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Experiences of 2020

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 Coronavirus 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.

Click below to select individual stories, or scroll down to read them all!

Lauren

Caroline - Social Worker

Erin - Digital Content Creator

Emma - Hotel Receptionist

Nuzhat - Primary School Teacher

Anonymous - Depute Headteacher

Debs - Military Wife

Temi - Food Blogger

Ruth - Political Activist

Christine - Stay at Home Mum

Ailidh - Primary School Teacher/Stay at Home Mum

Roisin - Animal Biology Graduate

Emma - Business Owner & Local Councillor

Gillian

Siobhan - Zero Waste Fashion Designer

Megan - Social Care Worker

Len - Hospitality Worker & Emergency Volunteer

Raissa - Creative Designer

Anonymous - Youth Worker

Anon - Depute Headteacher

I am going back to school tomorrow.

In some senses, of course, I never really left. As a Depute Headteacher with a focus on pastoral care, your work must continue throughout a lockdown, albeit in a very different way. The words flexible, agile, and responsive all feel somewhat over-used. Most of my colleagues have worked flat out. A few have not. It was ever thus.

It is uncomfortable to admit that, despite the many challenges of the last few months, I have been able to breathe out for the first time in years. It took this enforced stop for me to recognise the chronic stress that has been part of my life for several years.

Since starting to work from home, my heart rate has gone down by five beats per minute. Despite gin and tonic becoming an almost daily punctuation point, I have lost weight. My hair is too long but it is ridiculously healthy.

I have worked 9-5 and then stopped. I have spent evenings and weekends with my husband and children, and gone on long walks with the dog. I have taken time to read, to write, to think- and to have lunch.

I work in a supportive school with a team I genuinely love being part of. And yet the relentlessness of school life has, it seems, been detrimental to my mental and physical health. It took a global pandemic for me to see this.

There have been moments in recent weeks where I’ve wondered if I can keep it going in education, given my realisation that that COVID tragedy has actually made my own life easier. That, it turns out, is how hard working in a Scottish secondary school is.

So why stay?

Perhaps I am addicted to being needed; to feeling like I’m making a difference, to having that moral purpose. Being a teacher is such a massive part of my identity that I’m not sure where I am without it any more.

But when I hear people talk about getting back to normal, I don’t want to. I don’t want to be close to breaking point at the end of each term. I don’t want to spend all my time dealing with other people’s families instead of being with my own. I don’t want to feel as though everything I say in every interaction is being noted and judged, whether implicitly or otherwise.

And yet tomorrow morning, with 2 metre stick and antibacterial wipes in hand, I will be the positive, encouraging face my staff need. Because the last thing they need is the person who is supposed to be a source of strength having a wobble.

Debs - Military Wife

As a military wife living on the beautiful Moray coast, I’ve had my share of separation, goodbyes and emotional reunions.

On the 8th of March we kissed and hugged and cried and I watched him walk away. I have been on my own with our two children, throughout the coronavirus pandemic whilst my husband has been deployed to The Falkland Islands.

It is an unwritten rule of the military community that as soon as the other half leaves, things like to go wrong. It’s usually washing machines, cars etc breaking down, however, pandemics are not written into the unwritten rule book!

I have noted that there are similarities between this pandemic and military life. For example, we can’t see family or go on holiday. Concerts, trips out, anniversaries and special birthdays are missed. This is standard for military families at any time, not just during a pandemic.

I was in the middle of the 3rd year of an online degree, but I have had to put that to one side. I’ve been home educating one child and wondering how to entertain the other. It was hard enough being mum and dad without throwing this into the mix. We also now have a whole new vocabulary. Covid-19, Coronavirus, lockdown, social distancing, Janey Godley voiceovers!

My youngest child is due to start school after the summer and we had been working on preparing him for starting school due to him having a disability. All his transition meetings have stopped, as have other appointments. It’s become a worrying time for us without the input of the team around him.

During the depths of this lockdown, I have felt exhaustion and failure, but I have also felt hope and joy. There were some extremely hard days and admittedly some really fun days. But, if I have taken anything from it, it is this. I am not a teacher, but I have taught my children how to enjoy the simple things in life. I have provided them a sanctuary in which to grow and feel loved whilst this blows over, although, it’s not all been unicorns and rainbows! Like any other children they know how to push my buttons!

My advice to others in a similar situation, be it a pandemic or a military separation, is to take each day at a time. Find a hobby (mine is sewing), a good tv series and walk every day even if it's just around your garden. Enjoy what is on your doorstep, you might just see things you didn’t know were there. Go to bed early, the next day comes quicker which means you are a day closer to this all being over.

Although things may not be the same for months to come yet, I feel we are taking small steps towards the light at the end of the tunnel and when we do see our loved ones, we will kiss, hug and appreciate them all the more.

- Debs Wanless, An RAF wife, referee to two children, two dogs and a cat

Temi - Food Blogger

My name is Temi and I run a ‘foodie and bits’ blog called Riki Cooks. About three weeks ago, I completed my undergraduate studies. However, it still has not registered that I have finished university. The main reason is because I could never have imagined that an invisible enemy would bring the world to a standstill (especially in my lifetime). This is beyond the realisation that I will not be walking across a platform to collect my certificate; or, another realisation that just as I am about to start my career, there is a rapid rise in the rate of unemployment.

Being a young black woman, I am in a battle between the real ‘me’ and the ‘me’ that society deems more acceptable. I have to be not too confident, yet not too timid. I have to be not too provocative yet not too modest. I have to indulge in the glorification of ‘being strong’ whilst remaining aware that celebrating ‘being strong’ encourages the perpetuation of the unequal balance of perils faced by women like myself. This ongoing battle is a life-long journey; so rather than controlling the environment, I am learning to adapt my response to the environment. In fact, the arrival of COVID-19 has made the juxtaposition of my experience more evident as well as accelerating my learning process.

An example which revealed a new layer of myself occurred on what seemed to be a normal lockdown day. I had just finished a home dance workout and started to arrange my notes in preparation for exams. Soon, my chest felt tight as though the air in my lungs was being depleted. Rushing out to the balcony, I hoped that fresh air would help, yet this was futile. I started shaking, unwilling to accept that my time of death had arrived. Two days later, this experience returned with increased severity resulting in my flatmate calling the paramedics.

At the time, the campaign was ‘Save the NHS’ and so I was swarmed with guilt that I was wasting an important service. As the paramedics performed checks, confusion settled. They assured me that nothing was wrong, advising that I was experiencing a panic attack. How did my brain concur such a sudden onset of impending doom? How did I achieve absolute certainty that it was time for me to die? It seems that my body had been struggling to come to terms with what is truly an unprecedented time. My attempt at masking the stress by keeping occupied was ineffective. The stress had been exasperated by seeing the news everywhere, monitoring the fast-rising death toll, mourning the loss of each individual, worrying about family, worrying about the future, worrying about the present, reminiscing on the past and realising that there is no quick fix to this invisible enemy.

It has been 78 days since the first panic attack (yes, I am counting). I have learnt again to remain vulnerable, acknowledge and accept that it is okay to feel overwhelmed. I do not have to be in control or even feel pressured into boosting my productivity. It is perfectly fine to spend the day doing nothing or to spend the next day doing everything. As we transition into the new normal, I have found solace in Faith, Cooking, Writing and practicing Gratitude for the present. It is okay just to be…

Ruth - Political Activist

I’m one of the lucky ones. While I know people who have had covid-19, it hasn’t yet (touch wood) reached my family. Work has moved online without too much difficulty; teenage daughter is coping well, and the permanent snapchat contact with her mates is frankly just business as usual; we have a garden where we can sit out, and Skype our wider family and friends. In terms of my personal life, I am battling with a constant sense of unreality, as if I’m in a kind of existential waiting room and will at some point be called forward to engage with stuff.

However, I have another role, and it’s one where stuff buffets me from all directions: I’m the Scotland spokesperson for the Women’s Equality Party. It means I need to know where we stand on all sorts of things. I’m also a member of the party’s policy committee. The committee is full of fantastically knowledgeable women who speak up about gender equality in health, education, parenting and caregiving, work, media and political representation – and about gender-based violence. Coronavirus is affecting every single one of those areas. So, the emails zip to and fro, the Zoom meetings become ever more frequent, and my phone reverberates with WhatsApp notifications as we send each other news of the latest developments and discuss what our responses should be.

This pandemic has exposed and exacerbated all the inequalities that were in our society before it came. Women are taking on the lioness’s share of home schooling and unpaid care work. Women are more likely to have lost their jobs. Women on maternity leave during lockdown are falling through the holes in the furlough safety net. Women are the majority of nurses and carers, who are catching covid-19 because of poor PPE. Lockdown has seen a big spike in domestic violence; extra Scottish Government funding for women’s charities is welcome, but there is a lot still to do. All this and I haven’t even mentioned Black Lives Matter or how the virus is killing more BAME people…

We are trying, via emails and social media, to make our governments (both Westminster and Holyrood) responsive to women’s particular problems as the crisis continues. We urgently need to protect women from violent partners, and to address the question of childcare when children will only be at school part-time. And we are imagining what kind of world we want to build when the virus has run its course.

Christine - Stay at Home Mum

I’m Christine, I live in West Lothian. I’m a ‘stay at home mum’ which, other than a brief period of work last year, I have been for 5 years. I thought the time as a stay at home mum would have prepared me for lockdown quite well; some weeks I don’t have much adult interaction, I'm an introvert so I’m happy in my own company. An unprecedented global pandemic and being at home all day with 3 kids is certainly different to the ‘before’ times when it's forced upon you rather than a choice!

I forgot the snippets of conversation you have with staff in the shops (I haven't been to a shop since March), or the friendly staff in our local cafe chatting to me and my youngest, or hearing about school from my 5 year old, or taking my 13 year old out to his groups. My youngest child is in the ‘shielding’ group so this has added to my anxieties. I’ve felt supported in a practical sense to keep her safe but, and I think this goes for a lot of aspects of motherhood, no one really asks if you're ok? You’re managing everyone else's needs and emotions, the general day to day routines mixed with your own worries. And that has been hard alongside being in the house all together a lot more.

Just being able to go sit in a cafe by myself, or meeting a friend to go to a toddler group - the small things have been hardest. I sometimes felt a bit lonely and isolated before but this has definitely been amplified in lockdown. I think as mums we’re so busy thinking of others and all the things that life throws at us, that sometimes we forget ourselves and that we need looking after as well.

I do berate myself for complaining as my husband’s job is pretty secure, so I feel grateful we haven't had the stress of a lost job, or uncertainty about returning to work. My children seem to be coping incredibly well. It just feels very overwhelming most of the time.

I was hoping to return to University in the Autumn. I hope this can still happen to give me something to focus on and find myself a bit again.

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