The pandemic, productivity and goals

The pandemic, productivity and goals

Today I went for a run. No big deal, I hear you say. People run all the time. The thing is: I haven’t gone running for 18 months. Not since I was in Hanoi. This pandemic (or rather, the government’s response to the pandemic) has sucked the productivity right out of me. I’ve had no goals and no direction because there’s so much uncertainty, particularly in Australia. Our leaders are drunk on power and – in their relentless and destructive pursuit of zero COVID – love to  “snap” lock Australian borders and cities because of one freaking case, with the support of some heavy-handed policing. Victoria is on lockdown number six. New South Wales, in a first for them and after lockdown lite, has locked down the entire state. Western Australia wants vaccine passports. South Australia, my state, is one of the least draconian but had a seven day lockdown recently, and now we’re on restrictions and surveillance (masks and check-ins). I feel like a naughty teenager breaking curfew whenever I go out. We’re adults for fuck’s sake. Let us manage our own health and well-being.

All these lockdowns and restriction make life uncertain and play havoc with mental health. It’s well known that uncertainty is bad for your brain. You can’t plan a holiday interstate because the state you are visiting may panic and go into lockdown, forcing you to be stranded there, unable to get back. Rules change mid-air, and people have decided it’s better to go back home than risk going into hotel quarantine, forfeiting their holiday plans. In fact, in South Australia, if you are in the wrong place at the wrong time, you can be forced into a medi-hotel for 14 days, and take it from me — hotel quarantine is awful. I mean, with states and territories enjoying the fruits of their emergency legislation, why would you go anywhere, or even think about planning anything long term? You just can’t. It’s too risky from a personal well-being and financial perspective.

Lockdowns mean businesses have to close — unless you’re deemed an essential service, which is an arbitrary definition, depending on which state you are in. If you’re a small business, you can’t weather the storm like a Coles or Bunnings or Dan Murphy’s, and many a SME has folded, particularly as government is now hesitant to hand out any kind of support unless you meet certain criteria. If you’re a casual worker and your workplace closes for any length of time, you have no income – again – unless you meet the criteria. The rent or mortgage and bills still need to be paid. Food needs to be put on the table. Mental health is at a crisis point in this country. And forget about finding a job or advancing your career except if you are part of the laptop class. Or a public servant. Or a politician. In my experience, recruitment is largely on hold while businesses go into damage control, or close.

(And let’s not forget about the 35,000+ Australians and Permanent Residents and their pets still stranded outside the country, unable to get home, many for more than a year. And the Australians with dual nationality who live overseas and are stuck in Australia, unable to get home and their lives overseas. It’s a mess, man.)

The main finding was that all measures of stress, both subjective and objective, maxed out when uncertainty was highest. When predictability was at 50%, when people had absolutely no clue whether they were about to get shocked, stress peaked. ~ The Guardian

So it’s against this backdrop of debilitating uncertainty that I – and I would say millions of others – have struggled to be positive and productive. Why bother when one feels like one has no control over anything anymore?

I’ll admit that some days, if I don’t have to go to my volunteering job, I don’t get out of bed. Some days it takes an incredible amount of willpower to get in the shower and get dressed. Oh, I’m chirpy enough – I’m not depressed as such – but I have days when I think to myself: what’s the fucking point? So I watch TV (not the news) and try to read. I’ve shelved my personal projects. No writing, no publishing, no photography, no blogging. Creativity takes brain power and I just can’t. The most I can manage is a bit of crochet and embroidery – awesome for mindfulness – and cooking, because (after Hanoi where most apartments have no oven, just a hotplate) I love using my gas stove and oven.

I don’t have a car, so walking and cycling are incidental exercise for me, but I’ve missed running. And I know I should run. I’m better for it. So, as we head into spring, I decided that it’s time to run. It’s time to say fuck you to uncertainty and take a modicum of control over my life. So I ordered my running shoes, and they arrived last week. And today was the day. It felt weird, but good. Obviously, I can’t run five kilometres, so I walked/ran my old route along the linear park near my home. The air was crisp, the sun was warm, the birds were chirping and chatting and warbling. People nodded and smiled and said hello as I passed them. I was slow, but I didn’t care. To quote Forrest Gump: I was running.

But a magical thing happened while I ran: I got to thinking about my personal projects. I got to thinking about the stuff that I can control: like being able to run five kilometres. I got to thinking about my goals again, goals that I do have control over: creating the online courses that I planned. Finishing my novel. Blogging. Doing something with all travel the photos I have. Short-term, medium-term and long-term goals. I don’t have a long list. Just these three or four things.  It’s about as much as my brain can handle, but it’s enough. Enough for now.

The effort required to get out the door this morning and run cannot be emphasised enough. But I know my sense of pride and achievement will thank me for it as I tackle projects that have been gathering dust in the recesses of my uncertainty-clogged brain. The fog is clearning, and while I struggle to find paid work, I don’t feel so rudderless.

So how are you all doing? Are you managing to stay productive? Or is everything on hold until politicians declare the pandemic has become endemic?

Image credit: Sasin Tipchai from Pixabay 

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