been abandoned by God, and like so many had been earmarked to suffer and die, so absent did he seem, yet there he was, always, working his plan out in me, giving me what I needed when I needed it.

Prayer became the rope that connected me to something beyond my current circumstances, a gift God given to help me find some footing. When I couldn’t find words to speak, I could always find words to pray silently in my head. And so I prayed, and prayed, and prayed, often with groans for help and sometimes with the yells of anger and frustration.

Paul goes on to write that he rejoiced in his suffering because it brought him closer to God, he had to rely on him more fully. While I can’t say I rejoiced in my suffering, I did rely on God more fully because I had to, there wasn’t another choice. I knew somehow he would help me get through the mess, not in my timing of course but in his.

The minister at my church told me that I had to find something to praise God for everyday. That was hard, so hard, how can you praise God when the words are like dust in your mouth? But I tried it and it lifted my heart a little and I started to keep a gratitude journal and write down I wanted to praise God for that day. Some days it was nothing more than I survived the day, or that the cats made me laugh or mum made me a cup of tea but it was something and I think it gave me hope.

When the dark time came last year, faith became less of a feeling, and more of a series of actions – pray, talk to God, read the bible, do a devotional, speak out bible verses. It became about going to God whenever I was overwhelmed, sad, angry, despairing. I told God many times that I hated and didn’t trust him, and I told him many more times that I loved him too.

The bible is littered with stories of people facing adversity and going to God in their rage and despair. David wrote many Psalms where he despaired of ever getting God’s blessing again. Job famously challenged God to explain himself and was surprised when he got a reply. I took a lot of courage from the story of Jacob wrestling with God for his blessing.

It’s okay to wrestle with God, to bring him your hopes, your fears and whether you’re unhappy with him. Learning to strip back the veil of politeness with my faith, was one of the greatest experiences of this journey. God doesn’t want me to be polite, he wants me to be real and if that means telling him I hate him then he wants that too.

Christian’s sometimes sugar coat the hard stuff or beat ourselves up for not being the perfect Christian during hard times. What I learnt last year, is that God doesn’t want this; he wants your doubtful faith, your hot mess life and your raw feelings – bring it all to him. And then wait, because in the hurt and the pain you find him as the light that tethers you and can never be extinguished.

If you struggling and need help

Lifeline Australia: 13 11 14

Beyond Blue: https://www.beyondblue.org.au/

In an emergency call 000.

The year of lost words

(This post is about my experience of depression, anxiety and PTSD, including self harm and suicidal ideation. If you feel this would trigger you please feel free to skip. I have included the contact details for Lifeline, Australian emergency services and Beyond Blue at the bottom of the post).

It’s been nearly a year since I last wrote anything. A year where words were lost to me, and sentences disappeared into a fog so thick I thought they would never come back. The rawness of getting through a day meant writing was a luxury; caviar and truffles, where I was surviving on dust. I missed writing as one misses an arm but I didn’t have the emotional energy to even try.

At the start of last year, I was suffering from severe depression but didn’t know it. As I see now, the signs were obvious – I was barely sleeping, I’d wake up in the morning feed the cats and then be so exhausted I had to lie down again. I isolated myself thinking I just needed space, I was unable to work, and only went out when absolutely necessary: church, the shops and walks with mum. I spent hours and hours just staring into space, unable to do anything other than curl up in a chair or lie on the couch. I hated people looking at me, clothing was too tight; housework, personal grooming and talking were beyond me.

While we might call depression a mental illness, my experience of it was physical – tingling in my hands and feet, loss of appetite, nausea, my body feeling heavy and slowed down, and I was exhausted like I have never been before. Depression came with a side of anxiety and PTSD; it was much more like anger, terror and unending blackness than sadness with significant suicidal ideation thrown in for good measure.

I’d had bouts of depression and anxiety before so I thought that I could tough it out, get through because I was so much stronger – after all I’d beaten it without help before. I didn’t want to be the person who falls into the hole, so it took me far too long to go to the doctors. She took one look at me and prescribed antidepressants. I was reluctant to take them but in the end I had too. The first one I tried helped me to sleep a better but not much else, it wasn’t until June when I got onto a medication that helped.

I won’t lie those six or so weeks when I got used to my second medication were horrible, SSRIs are known to make your depression worse before it makes it better and I can testify to the truth of this. I gave up for a while because I couldn’t see a way out, it got so bad at one point that I wrote a goodbye note to my parents and considered taking all the medication I had in the house. My doctor phoned my mum and they took my medication off me – for months my mum had to dole it out to me so I wouldn’t take it all if it got too much. If there was one saving grace, I did start to sleep better and for a few hours there was the oblivion of sleep.

Depression is not an illness I would wish on my worst enemy. It’s the most terrifying experience I have ever been through. It felt like something foreign had crawled inside me, taking all the lightness and hijacking my brain. And as much as I wanted to reach for the joy and happiness I knew still existed, I just couldn’t. I was a shell; alive and walking around, forced to keep living, while all the best parts of me were gone.

The worst part about it is it’s seemingly endlessness, it makes the days so unbearable that I just didn’t know how I’d make it through a minute let alone a whole day. And then there is the suicidal ideation and tendencies to want to self harm. For quite some time, every unoccupied thought was me wishing I was dead and when that wasn’t happening there was an urge to hurt myself by throwing myself up against a brick wall. At one point I got so overwhelmed I took an overdose of valium just to give myself some relief.

And while all of this was very bleak, there was also something else too. Call it the belief that hard times end, the will to live, or sheer bloody determination but there was just something that kept me going. It wasn’t a joyous or happy thing; it made no promises of survival and it wasn’t about living for the people who loved me, although they were never far from my mind. When I wanted to give in because my brain was on fire and I was so overwhelmed that a minute seemed like an hour it refused to let me because maybe, just maybe tomorrow might be better.

Is that what hope is? The thought that tomorrow could be better than today. Or the grim resolve to not give in because I wanted to see how it ends. Maybe it was my faith in God and knowing somehow we would get through this, and maybe it just doesn’t matter because whatever it was, it helped me survive.

I’m alive today and words are slowly returning, and that is everything.

If you struggling and need help

Lifeline Australia: 13 11 14

Beyond Blue: https://www.beyondblue.org.au/

In an emergency call 000.

The only way out is through

If I had my time again I would not decide to unpick my life at the end of two years of lockdown. Lockdown 6 was brutal and damaging in a way all the others weren’t. It left me feeling anxious and lonely and on top of the two years of the uncertainty and change, it was not the best timing.

When I decided to see a counsellor, I thought it was just going to be a few issues that were causing me to be stuck emotionally, instead have turned into a process that has seen me plumb the depths of my soul to find the darkness that lurked there and bring it to the light. It’s not been pretty.

There have been some very dark days in the last few weeks, days when I didn’t know whether I had the strength to keep going. I was not suicidal but my heart beat so hard with anxiety, I felt sure it would fail.

When people checked in I’d say everyday is better but everyday is harder. For a few weeks, cooking a meal was beyond me, basic tasks were exhausting. I’ll be forever grateful to my parents who looked after me, checking in, helping with chores and keeping me fed.

The thing about going through something like this, is that the world sees all the bits you hide. It’s excruciating. No one wants to not be perfect or to hang their dirty laundry out to be looked at and judged. And yet I’ve had to because by telling people I’m not ok and I need help, I’ve been able to get the support I need.

People have said I’m brave and inspiring in how I’ve gone about facing these issues. I don’t know where that has come from. Most of the time I wanted to curl up in a ball and hope it went away. And yet somehow each day I found the courage to turn around and to face things and keeping working through it.

In walking this journey, I’ve had to put radical trust in God. I’ve had to relinquish control of not just the process, but my own life; I’ve never felt less in control or more safe.

I’m not yet able to give the testimony of what God has been doing. But from the moment I met with my vicar for spiritual advice on forgiveness to today, each step has been guided. I’ve glimpsed the power of God and seen miracles performed.

And I’ve prayed a lot, I’ve spent hours just talking to God, praising him and inviting him into my thinking, the memories, the feelings. He’s led me to information that has shown me new ways forward, he has used all of me, even my skills as a librarian to move me along in this journey.

I’ve been supported in prayer by my family, friends and church. The women of my bible study group have been such a comfort to me, never seeming to mind my endless requests for prayers. It’s been humbling and a blessing.

I’m not yet at the end of this journey and as far as I’ve come, there may be just as far to go. But the light grows stronger, the steps forward mount up and slowly joy returns.

A letter to a friend

Dear One,

Our paths must diverge for a while. I know this cleaving pains you, as it pains me but it is necessary Dear One, it is needed. We are not who we were anymore, our hearts whisper new secrets that ache to be heard. To hear them we cannot go on together, we must take different paths.

Understand Dear One, I do this not out of anger or blame but with love. I need to let you go for my own sake, for my own heart. I feel your loss like losing an arm; all our friendship was, and could have been. Yet my heart remains resolute knowing this is for the best, knowing that sometimes diverged paths may never cross again.

I send you on your way with great love, trusting the path you walk on is walked with God. Take care Dear One, you will be in my prayers, as I hope I will be in yours.

Love your friend.

Life in between – the final post

Life is back to normal (whatever that means anyway). I went to actual shops with actual people in them and bought things and didn’t have to wait to have them delivered. It was, well, so 2019, except for the face masks and the checking in.

When I’m back out in the world, I wonder if the last two years actually happened. Everything is just like we left it and everyone seems to have picked up where they left off. It’s a bit disconcerting actually, I’ve feel like I’ve changed so much but the world seems too have stayed the same.

I’ve seen a few friends since lockdown finished and most seem to say the same thing, they thought they were ok but they weren’t. And it’s only in going out and doing normal things that they realise how very not ok they were; how much we all missed people, and a sense of freedom.

We spent much of the last two years in survival mode; telling ourselves we are ok because we needed to be, we accepted all the hardships for the sake keeping each other safe and surviving the pandemic. Now lockdown has ended and we are not in survival mode anymore, we realise the necessity of all the things we were forced give up. Life was not just meant to be a series of endless days but a thing that is sustained and indeed nourished by people and things that bring us joy.

Lockdown 6 was devoid of joy. It felt like there was no light at the end of the tunnel, just relentless, monotonous days. The things that had got me through the previous lockdowns no longer helped. I knew I had reached the end of my rope when I started thinking that if I had to go for a walk in my area one more time I’d lose it.

Admittedly, I’ve had a few medical issues but my brain has felt on fire now for a while. It’s funny how in my last post I said I’d been ok but the last few weeks of lockdown and reopening, I’ve been distinctly not ok. There’s just been too much change to absorb and too much isolation to absorb it in. As a classic over thinker, this combination has been really damaging in the end.

If there is one good thing to come out the pandemic, it’s the recognition that I don’t want to live like this anymore. I want something else; I want to embrace the future and live fully in God’s grace. And if I want to do that I need to remove the barriers that are getting in the way. I’m pretty proud that I’ve taken myself off to a counsellor to work through all this, and miracle of miracles got into see one before I could talk myself out of it.

Counselling has been a revelation; I’ve found words for experiences I didn’t have before, I’m digging deep into my past; my thoughts, my feelings, so they are not part of my future anymore. It’s a blessing that sometimes doesn’t feel like one; it is often confronting, I feel both elated and like I’ve been beaten up at the end of the session. As hard as it is, it is the pathway through.

In a few weeks Victoria will reach 90% vaccination rate and there will be even less restrictions. This is a good thing for everyone. We need a nice summer and some return to normality to help ease the burden of the last two years. I’ve got plans to go to shows, concerts and the ballet before Christmas. I might even get to see colleagues and friends before the end of the year.

Melbournians have been through so much, and while the pandemic is still with us, we can safely move forward in 2022 with a little bit of hopefulness about the year ahead. This does not erase what we have been through or give back the two years of our lives that have been lost. Although maybe it makes us value all the things we will get to do and perhaps took for granted in pre-pandemic times just a little bit more.

So, to my hometown of Melbourne and to her resilient and community-minded residents, I say thank you, we did this because we care about each other and that IS something to celebrate. Oh, and I’ll see you soon. I’m going to dance, laugh and clap all the harder because of our time apart. I’m going to walk your streets, eat at restaurants, see a play and revel in the joy you bring me.

Go well friends, be safe, look out those around you. I’ll be praying for joyful things  in your lives and new starts for us all in 2022.

For mental health support contact Beyond Blue – https://www.beyondblue.org.au or Lifeline – https://www.lifeline.org.au

Life in between – 6

Lockdown in Melbourne ends at 11.59pm today – Thursday, 21 October 2021. We have had 262 days of lockdown since March 2020. A world record no one wants.

Tomorrow we will reach 70% vaccinated and around the end of October we will get to 80%. In the last few days 100,000 people have been vaccinated, which is brilliant. This should be the last lockdown of this pandemic. Fingers, toes and everything else crossed.

There’s still very high numbers of virus circulating in the community, which is scary. Opening up will be amazing but it does need to be done cautiously. This approach suits me, as it’s going to take some adjustment to remember what you do when you’re allowed outside your home for any reason you want.

After two years of  isolation and lockdowns, so many of my pandemic behaviours have become normalised. Working from home is the most obvious example – I can’t even imagine going to a physical workplace anymore but the sense that the world outside is a risk is not going to be easy to let go of either.

Besides catching the virus, I’m worried that I will have a very low tolerance for noise and crowds. I never exactly thrived in places with lots of noise (I was not a fan of nightclubs for this reason) and crowds were ok as long as I could get fresh air or see an escape route. Who knows now? Maybe all the noise and the people will send me into sensory overload or maybe when I am bumped into by someone I’ll cry because how amazing is it to be around people.

It’s been rough the few years – I’ve more or less been ok mental health wise, being a home body who likes their own company has helped.  But introversion has its limits – you can only spend so much time with your own thoughts before you need external stimulation of seeing new things and the energy you get from other people. And this has been sorely lacking in recent times.

We crave novelty, it stimulates our brain, helps us learn and makes us feel nice.  In the last two years there’s been little novelty – just working, staying home, worrying about case numbers, and whether we are all going to die. The lack of novelty lately has made me feel like I’m going a bit stir-crazy being cooped up at home, doing the same walks, not seeing new things. It’s not exactly boredom – more like stagnation, and its had physical impacts, as well as this overriding feeling of just not being able to do this anymore.

For this reason, despite my anxieties about re-entering the world, I need to start going back out there.  The outside world will be different now because we are all different now. Negotiating and finding my way in this new world will take some time. Working out what matters to me – what brings me joy, is both exciting and daunting.

The pandemic isn’t over but for now lockdowns are. And that right now is everything.

Complicated feelings

I’ve had gastro for a few days, I’m now at the end of it and am feeling much better but it’s been a rough. It’s been a hard few months with too much stress and uncertainty. My tummy and appetite made their objections known to this state of affairs for weeks, so it’s not surprising I’ve been sick.

What is it about being sick that scrapes you not just physically but emotionally raw too? It’s like your body is telling your mind to stop acting like you’re ok and sort it out, which is quite unkind of it really, I mean you already have a lot going on.

In the restructure at work, my position has been made redundant. Fortunately, I’ve been directly matched to a similar position. I really happy with the position I’ve been given, it’s probably my dream job, as much as any job is a dream job. As excited as I am for what’s to come, there’s also realising that I’m losing the job I’ve got now, a job I’ve loved.

When I started at my place of work three years ago, I wasn’t certain where it would all end. I just knew that I’d been given a fresh start and wanted to grasp it with both hands. Who knew I would find my feet among systems and data, and in research output assessment, collection and storage, it’s not exactly where I thought my career would go but there is just something about this work that suited me.

This job has challenged me and allowed me to extend my knowledge of systems and metadata. I’ve learnt how to read xml, use an api and constantly look at the way we do things to make more efficient. In the two years, I’ve tried to learn everything I can about the system, driven by a need to help make this work manageable for the team.

The Scholarly Publications team are some of the best people I’ve worked with. We are agile in our thinking and adaptive to change. We meet every deadline, and make sure our work is of the highest quality. While I can’t say we all love what we do, we seem to share a unique quality of being invested in being really good at it and curious about how to make it better.

With this change, I feel there is a risk that the outstanding work the team has done in the research assessment space will just forgotten about. To the university it’s just a process but to me (and us) it’s years of work: thinking, planning, testing, implementing, training and the hard hard slog of processing 5000+ publications every year.

Can you both be devastated to lose something you love and be excited that the future holds good things? That’s where I am right now. I’m sad that my job that I probably cared way too much about is ending. But I’m also looking forward getting stuck into my new role in the new year.

Managing the stress and uncertainty for the next few months will be a challenge.

Life in between – 5

There’s been many hard days in the last 18 months; the day the pandemic was declared, the first lockdown, the second lockdown, lockdown three, the day with 725 cases, lockdown five and then lockdown six hard upon it. Perhaps the hardest day was last week when the CHO and Premier announced we wouldn’t get back to zero and while we could slow the spread, we now needed to prepare ourselves to live with covid.

Living with covid is a scarier prospect than lockdowns and the elimination strategy. If you have watched the news outside Australia, you know what living with covid means – lots of very sick people, some of whom with die of the disease.

That’s not a small thing to agree too. It’s not a decision we should take lightly because we are over the pandemic and want to go to the pub with our mates. The flip side of having our freedoms and so called “normal life” again means sickness and death to other people, particularly those who are unvaccinated. As a society is this something we want to agree to? Is going to a restaurant or seeing your family more important than another person’s right to be alive?

The argument is that you can get vaccinated and reduce the risk of getting covid. It really is a miracle that we have vaccines this early into the pandemic and as someone who is fully vaccinated I’m very happy to have done so. At the time, I didn’t think about this but by getting my vaccination, I was upholding my social responsibility to help protect others in the community as well.

Our social responsibility is what we agree to as societal norms and how we act together to live by them. At their most basic, they are the unspoken agreement to not do things that might harm each other – for example, not drink driving. They can also be actions that benefit society like picking up rubbish in your neighbourhood or planting trees in the park. Getting vaccinated is an action that fits into both of these categories because it minimises harm to others and allows us to consider safely reopening again.

None of our societal obligations are predicated on the fact we all agree or even like each other. They are purely an acceptance that all lives have value and everyone has the right to live. If you choose to act in accordance with your societal responsibilities then that choice benefits both the people you agree with and those whose views or actions you find abhorrent.

Opening up raises many uncomfortable questions for me around the belief in the value of other people’s lives and my obligation to minimise the risk to them. I’m going to repeat myself, opening up means some people will get sick and some people will die of Covid-19.

People die everyday, it’s inevitable and part of life. This isn’t to minimise its impacts; merely to state that it’s not something we can stop, and it is the end we will all come to. Accepting its hard inevitability is necessary and perhaps even healthy, though not welcomed or easy.

The question I keep asking myself is where does our responsibility to minimise harm to other people fit in with the plan to open up? For over 200 days, I’ve been in lockdown to flatten the curve, protect our health system and the most vulnerable in the community. If we open up and people get sick and die, is that just inevitable and the consequence of having to get on with life or is it something we should continue try to prevent?

In normal times these are not questions you would ask yourself. We already know the rules that help us to minimise harm to each other. Coronavirus has changed that equation. I believe it increases our obligation to act in a way that doesn’t harm each other. Of course the obligation runs both ways, but if you choose to participate in your social responsibility you do it even for those people who would refuse to do it for you.

We need to be very clear then that by opening up we are agreeing to an increase case numbers, hospitalisations and possibly deaths. These are difficult choices with life and death consequences. And we need to understand them and find a way to reconcile them as individuals and as a society.

While I’m sure I’m out on a limb here, I would personally rather stay in lockdown forever than one person die from this disease. My life is no more important than anyone else’s, so my right to see my family or go to the ballet can’t override another person’s right to be alive, even if that person has made selfish choices to not get vaccinated.

I also know it’s not realistic to stay in lockdown forever, it’s definitely not healthy or possibly even useful for lessening the long term effects of this virus on society. We do have to get on with life, whatever that means and looks like after all of this.

Getting vaccinated is the only way out, if you haven’t done so already please do. They are safe, and will keep you and your family, me and my family from getting sick and possibly dying. It’s the right thing to do for the sake of society that values your life as much as mine.

Life in between – 4

Lockdown 6. And I’m at a loss for words, we only got out of lockdown 5 a week or so ago. We celebrated a donut day and by 5pm we were back in lockdown. There’s no resilience for this lockdown, it’s just a slog.

Cases are going up in New South Wales, parts of Queensland are in lockdown, South Australia is out of lockdown but everything feels on a knife edge. It’s a giant mess. The vaccination rollout is an unmitigated disaster, and while I’m now fully vaccinated thanks to the Victorian government, there just isn’t enough supplies to go round.

In previous lockdowns there’s been a routine – numbers at 9am, the presser, work, a walk in the afternoon and a spirit of being all in this together. Now the numbers are a reminder of being in lockdown, and that if not extended, it’s still unlikely to be the last. And that’s way to depressing to cope with.

The transformation program at work is taking up a fair bit of my brain power. There’s a lot to understand and think about, the opportunity to give feedback is important but the uncertainty around what’s going to happen isn’t helping anything. And to watch friends and colleagues go through this when we have already been through so much just hurts.

Rejoining the union has made me think about what resistance looks like when there are almost no effective tools to really fight back against these cuts. Does participating in the process mean I am agreeing to it? Would it be considered a win if we saved one job? If so, who’s do we save?

In the strongest terms possible I want to say that I oppose these job cuts. No one deserves this, I’m furious about the injustice of it all. It’s always the worker who pays, never the executives and it’s just bloody unfair. I’m heartsick watching people go through this.

I’ve always imagined there is some universal tally of good and bad in the world. The needle moves back and forth constantly; we are nowhere near wholly good, and frequently it seems like we might slide right down into wholly bad. The bad stuff is kept in check by people standing against injustice, even when there’s no chance of winning. Opposing the job cuts at my work is like this – there isn’t a hope of saving anyone’s job but it evens up the score on the good/bad tally in the universe nonetheless.

The reality is though, and it hurts to write this, I need to accept the inevitability of changes even though I believe them to be wrong. This is a painful realisation that feels like giving up; abandoning friends and colleagues to a fate they did not ask for.

I don’t want to give up. I want to save their jobs but I have no power to do anything to stop this from happening. It’s like trying to hold back the tide, it’s going to happen whether I push against it or not. So, with regret, I accept the changes will happen and understand that by doing so friends and colleagues will lose their jobs. And that hurts even though I know there is nothing I can do.

Can I then both accept and resist? And if so, what does resistance even look like. For me, resistance is fighting for a fair process and for the most vulnerable in our community. It’s supporting colleagues who stay and colleagues who may not. Resistance is considering my feedback, pointing out flaws, making suggestions for improvements and trying to make things as good as it can be.

During times like this, it becomes very easy to demonise people making these decisions. I think it is an act of resistance in refusing to do this, which does not mean they are not accountable or that I can’t be angry or disappointed. Just that it helps no one to make out they are bad people when they are people trying to do their best with the crappy hand Covid-19 has dealt.

This may all seem counterintuitive and more like capitulation. Purists in the union movement may consider it so. Accepting an outcome that you can’t control is hard but finding ways too resist within the process is still possible and there’s always hope that it may make a difference.

Doing what I can, with what I have to make this process better is this the only act of resistance left to me. So, I’ll do it and do it well because it matters. It always matters, even if we don’t win.


Life in between – 3

Sigh. Lockdown 5.0. How did we get here, again so soon after lockdown 4, which we all thought was The Very. Last. Time.

I’ve been getting texts from friends and family to see how I’m feeling about another lockdown. I’m fine – resigned to the point of numbness. I mean who even makes plans anymore.

The lockdown this week has been overshadowed by the impending loss of 200 jobs at my workplace. Two hundred hardworking people with lives and families, who have done nothing to deserve what is happening to them. So while coronavirus continues to make a mockery of our lives, at the moment, its existential threat is secondary to the horror of watching things unfold at my workplace.

Anyone working in the university sector knows the restructuring drill all too well. Every 3-5 years an area in the university gets targeted. If you’re lucky it’s a re-alignment of positions and a name change, if not its redundancies, spill and fill, with those impacted carrying on working for months while it’s sorted out.

Restructuring is a feature of modern work, with varying degrees of success. Every organisation I’ve worked for has restructured at least once if not multiple times while I was working there.

When I worked as a receptionist, I was restructured out of my job – a sweet relief – I was terrible. At a shire council, the library was merged with customer service and then nine months later we restructured again to remove positions. At my current workplace we seem to have been in a constant state of restructuring since 2018.

Restructures are done primarily for cost cutting – people are expensive, so having less of them is an obvious saving. And because the Federal Government refuses to support universities during the pandemic, universities have been cutting positions and restructuring like their lives depend on it – so far 17,000 jobs have been lost.

Making people redundant needs to be made palatable, so its aligned to the strategic directions of the organisation. Exciting words are used like transformation, new ways of working and bright new future. The news is delivered with the right amount pathos and regret that there is just no other way. There’s dedicated counselling services and talk about self-care.

Restructures are usually accompanied by change management workshops for leaders, where change will be painted as both inevitable and an exciting opportunity. I have attended many of these workshops and have always found them uncomfortable and far too wrapped in HR speak for my liking.

As people we deal with change everyday – life is change, both in small ways and big. Sometimes in life you are lucky enough to be able to choose the changes like getting married or moving interstate. Other times the change chooses you, getting sick or a  sudden death in the family.

The former is of course preferable, who wouldn’t want to be in complete control of their destiny. But life isn’t like that. What makes life so hard – and wonderful is that some times change chooses you and you have to deal with it the best way you can.

Change management theories try to quantify people’s experience of dealing with change. They explain things using models like Kubler-Ross and they talk about how people’s reaction to change is linked to their feelings of security. I’ve always found these models to be deeply flawed and dehumanising.

The change management models lack deep compassion for the people who are impacted by change, which is to say, everyone. Feelings are reduced to something on a spectrum that supervisors need to manage. Raging against the universe because of the unfairness of the situation isn’t allowed, feelings are quantified into an acceptable range.

I recently went to a change management workshop but left before the end. I just couldn’t sit through another session where we talked about how to manage change, as though the whole last year where work pivoted, the world became smaller, and illness and death stalked us, didn’t happen.

HR departments mean well but often come across as cold and theoretical. Saying things like “people seeing having a job as a conduit for paying their mortgage” is both blindingly obvious and totally lacking in compassion. And yes, this was an actual thing that was said at the session I went too.

The thing is, the hard work of getting people on board with change mostly doesn’t need to be done anymore. From my experience, people are pretty jaded and are aware that their “permanent” jobs are only secure until the next restructure. So if they survive this round of restructuring, they see accepting the changes as the price of keeping their jobs.

The system is incredibly broken.