On 21st March at 8pm, Boris Johnson appeared on national television to announce the UK was to go into lockdown. He further added that the government would assist employers to continue to pay their workforce with the intention to prevent a wave of redundancies. Companies thereby paid their employees 80% of their monthly wage. I was forced to come face-to-face with the ‘furlough scheme’ no less than four days after the drastic news of the lockdown. I was told I couldn’t do any work from home and had to return my work laptop and phone immediately.
My furlough journey started, and it felt like being on a paid holiday! All stress associated from work ceased and the weather was amazing, so it really was like being on a long holiday. The initial few days of furlough offered that much needed opportunity to unwind. To ensure I kept busy, I would walk my dog up the nearby Lickey Hills every morning, and schedule doing those odd jobs around the house that I never had the time to do before lockdown.
Life was good and I was in a good place.
I would hardly sit down to watch TV as I wanted to keep so busy and active. I would weight train and do other physical exercise every day, as well as regularly enjoying the brilliant warm temperatures.
I would sit down to watch the governments daily updates and continued to be like everyone else who were concerned of how many people were losing their lives. Still, I filled my days with household chores, I cleaned the house so much it sparkled, only just to keep busy.
However, soon the days on furlough turned into weeks, and eventually into months (6 in total). I was beginning to find it difficult to fill my time – and tasked myself with creating to-do lists, until I found all I could jot down was one task for the whole day. The novelty of not being at work wore off and the uncertainty of what was going to happen to my job started to creep into my thoughts and my dreams. My employer began looking into making redundancies, and the sunny days we had turned dark and cloudy.
'I totally felt in limbo; feeling under constant stress that I might one day receive a letter saying I had lost my job'
The days got longer and longer, and I was increasingly finding it difficult to find anything but think. And, soon scary thoughts would raise their ugly head and I would worry about how I was going to pay the bills and keep a roof over our heads. Although, I was still on furlough, I totally felt in limbo; feeling under constant stress that I might one day receive a letter saying I had lost my job. As we came out of lockdown, people were going back to work, others were losing their jobs, but I was still caught in “no man’s land”.
I quickly lost motivation and found myself lying on the settee, watching TV and box sets. My eagerness to get up and get things done was draining away and I would find myself feeling negative about everyday things, my thoughts became dark and my outlook on life was dull. My thoughts consisted mainly of fear of what the future would hold.
'As we came out of lockdown, people were going back to work, others were losing their jobs, but I was still caught in “no man’s land”'
The constant worry was having its effect on my whole personality and my mental health, losing sleep, drinking more red wine, watching hours of television each day and achieving nothing. I wouldn’t get relief at night as my dreams brought the worries back in different forms so I would wake up feeling tired and lethargic. Each day was no different, I had nothing to look forward to and.
Announcements from the government that the furlough scheme was to finish in October made everything feel worse. I knew if I didn’t do something now, I would end up somewhere I wouldn’t want to be. One morning after over 5 months of not working, I decided enough was enough and I was going to make a change.
After applying for jobs, I found the role of an IPS Employment Specialist at Better Pathways. I was attracted to this role because of its holistic approach to help people in the local community. At Better Pathways, they help people into work and go beyond to support clients in their day-to-day life. I wanted to be in a position where I could help those who were in a similar predicament to myself. And, right now, there are many who are affected by unemployment due to the Covid-19 pandemic and are struggling with their mental health.
'I realise that although being on furlough was scary, something positive came out of it'
Reflecting on my time before starting at Better Pathways, I realise that although being on furlough was scary, something positive came out of it. I now understand that if I hadn’t taken the risk of making changes, I would still be stuck where I was. At the time, taking the steps to move forward were difficult, but I didn’t want to look back and question ‘why didn’t you make this move when you had the chance?’. Taking the risk was the best thing for me at that point.
It was helpful to think that I only have one life, and so I had a choice whether I wanted to carry on feeling how I did, or to take a step into the unknown. I thought ‘what would be, would be’ and, thankfully, it helped me for the better.