We look at how London’s workers, including us, are affected by the pandemic.
I’m a workaholic.
In 2015 I forgot how to swallow.
Every time I ate, it felt like a bit of food lodged in my throat. It was intermittent at first; then it would happen a couple if times during a meal; then it was every time I swallowed, and no matter how much water I drank or how many times I cleared my throat, it felt like the food would get stuck. It didn’t matter how much I chewed, either. It felt like everything was squeezing shut. I started cooking soft foods, taking tiny mouthfuls, chewing a lot, and drinking water to push it down. I was scared I’d never eat properly again.
At the time I was working at the University of Queensland, and had three freelance gigs. I was also writing a grief memoir (about my mother’s death from cancer in 2013) for a Masterclass Program. I was working (paid & unpaid) seven days. I knew this was unsustainable, but I’d juggled creative and paid work before. And Shona and I devised an exit plan, and so many other writers and artists do this. But the words I was putting down in my memoir were heavy. (I didn’t know how heavy.) I was diagnosed with a hole in my heart and hypertension. In the middle of all this, two people I knew passed away, four days apart. I remember the inflection in ------’s voice on the phone when she told me ------- was gone. We’d been housemates for some years. Now, that’s a lifetime ago.
Surrounded by death, we flew to Melbourne to say goodbye. The sadness and hurt triggered grief, anxiety and guilt about mum. After returning home I continued working myself into the ground. Then it hit me a couple of months later, during a trip to Canberra for the Masterclass. When I ate I thought I was choking. I didn’t know what was happening, so I flew home early. I was exhausted.
I didn’t eat solid food for weeks. I lost 10kg. My short-term memory dissolved, I couldn’t sleep, my digestion stalled, I was edgy, I thought I was going to die from cancer. I took sick leave from UQ, and only just finished my freelance gigs. As for the memoir, I did submit the 10,000 words by the deadline, but I shouldn’t have. At times I’d finish a paragraph and just start sobbing.
To get through, I went to counselling. To stay healthy I run 40km a week. To stay sane I work Monday–Friday, 9-5. Sometimes food feels like it’s not going down properly, but I’m usually tired or stressed. My memory came back, my sleep is ok, but I have to be careful with what I eat. And of course, in lockdown, there’s the temptation to work more and the guilt of not working, so I really have to stick to my 9-5 regime.
Unregistered Master Builder: master-builder.squarespace.com/#intro
Markus J Beuhler: https://soundcloud.com/user-275864738
Justin Mullins: https://audiodesire.com
London Soundsurvey (sound & audio maps): https://www.soundsurvey.org.uk/
Carolyn Pelling - find her brilliant poem: https://www.masksforextraordinarypeople.org/
Mental Health Resources:
How to Access Mental Health Services (NHS site): https://bit.ly/NHSMentalHealthUK
Mental Health Australia: https://mhaustralia.org/need-help
Only Human Radio Show: https://soundcloud.com/onlyhuman4zzz
Pink Therapy: https://pinktherapy.com
Find out more about:
How UK sex workers set up and ran a hardship fund: https://bit.ly/SWARMHardshipFund
The Tate workers strike: https://www.tateunited.com/
London’s bus drivers fight for safer workplaces: https://bit.ly/BusDriverSafety
London’s cleaners big win against outsourcing: https://www.uvwunion.org.uk/st-marys-hospital
The ongoing campaign for justice for Belly Mujinga, including calls for a Public Inquest into the circumstances of her death and a Coronial Inquest. https://bit.ly/BellyMujingaWomanAndHomehttps://bit.ly/BellyMujingaCampaign
We have more links than we could fit here, so for a full list of workers voices and campaigns go to https://bit.ly/LbLWhatAboutWork