Interpreter Lockdown Stories #1

What has been apparent throughout this Pandemic, is that as individuals although we have all gone through this together.  We have all had very different experiences.

We have a series of 4 Interpreter Lockdown stories to share with you.

As a profession, we have been connected throughout this experience and we hope that as you read these stories, you will relate to them and it will continue to muster the feeling of belonging.

Enjoy 🙂

Interpreter Lockdown Stories #1

I am writing this in my garden bathed in early evening sun profoundly content, and will begin this piece of reflective writing with the declaration that throughout this pandemic.  The foundational levels of my Maslow’s hierarchy of needs have been steadfastly met – and I am grateful for this fortune. I can’t say that the past six months have been anxiety or trouble free, but I know that in the metaphor of us all being in the same storm, I am thankful for the incredible boat I find myself in.

On Friday 13th March, the increasing presence of Covid-19 in the media was edging its way into my typically calm perception of day to day life. Even still, discussing the situation with an astute friend on the way to London, the reality of what was coming felt like a shock. My deaf colleague felt uncomfortable in the populated environment we were working in and ended our day mid-afternoon – I felt relieved to be travelling home before rush hour. This is when my lockdown began; a little over a week before it was mandatory.

My husband and I are both able to work remotely and we don’t have children living at home with us. We are both healthy adults. My protective focus turned swiftly to my elderly parents – my mum living with an impressive count of diagnoses. I needed to stay well so that they could stay safe. When the Government announced formal lockdown on 23rd March, I wept, certain that I was going to lose my parents. Thankfully my husband is a (compassionate) scientist and talked me off the ledge with facts and probabilities.

Stroke of fortune number one: We had recently re-decorated the spare bedroom and set it up as an office as I fancied giving VRS/VRI a try. Immediately, my Access to Work bookings, those which hadn’t been cancelled, were remote. Seeing the faces of familiar colleagues popping up on my screen as we all adjusted and learnt together was an incredible comfort and for the most part, the set-up worked. Looking to the months ahead, my usually colourful diary was showing an unusual landscape of white space.

Stroke of fortune number two: My manager from my previous non-interpreting career in adult social care said that they were drowning and would I consider returning part-time on a temporary contract, working from home, to get them over the hump. Initially I felt conflicted. If I said yes, was I abandoning the community I held in such high esteem? Was it the ‘greedy’ choice? If I said no, would I struggle to keep my business going? Would I be letting my incredibly supportive (wouldn’t-have-been-able-to-become-an-interpreter supportive) ex-manager down? I decided to go for it hoping that the ‘you only regret the things you DON’T do’ mantra would be true.

Dedicating my career to solely being a BSL Interpreter is something I am very proud of and is embedded in my identity. Embarking on part-time-this and part-time-that felt alien at first. Going back to a strategic, admin-heavy, local government role, imposter syndrome was all too happy to show up. But not for too long. Soon I felt a deep sense of purpose in this dual working life as this ‘other’ work directly impacted care providers coping with the Covid-19 outbreak. Whilst interpreting is where my heart lays, this unexpected opportunity has me considering a more portfolio approach to my career if life takes me in that direction. Plus, some work can be done in the garden, on a laptop in a cardboard box for shade.

I am now confident with myriad online platforms and can deftly set up and store my foldable screen (thank you YouTube!).   I took a few shifts with a VRS/VRI provider and would describe the experience like finding myself on a travellator facing a row of doors. An unseen entity controls how quickly you move along door to door and how long you’ll be interpreting in front of it. I had no knowledge of who/ what was on the other side of each opening. The travellator didn’t pause. I had to hit the emergency stop button and leap off just to breathe. Mugs of tea and coffee supportively placed the other side of the office door went cold. It was intense.

Feeling grateful for the strategies in my toolbox; I used Every Single One. I was instantly enveloped by the incredible team spirit provided by the interpreters on the rota with me; this camaraderie was invaluable. At the end of that first shift, I felt accomplished and exhausted. I coped. I did a good job and have worked a few shifts and glad to have seen inside this world for myself.  The evidence I now have tells me that this particular working environment, at this current time, is not one I thrive in. I remain open minded and hopeful that as the world adapts to operating increasingly on-line, so too will VRS provision and the expectations of what it can and cannot achieve.

Throughout lockdown and beyond, certain routines and habits have been essential to me. Each morning I commute to work.  Choosing to walk, run or cycle one of various cyclical routes, regardless of the weather, and ‘arrive’ at work. I take my breaks outside as much as possible. I tidy up my office at the end of each day and then shut the door. Numerous studies suggest that the length of a person’s commute has a considerable impact on their happiness and beginning and ending work at home has been brilliant! More time now I’ve fallen deeper in love with our local area, gotten to know neighbours better, sharing more of the day my husband, more time chatting with my parents on their patio and gently coaching dad towards on-line shopping, facebook-live church services and video-chat.

As well as 3D colleagues, and chats over coffee I miss interpreting in the entertainment sector but I’ve been far less lonely that I would have predicted, and having cats ‘at work’ is certainly a bonus for me! Some interpreting work is definitely not well suited to screens but I’ve enjoyed being creative and finding solutions. Of course, I think about the coming weeks, months, years and the unknown is scary.

The pandemic and resulting restrictions are events I could never have imagined and that’s unsettling; what else could happen? Knowing that something this enormous can occur makes me appreciate and invest in my health, relationships and mental wellbeing all the more. I am so thankful for this career and community. Having routine, purpose, health, income, and loving relationships have enabled me, and those I love the most, to weather this storm relatively unscathed. We are not all in the same boat. Some friends are lonely or struggling with daily financial and emotional burdens. Others have experienced catastrophic, life-shattering blows. I know life can change in a moment and I’m very aware of my blessings.

This is the first of our Interpreter Lockdown Stories.  Check back for more soon.

For another perspective on being an Interpreter check out this wonderful poem from David Wolfenden.