#10: What About Work?

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In this episode we talk about what it’s like to be in work, to be out of work, and what it’s like looking for work in a pandemic.


I’m a workaholic.

In 2015 I forgot how to swallow.

Every time I ate, it felt like a bit of food lodged in my throat. It was intermittent at first; then it would happen a couple if times during a meal; then it was every time I swallowed, and no matter how much water I drank or how many times I cleared my throat, it felt like the food would get stuck. It didn’t matter how much I chewed, either. It felt like everything was squeezing shut. I started cooking soft foods, taking tiny mouthfuls, chewing a lot, and drinking water to push it down. I was scared I’d never eat properly again.

At the time I was working at the University of Queensland, and had three freelance gigs. I was also writing a grief memoir (about my mother’s death from cancer in 2013) for a Masterclass Program. I was working (paid & unpaid) seven days. I knew this was unsustainable, but I’d juggled creative and paid work before. And Shona and I devised an exit plan, and so many other writers and artists do this. But the words I was putting down in my memoir were heavy. (I didn’t know how heavy.) I was diagnosed with a hole in my heart and hypertension. In the middle of all this, two people I knew passed away, four days apart. I remember the inflection in ——’s voice on the phone when she told me ——- was gone. We’d been housemates for some years. Now, that’s a lifetime ago.

Surrounded by death, we flew to Melbourne to say goodbye. The sadness and hurt triggered grief, anxiety and guilt about mum. Back at home I continued working myself into the ground. It hit me a couple of months later, on a trip to Canberra for the Masterclass. When I ate I thought I was choking. I didn’t know what was happening, so I flew home early. I was exhausted.

I didn’t eat solid food for weeks. I lost 10kg. My short-term memory dissolved, I couldn’t sleep, my digestion stalled, I was edgy, I thought I was going to die from cancer. I took leave from work, and only just finished my freelance gigs. As for the memoir, I submitted the 10,000 words, but I shouldn’t have. At times I’d finish a paragraph and just start sobbing.

To get through, I went to counselling. To stay healthy I run 40km a week. To stay sane I work Monday–Friday, 9-5. Sometimes food feels like it’s not going down properly, but I’m usually tired or stressed. My memory came back, my sleep is ok, but I have to be careful with what I eat. And of course, in lockdown, there’s the temptation to work more and the guilt of not working, so I really have to stick to my 9-5 regime.

Opening & Closing Credits by Unregistered Master Builder
Background music, ‘Touching Moments’ by Ketsa (Free Music Archive)
Background music, Markus J Buehler Viral Counterpoint of the Coronavirus Spike Protein (2019-nCoV)
BBC SFX Archive
Justin Mullins SFX
London Soundsurvey (sound & audio maps)
Carolyn Pelling for her brilliant poem

Mental Health Resources
How to Access Mental Health Services (NHS site)
Mental Health Australia
Only Human Radio Show
Pink Therapy

AI voices (Amy & Brian)
Free Text to Speech

Find out more

Sex workers
SWARM: how UK sex workers set up and ran a hardship fund

Tate workers
The Tate workers strike
Video (protest outside the Tate)
Video (all out strike at Tate for jobs and culture)
Video (Tate United)

London’s bus drivers
London’s bus drivers fight for safer workplaces
853 Public Interest Journalism: facemasks are just the ticket for bus drivers
London’s cleaners big win against outsourcing

London’s cleaners fighting against outsourcing:
St Marys Hospital
NHS outsourcing (Guardian article)
You have to take action (Guardian article)

Goldsmiths University
The fight against racist redundancies

Overview of coronavirus-related deaths by occupation
Office for National Statistics

The ongoing campaign for justice for Belly Mujinga (including calls for a Public Inquest into the circumstances of her death and a Coronial Inquest).
Woman and Home (article)
Belly Mujinga Campaign
Bustle (article)

Health workers
Meenal from the Meenal’s World podcast (who is also a doctor) explains why she did a one-woman protest about the lack of PPE for health workers.
The Walthamstories podcast did a great interview with a hospital porter at Whipps Cross Hospital during the first wave of COVID-19.
This BBC article captures a lot of recent surveys and data from UK frontline health and social workers about their fears and concerns about working conditions.

Small business
How South Asian Corner Shop Culture Helped the UK Survive COVID 19’ (Gal-Dem article by Sana Noor Haq — Gal-Dem is an online and print publication committed to sharing perspectives from women and non-binary people of colour and is a cracking read)

Latin Village
Learn more about the 17-year struggle of traders in the Latin Village market and mutual aid hub in Seven Sisters. Their landlord, Transport for London, has shut traders out of the market completely during the COVID crisis.
There’s no room for you here (Shado Magazine article)
Save Latin Village

Worker safety
The Independent Worker’s Union of Great Britain is calling for all government designated ‘key workers’ to have access to healthy and safe working conditions — including a right to PPE for Uber drivers and couriers. Find out more about their efforts to take the government to court.

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