By Sikisa Bostwick-Barnes.
Illustrated by Jenan Younis.
I’m not going to lie. When I first heard about Covid-19, I kind of brushed it off. In my head it was something like the start of a science fiction movie. Everyone in one part of the world gets infected, and we just watch and send thoughts and prayers and even donations as we hang on to see the outcome.
I think that must have been part of my British privilege. Thinking that, because we have the luxury of going out for brunch, it would never reach us. I even joked that we were all pawns of a Steven Spielberg experiment and that this was just a documentary to gauge our real-life reactions.
A few weeks later, I was doing what I normally do: work, work, work. Because that was my life. I was working a full-time job during the day and then going straight to perform on a stage, then going to bed around midnight. Then I would wake up and do the same thing, except for the weekend when I would sleep in till 11am or find an opportunity to catch up with a friend I haven’t seen in ages or visit one of my godchildren, all before getting onstage again.
My life ended up revolving around wake, work, stage time, sleep, repeat. I am a Gemini and I was starting to wish that my star sign manifested into real life and gave me a twin. And while I love my life, it had started to take its toll on me physically, mentally, and emotionally. I was tired all the time, the illness which I’ve tried to keep secret had started to affect my mobility, I was not eating properly, and I started to ask myself – why am I working so hard?
LOCKDOWN! The Government had given us warning that the United Kingdom was not immune to the virus. That the privilege that we thought we had, the one that survived other virus threats, was imaginary. This one was coming for us and, in order to protect us and our loved ones, we had to stay home. No gigging, no seeing friends, no staying out until 11pm, no travelling on public transport, no hugs, no work!
Like many others I had mixed reactions. One side of me was concerned and worried. I was one of the fortunate people who was able to work from home and not lose out of their main income. But another side of me was like NO! Don’t make me! I don’t want to stay at home – I’m going to lose everything I’ve worked for!
Being a performer is a difficult profession. Most of the time opportunities come out of luck, and there had been several exciting prospects that had been lined up for me that, as the days passed, slowly disappeared and were cancelled. This was heartbreaking until I remembered I have now acquired time.
It was time I didn’t have before, to do things I just didn’t have the time to do. Spend time with my parents. Exercise every day for an hour. Read a book. Take a breath! I took my British privilege and turned it into my breathing space.
However at the same time I realised that I was lucky to be able to be self-isolating in a safe place. I work for a domestic and sexual violence charity and many of the service users have not had the same privilege! So whilst I am not able to work, work, work – I am able to work. Me and my colleagues are still providing as much help as we can with the limited resources we have, to try and help those who need to flee their homes in order to get into a safe space.
I rarely speak about my job because it doesn’t really fit into the entertainment profession I’m trying to succeed in. However, the work I do, trying to help those who need to obtain access to public funds or try to resolve their immigration situations within the UK, has reminded me that there are many that are still struggling and are in fear. Whether it’s because they cannot contact the Government for a house because if they do they risk being removed from the UK, or their fear in leaving their homes and partners because their immmigration status is dependant on them, or even that the Government have already refused them help because they don’t believe they are at risk - the situation has become harder for everyone. The work me and my colleagues are doing is so those who are now in fear can seek the strength to have independence.
I grew up on a council estate just surviving, and my mother taught me to work hard to get what I needed so I didn't have to rely on anyone; so I can have independence. I invented my own version of privilege - but many people are not given that opportunity. So whilst I would encourage everyone to stay at home, I also would encourage you to do something that will give you or someone else more time so they can also experience privilege.
I realised it’s not a movie. It’s real life, and the time that we have now is what we make of it! Stay home, save the NHS.