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TSQLTuesday #132: How are you coping with the pandemic?

November 10, 2020
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This is my 5th TSQLTuesday, and it’s a little rushed because I only saw the invite this morning.

This isn’t the usual type of blog post that I write. I’m not sure if I have much in the way of a readership out there, but if I do they are probably used to technical articles, or some long post about best practices with lots of code examples sprinkled in. This, obviously, won’t be one of those. It may also meander a little bit, but bear with me, it will all come together in the end.

Travel

Me in Washington DC

I like to travel, and I’ve not done it nearly enough over the last few years. When I was younger I found myself flying to different parts of Europe quite a bit. A former partner was from Luxembourg so I flew there several times to visit her. A friend I made at Uni was from Switzerland, so I flew out there once, and we visited Germany while I was there. Another former partner’s parents had a holiday home in France so we went there a few times. I also ended up in the US a couple of times, once in Florida for Disneyland, and once in Washington DC for my sister’s wedding. I got pretty comfortable on planes from these trips, and came to like airports and long flights, and travel in general.

This is fine…

I also had a few more epic adventures. I spent a couple of months in Southern Africa, living on a nature reserve and doing a bit of backpacking. I also got to white water raft on the Zambezi river below Victoria Falls.

#Epic

I didn’t do another epic adventure for a while, but 5 years ago I went on a 4 week trip to Vietnam, with a few days in Bangkok at the start. It was pretty epic, and I got to see some amazing things, including Ha Long Bay which remains one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. I came back from that holiday determined to do more epic travelling, which leads us to the crucial bit of the story…

Everest

I’d settled on my next destination pretty early. I wanted to do the trek to Everest base camp. It isn’t cheap, and needs a lot of fitness, and for various reasons I didn’t make it happen for a few years. Finally, last year, I had the money and the fitness and I booked it. I made sure I had all of the equipment, and I was confident I was fit enough (I ran a half marathon a couple of weeks before going).

We walked across those bridges.

The trip itself was awesome, but very hard at the same time. The days were long, the nights were cold, and the food was dull. But, the scenery was amazing, the people were amazing, and the whole thing felt like I was stepping into another world.

I loved the trek, and I loved the feeling of accomplishment that came with every day. Every so often we would pass markers that said how many hours and kilometers we were from base camp, and I think everyone got more and more excited as we got closer.

Then I got ill. It came on really suddenly. I was pretty much ok at the start of the day, and could barely walk by the end of it. The next morning my fingertips and lips had turned blue, and they had to call a helicopter for me. I spent 3 days in hospital in Kathmandu recovering. It turned out I had what’s called a High Altitude Pulmonary Edema. This is where the decreased oxygen levels cause the heart to beat faster to move oxygen around the body faster, but the increased blood pressure causes fluid to leak from the blood vessels into the lungs further reducing the oxygen levels. It’s fatal if you don’t get to lower altitude in time, but once you do you’re basically going to be ok.

PTSD

For some time after this I thought I was fine. Physically I felt a bit beaten up, but nothing a bit of heathy eating and exercise wouldn’t get me through. It wasn’t until the increased stresses from work started to pile up that I started to really struggle. The tipping point was when I saw a video of someone with an oxygen monitor on their finger. I basically became completely useless for days after that, and had to book some time off work to get through it. I spoke to doctors, and ended up with a PTSD diagnosis, a course of therapy, and some time off work.

I fought my way back to health through a combination of therapy and routines. I’m not going to detail the therapy here, but it forced me to confront what had happened, and in doing that my brain processed it and moved on. The routines I put in place involved waking up at particular times, planning my week pretty rigidly on a Sunday, making sure I got some exercise, going for walks, yoga, a big variety of things.

When it came time to go back to work, I felt like I was ready. I think I needed the structure work provided. I had some conversations with my boss, and we agreed that I would only work my contracted hours, and take a 1.5 hour lunch break. This meant 8-5 with lunch usually starting at 12 and finishing at 1.30. This was all to make sure I had time to keep up the routines and coping mechanisms I had in place.

This hasn’t lasted particularly well. Last week I had to work late most days, which threw my evening plans out and has disrupted my routine a lot. I’ve spoken to my manager a few times, and we are taking steps to fix the issues. One thing we agreed today is I will do 9-6 instead, as that way emergencies late in the day won’t force me to go over my hours. This might even be better in some ways, it may give me some time in the morning to work on this blog or do some other personal project.

Is there a point to this story?

I’m not entirely sure. I wanted to share something about my lockdown experience, and this kind of dominates everything about not just lockdown but the last year for me. I certainly feel like I’ve come out of the whole thing with a better understanding of myself. I know my mental limits a bit better, and understand what I can do to keep myself mentally fit a lot better than I did. I’ve also experienced failure, on a scale that I don’t think I had before, and I’m still working on coming to terms with the idea that it wasn’t my fault, and that I failed despite doing everything right.

I guess the message for people reading this is to make sure you prioritise self-care. If you start to feel anxious every day, if you can’t focus, if you dread starting work, these are signs something is wrong. You don’t necessarily have to change jobs to fix it (right now I think we’re all pretty lucky if we have jobs) but maybe change your relationship to your job in some ways. Set some boundaries, and experiment a bit with what you can do outside of work to let that stress go. I recommend walking and yoga.

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