Interpreter Lockdown Story #2

I would like to offer my perspective of the pandemic as an antithesis to that of lockdown story #1. I haven’t found myself feeling profoundly content nor have my needs steadfastly met during this time. I have felt despair and uncertainty a lot during the time as a newly registered interpreter and as someone living with chronic illness. I had only recently worked up the courage to leave the comfort of a day job that I loved to go full time self employed – a decision that unbeknownst to me would result in no income a mere four months down the line when the pandemic took hold.

Despite being part time self employed for years and submitting my returns annually, I was one of the thousands of people who fell through the cracks of the government financial support scheme. Due to the fact that I’d left my salaried job to interpret full time, I wasn’t entitled to any furlough pay from my employer, and because less than 50% of my income had come from self employment during the past 3 years, I wasn’t entitled to any help from the self employment income support scheme either. I contacted my local MP and did other equally useless tasks to try and fight for the same support as my colleagues using the years of evidence I had, but got nowhere. As Martin Lewis of Money Saving Expert said, the financial cut off point was “completely arbitrary” and resulted in thousands of newly self employed people missing out on support that they desperately needed. I found myself in a position where interpreting assignments had dried up, and I was left with no support.

A couple of weeks into lockdown, my widowed mother in law was diagnosed with cancer which needed urgent treatment. Masked up, we made frequent trips to the hospital for consultations and operations which kept getting changed or postponed due to COVID chaos. At almost 70 years old with serious underlying health issues, the consultants were weighing up whether the breast cancer treatment or the coronavirus infection would be more deadly. During this time, I decided to volunteer to interpret virtually for Deaf people as I knew so many would be without assistance. I helped interpret letters and phone calls where necessary but wondered where the help for me was. I became concerned about coming into contact with others and inadvertently passing on the virus to my vulnerable mother in law. I had no income but was told to stay at home. I realised there wasn’t much of an interpreting support network in place for me and felt more isolated than ever before. While I struggled financially, some of my colleagues were better off than before the pandemic and couldn’t relate. This felt representative of the systemic inequality that pervades our society and reflects how we’ve been conditioned to experience manufactured scarcity and abject poverty as normal and necessary.

Things are looking much more positive now thanks to interpreting work picking up in September due to the Uni students and restrictions easing again, but the future is still uncertain regarding work. Working online as a BSL interpreter leaves a lot to be desired in my opinion. It takes much of the enjoyment out of it for me and leaves me feeling far less connected with the people I work with. I know there are strong academic arguments for why having a physical presence is so important with BSL, so I hope that this trend doesn’t continue after the pandemic is over. My mother in law’s cancer operations went ahead but the medics decided to forego radiotherapy as it would make her far more susceptible to COVID. I remember the consultant saying that she would’ve definitely had it under normal circumstances, but times have changed. As I write this out, it seems so trivial – 6 months of financial uncertainty and health anxiety summed up in a few paragraphs doesn’t seem to do it justice. The pandemic isn’t over yet and we’ve all had to adapt to new ways of working as a result. It does make me worry about my future, both as an interpreter and a human being. We’ve all experienced just how thin the veneer is during this time, revealing the illusion of certainty, safety, and control that we have in our lives. I hope that this experience has motivated people to look to the future at our next challenge as the climate catastrophe threatens our existence on this planet. Perhaps as Bill Gates suggested, COVID-19 may appear almost inconsequential in comparison.

So, is there anything to learn from this experience? I try not to be pessimistic and see the good in things. There are many positives to be taken from the pandemic too, such as time spent with my family, the opportunity to re-evaluate my priorities, and a much needed break – if you can call it that. I’m actually in a very fortunate position in comparison to some of the most vulnerable in our society, so I can’t imagine what they’re going through, especially if they’ve also lost a loved one as a result of the virus. The other positives that I’ve taken from the pandemic relatively recently are meeting and working with new interpreters and Deaf clients that I wouldn’t have normally seen, as well as a new found gratitude to have regular work again. All in all, it’s been a rough ride, but it seems as though everyone is getting more used to living in pandemic mode, keeping disruption to a minimum. Thank you to terptree for sharing these lockdown stories and I hope that my experience has resonated with someone – perhaps making them feel less alone.