Bootcamp graduate Shaira reflects on how life has changed for her and her community during the COVID-19 pandemic, and offers some tips for self-care and solidarity.
As a working class, lone parent to a ten-year-old, the Covid 19 has also got me working at home, and guess what: I’m actually enjoying it. I’m fortunate enough to have a functioning tech set up at home, and I am able to spend more time with my child. I live in a council apartment in a congested city with no garden space, but I am grateful for my home, with the local cemetery parks and city farms around here.
My ten-year-old also seems happy to see more of me. I’m feeling balanced, not having to worry about school pick-ups or juggling so many plates in the air. We are out growing on our balcony, making sourdough bread and eating dal bhat most days of the week. The kid is a zoom expert, encouraging me to be more mindful online. I’m actually able to take part in events more so now than ever before, as I don’t have to find childcare to attend these conferences whilst streaming them from home.
We’ve had talks about how communities in places like the Philippines and Bangladesh, where we have relatives, will cope with social distancing; who will have access to the testing kits and how people will pay for it. We talk about friends from school – how will they continue with their home learning, when they don’t have laptops or parents who can speak English to support their kids learning with schoolwork?
The impact of COVID-19 on marginalised communities:
We live in Tower Hamlets with a high population density, deprivation of poverty, austerity, and many families who rely on free school meals. I’m very aware that not everyone has the right tech set up or space as I currently do. I was really disappointed to see my local park, Victoria Park, close down. So many families nearby in my community live in crammed flats, with no gardens or balcony spaces, and rely on open green spaces for their wellbeing.
And for many women, juggling working life with care needs is something we have to get on with in order to survive. Marginalized groups face challenges navigating life everyday in this neoliberal and capitalist society. COVID-19 has only surfaced existing inequalities in power, society, and at work. Yes, the virus and lockdown is making us all anxious. But having the space and resources to manage your stress levels is a privilege. Let’s reach out to all the lone working mums out there, who probably won’t ask you for support, but will be the first to offer it.
BAME communities will also be hit disproportionately by mental health challenges during the lockdown, as these communities will face mental health stress and anxiety on top of the multiple interactional layers already being lived through. In some BAME communities, mental health problems are rarely spoken about and can be seen in a negative light. This can discourage people within the community from talking about their mental health and may be a barrier to engagement with health services.
“Caring for myself is not self-indulgent”: self-care over productivity:
We don’t know what the future holds, or what financial buffers open up to support families like ours. We can only concentrate on the present. So, to anyone reading this and not feeling overly productive at this current time: breathe, be aware of your feelings, and write down three good things that have happened in the week that made you smile.
Take time to feed your mind and body through listening to healthy podcasts, some comedy or an educational film – don’t just watch the news on loop. Feed and nourish your body with a hearty meal. Take part in virtual quiz evenings, or a book club, if you can find the time. I’ve managed to rearrange things to find some time for exercise – both physical and mental. I remind myself of this quote by Audre Lorde: “I have come to believe that caring for myself is not self-indulgent. Caring for myself is an act of survival.”
Doing nothing is fine too. Know that you’re doing your best in this time and moment: we can’t all join the NHS volunteer service or do as much as we would like to for our local mutual aid groups. Maybe you’re working around the clock and home-schooling, but know that when you are ready, you can share your gifts too. Everyone has skills and gifts to contribute to making the world a fairer and happier place and these contributions matter, however small or big.
This blog post doesn’t have an intention. It’s up for you to read and take away what speaks to you. If there was a quote to sum it all up, it would be: “I write for those women who do not speak, for those who do not have a voice because they were so terrified, because we are taught to respect fear more than ourselves. We’ve been taught that silence would save us, but it won’t.” – Audre Lorde
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