How Being Furloughed Impacted My Life

“What were the most used words of 2020?” We are sure you’d not be particularly shocked to hear they were coronavirus, lockdown and furlough. Due to a national lockdown, almost 10 million people were furloughed by just over a million different employers. This had mixed emotions for many. We spoke to someone who had been put on the furlough scheme back in March 2020 and has intermittently been on it up until now.

How did you feel initially when you learned you’d been furloughed?

I was honestly thrilled; I work in events so the season ahead was looking pretty brutal and I didn’t feel prepared for it so having a break for what we thought might be a month or two seemed almost like a blessing. I had stuff to do around the flat, the ‘I’ll get round to it when I get time’ jobs to plough through. The weather was nice enough to get outside – the first couple of months of furlough were amazing“.

We suppose for many, this would have been a collective thought about being furloughed at the start. People were given an opportunity to still get paid, albeit not their full wage, and not have to work. Initially, we would have jumped at the chance to be paid a large percentage of our wage and not have to work. What could possibly be wrong with that? When working full time it’s hard fitting in all those essential jobs such as food shopping and banking. These mundane jobs and life admin will be sorted in no time! That being said, with everything shut or opening with restrictions, we can’t imagine much would get done anyway!

The reality of being furloughed soon hit the nation hard as we be came increasingly aware of how long this was going to go on for with no clear end in sight.

How has being furloughed impacted your life?

The biggest way it has impacted me is obviously financially. In 2020, I had 3 months of a full salary and that was it. The stress of budgeting to an entirely new salary and work out where costs can be saved played on my mind hugely. I am however, in an extremely fortunate position to have family to lean on but it’s pretty demoralising to have to ask your parents/grandparents for money when you are meant to be self-sufficient. My struggle obviously does not compare to some as I felt fortunate to not have anyone depend on me. I have really struggled with not having a sense of purpose, I don’t think your life should revolve around work but for me it is pretty central to me at my stage of life so to suddenly have nothing to get up for in a morning has really demotivated me. I went through a phase of not bothering to get up or dressed unless I had plans because I didn’t really see the point. I was living on my own at the time so there was no one around to question it“.

The financial burden must have been so worrying. During the pandemic, we had a planned financial decrease – maternity leave. This in itself is stressful alone as you have you plan how long you want to and can afford to have off and find yourselves worrying about how much money you will be left with at the end of each month. We can’t begin to imagine how difficult it must be having to budget on a new income that you had not wanted and certainly hadn’t planned. It was great that our “furloughed friend” was able to ask for help when they needed it but, like they’ve stated, it is not something you want to be doing when you’re an adult with your own independence.

The importance of having a routine in place was also highlighted. Going to work every day gives you a purpose for waking up on a morning, forces you to look presentable and make an effort with your outfit/self-care and gives your life more meaning. When this is taken away it’s very easy to understand why your motivation dips and ultimately affect other areas of your life. For us, it’s clear how people could quickly spiral into a dark place.

How has it impacted your mental health?

When I was a lot younger, I suffered quite badly with anxiety but it had taken a backseat in my life in adulthood. I have been conscious of the fact that I have seen elements of it creeping back in and really making me doubt myself. My confidence has taken a bit of a knock and don’t feel as sure of myself as I perhaps seem on the surface. I second guess all my social interactions. “Did I talk to much?” “I think all I talked about was myself.” “Was I a Debbie downer?” I think it’s probably because the way we interact, and the frequency has declined so much. I went back to work for a month in December and my anxiety was through the roof, I had no belief I could do the job anymore because I had been away from it so long. I think I cried on my way home pretty much every night and it all just felt a bit much whereas pre-furlough I was doing so much more and not feeling the same way“.

Evidently, the COVID pandemic has impacted on many people’s mental health. For many it’s resurfaced previous worries and for others it’s brought about new feelings and thoughts they have never experienced before. I think we’d be lying to ourselves if we said our mental health hadn’t suffered in some shape or form during all of this. Working can improve a person’s confidence and when you have been on furlough for many months, the return can seem daunting. You start to doubt your own ability and wonder if you are good enough to remain in the job.

What did you do to help cope with being furloughed?

I have tried to keep myself busy as much as possible: I was initially preparing and delivering meals to the staff at LGI and Jimmy’s [hospitals in Leeds] for a couple of months and that took four days of my week but the demand fell as it’s scheme stopped. I then started volunteering for the Leeds North West Foodbank making deliveries – that put a lot of things in perspective for me and gave me the kick up the arse I needed to stop feeling sorry for myself. I started exercising (which is SO not a me thing to do) and making sure that if I had nothing planned for the day then I’d take myself of for a mega walk. I saw my friends (in line with guidelines at any given point) and walked and talked at length“.

The key thing here is keeping busy. Our “furloughed friend” was able to start filling their day with meaningful activities to help pass the time and ultimately create a routine. It’s also common knowledge that exercise can lift your mood if you are able to introduce this. However that’s easier said than done!

Three pieces of advice for someone who’s in your current position who might be struggling?

  1. Keep in touch with friends and family. I speak to people far more frequently now – it possibly borders on harassment. I think if my parents could file for a restraining order they would at this point. It’s a bit of an odd one because you don’t really have a lot new to tell anybody apart from what’s new in the ‘Middle of Lidl’ but just chatting rubbish for 20 mins means you’ve spoken to someone that day and not just shouted at a re-run of the Chase – makes you feel a bit saner.
  2. Exercise, exercise, exercise – I really didn’t think I’d ever be advocating for exercise because I usually mute people on Instagram for posting ‘how good they feel after a workout’ but the hype is for a reason. There is something about finishing and just that feeling of success that we aren’t getting from anywhere else at the moment. You can also see improvement which becomes addictive. There are loads of free bits of bobs available and you can do it in your pants in your bedroom, it’s great!
  3. Some days just let yourself acknowledge that life is just a bit shit. If one more person tells me, “we are all in the same boat,” I might scream. Yes, we are all in the same boat but it doesn’t stop the ship being in the middle of the storm, on fire and sinking just because we are all on it together. It’s okay to feel at bit sorry for yourself and watch 42 episodes of Gilmore Girls and have a little cry but make sure you keep those days to a minimum. The other days you’ve got to put on your big girl pants and go for a walk and see the light of day because in the long run having lots of those days back-to-back aren’t the answer. Try and feel the fresh air on your face 95% of the month.

We really appreciate this open account and it’s been a really informative insight into being furloughed. It’s very clear to see that being off work can impact on all aspects of your life and therefore it’s important that advice like the points above is passed on. If you are struggling it all begins with telling someone how you feel. Speak to the person you know will listen. As the saying goes – “a problem shared is a problem halved”.

Nick & Lucy x

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