Laura Hartley is a social media editor at the newspaper and online publisher, Reach. In her blog for newsbreak, she writes candidly about her anxiety and depression, moving house during a pandemic and the abuse she and her colleagues have faced in the last 12 months.
2020 was probably the worst year most of us experienced in our lifetime.
For me, it was certainly up there – but 2019 was the year I felt pain like no other.
For the first time in my adult life, I experienced grief and it felt like my world fell apart.
Two years on, I have now promised myself I would put myself first to heal and learn how to be on my own with my mind.
I have never really been on my own. Always in a relationship or looking for someone to date, and never really putting myself first. At the end of 2020, I asked myself: “What are my hobbies?” I didn’t actually have the foggiest. I knew what I enjoyed when I was younger but not now. And I knew then that something had to change. As cliché as it is, I knew I needed to find myself.
People thought as soon as the clock struck midnight on January 1st 2021 the world would go back to normal – no offence but they were kidding themselves.
I literally have no idea how I got through the last two years, absolutely clueless (more on that later). But something I do know is that I’m learning so much more about myself – and who I am without anyone else by my side.
Nearly a year into working from home and more than 12 months into a global pandemic, the only word to describe this period of time, is relentless.
Journalists are getting more abuse than ever, we are put into one group based on the view that all of us are “scum”, that we produce fake news and never report on the positives.
Well actually, I can tell you that they are wrong. We do report positive news, except that you don’t read it. I think I can vouch for so many newsdesks here when I say when we do write the positive news that readers want – they don’t even read it! Page view numbers are down on those stories, so tell me, why don’t you read what you want us to write?
Unfortunately for most of us, we don’t get to write positive news because quite frankly, the only things we can report are the cases and deaths. I’m part of a team which provides late cover for Reach PLC’s live sites and every shift starts with reporting local stats for a dozen of those towns and cities. Not forgetting the press conferences and any breaking news that night. I repeat myself, but it really is relentless. How do we escape this when it is there when we wake up, go to bed and then we log on for work in between?
The vicious cycle of going through this every day and being consumed by death and a global pandemic is extremely hard to cope with. I feel drained, constantly tired and have very little motivation. I know these are all symptoms of anxiety and depression because I am no stranger to experiencing mental health problems.
I’d like to tell my story, not for sympathy, but to assure others out there -journalists and anyone else – that you can go through your worst but still be able to come out the other side fighting.
As I grew up, I had always been nervous. Suffering with homesickness and making myself physically sick even if I got taken to the cinema by my auntie. I wasn’t home and this upset me.
But, when I started university and depression set in. I had flatmates that made my life living hell. There were drugs, they were filthy and almost like bullies – this was not the way I wanted to live. I locked myself away in my room. I never went out and never socialised. I didn’t experience the uni life everyone else did.
I was miserable, and to make things worse, these feelings then triggered IBS. I would sometimes miss lectures through throwing up and doubled over in pain with cramps on the bathroom floor.
Fast forward to 2019. The year of grief mixed with severe anxiety and depression. I had never experienced pain like it.
I lost three grandparents in as many years at the age of 5 so didn’t really know what was going on, but in 2019, I was a 24/25-year-old who was very much in touch with my emotions and I was very aware of my world coming down around me.
I lost my Nan on Mother’s Day after a battle with lung cancer and COPD, my long-term relationship broke down and I had to sell the house I shared with my partner at the time.
I was extremely close with his family and in the September of the same year, days before I gave the keys back to our home we once shared, I received the news that his mum had passed away after a very short brain tumour diagnosis.
By this point, I was grieving for my Nan who was one of my best friends. I adored her and wherever she was, I was home.
I grieved for a relationship and a future I thought I had mapped out while also unexpectedly losing my mother-in-law.
I was in shock, I didn’t know how to process all of this – little did I know, life would throw me another curveball.
One November evening, I was getting ready to get into bed as I had work the next day. I went downstairs to get my things together when my mum was on the phone. I automatically knew something was wrong and nobody would tell me what. All I remember from that night is my mum telling me dad to catch me – as I fell to the floor on my knees in hysterics. The call was my auntie. I lost my Granddad too. Just five days after I told him I’d see him at Christmas he was taken from the world. We didn’t know why, we still don’t really know why other than his heart just stopped.
How do you even process all of this? To be honest with you, nearly two years on after Nan passing, I still don’t really know. I’m literally taking it day-by-day and stumbling through life.
I started 2020 by moving 100 miles away from my family home in Coventry to Liverpool.
At this point, I was really struggling. I was no stranger to therapy, but I knew this time I needed some long-term professional help and support. I was living on my own, trying to start a new life in a new city, and then lockdown hit.
Not even a week into lockdown, I started the year of firsts. Five days into the national lockdown and a global pandemic it was Mother’s Day – the day (not date) we lost Nan. I was a mess and everyday ended up hysterical and my world was crumbling. My friends were worried about me and every day I was covering the coronavirus pandemic. First anniversary of my Grandad’s death the first birthday without them both.
Since that day, it has been relentless (I’m not sorry for using this word again). A year of “first” anniversaries and getting through therapy and as the summer arrived, I started to feel a little better – but hated where I lived. It wasn’t home and the flat I lived in made me feel worse. So, I made the decision to move apartments during a global pandemic and trying to work from home. Spoiler alert, I made it – but it is the hardest I have ever found it to exist. I survived thanks to my amazing counsellor and trying to do things for myself (the latter didn’t work so much until I moved into my new apartment and I still needed a lot of hand holding).
As soon as I settled into the new flat, I set up a little ‘cosy corner’ with an essential oil diffuser, a bean bag and a small lamp to feel illuminated and have a place of calm when everything around me seems so chaotic. It is so important to have this space and would recommend wherever you live, to have some place where you separate work from personal life. I’ve started journaling and writing in a lifestyle planner (also a diary but you can tick off daily accomplishments), making you feel like you’ve achieved something – even if it’s just the dishes or getting a shower.
Another part of my life which took a hit was running. I’d run several 10km races and half marathons, only for it to just stop. I’ve thankfully now found a personal trainer who understands me and my mental health and gives me a good kick up the backside, but I still miss pounding the streets.
However I recognise now that if I do absolutely nothing but stay under a blanket watching Netflix on my day off, that’s OK. Sometimes that’s all you need to do.
Fast forward to February 2021 and I write this after shedding tears for the loved ones I’ve lost but proud of how far I’ve come. I’m actually looking forward to the rest of this year and what will come. I may still be under “‘rona house arrest” but hopefully when restrictions ease slightly, I’ll be able to see some friends again. There’s always some light in the darkness.