I think that one of most pernicious effects of the pandemic is that aside the fact it’s made everyone perpetually fearful about every aspect of their daily lives – it’s also made practically everyone feel older.
I know I feel that way.
I don’t just feel it physically, but mentally too.
For a long time I suspected that it was a symptom of depression – because I’m sure that there are times I’ve succumbed to this over the last two years.
At times it’s felt as if there was nothing more to life than home (which is thankfully ace) and work.
People that weren’t included in these two camps had effectively disappeared from my world view – and I’ll admit that I did practically nothing to stop that from happening.
I’m not sure where my sense of isolation from the wider world stops and the onset of depression related weight gain begins. As a package I think they’re very much like a chicken and an egg – and just like that well worn conundrum I’ll never truly know which came first or whether one can exist without the other.
I do know one thing though.
I’m better when I’m around people – and as they were slowly taken away by successive lockdowns and working from home directives (whilst simultaneously being labelled in my mind as potential plague carriers) the less and less I wanted to have anything to do with my old (very sociable) life.
Recently though (mostly due to a deep and profound dissatisfaction with myself) I kicked the hornets nest at work, and threw my proverbial toys out of the pram.
I’m not an idiot though – and didn’t go nuclear.
This wasn’t a ‘flip the desk and storm out’ scenario.
I instead discussed how I felt about a number of things (one of which being my fitness and depression) with my manager – who was kind enough to listen to me quietly implode in front of him for almost 90 minutes.
The end result of this was an offer I did not expect – and that was a question about whether or not working a four day week would help.
The trade off would be 4 longer days on Monday – Thursday (I still needed to work full time hours) but crucially it would then mean that I would gain a more expansive Friday-Sunday weekend if I did.
I was skeptical though.
I’d previously worked long shift hours in another (life) job, and it didn’t really do my health much good. Swapping from nights to days in that role practically killed me in under two years. My (already erratic) sleep patterns meant many many 12.5 hour shifts with less than an hour’s shut eye under my belt.
I probably shouldn’t have been driving to work in the first place, let alone doing a 12.5 hour night shift and then driving home again.
My overriding memories of that period were endless fast food pickups on the way back and massively increased alcohol consumption.
Although to a person finishing work at 7.30am there’s nothing odd about buying a four pack of Stella to chill out with after a long day, it’s not really a good look when you’re waiting in line with them at the local shop next to parents taking their children to school in the morning.
That’s really what I remembered most about longer days – so initially I was reluctant to say yes.
Instead I said I’d talk to my partner about it and decide what to do.
We discussed it over the weekend – and after weighing up the pros and cons I/we decided that it was worth a try. Maybe it would re-energise me and give me the mental space to turn things around.
That was around three weeks ago.
Yesterday was my second Friday off with my new working pattern – and after only two weeks doing it I think I’m a convert! I usually work relentlessly as it is (I’m crap at taking breaks) and having a longer day to fit in all the things I need to do was actually really helpful.
The additional day at the weekend (when the suggestion was originally discussed) didn’t seem like it would make much difference – however now I’ve experienced it the truth is that it really does.
This is not just because I can go shopping, visit the cinema or have more time to prep meals for the week (so we don’t eat crap) but because I can suddenly have more time to rip off the metaphorical band aid off and start to reconnect with people I’ve neglected for a while.
This week I’ve started doing just that – and whilst chatting with them realised what an idiot I’ve been for hiding myself away for so long.
Truthfully this has mostly been because of my embarrassment surrounding weight gains.
My partner in crime has seen the toll that this has taken on my self respect but thankfully she has had no qualms in taking a virtual (verbal) pointy stick and has periodically poking me in the ribs with it.
She knows why I’ve been reticent to see my friends – and that if I do it will lift my spirits and make me happy.
Irritatingly she’s right (although I think its best not to tell her that – so please keep it to yourselves).
After catching up with good friends yesterday and today I feel really good – although my throat is a bit hoarse after all my chattering.
To be fair – that makes me sound like I’ve been making lengthy speeches with a megaphone (maybe it also says I should listen more than I talk) but honestly I’ve just been nattering about life, the universe and everything to people I care about for the first time far in too long.
The fact is I love these people – and I love talking to them.
This is just who I am though – and I am ashamed to say I think I lost sight of that.
That’s daft though – because if I’m brutally honest the main thing I love about my current job (whilst I do predominantly work alone) is that I also do a lot of face to face appointments.
Whilst this was also a cause for stress during the pandemic (particularly when PPE wasn’t available or mandatory) it was also keeping me going – because I never knew what kind of person would walk through my door.
Whoever they are though I know that I’m going to be sitting with them for 30-60 minutes setting up and personalising a new device or giving them help with one that’s not working.
An hour is a LONG time to spend with someone if they’re silent – and I (like nature) abhor a vacuum – so I ask them questions about their lives and jobs, in the hope that they will fill the silence while I fix their tech.
I always ask open ended questions that can’t be gotten rid of with a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’.
Thankfully I’ve now been doing my job long enough that when they reply I can reciprocate – and have a chat in between little tweaks, reboots and configuration changes without getting lost or making mistakes.
This occasionally affords me the opportunity to get to know people a lot better.
Many that I see are now repeat customers – and they really make me smile because they always seem happy to see me and ask what I’ve been doing since we last met.
Many occasionally keep in contact on Teams and reach out with silly little messages or queries from time to time.
Some I’ve bonded with because they seemed inquisitive and wanted to learn something about their tech (I’m always happy to teach people new skills) whilst others would prefer to talk about their thoughts and feelings – and I’m just as comfortable with that too.
Seeing people who’ve returned from maternity leave, a secondment elsewhere – or even a bout of Covid is nice. Finding out how they’ve dealt with their challenges and life changes is never less than interesting.
One lady (who is in her own words is) close to retirement has been dealing with the legacy of an early Covid infection and back in 2020 was hospitalised for a while.
Many health issues had resulted from this period and she now almost permanently worked from home to minimise personal risk.
Some pre-existing conditions that she’d had before the infection had been worsened, whilst other debilitating new ones had unexpectedly followed her illness, and they all presented their own challenges.
More than anything though she seemed glad to be out of the house and on a special trip to pick up the device I was giving her.
‘Long Covid…’ she said to me ‘is not nice – and every day is difficult. But I find my pleasures where I can.’
‘It’s fun to get out!’
She tilted her wrist at me and flashed a rose gold Apple Watch.
‘Nice!’ I said ‘I’ve just upgraded as well!’, tilted my wrist too and raised my own watch into view.
She immediately upped the Ante – and reached into her pocket, pulling out a shiny new iPhone 12 in a modern looking case.
‘Ooooh!’ I said. ‘Pretty! Do you like it?’
‘I love it!’ she said.
‘I got it about six months ago.’
Since we were now in the middle of an impromptu ‘show n tell’ I reached behind me for my iPhone 11 – and presented it to her. I had took the case off to highlight the stainless steel olive green band around it (which I rather like) and ruminated over how it performed, felt in the hand and how good the battery life was.
‘I want to upgrade…’ I told her ‘but I keep pulling back from spending the money on an iPhone 13 because this one is still sooooooo good.’
‘I know what you mean.’ she replied. ‘Tech is my only pleasure at the moment though.’ she said, her eyes smiling at me above the medical mask covering most her face.
I’ve got much better at judging eyes in the last two years.
You have to. They’re all I see every day at work.
Endless sets of eyes.
Some have smile lines, some seem to be permanently frowning. Others are hard to read so I rely on foreheads and eyebrows.
I pity people who decided to have botox in 2019…
She (and her expressive eyes) then reached into her bag and pulled out a smart looking folio case.
‘This is my new iPad!’ she said – proudly showing me a third item of tech.
She was my kind of soon to be retired lady!
Years ago when I worked at BT Internet (circa 1999) we referred to this market segment as ‘Silver Surfers’. At the time they were an emerging and unexpected population demographic that were not only intent on getting online but also keen to learn how to use a Windows PC in order to make it happen.
These kinds of users were (and are) a pleasure because they not only have inquisitive minds (and will ask questions like machine guns) but also do so with the additional benefit of life experience and the ability to converse.
Not all are ‘rat a tat’ interrogators though.
Some will quietly absorb, not seem like they’re taking anything in, listen to what you have to say and then suddenly ask a million questions about another random aspect of the device – or how it interacts with something else.
These crafty listeners are Trojan horses. They know exactly what you’ve just been wittering on about but have been politely and patiently biding their time until they can ask about what really tickles their grey matter.
They really keep you on your toes – because they want to know how to edit video, use apple pencils, figure out how much data they use, find out how to use cloud based documents, make conference calls etc etc.
The list is endless.
Enquiring people are awesome – but sometimes having an enquiring mind can be a burden.
I sometimes see another repeat customer who is practically the human equivalent of a Meerkat.
If I open a box in front of her she will instantly be drawn to peer over the edge and look inside.
If I type something into my computer (relating to her device or account) she will immediately be compelled to read it.
If I offer to show her how something works she’s suddenly sitting directly next to me before I see her move.
I find it quite comical.
I’d go so far as to say she practically aches to open everything and look inside – and I love the giddy enthusiasm that she has to find out to what is under a lid or is hidden away by packing tape and cardboard.
The slightly frustrating aspect of this (I imagine for her rather than me) is that her day to day work is logistical – and this means that the vast majority of her time is spent receiving sealed parcels from carriers and propelling them to various destinations.
She has to do this without ever looking inside – which must be awful for someone so naturally inquisitive.
When she finally got to see the contents of one particular box (that she’d actually forwarded to me without realising it contained her new phone) the glee was practically insurmountable.
It was like watching a Labrador being thrown 20 tennis balls at the same time.
Rarely do I see someone so pleased to have a new device as well as simultaneously willing to make absolutely sure that it’s looked after.
I can’t see this phone coming back to me looking abused and smashed like so many do.
She absorbed every bit of advice I was willing to impart about how to use it and in doing so underlined for me how positive some days at work can be.
Occasionally though I’m faced with the opposite.
An outstretched palm pointed at my face.
Usually these customers sit right at the other end of the spectrum and exist as living examples of human brick walls.
Their direct animal relation would probably be an Emu – and when they hold their hands up in front of my face they usually all say practically the same thing word for word.
‘Don’t tell me anything technical – because I won’t remember it.’
You can almost see their heads being rapidly buried deep in the sand.
I know that this springs from a fear of the unknown. People naturally don’t want to appear stupid, and in some this manifests as being disinterested or dismissive.
Really in the vast majority of cases it just means ‘I’m scared because I don’t understand and I’ve left it too long to ask so I feel silly.’
My immediate (and polite) response is that it’s difficult to absorb new info if one is unwilling to listen, but that if they don’t want any help I can instead boil things down to the bare minimum and only tell them the basics of what they need to understand.
They always agree to this.
After all they do not want to be overburdened and need what I have to give them. It seems like a good deal.
What they don’t realise is that I view a refusal as a challenge, and immediately drop into a lower, slower vocal tone. With this quieter voice (which they must also be quiet to listen to) I proceed to tell them (very slowly and patiently) exactly what I would have told them in the first place, but instead I lay it out in bite sized chunks.
I periodically stop in between segments to check their understanding of the current topic, answer any questions, counter any objections, make a joke, get them to try and repeat what I’ve shown them – and then move onto the next topic.
Despite their best intentions very few leave my appointments without me telling them exactly what I need to in one format or another.
I love the mental challenge that such people represent – and discovering how to break down their walls of fear manifesting as disinterest is a puzzle I always relish. Sometimes you have to be politely robust – but almost always jokes and humour grease the wheels of education.
Laughing people often find themselves accidentally learning something.
I feel I used to be better at this though – and the last two years have left me feeling both physically and to get back to where I started at the beginning of this post I feel mentally older than I’ve ever felt before.
I have a plan to address this though.
I’m going to power through the worry that I now resemble the Michelin man again, try to not get preoccupied with what people may or may not think of me, reconnect with them wherever possible, enjoy their company, lift myself out of the funk I’ve let myself get into – and hopefully do the same for them.
It just so happens that the people I work with with don’t care whether or not I’m fat (they’ve said as much when I’ve outlined my worries) and I don’t care if they are either.
I don’t care what colour, size or creed the people I help are either – and they don’t appear to be judging me when I make them smile under their masks.
The truth is that it takes all kinds to make a world.
Some want to savour every moment, learn about new tech, peer into sealed boxes and find out what’s inside – and others are often afraid. They (like me) don’t know that they need to be re-assured and led by the hand occasionally.
When they (like me) allow themselves to shown the way they often end up smiling, and sometimes also leave with new skills.
People are ace – whatever they’re like and I aim to reconnect with them – and in doing so reconnect with myself.