“Hey… I just lost my job.”
In six words, COVID-19 had my attention.
I’ve been working from home as a freelance writer for the past 12 months so apart from fewer gatherings and more street parking, the initial news of COVID-19 had made only a slight dent in my routine. But at 10:45am one day, a text message from a dear friend caught me off guard. Anna and I have been friends for almost a decade, supporting each other through breakups and birthdays. In other words — I should know what to say to her text. I started typing but I erased my condolences and started again. It happened three more times before I finally reply with no words, just multiple crying faces and broken heart emojis.
Anna is yet another victim of job loss in the midst of the global COVID-19 pandemic. The leading Australian fashion label she worked for was one of the first to close its doors thanks to coronavirus. A few days before the news broke, she had let go of all of the store’s casual employees — not knowing at the time that her job as store manager would be next to go.
Last month, when Prime Minister Scott Morrison declared the drastic but essential restrictions on social gatherings and the closure of non-essential services to slow the spread of coronavirus, it upended the nature of work as we knew it.
While the government’s $130 billion Jobkeeper support package is expected to bring reprieve to an estimated six million workers with a $1,500 fortnightly payment, the future remains murky for employees whose industries might take months, if not years to bounce back from the effects of the pandemic.
My friend Renata, a Sydney-based wedding photographer saw her industry collapse before her eyes.
My friend Renata, a Sydney-based wedding photographer saw her industry collapse before her eyes. With wedding sizes now limited to gatherings of five, she is facing the possibility of being out of work for the rest of the year. In the span of two weeks, the new measures have cut off a year’s worth of her projected income.
For those of us who work alone, there is also the very real psychological toll from social isolation. Before lockdown, I had spent my days writing from local cafes with other freelancers. And though we worked in different fields, the sense of community kept us motivated. Seeing the impact of the restrictions ripple through our precarious work lives had the opposite effect.
And while we might recognise that these circumstances are outside of our control, there’s often a tendency to internalise such sudden and profound professional setbacks. “All the plans I made and the goals I’ve been working so hard towards just seemed to become meaningless in an instant,” says Renata.
Like Renata, my mostly blank Google calendar was a constant reminder of the emptiness I was coming to terms with.
Turns out that feeling, the nagging sense of loss at the pit of your stomach is grief. I spoke with Asami Koike from Shapes and Sounds, an online platform that advocates for mental health and wellbeing in the Asian Australian community, who explains it’s better that we acknowledge the grieving process than to brush past the hurt. “When we keep pushing these feelings away, it’ll keep us in a state of panic where we can’t access our ability to think rationally and find creative solutions.”
Turns out that feeling, the nagging sense of loss at the pit of your stomach is grief.
But knowing how to untangle that grief is easier said than done. That morning, when Anna’s text came through that she had been let go, my first reaction was paralysis. When the words did come, we spoke about the practicalities of job loss — how odd it would feel on the last day of work, and I closed the conversation with a well-meaning consolation I now regret: “Hang in there.”
To that, Anna texted back something that cracked open the Hallmark-y veneer of social niceties.
“I can’t f—king hang in there…there’s no one to rely on.”
It was uncomfortable but true. And I was struck by the honest rage she shared in that moment. Though she apologised almost immediately for lashing out, it made me realise that as with all inexplicable losses — what she needed wasn’t a solution, but a place for the news to land. To be heard and know her pain and grieving was valid. Over the years of our friendship, I remembered that the simple act of listening was better than any makeshift consolation I could offer.
How we ride this out, how we learn to roll with the punches will depend on the space we give to our heartache in this moment.
When I processed the conversation with Anna and her sense of loss with someone else, it reminded me that I needed to acknowledge my own loss too, no matter how small or inconsequential it seemed.
How we ride this out, how we learn to roll with the punches will depend on the space we give to our heartache in this moment. My productivity levels and work have always been an important part of my identity and purpose but when COVID-19 strips everything back to its bones, the time we take to recover, dream and support one another in their individual journey is just as important as a job or paycheck.
Real names are not used.
Shona is a freelance writer based in Sydney. She writes about her passion for human rights and blogs at shonasays.com. Follow Shona on Twitter @shonaasays.
This article was edited by Candice Chung, and is part of a series by SBS Life supporting the work of emerging young Asian-Australian writers. Want to be involved? Get in touch with Candice on Twitter @candicechung_
People in Australia must stay at least 1.5 metres away from others and gatherings are limited to two people unless you are with your family or household.
If you believe you may have contracted the virus, call your doctor (don’t visit) or contact the national Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080. If you are struggling to breathe or experiencing a medical emergency, call 000.
SBS is committed to informing Australia’s diverse communities about the latest COVID-19 developments. News and information is available in 63 languages at sbs.com.au/coronavirus.