The ‘coronacoaster’ is a real thing

It’s quite surreal looking back to the moment in time when I found myself sitting on my couch watching the President’s address and learning of the upcoming 21-day hard lockdown.

It was a strange moment and one that filled me with more intrigue than despair. I was actually quite excited at the prospect of spending an uninterrupted 21 days at home.

To give you some context, I have my own company and I work full time in the Tourism Industry so I’m a busy little body. My days are never dull, and my time is always well spent either in the office keeping the team entertained with one of my crazy antics, energetic pranks or quietly at home behind the screen creating something special. My days are full and time is not my friend.

21 days to make friends with time again… I was in! My mind was filled with ideas of what I could do and what I could achieve during this time. I thought that I would finally have some time to find balance and routine and really focus on all the tasks I had neglected. I was actually going to be able to spend 21 days locked in a house with my wife, how amazing is that? I went into planning mode. I’m a planner at heart and my mind is always ticking on what’s next on my never-ending to-do list.

My wife Jo is a biokineticist and sports scientist so obviously, exercise was going to be on the cards. We bought mountain bikes thinking we could enjoy some time outdoors, we bought indoor trainers for the mountain bikes when we realised we couldn’t… We turned our spare room into a gym so that Jo could still work with her clients online and set up my ‘office space’ in the dining room. We were sorted. We’ve got this, it’s going to be amazing.

It was. Those 21 days in isolation were pretty awesome. I had found that balance and created a routine that worked for both of us. We had more time together and we even had time to really get stuck into a series or two on Netflix. Work was stressful with the tourism industry taking a very hard knock and much time was spent on webinars and Zoom calls which allowed us to maintain that sense of connection and not feel so isolated.

It was hard being locked in initially, I did have to fight the urge to break free but being able to walk in the garden and around the complex was a blessing. We were very focused on our health and safety and ventured to the shops twice in those 21 days to limit exposure, we were doing our part. Then came the extension and the next extension and we were now 3 months down the line and a few more visits to the shops and Jo felt a little scratch and a little tickle. This progressed into what I can only term ‘man-flu’. I then started feeling the symptoms of this strange flu-like nastiness and our GP thought it best if we went to get tested.

The feeling of having a long earbud scraped up into your nostril, against what feels like the underside of your eyeball into the inside of your brain is horrible… but it’s nothing compared to that moment that you get the test results back and you’re positive. (Or like in Jo’s case… you get the results and you’re negative and you start doubting yourself until you realise it was a false negative a week later).

Being positive is usually a good thing right?! Well, not in this case… the only positive thing was that at least there was a reason we were feeling so utterly horrible and that it wasn’t man-flu as we had expected. I’m still not so sure if that’s a real thing but for a while, I thought it might be… the brain tickle debunked it, sorry chaps… for a moment you had my sympathy, just a moment.

A month of fighting the dreaded lurgy taught me a lot. 4 weeks is a long time. It’s a very long time to feel sick. Once again, time was not my friend. What’s super weird is that I seemed to get worse or feel worse after I got the test results. The first two weeks were horrible, don’t get me wrong but there was an element of “stop being a baby, it’s just the flu” then again flu doesn’t make you feel this bad does it? Then you get the results 2 weeks in and it almost justifies the symptoms… and then they just keep coming… or you notice them more. It’s weird.

The symptoms were strange too, and they changed… what started with a scratchy throat and a headache turned into a full-blown self-pity party and a mutiny of uninvited soldiers carrying their own special gift-bag of symptoms to the party. There were a lot of them too. Jo and I experienced the symptoms at different times so there was always something to complain about between the two of us – it was a delight to be us, actually. From the normal flu symptoms (sore throat, body aches, dry cough, tight chest) to the weird ones of limbs just randomly going numb, pins and needles in places you didn’t think you would be able to get pins and needles, muscle pain, skin sore to the touch, neuralgia, chest pain, rib pain, blurry vision, eye pain and pressure, foggy brain (more than usual), loss of smell, loss of taste, insomnia, nausea, shakes, depression, dry mouth, peeling skin, lack of sensation, night sweats, then the fatigue and the headaches…oh the fatigue and the headaches! I called the headaches Henry… Henry was with me for four long weeks and refused to leave (like a creepy uncle at a birthday party).

The fatigue was immense and is still lingering 4 months later. We would find ourselves sleeping for 20 hours, waking for two to three hours and then easily sleeping for another 12. This was relatively normal and exceptionally necessary for us. There just simply was not enough sleep. We took rest to the next level. The only symptom that neither of us had was a high temperature. It makes you wonder about all these temperature screenings and the importance placed on them.

That dark period meant that days blurred into weeks, time was not my friend and I was completely behind the 8 ball. I will never forget the first day that I woke up feeling normal, or the day after that, or even the day after that one. Three days of feeling normal after what felt like a lifetime was enough to help me move past the dark days and start picking up the pieces and putting that routine back into place.

It was a new normal and a new routine and I structured my day by hours, doing as much as I could do without pushing myself too hard. Mentally I was exhausted, physically I was feeling better but my state of mind was wobbling in between.

I am so fortunate to work with an incredibly supportive team and each one of them stepped in to assist in that month where I was one with the couch and no longer seen a valuable part of society. I thank them for that each day as without them I am sure that I would have been a lot worse off mentally.

The highs and the lows are very real and they are to be expected. Many of us have been dealing with so much more than we are used to. I count myself lucky in the sense that we don’t yet have children and have been fortunate not to lose work over this time. I have had reduced hours and reduced billing for my clients and our income has been negatively affected. This adds another dimension to our anxiety and basket of worries. Being in a constant state of stress is not ideal.

I was reminded just how important family is. Not being able to see my parents was tough as they are in a Retirement Estate and their rules were a little stricter. Seeing my Mom through the fence on Mother’s Day and not being able to give her a hug was hard for both of us and reminded us just how very real this lockdown is and the effect it has on so much that we take for granted. Humans are not meant to be in isolation, we are jovial, familial creatures who thrive on community and socialisation. Without this life is very different.

As we moved from level to level I found that I began to settle in to this new normal a little better and it seemed to come a little easier. This acceptance of how it is is so important but also making sure that I can accept it is what has kept me smiling.

There are now more highs than lows and I’ve found new hobbies, I’ve taken the time to get stuck in on projects around the house and found such joy in being able to do them myself (some better than others). I’m able to use my mountain bike outside on trails and get up hills without my lungs complaining too much. I’m grateful.

I can safely and confidently say that I have found that balance and routine again and it’s different from what I expected it to be. I am making time for me, I am making time for my wife and I am enjoying the time I dedicate to work so much more as I am no longer ruled by my work and the deadlines associated to it. This is my new normal and I expect it to change rather often and I’m okay with that. Strangely and selfishly enough, I’m grateful for this year. I know it has brought tremendous hardship and loss for so many people and communities and our economy has been turned upside down, but I have learnt a lot about myself in this time.

I am stronger than I thought I was. I am more resilient than I ever believed I could be. I have more time for people and the needs of others, and I have so much more to give to those around me. I am a different human to who I was at the beginning of this year. I am a better human and time is now my friend – and for that, I am truly grateful.

Janine Mortimer

Janine is the founder, thinker, and noise behind Electric Giraffe – a lively creative agency with a special focus on the SME market. With almost two decades’ experience in the working world – most of the time in big corporates – Janine has seen her fair share of business operations. After many years in the FMCG environment, she moved to the industrial sector and enjoyed much success and received many accolades and awards within the scope of her role. However, she found that her career was lacking substance. A role within a project team working in the areas of socio-economic development and supplier development made her realise that helping others achieve their dreams and goals by creating meaningful, sustainable, and successful enterprises was far more fulfilling than anything she had ever done. With her creative thinking, strategic mind, and ability to hold a pencil, Janine realised that she could do so much more to help these businesses. So she began to share insight and marketing knowledge with the owners. Understanding their marketing needs as well as their sometimes tight budgets, Janine realised that she could really help up-and-coming businesses, and soon found that her days were filled with purpose and her heart with gratitude. It was this that led her to make the leap to make a difference in the lives of so many more.