RAMBLINGS OF A PANIC-STRICKEN FREELANCER

AS THE the coronavirus continues its relentless sweep around the globe, countries have been forced into lockdowns, in desperate efforts to curb transmission. The move, while saving lives, has had a devastating impact on economies, with millions of jobs getting lost. Stas SA’s recent survey revealed the grim rise in the unemployment rate to 30,1%, and the figures did not take into account job losses emanating from the coronavirus pandemic. Just this week, I read with dismay about the folding of some News24 publications, hot on the heels of similar developments at Caxton. As a reader, this is sad news as I will miss my favourite magazines, but as a journalist, this is enough reason for me to tear my hair out as I watch the industry I love so much crumble to pieces. This is a severe threat to my own source of livelihood as my employment options are shrinking with every closing publication. My anxiety is through the roof.

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The media industry is saturated. Tertiary institutions are churning graduates in their thousands, but where are the jobs? Are the new graduates going to come with all their youthful exuberance  to snatch bread out of my mouth? I am contemplating upskilling myself in order to stay relevant in an industry that’s spitting out even the most seasoned of journalists. In my state of panic, I’m even struggling to decide on what new course to do, as everything is currently under threat! As a freelancer in a pandemic, there is also much uncertainty about what the future holds. I could wake tomorrow to find my sources of income have turned their back on me, at a time when no-one is hiring. I could wake up to find I have tested positive for COVID-19 and cannot go to work for weeks on end, which would be a major financial setback. The wolf would be camping at my door. The fear of getting infected isn’t emanating from paranoia but acceptance of what could happen. I’m hoping for the best, that me and mine will be safe, but bracing myself for the worst so that I’m never caught flat-footed. I’m doing my best to pinch pennies, in case of any eventuality. Amid all this, I still consider myself blessed because I’m still talking about the possibility of losing my job, meaning it hasn’t happened yet. Many people in South Africa have already been shown the door,and are battling to keep their heads above water, with not many options lining up for them. Retail group Massmart is in talks with unions to cut almost 2,000 jobs at Game Stores. These aren’t just statistics, but human beings with bills to pay and mouths to feed. Thousands of lives will be impacted. Business for SA (B4SA) has predicted that four million jobs could be lost in 2020.With my little knowledge on the performance of the economy, I’d say that’s an understatement. At the time of writing, at least 40 million Americans had lost their jobs. The continued spread of the virus means even more people will lose their means of livelihood. Governments are overwhelmed and cannot bail all struggling citizens out, leaving millions of desperate people to their own devices. Inevitably, the crime rate will spike as everyone struggles for survival.

With job losses comes stress, which research has noted to sometimes lead to substance abuse, and possible mental health issues. Experts have warned that anxiety, job losses, uncertainly, preoccupation with death (particularly for frontline workers) will cause a sharp spike in mental health problems. It doesn’t help that people have become detached, in adherence to social distancing measures. There is minimal interaction and physical activity, at a time when our minds are bogged down and we crave to sit down with fellow human beings to thrash out our problems and map a way forward. Even a mere hug would go a long way to quell the pressure. I remember the Hug-a-Stranger challenge that went viral barely a year ago, and how some people burst into tears of joy upon receiving hugs. But we can’t even do that at the moment, as the virus has turned us all into ticking time bombs.  

The pandemic has banished people, even those that need contact to survive, to their little corners where depression threatens to engulf them. Suicides are a notable fallout of psychological trauma, and in the United States, the health system is buckling under the weight of people struggling to stay afloat.  There are warnings that after the coronavirus pandemic, the next one will be in mental health. 

Although there is not much to celebrate at the moment, can at least try to be Pollyannas and look at the bright side? Is there even a bright side? Well, we are still here, still standing, and should make an effort to be our brother’s keeper, even with the little that we have. If you still have a job, even one that doesn’t pay much, but a  bagful of groceries or even just loaf of bread for the person who doesn’t know where their next meal will come from. Say a kind word to someone. Restrain yourself when the urge to lash out at your spouse, neighbour or colleague rears its ugly head. Show the peace sign✌when you’d rather show the middle finger to the distracted pedestrian on the road. Everyone is going through a lot. The heart of this post? None at all, really. Just the panic-stricken ramblings of a freelance journo trying to make sense of a chaotic world. Be safe. 

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