12 May 2020

"It is important to make sure your mates are ok, that they know you care about them and that you are there if they need you"

Mo Sista Tori Wheelans on the challenges of a life-changing move in lockdown and the importance of strong friendships
Real Stories

I had recently moved down to Invercargill, the most Southern city of New Zealand. I knew only the 6 people I was moving in with, I had travelled to the city once, and had secured a job as a Primary School Teacher through a phone call. I was at home visiting my Mum, when Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern confirmed that we would be moving to Level 4, so I got on one of the first flights out of Christchurch the following Wednesday.

We spent that day buying sports equipment, hunting for puzzles and stocking up on as much booze as the flat card would allow, as we naively thought that we wouldn’t be able to purchase any during lockdown. 

The first few weeks were spent baking, cooking, cleaning and exercising. The flat took up a love for tennis and walking, and we indulged in these commodities on a daily basis. We set a goal to run the length of the South Island as a flat and managed to tick that off at the end of week 4. Invercargill was hitting the 20’s in temperature in the first week and we all thought we were in for an epic 4 weeks. But when the second week hit, and it rained on and off for the remainder. 

Our weekends became fueled with flat red cards that left most of us in bed by 10pm, and with hideous hangovers each Sunday. The most social part of the week day was the 1pm Press Conference with Jacinda and Ashley; then each of the flat mates would slither back to their bedrooms, where they all had a work desk setup by their window. 

Myself and another flatmate, who is also a Primary School Teacher, spent the week days in the lounge emailing back parents and checking in with the kids in our class. The “9-3” job that people think we work, was cut shorter and we were loving it. 

Week 3 hit and the morale was low. I felt like I had no purpose anymore. I wasn’t back at work because my asthma had gotten bad, I had ticked off any work planning already, and I was missing my Mum and my friends. I felt like I shouldn’t have complained because I had a roof over my head, I wasn’t sick and I hadn’t lost my job. But in situations like this, life becomes a lot more complex and it can be hard to adjust to such a big change. I was bored and had exhausted any form of activity I could do within the vicinity of my flat.

In October it will be 2 years since I lost my Dad. He took his life in October 2018, after suffering years of depression. He would have thrived in lockdown - he loved to be busy, outside in the garden and fixing things around the house. Saturday would roll around and we wouldn’t see him for hours because he would be building something in the garage, or messing around with one of the stupid Trademe purchases he had won, whilst indulging in a box of beer and listening to Cat Stevens. The cancellation of rugby would have pissed him off, so highlights from 1995, 1996, and so on, would have been streamed through some illegal website he found in the depths of the internet. 

The one thing he would have taken time to do was to catch up with old mates and talk absolute dribble for hours. Dad was really good at this - he loved checking in with his mates, but he lost touch with himself and forgot to ask himself how he was and what his needs were. What I learned from his suicide is that it is so crucial to connect with people. It is important to make sure your mates are ok, that they know you care about them and that you are there if they need you. Moving down to Invercargill has separated me from all of my good mates, and nothing means more than when my mates check in on me and make sure I'm not rolling my R’s yet - surviving the deep, dirty south.

So, during lockdown I made a real effort to check in with my mates and call regularly. I have been lucky because I have had the time to do it. I have got a wide network of mates who are all very caring and thoughtful, but it's easy to lose touch. It’s not that we don’t care, we just have busier lives.

*For more on Tori and her friends efforts throughout the Movember 2019 campaign click here.