How the word jellyfish saved my sanity

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Illustration of women with though bubbles of different activities

Perhaps one of the subtlest and most remarkable things about the last twelve months is the rehabilitation of the phrase “How are you?” from a vacant expression of civility to a genuine gesture of kindness once more. “I’m fine,” the long traditional reply, has finally been relegated to the third division, where it most certainly belongs next to empty pie wrappers and Bovril cups.

As a continent, Europe has merely reached the latest milestone in what will be a very long journey to economic recovery and political reconciliation and, as a global community, we’re at the start of a new era of simultaneous integration and disintegration: as committed to landing on Mars as we are to the resurgence of the one-party state.

We can all be forgiven then, for feeling more than a bit glum while staring down the revolving door of things to be glum about. From the mass exodus of women from our workforce; to the charred remains of some of the world’s oldest living organisms in Big Basin, California; to the Polish towns establishing LGBTQ-free zones by law, to the very existence of Zoom funerals.

Yes, it can all seem rather bleak from the claustrophobic perspective of lockdown, especially when scrolling through the Insta feeds of everyone who seems to be in the position to skip 2020 altogether and finally take that bread baking, basket weaving sabbatical they’ve always wanted.

We are, all of us, dealing with a mental load reminiscent of the constant Cold War threat of nuclear attack and frankly that’s not fine, that sucks, profusely… but there is great power in calling a shitstorm a shitstorm.

Just about every domestic, professional and spiritual situation throughout the pandemic has been sub-optimal at best. Whatever you’ve done — however you’ve grieved for what your life should have been — your sacrifices have kept us all safer and it’s okay for you to tell everyone who asks that it has indeed been hard.

From the stranger on the park bench, to the friend you haven’t seen in years — for the first time in a long time it’s perfectly fine to not be fine and say it. If anyone makes you feel otherwise they’re out of order (and I will tell them so for you).

At Amiqus we have a mental health code word and, I’ll admit, I was more than a bit sceptical when that was announced. I wasn’t sure what purpose it would serve really, other than as a cute emoji. But, right at the end of this year — when I was exhausted from keeping it all together and counting my many blessings and feeling guilty for not being more grateful all the time — an utter avalanche of unforeseen difficulties landed on my plate and I shot out the word “jellyfish” on Slack like a naval SOS flare.

Within mere minutes I was asked what support I needed and given permission to step away for the day, or for longer, if that was necessary. There was no stigma, no shame, no rolling of eyes because deadlines might not be met. There was only kindness, patience and understanding. I was given space for myself and the loved ones who needed me. I was trusted to do what I needed to do and that I would come back stronger and more motivated as a result of being able to deal with my situation without distraction.

One of the most maddening outcomes of the last recession was that job shortages seem to give some unscrupulous (or just downright incompentent) employers all the ammunition they need to say, “Get a grip, there are ten people who could take your place”. The fact is, that’s always true recession or not, it’s just not the point. If you’re hired for your skills, get on with everyone and fulfill your duties, by definition, that’s not luck and you shouldn’t be made to feel lucky that you have a job, particularly if work makes you miserable.

According to a Labour Force Survey, almost 18 million working days were lost in the UK alone due to work related stress, depression or anxiety from 2019 to 2020. That’s 18 million working days lost because no one wanted to, cared to, or knew how to intervene respectfully earlier. Why not consider implementing a mental health code word for your team and, if you do, put a plan in place for what happens when that flare goes up?

Perhaps the best new year’s resolution we can all make though, is to never feel pressured to be “fine” again. If you want your colleagues to bring their whole selves to work and become the best ambassadors for your brand then make sure everyday ups and downs aren’t a taboo subject anymore, especially now, during a global pandemic.

If that’s not your scene then I recommend investing in humanoid robots instead. They have their own World Cup now, don’t you know, and they’ll even serve you a pie supper with Bovril to boot.