Experiences of 2020
Since the beginning of Spring 2020, we have been using this space to share regular blog posts from women across many walks of life in Scotland. We hope to give a platform to voice how the events of this year are affecting you; your family, relationships, work, education, home life, mental health, wellbeing, and many more aspects of life.
The stories shared allow us to give evidence to decision makers at all levels, ensuring women's experiences are focussed on throughout the Coronavirus response and into the 'new normal'. 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!
Comparison isn’t objectively bad, but it’s dangerous when used for the less tangible things - like how your life’s going. I graduated in 2019, hungover from three years in art school and forced to confront my total cluelessness re: what I wanted to do with myself. I dealt with this by shelving any desire to start my career yet, and ran off to live in Italy – procrastinazione! On Valentine’s Day, I’d chopped the last threads of the abusive relationship I’d been in. I carpe diem-ed in 2019 more than I ever had before, because I was finally able to. I got butterflies every time I looked at myself in the mirror. It was bizarre and wonderful.
Next to a year like that, 2020 has been…different. I moved back from Italy in December and back to my parents’ in Annan. Trash-talking your hometown is tacky but Annan was a far-cry from Florence. A lot of my memories there weren’t very fond ones (see: previous abusive relationship) and returning there felt like I’d gone backwards. I cried quite a lot and was persistently gloomy – and that was before the pandemic.
I began 2020 on Universal Credit, and at the start of February I’d gotten a job in retail. One month in, I was made redundant. Naïvely, claiming benefits and redundancy weren’t things I’d ever expected for myself; you’re misled throughout your education to believe that once you’ve been to university you’ll be on an upwards socioeconomic trajectory. I was unemployed for 4 days before starting a new job in a local factory, producing PPE for the NHS. In May, I was offered a freelance role working with an arts organisation I’d volunteered for in the past. I took that on alongside my factory job and burned through the worst of lockdown by working A LOT.
I wasn’t immune to the pleasure and curse of having lots of time to think. On a bad day, I’d be sitting at a sewing machine at 7 in the morning trying to flick a very stiff ‘off’ switch on the mental picture show of past traumas that for some reason decided to play in my head that day. On a good day, I’d take in how good my lunch tasted, or think about what I actually wanted to do with my life in a way that felt day-dreamy and exciting rather than utterly terrifying.
Those bad days felt consuming at the time, but the good days have shaped the real outcome of this year for me. It’s been a strange and rare opportunity to troubleshoot myself. I’ve paid off my debts and saved. I’ve finally moved back to Glasgow – months later than I’d planned, but financially stable and with actual GOALS. I’ve got a better idea of what kind of career I’d like to pursue, and learned from seeing others struggle that this career really shouldn’t be what defines me because everything is so much more precarious than we realised. The pressure is off, and yet I’m moving forward more than ever. I’ve even started seeing a therapist, which is huge for me!
2020, compared to 2019, has been different. It’s forced me to face myself in unfamiliar ways. It’s given me a motivation which I didn’t know I could have. I’m lucky – I feel guilty even having the privilege to view this year as one that’s given me the space and time to grow, when other people have lost loved ones. I’m not alone in using this year to re-evaluate my life in ways I haven’t previously though, and I hope this weird, life-changing, ‘unprecedented’ time has at least made us able to slow down and look after ourselves a little more than we used to.
My worry began when the panic buying started. When people were buying toilet roll for the year, pasta was a pleasure of the past and paracetamol nowhere to be seen. The strict lockdowns occurring throughout Europe, and my shocking behaviour where I found myself racing a man to the shop shelf for the last box of coco pops, catalysed my realisation of the seriousness for what was ahead.
For the following week, I kept in touch with my family, Grandparents and Grannie notifying them of the early shopping times introduced in the supermarkets and to stay safe. Before I knew it, my flatmate and I were to move out of our student flat. The night of the broadcast my flatmates mum got on the midnight boat from Northern Ireland to Scotland, and the following day my mum collected me to go home to Aberdeen.
This has been a frightening, sad and difficult time. My thoughts on the lockdown are the struggle and suffering of people left behind. Where alike many over summer, I couldn't work my usual hospitality job, instead I volunteered to provide hot meals for those in need. My grannie and grandparents couldn't socialise like usual. My brother has the battle of securing a job, and my friends and girlfriend have had to improvise their talents. All of this is a challenge to people's mental health. I think more than ever, it is essential for communities to arise in encouragement, support one another and, for people to know we are here for each other.
As a politics student, lockdown brought me to question the systems of the day. But it also made me appreciate how far humanity has come, where we have technology and communication platforms to aid the combat of COVID-19. I spent time looking after myself and bettering my perspective on life. I spent the most time consecutively I had in a long time with some of my closest friends, however via zoom, still valued and sentimental. Lockdown was a blessing in disguise for me because of the time I got to spend with my family, and I was able to support my mum working so hard for the NHS throughout the pandemic.
Personally, lockdown and the elements of it that limit our lives, I am happy to do, knowing the purpose is to save someone's life and to protect people's health. I welcome the new norm such as 'circuit breakers' if they are necessary to control the transmission of the virus. Lockdown and the new normal is challenging, and it's nothing like my generation, or even my parents, have experienced, but we must come together.
I am part of a deep-connected student community to which I am grateful for. The Women's Football Club has announced a buddy scheme to help new students settle into life in Stirling. We must do our part, to look out for one another and for our neighbours, stay connected socially as we can, to look after our mental health and those of others.
Pre-2020, as a self-employed storyteller and a carer for my autistic seven-year-old daughter, stress was already part of my life. There was also lots to appreciate - my kid is the funniest, sweetest person I know and I am consistently blown away by how tough she is when dealing with all the challenges that the world throws her way.
However, my girl feels things very strongly (contrary to what poorly researched TV might tell us about autism) and she can become pretty overwhelmed if she’s worried or if other people are distressed. Staying calm and squashing my own feelings when she’s struggling is essential (showing her when I’m wound up would be like throwing petrol on a rapidly spreading fire) and near total self-control has become my default.
This seemed doable until lockdown, when we were all cooped up together and my job came almost to a standstill. With no dashing about for projects, no quiet time for creativity, and essentially no chance to just be myself, I started to really struggle. I tried my best to help my daughter cope with feeling anxious and frustrated, to jazz up the dreaded home-schooling - even with my husband doing plenty of the childcare, I felt that the responsibility to steer our ship was mine. My sleep deprivation grew worse, my shoulder muscles become ridiculously taut but I couldn’t let myself see what my own needs might be. I was permanently tuned in to my kid, unable to switch off as my brain whirred away inside my exhausted body.
I couldn’t out run the emotions forever, of course, and when I cried for the first time in almost a year (while watching a rom-com that actually had no tearjerker moments), it became clear that I was burnt out. I needed help, and I was lucky enough to have people around me who wanted to be there, to remind me that it didn’t all fall on my shoulders. My husband was great at encouraging me to have a guilt—free nap or walk, even when I knew our kid wanted me glued to her side. My parents would remind me over the phone that sharing my struggles didn’t make me disloyal to my beloved girl – they were also very keen to be on grandparent duty again as soon as it was allowed. I’ve been able to, gradually, get creative again and I can see now that having this for myself is key to my mental wellbeing. I’m especially lucky to have a daughter who, with all her daft jokes and giant cuddles, really is the greatest joy in my life.
For me, caregiver burnout was brought to a head by the pandemic - I’m very aware that right now there are others who have less support, whose children have more complex needs, who have no chance at an outlet for themselves. I honestly don’t know if I could cope if I were walking in their shoes…
I always knew I would not be a stay at home mum. I greatly admire those who choose to, or have to, but I always knew it would not be for me. I have always enjoyed the pressure and the deadlines of my work and thrive on the environment in what is a very male dominated workplace. So when my maternity leave ended in July 2019, I went back to work willingly. When lockdown, and then furlough, came I was left feeling more than a little bereft.
I was returned to the role of primary caregiver with little else to discuss than the daily habits of my not quite two year old, something I thought I had left behind 8 months before. Then I felt ungrateful that I wasn’t “enjoying the time” I had been given, like people suggested I should. Then I felt sad. And then angry that my husband, my colleagues, my sister were all still working, contributing and I was not. Except I was - in an abstract way. My husband reassured me “but you’re very important to me, and to the little man”. Which would help, in a way. And bring on the guilt.
I’ve found mumguilt lies in almost every turn. Go back to work. Stay at home. Feed him like this. Enjoy doing that. Lockdown added a whole new layer – the “I’m not doing enough’s”. Enough drawing or baking or messy play. Too much TV. Not enough variety in interaction.
But after 4 months, I must admit that dropping him off at nursery was tough. I had been relaxed, relieved even, the first time I had returned to work. But now it seemed harder. Like the end of a break in life, something that doesn’t come along very often.
It seems even the most ardent working mum may need a little help in readjusting to a work setting so I would urge people to be aware of this and make sure that on their return to work they feel useful again. Feel included in the office environment so that the imposter syndrome they most almost certainly feel as a mother doesn’t creep into their working life as well.
I will miss seeing all the leaps in development my child makes, more than I thought I would. But I am glad to be involved in my own life again.
Hi, my name is Fatma and I’m an assistant editor based in Glasgow.
Before the pandemic, I was struggling - trying to land a stable job post graduation was not as fun as it seemed. Having to handle rejections, trying to meet with anyone that could be a possible lead, checking every possible source for any possible openings every single day...etc. Things weren’t looking so bright. Trying to get into a field like mine as a beginner with barely any contacts was a nightmare. But all of that turned around when I got a phone call for a job I’d been hoping to get since graduation.
Cut to a week later however - lockdown was announced. I sat there thinking back to when everyone told me the future was uncertain and not to rely on any life “plans.” I had to give it to them. They really knew what they were talking about... Having everything be so uncertain in the first stages of your career is annoying, yet expected. But having everyone’s future become so unexpected all at once was unchartered territory. And trying to manage through that wasn’t/isn’t easy.
It was very hard to stay motivated in such uncertain times. One minute everything seemed fine and then the next you were calling every person you know, hoping for their safety and wellbeing. Most of my family are abroad where things such as free healthcare are practically unheard of. Almost all the women in my life have been heavily affected by the pandemic as well, those who lost jobs, those still waiting to hear back ever since furlough had been removed and those going through medical conditions that require regular hospital visits. A friend even gave birth in the middle of this whole thing.
At first, thanks to zoom and netflix party, I was able to maintain virtual social contact as best as I could. But as things moved on, I found myself slowly falling into a pit of isolation that I still feel stuck in to this day. I’m not sure how to interact normally anymore and ALWAYS second guess every single thought that comes to my head. Should I say this? Should I text that person? Should I just delete all my social media and just disappear? Y'know, the usual. The weirdest thing though was going through Ramadan during lockdown. This is the time where everyone you know comes together to practice this holy month. It was very unconventional to say the least.
My mental health took a big fall during lockdown after so much progress had been done over the years. My anxiety and eating worsened and there was no immediate help for that. I had to try and manage it on my own. Everyone else seemed to be making use of this “free time” whereas I was stuck in this unhealthy state.
A really odd thing that kept me going though was that everyone was affected by this. Maybe that’s a really selfish way of looking at it… But it’s true. We were all in the same boat, trying to navigate in such unfamiliar territory. I’m not singled out going through this alone. We all kind of had each other.
If I were to leave you with any message, it would be to let go of things that are out of your control. Trust me, I’m more than aware that it’s easier said than done. But it’s something I’ll always strive to do, and one day hope to achieve.