Author: Jane Britt
I’ve been enjoying the staff profiles in our recent member updates. They’re a great opportunity to get to know the people working on our behalf. Our Policy Officer, Jane Britt, here offers a glimpse into her life, and the unique ways she found to cope with lockdown. This is a great reminder of how similar, and yet profoundly different, all our experiences have been.
We toasted to a New Year carrying the hopes of a nation that the fires and drought holding our country siege would abate. Who knew that just months later, not only would Australia be grappling with their aftermath, but also trying to find a semblance of normal life – an increasingly difficult prospect – in a pandemic? Striving to find that new normal also became a personal concern for me.
On Friday, March 20, I left the house for a final time before going into voluntary isolation. I visited my Equestrian Centre for my last riding lesson. My horse, Mary, intuitively sensed something was amiss, and placed her head against my chest in a parting embrace at the end of the lesson.
At that point, my state of Queensland had 221 COVID-19 cases. Life ground to a halt. On March 19, Australia banned all arrivals into the country except for residents. National restrictions commenced on March 22, with Queensland shutting down non-essential services the next day. These restrictions continued to tighten over the following weeks, forcing people to stay and work at home.
I was fortunate that I was already working remotely. The major challenges were being disconnected from family and friends. I am deafblind, and my family is located in Northern NSW. When the Queensland border closed on March 25th, I felt truly bereft at having my primary support cut off from me. I was grateful once compassionate entry was eventually reinstated, enabling my Mum to continue to travel to me occasionally.
My weekly activities all halted. These include horse lessons on Friday mornings, and parkrun (a free 5 kilometre walk or run) on Saturdays. My monthly activities include book club, Pub Choir outings, author talks, and public science lectures. Finally, my regular lunch and coffee gatherings with friends had all been cancelled. Living by myself, I felt truly alone.
Finding a new normal
Two major issues were facing me. The first was rising anxiety due to being disconnected from my support network. The second was the physical changes put into place at supermarkets, pharmacies, and medical centres, to facilitate social distancing measures. I found myself frequently charging into barriers and barricades with my white cane. I was fearful that I was unable to appropriately socially distance due to a narrow visual field. I stopped going out altogether.
I realised quickly that I needed to fill the void of my usual social connections. First, I found Couch Choir, the digital version of Pub Choir. Astrid Jorgensen, our conductor, published three videos of three parts for (They long to be) Close to You. I submitted a soprano video, without realising that thousands of other people would do the same. The resulting compilation video has had over 3 million views. It made me cry when I first listened, realising that I was far from alone.
From there, I discovered Viral Choir, an offshoot of two choirs, Soul Choir in Cairns and Brisbane. The choir rehearses two nights a week, with recordings submitted on weekends. It is a fun, vibrant community of like-minded folks.
Finally, a small group of friends and colleagues formed an informal trivia night on Friday nights. I am not fabulous at trivia, but nonetheless, I have doggedly shown up for laughter-filled nights. I even held my own birthday celebration by Zoom a couple of months into the isolation period!
The first time I saw our gardener outside when I was isolating, I dashed to the glass door to wave at him. In an age where we are increasingly turning away from face-to-face interactions in favour of digital platforms, the pandemic has reminded us that they’re no replacement for human interaction. My first meal with my Mum sitting down in a café was truly relished after weeks in isolation, including exchanging stories with people at the neighbouring table about their pandemic experience.
In witnessing families being torn apart by COVID-19, I have learnt that all we have is what is in front of us right now, to cherish the connections we have, and the people we love.