As the University slowly prepares for a phased return to campus, it’s important to remember those who never left. Here we speak to colleagues from Estates and Accommodation, Catering and Events (ACE) about adapting to the pandemic, and how their jobs have changed over the past 17 months.
Sarah Thomson is Catering Manager for four of the Grab and Go cafes. Her job has changed a considerable amount over the past year.
You could be forgiven for thinking it has felt like a long lockdown. As the prospect of it ending comes into sight once again, Dr Kitty Wheater, Mindfulness Chaplain, shares tips for holding on and waiting just a little bit longer.
In the early months of 2020, we waited to see if coronavirus would get to Britain. Surely not, we thought. Then lockdown came and we waited for it to end, a few weeks, maybe, and then everything would go back to normal. We made plans, accordingly: we moved in with loved ones, or they with us; we travelled hundreds of miles to places we thought we would be safe; we deferred decisions. This is what you do, when you wait: you hunker down, you suspend, you watch. And wait.
As spring veered towards summer, we waited for the numbers to change. We waited for doctors to call us back, we waited for Teams to develop breakout rooms, we waited for money, for the post, for the day we could walk with a friend at a distance and not be picked up for waiting for them on a park bench. We waited because we still thought we would go back to normal. That’s what the waiting was about. In a way, that’s what made it possible.
We waited for decisions from our governments, our institutions, because these would let us figure out how to wait, and what we were waiting for. We filled the time that we were waiting, as best we could. We watched Netflix. We sent each other GIFs. We took long walks. Some of it was so hard that we went on autopilot, because it was the only way to get through another day of home-schooling, or another week of Zoom calls. We drank more coffee or more wine. We read all of Twitter. We watched Normal People and thought about ‘normality’ and it was a bit uncomfortable on a number of levels, so we went back to Twitter.
At some point, waiting began to become unbearable, and we shook with anxiety, or curled up and zoned out, or exploded with rage and grief. At some point, even that passed, and it turned into something else. Perhaps it got worse, for a time, but then, better. Perhaps you’re back in it now.
And maybe a few months ago, or yesterday, or even this morning, we realised that we couldn’t wait any more and that was nothing to do with the decisions not yet taken, or the rules not yet lifted. It was about realising that waiting had become stale, old, grey. It was no longer the ‘watchfulness’ of its etymology, the ‘looking-out’, the ‘attending’. We were no longer watching for anything but threat, for the confirmation of our disappointed hopes. We were no longer attending to anything but the buzz and clutter of our screens, our boundary-blurred home-workspaces, our pains and fears and frustrations.
If this is waiting, we need a new kind. We need forms of watchfulness that are neither about Netflix nor hypervigilance and we need forms of attention that are not about imperfection, or fragmentation. We can do those ones already. We’ve been doing them brilliantly.
Here are some different ways to wait.
1. Watch, with interest
Pause on Blackford Hill and watch the sun dip down behind the Pentlands. Wonder about the snow up there and whether it’s lingering in crevices still. Watch the students playing tennis on the courts by the Meadows and remember that wonderful essay in the New York Times. Watch the tennis games in your own mind – the ace, the double fault, the volley – and pause in-between rallies to take stock. Watch your parlour palm putting out new leaves, and think about repotting. Watch the daffodil spikes, coming up centimetres day by day in Bruntsfield, and wonder which they are of the tens of thousands of varieties. Watch popcorn popping in a pan and remember dinners past; watch the friends sitting at opposite ends of a bench eating burritos and think, what a good idea. Watch the flickers of anxiety as they bubble up in your stomach, even as you’re just sitting quietly in your room, and think about how amazing it is that your nervous system is showing up to protect you; how many millennia ago, you fled from and survived a lion, and that’s whispering in you still.
Feel the ground beneath your feet when you walk outside; the springiness of earth, the tread of tarmac. Feel your body sitting on the chair while you work, the sit-bones, the support behind the back, the place of the body in its space. Taste your lunch and smell your tea before you put the milk in. Sense what happens inside you when you get to the top of Calton Hill, or Arthur’s Seat, and look out over the city and feel the wind on your face: the poignant lurch, the dizzy soar, as if you could spread wings and fly. Bend to touch the cold silk of the crocus, gently, and the soft chin of the shy dog. Nurse the tiredness, when it comes, and feel how your body wants to fold up and rest on soft things.
Sense, wonder, and tend. Here is the world.
3. Play, daftly
Make a den from the wood tossed down in the gales. If the snow returns, make an igloo. Play Scrabble over the internet with your friends, with double points for rude words and foreign languages. When you feel terrible, write a poem; it can be as short and as bad as you like. Make playdough, even if you are 20, and squidge it into shapes and maybe smash it up a bit and pretend it’s your least favourite politician. Dig out the 50-year-old board game you inherited from your grandmother and look it up on the internet. Buy a colouring book (yes, really). Sit on the floor, pour out beads and buttons from that random drawer and put them on strings. Sit on the floor and make things out of the cardboard Amazon boxes, with sellotape and scissors. Sit on the floor and open your backlog of Christmas body lotions, one by one, and try them all.
Play, daftly. It will wake up a part of you that the waiting shut down.
When we wait in different ways, interesting things come through. A puzzle falls into place, an insight arises, an action seems clear. And then, suddenly, somehow, we are no longer waiting; we are living, and life is right here.
Almost a year into the coronavirus pandemic, it’s more important than ever to make sure we’re looking after our mental health.
We can’t necessarily do what we used to, to safeguard our wellbeing. In response we’ve seen people around the world develop new ways to continue to do the things they love despite living with the restrictions of the pandemic.
Raymond MacDonald is a saxophonist, composer, psychologist and Professor of Music Psychology and Improvisation in The Reid School of Music at Edinburgh College of Art. He’s not the only one who has turned to music as a way to safeguard his mental health.
We have all been through a lot this year. As the pandemic and its restrictions drag on Kitty Wheater, Mindfulness Chaplain, shares how once you notice it, love is everywhere you look.
A few days ago, Ben the collie suffered a violent interruption of normal gastrointestinal duties. Because he is a collie, he seemed none the worse for a few days – running, demanding his ball – except that he wouldn’t eat. He was ok, until suddenly he wasn’t: limp, unresponsive, collapsed. We bundled him into the car, the vet put him on a drip, and he came home to be hand-fed pieces of chicken thigh dressed with liver paste, and to doze, silky head between paws, while we kept watch.
Thus it comes to pass that I am holding his head, telling him how good he is, while Pam attempts a rectal thermometer reading at the other end. This is a two-woman job, we think. There will be growls. There will be wide-eyed collie disbelief. There will be that tossing head.
This Thursday is University Mental Health Day, a national awareness day that aims to bring together the university community to make mental health a priority.
Working from home and ever-changing government guidelines have undoubtedly affected all staff and their wellbeing. It’s more important than ever to make sure we’re talking about mental health and offering our friends and colleagues the opportunity to share how they are.
The dark winter months after Christmas can be difficult to navigate. It doesn’t take long for the lengthy working days and the lack of sunlight to begin to feel oppressive.
When your work is mounting up and there’s little to do outside the house, it can be tempting to power through your lunch hour. However, taking a break in the middle of the working day is incredibly important for your mental wellbeing and it’s something we should all be making time for whenever possible.
The start of the new year can be a difficult time for many people. Add the stresses and strains of a global pandemic and it’s normal to feel utterly overwhelmed about the year ahead.
Good mental wellbeing doesn’t mean you’re always happy or unaffected by your experiences. We might use it to talk about how we feel, how well we’re coping with daily life or what feels possible at the moment.
Looking after your mental health is more important than ever, and there are lots of services within the University to support you whatever you’re struggling with. You can also find plenty of advice to help promote healthy working environments and working practices.
Over the course of 2020, people from all areas of the University came together to navigate the pandemic. We saw countless examples of our staff and students joining together for support. Not only did they look to help each other, many also contributed to charities and organisations to help those struggling through this difficult time.
If you’ve often wanted to get involved with local communities or charities, but don’t know where to start, the University’s Day to Make a Difference initiative could work for you. It entitles all University staff to use an additional day of paid leave to volunteer at any point in the year. Here, two members of staff share their experiences.
Although we’ve been working from home for a while now, that doesn’t mean that it has gotten any easier. Bringing work into your personal, private space can take a while to balance. Before we sign off for the winter break Kitty Wheater, Mindfulness Chaplain, reminds us how important it is to pack away the work part of our homes, to properly enjoy a restful break.
This year many people have found themselves buying from small, local businesses over larger chains. This Christmas presents another opportunity to shop local and source unusual and bespoke presents for your friends and family.
If you’re still struggling to find gifts, the University’s annual Christmas Charity Craft Fair is a great place to start. You won’t be surprised to hear the Christmas Fair has gone virtual this year. Open until Sunday 20 December, you can visit the online exhibition hall website to browse the gifts on offer and read about the people making them.
It includes a huge range of handmade products where you’re bound to find something for everyone. Choose from jewellery, prints, Scottish-themed gifts and much more. The Fair is supporting the Edinburgh and Lothians Health Foundation in their work against Covid-19. You can also donate a contribution through their Just Giving webpage.
Edinburgh students turned the coronavirus lockdown into an opportunity to channel their creativity for a virtual art exhibition in collaboration with Google.
As part of a project with online platform Google Arts & Culture and several art schools around the world, including the Edinburgh College of Art, students were encouraged to express themselves through their art while at home during lockdown.
With campuses closed, bedrooms and living rooms became studios and creative spaces. The resulting artworks by these resilient and resourceful students produced for the aptly named project, Room with a view, offer a snaphot into a time of looking out from within as the pandemic gripped the nation.
The SCOPE series looking at how working lives have changed since the lockdown began continues with a focus on Edinburgh Imaging. Here we see how our radiography teams helped maintain clinical imaging services and supported NHS colleagues through the pandemic.
The radiography team at Edinburgh Imaging Facility at The Queen’s Medical Research Institute (QMRI) in ‘normal times’ provide imaging for research projects covering a diverse range of research interests, primarily cardiovascular, lung and dementia imaging. The facility houses a 3T MRI scanner, 2 PET-CT scanners and a PET-MRI scanner. The team also delivers the NHS clinical PET-CT service for Lothian and beyond, providing crucial imaging for oncology patients.
Originally from Chennai, India, PhD student Durai Arun Pannir Selvam shares how he’s navigating the pandemic.
Scotland’s public health response to the pandemic can be challenging for everyone at the University, but perhaps none more so than our international students. Originally from Chennai, India, PhD student Durai Arun Pannir Selvam provides an interesting account of how he’s coping.