The week since I posted the invitation to this T-SQL Tuesday has been tumultuous to say the least. Between the events at Capitol, which kept me awake for multiple nights last week, to the tragic news about our friend and SQL Family member, Gareth Swanepoel, this week has both flown by, and dragged on forever.
I wouldn’t feel right starting this post in any way other than a small tribute to Gareth. I didn’t know him particularly well, but we chatted occasionally on Social Media, and we enjoyed a lot of the same things, particularly Biltong, Boerewors and the Springboks!
Gareth was exceptional at his job and his technical expertise has never been in question, but over the last week, every tribute I’ve seen has been about his personality, his love for life, and the way he made people feel when they were around him. He was the living embodiment of “Work to Live, Don’t Live to Work“.
Rest in Peace, Gareth. I’m sure you’re sitting around the braai of heaven, offering your meat to everyone around you, and guffawing as those who are hearing it for the first time squirm a little in their seats. Thank for your immense contribution to the #SQLFamily. We are poorer without you, and we will miss your laughs, your friendship, and your meat.
In my invitation, I painted the picture of early lockdown in South Africa. I found it tough, one of the toughest periods of my working career. I cancelled a trip to London for SQLBits, and a scuba diving holiday which should have been in April. Though I was extremely fortunate that my work was not really affected, it seemed like the only thing I could do.
After 10 weeks of working non-stop, with almost no weekends or days off, I burned myself out. I wasn’t sleeping well because of the number of hours I was spending in front of the screen, I wasn’t able to support my wife when she needed me, and I was actually not working to a standard I was proud of. I was working more hours, but getting less done. I needed to change up my routines and find a bit more balance.
Even when I started reducing my working hours, and finding more social/leisure activities to participate in, I was still spending a crazy amount of time in front of screens. I was playing Online Poker with friends, PlayStation with my wife, watching sport on TV, and working on a couple of my conference sessions. But everything was in front of a screen. And everything was sedentary. I put on 10kg in 12 weeks becuase the only thing I was enjoying was food.
I tried to do some gym at home, but honestly, it made me feel even more depressed. I love playing sport to get some exercise, but I abhor exercising for the sake of exercising (and I’m really bad at it).
Breaks for Blocking
Lockdown eased slightly and I was able to do a little bit of outdoor exercise, but the first thing that significantly improved my mood was buying myself a large Lego set to build.
I found one that was particularly meaningful to me, and allowed myself only an hour a day to work on it, so I could draw out the process.
The many hours I spent building the Disney Castle, allowed me to detach entirely from technology (and dream of a time when we were allowed to travel).
I have built a couple of other Lego sets since this one, as well as reading a number of books and building puzzles. Something as simple as setting aside time every day for non-screen based activities had a massive effect on my sleep, my focus and the standard of my work.
And thankfully, in July, individual recreational sports were unbanned. So although I couldn’t play cricket, I could find something else to compete in, and to keep me sane! Enter TENNIS! Although I hadn’t played regularly since Primary School, I have always wanted to get back to playing tennis. So when cricket was still shut down, and I needed a physical activity that I could get into, I joined my local tennis club and started playing. Despite the fact that I was truly terrible, and horribly out of shape, getting out onto the court, running around and trying to compete immediately made me feel so much better. Thank goodness for tennis, it gives me a reason to get off my PC and out of my house, and a form of exercise that I look forward to, rather than dreading! I’ve lost 6.5kg since I started playing, and I hope that I can return to pre-lockdown weight before the anniversary of lockdown.
I’d started to feel better by August, but my wife had gone through an extremely tough month as the first Covid-19 surge hit hospitals in Gauteng. By that stage, it had been 8 months since either of us took a proper break from work. So, for our first Wedding Anniversary, we planned a week away in the Kruger Park. We stayed in an area with limited cell-phone signal, no television and very little to do other than relax.
We got up early each morning to go for a Sunrise Game Drive. We had wonderful sightings of Hyena, Giraffe and a Leopard lazing in a tree.
We spent time relaxing by the pool, even watching a herd of elephants come to the nearby waterhole to drink and play in the mud.
We watched lots of birds, from tiny Queleas, to a huge Martial Eagle eating a hare, and my personal favourite, a flock of Brown Headed Parrots.
Having 5 days of total relaxation was the absolute best thing that could have happened to us. We both returned from that trip invigorated and refreshed. It highlighted how much emotional pressure we’d been under, and how burned out we were.
In a way, having a ban on travelling internationally, and a restriction on the things we were allowed to do in South Africa forced us to find activities that we could do safely, in relative isolation. Even when I’m at home I’ve been making time to get away from my screen, away from all technology and other work stresses. I’ve got a bird feeder in my back yard, and I try to spend time watching the birds before work and during lunch.
This year has been hard on us all, we’ve lost people we love, missed out on experiences and events, and had to adapt to a scary new world. A world ruled by fear and disinformation, where hate is the default emotion.
Through these challenges, I have truly come to realise the value of disconnecting and mentally refreshing. I’m so glad and lucky to live in a country that, although rife with problems, allows me to do such a variety of things for my mental health. I’m so fortunate to have a job, and I feel desperately for those who have been affected by the pandemic and the economic fallout.
Most of all though, this year has reiterated that life is short, and when your time comes, you won’t look back and wish you’d worked harder, or more. I hope that all of us can take a page out of Gareth’s book, and do more things that make ourselves and others happy.
And once Covid-19 is over, spend more time with the people you love, and doing the things on your bucket list.
Hugs to everyone.