A Bit of Compassion

By Liz Sharkey

Shut down round one was like an earthquake … a bit of a slow rumble then all hell broke loose. As we went through one aftershock after another, many businesses were shut, our ability to meet with family and friends was curtailed, sport stopped, distance learning gave us some unique challenges (to say the least!) and we were all left a little shell shocked by what was happening.

Despite the vigorous discussion online about our role as “essential” healthcare providers and some passionate debate about the role of associations in this situation, we were all pretty much facing the same predicament together.

It was an intense few months but slowly things started to come back to a new normal – one socially distanced gathering of 5 people at a time.

Thanks to AMT, massage therapists were able to do a detailed risk analysis of their business, clients and contacts, implemented strict screening protocols and many therapists felt confident resuming practice.

But a massive rumble of the ground under Melbourne a few months later has seen Victorians sent into varying degrees of lockdown. This earthquake is, in some ways, more destructive than the first one. It feels like that first one was just a slight hiccup by comparison.

Let me share what this has meant to those of us in Victoria, and hopefully you can learn from what has happened and is still happening here.

  • We (Melbourne metro) are only permitted out of our house once or twice a day. I fight my husband to be the designated “essential food shopper” just so I am permitted to leave the house for a maximum of one hour.
  • Curfew from 8pm makes the streets eerily fall quiet and on those rare occasions when I do get to leave the house, I miss seeing people smile.
  • We are now living in a city where everyone’s face is covered. Even though it is absolutely the right thing to do, making little social connections like a reciprocated smile is missing. This has been in effect for a few weeks now and the collective mental health of Melbourne is being drained.
  • The mood second time around is different. Trust of authority is wearing very thin. In the first wave there was no one specific person to blame so as a community we accepted what needed to happen and got on with it.
  • As case numbers slowly built and new restrictions were implemented, there was a lot of anger and many more people looking for loopholes, justifying why it is OK for them to be exempt or outright defiant and a definite f%#& you attitude. Once the full force of Level 4 lockdown hit, the disappointment in my fellow human beings had peaked. For the first time, it was embarrassing to be a Victorian. As this lockdown progresses, though, the passions are slowly waning. The enforcement is ensuring that people are finally closing their doors and staying inside. But the disappointment and anger that has brought us to this point still simmers and I feel that, when I come out of this lockdown, the trust I had for my fellow Melburnians will take work to rebuild.

Compassion Please

This outbreak has created a new form of discrimination. This is not something I have really been exposed to much in my privileged life. It started when only a few postcodes were shut down. People in those postcodes were blamed for their predicament. Then the virus spread to other areas of Metro Melbourne and we were shut down. Suddenly other states were telling us we were not welcome. The state was referred to as Sicktoria. The jokes were sometimes funny but have started to cut pretty deep. It’s a very strange feeling being told that the rest of the country don’t want you because you are somehow unclean. I know some Sydneysiders are starting to experience this as the discrimination (and virus) creeps across the border. It’s quite depressing waking up to read headlines that predict that border closures with the rest of the country may be in place for a couple of years. That makes me feel very lonely.

The media hype and reporting cycles are part of the problem. Every day is an aftershock and watching the official press conference tells us just how big that shock will be. Some days are a mere rumble, other days are catastrophic. Think back to the start of this pandemic. 300 new cases in a day would have been shocking – now that’s considered good news in Victoria. I’m starting to need to switch off. Hearing the heartbreak every day and hearing the numbers still being high after all we are doing is not good for your mental health. It’s time to just step away.

The effect this virus is having on the vulnerable is truly heartbreaking. Concern has been raised this week that many vulnerable aged care residents are being chemically restrained (i.e. sedated) to stop them getting out of their beds and moving freely around nursing homes. Others are being refused admission to hospitals because of their dementia status. Having navigated the aged care system with my own parents, these stories are the straw that has broken this camel’s back.

Whatever your leaders ask you to do to halt the transmission – I beg you, please do it. Once this gets into an aged care setting, it is too late.

I am a bit embarrassed to say that I am jealous. I see other parts of Australia getting on with life and, if I am honest, it gets me a little mad. I know it’s not rational but it was a little easier to stomach when I knew everyone was doing the same thing as me. Why can’t I go for a walk on the beach? Go on a holiday? Massage a client? Go to a concert? I know these are all rhetorical questions, but they are still ones I ask.

Lessons For All

I know that we may never get answers as to why this has happened. Very few people have ever tried to do the wrong thing. The rest of Australia needs to learn from what we are going through. Be a little bit patient and gentle with your colleagues in restriction zones. Our Facebook comments and advice are coming from quite a different place right now and sometimes our sense of fear and frustration may surface.

Do not wait to be told what to do by the experts and leaders. Their advice is sometimes too late. Stay informed, stay educated and use your position as a trusted therapist to share useful, factual, and reliable information with your clients and do everything you can to make your clinic a safe place.

Most of all, smile at people in the street. Say “hi” when you can and make the most of being able to connect with your family and friends. You don’t realise how much you miss a happy face walking past until it stops.

About the Author

Liz Sharkey is a massage therapist in Melbourne experiencing the joys of lockdown V2 with a husband and three teenage sons all working from home. No wonder she is beginning to rely a bit too much on her Friday Night (Virtual) Drinks on Zoom.

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  1. Thank you so much Liz. It’s so helpful to hear all this – hope it was helpful to share. Right here with you in Melbourne, feeling many of the same things.

    Heard someone on the radio yesterday say the first week of Stage 4 was over and was overcome by a sense of dread thinking about another five weeks of this. But it really is just one-day/hour/minute-at-a-time right now, hey.

  2. Liz, thanks for sharing that. It feels strange and scary, knowing that you guys are going through that hell again. We’ve got the smiling faces back on the streets here in Sydney, but there also are concerns about the future behind those smiles. Sending good vibes (and virtual smile) to all of you, Victorians!

  3. Gerhard Hassler
    17/08/2020 - 2:17 pm

    Dear Liz,
    thank you for sharing and a big Blue Mountains hug to all of you down there in Victoria. I think of you.
    This will pass too, like the other challenging times we had to get through.
    I still think we are relatively lucky, considering so many other people with less means, stuck as all kinds of refugees in depriving and desperate situations, places not of their own choosing.

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