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Coronavirus Experiences

Over the coming weeks, we will be sharing blog posts from women across many walks of life in Scotland. We hope to give a platform to voice how the pandemic is affecting you; your family, relationships, work, education, home life, mental health, wellbeing, and many more aspects of life.

The stories shared will allow us to give evidence to decision makers at all levels, ensuring women's experiences are focussed on throughout the Coronavirus response. We hope they'll also provide a form of support and solidarity to others in similar situations, or educate our wider audience about their role or position.

Siobhan - Zero Waste Fashion Designer

"Hello, I’m Siobhan, I run an independent fashion brand, called ReJean. A zero-waste denim brand specialising in one-off workwear style jackets and accessories. I design and handcraft my collections from discarded denim. With a focus on vintage workwear, the collections are designed to look good on everyone regardless of size, age, colour or gender.

Just in November there, I secured new, bigger, public facing premises in the Barras. December was a blur, I was working on so many different projects all while trying to setup the new space. I literally didn’t stop. After a few days respite I started 2020 with slightly renewed energy levels and lots of new ideas and ambitions; my second year in business was going to be bigger and better!

Then BAM, the world stopped. Everything now on hold indefinitely, and I’m trying hard to imagine what the new normal is going to be, and how my business will fit into it successfully. ‘Pivot’ your business they said.

With the economy crashing I’ve definitely had my days of blind panic, thinking what is the point? Who is going to have money to buy into my brand now, how am I going to grow the business now? That must sound so selfish given what’s going on, but I’m just petrified for the future! Trying to pivot my business, make some money and praying I am eligible for the small business grant, if not I’m basically done!

I have often found myself wishing I had trained in something else. Something less creative, something that would provide me with a stable a job… maybe I should’ve listened to my family when they advised me to train as a teacher all those years ago! It just feels like there’s never going to be a good time to build a business.

To make it in fashion you need money, the kind of money that I don’t have and don’t want, because money = greed, and greed has a lot to do with what’s wrong with this world, I mean doesn’t it?

So, I’ve kept myself busy plotting new projects and getting stuck into all the admin that takes a back seat when you’re a maker. I couldn’t remember the last time I had sat in front of a laptop for a full day and now it seems that’s all I have done for the last 4/5 weeks. In all honestly, I have really enjoyed ‘slowing down’ it was so needed. I was working every hour of every day, I needed to be to slowed down. I have been catching up on sleep, cooking meals from scratch, going for walks outside and actually appreciating my surroundings. But every now and then I find myself panicking and just applying frantically for jobs, any jobs.

My heart goes out to all the people that are truly affected; those on the front line, those with family members on the front line. So many people have parents or children who have been pushed to the forefront of this horrible virus without adequate protection! It’s ludicrous and just horrific. I’ve been helping out with the NHS Scrubs/PPE appeal, I was desperate to do something. It’s a small effort, and I’m not even sure if the fabric we sourced was good enough, but at least it’s something! I went back to my studio last week and have been cutting up 100s of metres of fabric to send out to our volunteers who are stitching them up as we speak.

It’s weird being in the midst of a pandemic but not being truly affected by it. People are dying but you don’t necessarily see it. Being so eager to help, I think I signed up to every Scrub appeal effort in the UK! As they all manage to get on top of the logistics and get stock distributed to volunteers, I wonder if I’m going to have to give up too much of my time - my ‘to do’ list for pivoting ReJean is now growing arms and legs!

At the end of the day I’m trying to find a way to somehow still have a business that is relevant and viable, i.e. making money, enough for me to keep going! I’m hoping to qualify for the small business grant. If I don’t get that then I will be pretty stuck for cash this year and will likely have to give up my new premises. I’m going to be 29 in a few months and its pretty scary to think I still won’t be earning a ‘decent’ salary and all my hard work building this business hasn’t paid off yet. It just the general what if’s? What next? What now and what then?

The whole situation feels a bit surreal, a few of my other freelancer friends have described it as, ‘the holiday we didn’t know we needed under the worst possible circumstances’. I personally have been lucky enough to stay healthy and those closest to me also have been fine. Anyone I know that has caught it has recovered and managed to avoid being hospitalized.

I believe the current situation is a wakeup call and I really hope more people will act, and realise that nothing will change unless we all actually take some real action. All of our words and anger and opinions mean nothing if we don’t do anything with them. It gives me hope when I see people going out their way to support local independent businesses. Near me, in the Southside of Glasgow, there was such a sense of regeneration with loads of exciting independent coffee shops, restaurants and makers all opening up over the last few years. Now they are sadly struggling to get through this pandemic. But if we all band together we can grasp this golden opportunity to challenge capitalism and promote localisation.

I hope that if we learn anything from this it is how important it is to really support our local businesses in every way we possibly can. It will directly boost our own local economy and maybe it could be the thing that starts to get us a back to our ‘new’ normal. We hold so much power in our wallets and we need to use it to support those ethical businesses who will help shape our new future. I think a lot of people are hopeful for a change in how we run as a society. We need to be kinder to each other and our planet.

Because of our ethos and our circular production practices I have been told a few times that ReJean is the type of business that can and should survive and bounce back stronger than before. I really hope its true. The last thing I want to do is give up!"

Megan - Social Care Worker

"Coronavirus has changed my life in a number of ways. Before lockdown I was a social care worker working in a respite facility for adults with additional support needs; I lived at home with my parents and brother; my free time was spent playing team sports, spending time with friends and family or out exploring Shetland's rugged coast; and I had had my last counselling appointment and was managing my mental health really well.

My workplace closed quite early on and we have been redeployed around various areas of adult services. I am now mostly working in care homes supporting the elderly. This is an area of care I had never imagined myself working in. I have never supported people with end of life care, but the fact that there are people going through this without being able to have their families around them is heart-breaking. I have also had shifts in supported living properties. I find out week by week when and where my shifts will be and am just asked to work wherever there is a staff shortage.

My eldest brother has complex disabilities and requires care from my parents. He would usually access day care and the respite facility I work in, but both have been closed. Due to me working on the front line it was too risky for me to stay at home, so I have moved out until it is safe to move home again. It is hard not being able to hug them or be near them, but I have walked the 12km round trip to sit outside on the balcony and eat my lunch with the patio doors open so I can speak to them in person. What once would have been a little thing brought me so much joy!

Not being able to spend time with my teammates, friends or family has been really difficult. I am so thankful for modern technology for being able to video chat and stay in touch with people. I am stuck in Lerwick, Shetland's capital, which to begin with I found really hard as I love driving to more rural areas to walk and explore where there is little chance of meeting others. However, as time has gone on, I have realised how lucky I am to still be able to walk around coastline and not be stuck in a big city which I know would make me feel claustrophobic.

My mental health has been up and down over the course of the last few weeks. To begin with I was pushing myself to stay upbeat and do some form of exercise every day. This was fine until I hit a wall and realised I had to just take each day as it comes and do what I am mentally and physically capable of. Not knowing where and when I am going to be working has caused my anxiety to flare at times. I have quickly realised that I need to let myself feel down and cry if I need to. I have realised I need to do what is best for me each day and not put pressure on myself to achieve more than I can manage.

My message to others would be to try and take each day as it comes, embrace your emotions, allow yourself to cry if you need to and seek support from those who may not physically be around you but are still a phone call or message away. These are difficult times for everyone and as I said before, there is no right or wrong way to deal with our lives changing so drastically. Focus on making it through each day and doing what is right for you!"

Len - Hospitality Worker & Emergency Volunteer

"Now more than ever, do I feel the theory that we are only 6 degrees of separation away from each other. I am feeling everything I experience first-hand, hear from friends, and read in the news.

I work in hospitality; I have potentially lost my job; and almost everyone in my very immediate circle is in a similar position. Friends who had given 5+ years to companies, have walked away with quite literally nothing. I feel my 6 degrees.

I wasn’t an essential worker, I was barely considered a skilled worker, and I am now considered a key worker. I am living in the fortunate circumstances that I am young, I am healthy, have access to a car and abundance of free time. I can’t sit still, and I hate to feel useless, and feel a level of moral duty to use my time to help. I feel my 6 degrees.

Since losing my job, I have been volunteering in a foodbank in Glasgow. We are a small team working from the storeroom. Our service quadrupled since lockdown. More and more families are relying on the charity sector because of covid-19 to ensure their basic needs are met. Something that should be alien to them. It’s easy to feel disengaged when working in the storeroom, moving stock and packing bags, as it all becomes a simple task. Part of my duties are to drop off food, and very occasionally, I have given the service users a lift home or to the pharmacy, or other essentials. I understand the risk factor; but the need for these basic amenities for these people outweighs that for me. I feel my 6 degrees.

During this we have relayed our own personal stories, trying to offer some form of soundboard for them. One woman told me her story; her mum lives across the city in a retirement community, she calls her everyday as she can no longer do her 3 weekly visits. I suggested using video chat to contact her family, she explains she has no access to a laptop/mobile device and can’t even afford access to Wi-Fi, nor can anyone in her building. Video chat is something I am relying heavily on and have certainly taken for granted. This woman refuses to use the foodbank more than every three weeks, she makes it last, she wants others to have access before her. I feel my 6 degrees.

I will not tell you to get out and volunteer; by staying home you are doing your bit. Please stay safe, stay healthy and communicate with your friends and family. It keeps us going. However, if you are able to, and feel comfortable to do so; please volunteer, please give to your local charities, and finally, please think about our 6 degrees."

Raissa - Creative Designer

"Hello, I’m Raissa.

I’ve lived in Scotland for two years and I’m a creative designer. I run my own studio, something that can be very difficult during times like this. The most awkward part of my job is dealing with design projects and constantly feeding my clients with creative solutions. Some clients are more understanding than others, but some seem to only see their own side of this crisis, which has left me with lots of anxiety.

What I find hard is how quickly people have changed towards me, how much they expect from me, how much quicker they want the same job done, how demanding and very un-polite some of them have become towards me. Not everyone feels productive and not everyone will react to this crisis in the same way. No judgment should come from our community, but strength and understanding to make us better day by day.

I’m lucky because I’m still working, I have worked night and day in the past two years and I have savings in the bank that allow me to not panic. My family is in Italy and has been in lockdown for more than a month now. I have been living far from home for ten years. It’s always easy to be away from our families when everything is doing fine, but now it feels like the most difficult thing for me. I can’t stay focussed when I’m feeling so uncertain about when I’ll be seeing them again and when I can finally go visit them in person.

After a few weeks of struggling, I had a couple of bad events. I realised my mental health was hitting harder than I thought. I struggled to even walk outside without panicking. I felt guilty calling the NHS and asking for help, knowing they are working tirelessly to give the virus patients a bed and care. I called my GP and they prescribed me medication that has helped me in the last week.

Motivation comes in really small doses right now which is very frustrating, knowing I’m creative by nature and rely on this for work on a daily basis. There isn’t much I can do other than keep myself fit and try eating the right food. I feel like both women and men are being affected massively by their mental health. Some will be open about it, some will recognise the problem and some others will be quiet, thinking that it will go away. It’s important that we all acknowledge what’s going on and we ask for help, now more than ever.

There are going to be a lot of ups and downs from now on, since we got over the first couple of weeks and we now enter into a darker stage of isolation. The only thing that will keep us going will be reaching out to others, let them know we love them. Treat yourself without judgement, take a little time every day to learn something you’ve wanted to for a long time. But also allow yourself to do absolutely nothing, if that’s what your body is telling you to do. Let’s be kind to each other - now we need to see some humanity and believe that all of us have something good in our hearts."

Youth Worker

"I am a key worker in a residential unit which cares for teenagers up to the age of 18. Because of the lockdown conditions imposed nationally, the young members are no longer able to go out the way they could before. They cannot have visits with their family and loved ones.

This has sometimes caused a spike in aggression and violence towards staff members. We don’t blame these young people – we know that emotions are running high and feelings are ranging from anxiety and fear to boredom. We try and do what we can to ensure everyone is occupied and has something to do to keep them busy. This usually includes a range of competitions and gaming activities. We also try and ensure that they are actively involved in this by working cooperatively with us to come up with their own initiatives around creativity and learning. Residents often work together to come up with “ DIY tasks” for the accommodation where we try to promote sharing and the benefits of team working. Cooking competitions and activities have also been a big hit. Given the suspension of so many services at present, this is extremely important to not only keep our young people occupied but also to continually promote independent living as it is crucial they do not fall behind on the great progress they have made.

With self-isolation in place for those experiencing symptoms, it means we are stretched to capacity whilst also taking on extra duties and having to go above and beyond in measuring outcomes for the kids. The seriousness of still having to go to work and not being able to relax afterwards by doing what were normal things up until recently, like seeing friends or going shopping, is hard. Small things like being unable to sit in Starbucks and have a coffee and read a magazine all of a sudden feels like a million miles away. It means that trying to unwind after you finish a long shift during this time is quite a stressful experience. Not being able to see family and friends is emotionally draining. The more the news goes on every day, I worry more and more about being a carrier from something like touching a door handle and transferring it to people who might be vulnerable.

The impact that being a key worker has on your mental health is hard – you are literally waking up, going to work where capacities are stretched to breaking point, coming home and sleeping just to do it all over again. I worry about the kids I look after, my colleagues and everyone else around me. The only thing I can do is focus on being able to go out and do normal things again when this is over and think of that light at the end of the tunnel.

I am proud of the work myself and my colleagues continue to do during this time and to see the recognition we are getting from the public is amazing."

- The writer of this blog wishes to remain anonymous due to the nature of their role.

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