real life

'I have been in survival mode for the past two years and I am not okay.'

Just over two years ago, I was honestly living my best life. I just didn’t know how good it was at the time. 

I finally had the money to go on a short holiday with my husband without the kids. I was well, relatively speaking. I was surrounded by lots of love and friendship. My kids were happy and healthy, and my husband’s job had been made permanent. I finally started to allow myself to look forward. 

However, I can see now with the benefit of hindsight that, quietly in the background, when I wasn’t paying attention, 'survival mode' was slowly activating in my brain. 

Watch: The five lifestyle hacks to help with your anxiety. Post continues after video. 


Video via Mamamia.

I have been living in survival mode since then, and for a while that was okay. But not anymore.

In late 2019, much of NSW was on fire. It was the worst bushfire season on record. It felt like everywhere in the state was on fire except the Sydney basin, and we were being told it was just a matter of time. It was very hard for me to believe otherwise. 

Having lived through multiple significant bushfire events as an adult, bushfires are a big trigger for me. This was the moment that survival mode was activated for me.

What we didn’t know was that there was a bigger threat on the horizon. I was just too busy with all the exciting things that were happening around me to pay attention.

In February 2020, just as talk in the media of coronavirus was filtering into Australia, my husband and I boarded a cruise ship in Sydney. We had a fantastic time. We met new people and relaxed. 

Unexpectedly, we later went on another cruise, sailing out of Sydney for four nights on March 13, 2020. That date is significant because this was when COVID-19 was really starting to emerge in Australia. The cruise we left Sydney on was the last one to sail out of Sydney before the world as we knew it changed. 

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While we were at sea on March 15, 2020, it was announced that there would be a ban on all cruise ships docking in Australian ports. We didn’t know if we would be able to dock, or what would happen when we got home. 

It really didn’t worry us though. I was on a beautiful cruise ship with my husband and two of my three children. All I had to worry about was which pool I was going to swim in.

'I was on a beautiful cruise ship with my husband and two of my three children.' Image: Supplied.

I remember joking with friends that we were away with that at least we had toilet paper because it was starting to be in short supply before we left for our short four-night cruise. Of course, in the back of my mind, I was levelling up survival mode. 

It turned out that this was just the beginning of a massive overhaul of our lives. 

The first lockdown came and went. We all got used to doing school and work from home. At first, it was fun. It was almost a novelty. The long commute to the caravan in the backyard for my husband and from bed to desk for my daughters was manageable. 

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But it turns out that being at home and not being allowed to go anywhere is not as much fun as it seems. 

During the first lockdown, very randomly, we sold our house. This was something that came completely out of the blue. It was the opportunity for my family to move to a newer, larger house with very little maintenance. 

It made sense for many reasons. But I underestimated how hard it would be emotionally to leave the only house I had lived in with my husband. The house I had brought all my children home to. The house that I had made my home. 

Slowly, throughout the second half of 2020, as we made our new house our home, hope seemed to be seeping back into our lives. It felt like we could start planning for what we would do in 2021. It felt like maybe, just maybe, life would return to what we knew, what felt safe. 

But just when we thought life was returning to 'normal', it became very apparent that nothing would be normal ever again. 

For the second year in a row, Christmas was different. Plans were changed. Celebrations were smaller and outdoors. We didn’t see some loved ones because of the risk of catching COVID, or not being able to cross state borders. 

Somehow, in Wollongong in New South Wales, over 100 kilometres away from Avalon, my family got caught up in the Avalon cluster. On New Year’s Eve, we received a text message to say we were close contacts.

Even though we saw in 2021 in isolation, I still had hope. And for me, while I have hope, I can cope. There was hope that the vaccine would come, and the borders would open. 

On paper, 2021 was a fabulous year for me. I had a mini break in Northern NSW with my husband and our dear friends. I turned 50, and I had a lovely celebration with family and friends with no restrictions. I scored a role with Mamamia as a content producer in their encoreship program. On paper, it really was a good year. 

'I turned 50'. Image: supplied.

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The thing is that was what I wanted everyone to see, and what I wanted to believe in my heart. The good things are the experiences that I tried to cling onto. To get me through the lockdowns, the return to home schooling, starting new jobs remotely, and the fear that one of my loved ones or I would catch COVID (which has happened.)

The reality is actually very different. For me, as I’m sure it was for many, last year was a long year. We had another lockdown. Starting a new job and trying to fit into a team and learn everything remotely was much harder than I let on. 

'Starting a new job'. Image: Supplied.

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I am sad for all the things I missed out on; selfish I know. I’m also scared. Scared to catch COVID, scared of not catching it, fear of the unknown. 

For the last two years, I have been faking a smile in the desperate hope it would rub off and I would develop some optimism for life. But in reality, life looks very different in the quiet of my home.

It is all pretend. My body is aching with anxiety and sadness every day. 

Listen to The Quicky, hosted by Claire Murphy. Post continues after audio.


I feel like I have nothing to look forward to, and I am scared. I don’t want to plan anything in case it is cancelled. 

Every day is a challenge to get out of bed. Many days I am literally phoning it in, and I can’t get motivated. Every boss I have had in the last two years, I am sorry, but you are getting a very sub-par version of me, and I carry guilt for that. 

Most days, I am on the verge of tears all the time, but I am numb. So numb that I can’t cry.

I am struggling to find joy in anything or concentrate on new things. So, I re-watch my favourite shows over and over. They are predictable and are like a warm hug - something I desperately need but won’t let anyone give me. 

I am cranky all the time with everyone. I am prickly and over-react to the little things. I am sorry; I am trying but I can’t help it. 

Most concerning for me is that I am starting to develop symptoms of my functional neurological disorder again, and I can’t see a doctor about them. They are little invisible things to you, but to me, they are ever-present. 

I spoke to my psychologist about all the feelings, both physically and emotionally, that I have been experiencing, especially since the explosion in case numbers in Australia. She tells me that it is perfectly normal. 

My challenge is that I am working so hard on focusing on the good that I haven’t left space to feel the bad, but both things can be true at the same time.

We can feel joy at a celebration, but sadness that it wasn’t how it was meant to be. We can be excited for a new job, but feel robbed that the experience wasn’t the one planned. And that's okay.

Feature Image: Supplied.

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