Reflections of pursuing a culture of solidarity

Hi there!

My name is Jeremy and I’m part of the staff team at Second Step, working in the Support & Housing team. Second Step works with three other organisations, Places for People, Riverside and St Mungo’s to support and house men and women in Bristol, many of whom are vulnerable and have complex needs. I’m the Contract Coordinator for one of four homlessness pathways commissioned by Bristol City Council which supports men and women and is known as the mixed pathway. I’d like to start off by saying I’m really proud of all the fantastic work all our services are doing to adapt and respond effectively to the needs of our clients during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Whilst I write this, it’s nearly 100 days since our lives were jolted all of a sudden by a disease that has ripped through the lives and livelihoods of so many people in our country and around the world.

Life now feels very far from what I’ve certainly viewed as ‘normal’ and I’ve been steadily, sometimes unwillingly and often painfully, adapting to a very different way of life. We have all been forced to rapidly implement new systems and approaches in our professional and personal lives to ensure we can retain a sense of self and purpose or simply cope with our new and unfamiliar environment.

Under strain

I’m conscious of the fact that while being busier than ever, my colleagues and team have been feeling the strain of managing things at home, at the same time as getting their jobs done. This has been a shared feeling among a large proportion of our organisation and wider partner organisations. Many conversations I’ve been part of have included discussions about and planning around what ‘the new normal’ will look like and how we can ensure we don’t go back to old ways of doing things that weren’t that great in the first place. I’m delighted to work for an organisation that has taken a really flexible approach to working from home, or in the community for those who still need to do so, and it’s certainly exceeded my expectations of how an organisation should support its staff during a crisis.

For many people, Covid-19 has exacerbated current living situations and existing mental health needs. It is also widely recognised that those who were isolated before Covid-19 are now feeling even more hemmed in and trapped. Therefore, in an environment that is not always conducive to our general wellbeing, and is far from psychologically informed, I believe we need to learn to shoulder each other up better and do even more to look out for each other’s needs. I’m proud of the fact that our communities have rallied around like never before to support those who need help the most.

My personal struggle

Soon after the PM ordered us to stay at home, I began struggling with my mental health and I soon became exhausted with the higher volume of emails than usual in addition to multiple daily Zoom, MS Teams and Blue Jeans meetings. I didn’t realise there were so many mediums for virtual connectivity! I’ve had to learn to adjust my pace and accept that I need to lower my expectations for each day, while naming and owning my emotions. It’s okay to not be okay. Professor and author, Brené Brown, recently said in a podcast, “Own your feelings or they will eat you alive.” Rather than suppressing these negative feelings, I’ve learned to be kinder to myself by putting in place what I need to manage and cope in my living/working environment. I’ve noticed a sense of relief and release in myself since taking the time to reflect on these feelings and not allowing them to fester.

New practices

After reflecting a few weeks ago on how I could be a kinder manager and colleague, I have been finding something to celebrate in a different team member or peer each week. I’ve also been intentional about making time each week to simply be available for my team and peers to listen to how they are feeling and what they are going through. A few colleagues and I decided to setup a weekly informal ‘checking in’ session to facilitate a reflective and support space. I’ve exercised bravery by sharing how I’m feeling and being more transparent about my own mental health. I’ve noticed that this has helped me greatly to maintain my own mental health and has led to some really wonderful conversations with colleagues and people I know who are facing the same struggles with their mental health and equally trying to navigate this crisis. I’ve learned that by being more open and honest, this has given others permission to open up too. We are all in this together.

Over the past couple of months, I have often felt it risky and uncomfortable facing my struggles and feelings head on. I have learned to exercise a greater degree of vulnerability. It has all been worth it though and it has enabled me to experience a great breakthrough in my own mental health and I’m delighted to be supporting others to do the same.

Stronger together

I believe shouldering each other up is so important, particularly at a time when a large proportion of people will inevitably be experiencing heightened levels of stress and anxiety in an increasingly complex environment. While practically following the guidance and adhering to measures that are there to ensure our safety, we can and should support each other to alleviate these unsettling feelings by sharing them with each other.

This kind of solidarity is really powerful.

Although we go from here with a sense of uncertainty and apprehension about what the future holds, we can inspire hope and courage in each other to keep moving forward. Together we can build a healthy culture of solidarity within Second Step and our wider partnerships that will bolster our resilience and strengthen our resolve.

References:

Unlocking Us with Brené Brown: Brené on FFTs https://brenebrown.com/podcast/introducing-unlocking-us

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