Refuelling for the long road ahead
Date: May 14, 2020
Author: CAMILLA HERBIG, RAMHP Coordinator
Have you ever been driving along and the fuel light comes on? Of course you have. You know that sudden pang of anxiety, wondering where the next service station is, will I make it, will turning off the air conditioner conserve fuel?
Now imagine pulling in to the service station and only putting ¼ of a tank of fuel in your car even though you are heading out on a big trip. It seems ridiculous doesn’t it!
That was my 2019. With what felt like a never-ending drought driving every ounce of my work and personal life, I was overwhelmed and running on empty. Rushing between meetings, training sessions and projects at work, and having a cleaning cloth all but glued to my hand at home in a futile attempt to combat the insidious red dust coating every surface, it was exhausting.
Anyone who knows me is aware that I’m a scarily organised person, a lover of lists, and have exceptionally high expectations on myself. So when things just kept getting busier and became almost unmanageable in 2019, I found it really tough. Telling me to slow down, calm down or say ‘no’ sounded easier than it really was. I thrive on getting results, supporting people, socialising and building my skills, so what was I supposed to cut back?
What made things worse was that I was only refuelling to a ¼ of a tank before getting back on the road. A weekend at home here and there, playing sport each week, and setting goals to eat well and read more weren’t cutting the mustard. I wasn’t taking the time to genuinely unwind and manage my stress to fill my tank back up before the next journey. I wasn’t being my best self.
In hindsight, this seems so counterproductive and hypocritical, considering my primary role is to teach and encourage people to keep mentally healthy, and I wasn’t even practicing it myself.
I’d set goals at the beginning of 2020 like exercising more (who didn’t make that goal?), reading more, learning to step back and say ‘no’, and genuinely taking time out for me. With the arrival of some decent rain in our area in February 2020, things started to turn around. While bank accounts haven’t filled, moisture profiles, dams and pastures have. And with this, moods lifted, and a sense of hope began to return. Finally, my tank slowly but surely started filling.
Then came COVID-19.
We have seen utter devastation across our country and internationally which I do not need to repeat – you’ve seen it too. In the blink of an eye, my work changed from driving to communities I love across western NSW to deliver information and support, to trying to navigate setting up a home office at my dining table, fashioning standing desk from a washing basket and placemats, and considering how I can continue to stay connected to my communities from afar.
Despite the countless changes, cancellations and loss over the past few months, we have seen our communities shift positively. We’ve seen an increase in people looking out for their neighbours, random acts of kindness, sharing, communicating, and actively trying to socialise from a distance.
For me, I’ve been lucky to have a safe and comfortable home to work from, limited distractions, and plenty of space to move around in – I know not everyone is that lucky and there are many different situations out there. But it’s given me time to really refuel my tank.
I’ve taken up baking and gardening more. I’m reading a book per fortnight. I’ve started using a gratitude journal daily. I try to call someone different each day for a chat. I’ve rearranged our tiny spare room to accommodate a yoga mat to (try to) exercise more. I’ve started chatting more frequently with old friends overseas and interstate. I’ve started identifying what really is a priority and what is just something noisy that wants my attention. With each week of physical distancing and working from home that passes, I can feel my tank filling back up, and my old self returning.
An ongoing concern in my role daily is how we can connect with people in our communities who aren’t as tech savvy. Writing a letter and making a phone call are great, and we can do more. I believe it is our individual responsibility in our communities to take this on, not wait to be told. Let’s share our ideas and tailor them to suit our local community.
One fabulous rural initiative I have seen which started well before COVID-19 is the Gin Gin Book Swap. It is a book swap located in an old mailbox on the side of the road, filled with free books for community members and travellers to swap – perfect for while we are physically distancing. They even had a plant swap one weekend, with potted seedlings and cuttings surrounding the mailbox for anyone to take.
Is this an idea you could adapt to your community? Could you swap books, recipes, children’s toys, food, clothing or plants? Even dropping little notes or cooking in our neighbour’s mailboxes is bringing so much joy and connection.
We keep hearing the discussion of ‘when will things go back to normal’. I wonder whether we do really want to go back though? Resilience used to be defined as our ability to bounce back from a difficult situation, but has started to be redefined as our ability to bounce forward through adversity, acknowledging our growth and change.
We have shown that we live in a creative, supportive and passionate world, and I would like to see us bounce forward through COVID-19. Do we want to go back to a time of ¼ full tanks? Or will we be able to sustain some of the achievements we have made as a society throughout this current adversity?
Without diminishing the significant toll this situation has taken on many, I challenge you to reflect the positive changes you may have experienced as a result of COVID-19. No matter how small they are, think about how we can sustain these benefits once the restrictions lift and risk passes, for a better, brighter world. Will you be more connected, more present, happier, healthier, more grateful, or just work on slowing down?
I for one will be working on refuelling properly, and not running on the fuel light when I get back on the road!