Gillian Harvey: Why I need to give myself a break sometimes

Read the latest column from freelance writer, author and mum-of-five Gillian Harvey.

Anyone who’s worked from home will know the difficulties faced by homeworkers when it comes to separating life from work – even in normal times.

Setting regular hours is one thing, but it’s nigh on impossible to ignore an email that comes in later on when you’re scrolling on Facebook, or ordering knickers from Next.

For lots of us, it’s been even harder during lockdown, when all our lives have become more cluttered or more complicated; and when many more people have found themselves working from the kitchen table.

For me, the lines between work and leisure can get even more blurred. I’m lucky enough to love what I do, and when I’m working on an article or scribbling a short story it can be hard to know where work ends and pleasure begins.

Somehow, because I’m not suffering when I work, I feel self-indulgent when I’m at my desk – as if I’m taking time for myself rather than earning a crust.

When the kids were at school, it was easy to set hours. And work away without feeling guilty.

But now, I know that outside my office door there are children who’d rather I was there with them. In the middle of each paragraph, I will probably have an interruption. At least half of the time this will involve me helping someone to wipe their bottom.

Most mums will recognise the situation where they’re trying their best to meet a deadline or finish a project, and they can feel both the stress of work and the guilt at not being there for the family grow simultaneously.

Yesterday, I cried.

We’re lucky – so far our lives haven’t been properly impacted by Covid, but the constant background worry, the strangeness and uncertainty of the world we’re now living in means that there’s an undercurrent of worry beneath everything we do. A little dripping tap of additional stress that’s been tapping away since March.

Out of nowhere I found myself sobbing at my computer, saying everything was too much. I even considered ditching my work as an author – something I’ve worked towards for years.

Once my husband had talked me down, and offered much-needed tea and biscuits, I realised what I needed was to have a new plan. To schedule my time more effectively. And to make sure that even though I’m juggling, I find a moment in each day to put the balls away and rest my arms.

I’ve bought a new notebook – something that always helps me feel weirdly efficient. I’ve ordered a wall planner. I am going to get my ducks well and truly in a row.

And I’m going to work out a strategy for getting through this time – I don’t want to let my work slip, I don’t want to let my kids down. But I need to do it without pushing myself to breaking point.

There’s no point having a hundred balls to juggle, if the juggler is too exhausted to perform. 

Gillian Harvey is a writer and mum-of-five. Her debut novel Everything is Fine is out now. (Currently available on Kindle for just 99p if you’re looking for a great summer read!)