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What a different world we live in now to just over a month ago, when I wrote my last post – ironically on coping with work as a freelancer when you’re ill. Little did I know that a few days later I’d receive a panicked call from my Mum (84) telling me that my dad (86) was experiencing severe depression/delerium and she needed help fast. I called 999 and started throwing things in a bag/arranging for the dog to go to friends/extricating myself from what I was doing and headed over to their house, some 50 minutes away, as fast as I could. The ambulance beat me to it, thank goodness, but it was a nervewracking drive.

Cue two weeks of hospital visits, including several days in A&E, then a transfer to a hospital 30 or so minutes’ drive from me, but an hour and a half from my Mum, which meant that the most sensible thing was for her to come and stay with me so we could do our daily visits. Working when I was ill paled into insignificance beside the sheer impossibility of working at all while coping with a family emergency, visiting hospital every afternoon, keeping the rest of the family informed about what was going on and keeping my mum’s spirits up as best I could.

I’m immensely grateful to the lovely agency client who I had to let down with a largish job due the following week – they were so understanding and supportive, and sent me the most beautiful bouquet of flowers a few days later. They know who they are, and I really appreciate their kindness. Clients like that are to be treasured. Likewise the colleague who agreed to take the job on despite already being busy herself, so at least I felt I wasn’t leaving my client completely in the lurch – thanks again: I owe you one.

To compound matters, the weather was dire (remember the constant rain? I know, it feels like a lifetime ago to me too) and we managed to hit a huge pothole on one return journey from Hastings in the dark, limping home to the most awful racket – I was convinced my suspension must have gone, not just the tyre! Fortunately, my wonderful local garage came out to retrieve my car the next morning and it was just the tyre – phew.

The following day, we had to use Mum’s little car for our hospital visit while mine was out of action and our journey home this time was a race against floods – I’ve never seen rain, or standing water, like it. Somehow we pushed on, driving through deep water with me shouting “Just keep going!” to my poor mother – and I’m glad we did, as we must have been one of the last cars through the A21 before they closed it later that afternoon. We got home, nervous wrecks (again) and felt we’d really earned our glass of wine that evening. What had we done to deserve all this, we asked ourselves? Little did we know what was lying in wait around the corner…

Fortunately, Dad did get better in hospital. He was discharged initially on a 3-day trial, and then permanently, with care in the community as required. We now think his illness might have been a combination of factors: the heavy cold I brought back from Boston (more guilt), which manifested itself in a really nasty chest infection in him, a fall on a routine visit to hospital about his heart medication, the heavy-duty antibiotic his cardiologist prescribed, which may have reacted with his own medication (turns out it has been linked with suicidality in some cases), awful weather keeping him cooped up inside, and the sheer frustration of being locked out of his online banking because the bank changed the log-in rules again! The day before it all happened, he was on the phone to them for two hours, after which the call centre assistant told him she was going off duty and he’d have to go into the local branch. Enough to make anyone feel down…

Mum and Dad pre-lockdown Mother's day lunch 2020

Scroll forward a few short weeks and we could never have believed the events that have happened in the world since coronavirus took centre-stage. Everyone locked down at home, only allowed to go out for essential food shopping or one bout of exercise a day. Many translation and interpreting colleagues, especially in the leisure, arts or tourism sectors, have found that their workload has dried up overnight. We are all facing huge uncertainty at work and at home, and although many of us, as freelancers, are used to working from home, there’s a big difference between working from home because you choose to and being told you can’t go out. Many of us live and work on our own too: again, not normally a problem, but of course that’s when we meet other people on our daily dog walks, or at coffee with friends, or in our evening exercise classes. I’m sure I’m not the only one to start feeling anxious when faced with the onslaught of dreadful news bulletins and no-one close at hand to share it all with…

What can I say? I have no solutions, no easy answers to how to cope in these challenging times. All I can suggest is not dwelling on the news, trying to keep focused on day-to-day life and taking each day as it comes. My elder son has come home to live/work from here for the time being (they were hoping to exchange on a new house this week – more awful timing!), so it’s good to have someone else in the house. Cooking/baking/dogwalking/gardening – for those lucky enough to have a garden – are all excellent distraction techniques to keep your mind off other things. Doing things with your hands is a form of mindfulness, keeping your brain concentrated on what you’re doing in the here and now.

Work is an excellent distraction too, for those fortunate not to be affected too much by the downturn – although the sheer complexities of trying to run errands to shops without much stock/book online shopping slots for elderly parents who were self-isolating before the rest of us and really mustn’t go out, and the absolute necessity of keeping in touch with friends and family to keep us all buoyant in these strange times can make it a challenge to fit work in with everything else! Even if you haven’t got work, now that the Chancellor has set out a support package for the self-employed, do take this opportunity to do all those things you’ve been meaning to do, like learning a new CAT tool, picking up a new language, or catching up on all those webinars you signed up for, but haven’t yet watched. Many software packages have a month’s free trial period, so this could be the ideal time to experiment with Dragon, or play around with a pdf conversion tool, accounting software or translation management packages like TO3000 or SDL Business Manager.

Nigella's choc and peanut bars with mug

I won’t go on – we’re all in the same boat and we will turn the corner, hopefully before too long. In the meantime, keep talking, stay safe and be thankful for the little things. I’m so glad my Dad got through his illness before all this happened and that they’re now safe at home, cheerfully coping with isolation with their usual Blitz spirit. I’m grateful that at least the weather has been sunny so we can enjoy the sunshine and get out in the garden – it’s hard to be too down in the face of the beauty of a magnolia tree in full bloom or a stunning blue sky and a field of daffodils.

Magnolia Stellata

This too shall pass – and I look forward to meeting all my friends and colleagues again for a huge party on the other side. Chin up – and thank goodness for the internet and social media keeping us all connected, at least virtually. Bon courage!