The pandemic is having a deep effect, with many suffering physically and emotionally and often afraid or not knowing how to talk about loneliness and depression. When Kerry-based construction manager Ivan McCarthy shared his thoughts online earlier this year, it struck a chord and was shared thousands of times on social media. Here is his story …
Back at the start of 2020 the Covid-19 pandemic was just becoming a world issue. I never really thought then that it would have such a physiological effect on me as it did – and still does. I’m a construction manager with a large building firm in Munster and had requested a project that I could really get my teeth into.
At the start of last year I finally got my wish, a project with so many exquisite details, features and nuances that it would involve serious project management and organisation. I was delighted.
The first few months were great – meetings with architects, engineers, clients and liaising with suppliers to find products to suit the job. Everything was going smoothly, everyone was just listening to talk of Covid in the background. Suddenly it became real.
The old Irish conversation about the weather was replaced by a foreign enemy – Covid. It was all everyone could talk about. Then, it was here. There were numerous cases and fatalities every day and it became harder and harder to avoid the news and talk of the pandemic. Countries around the world being ravaged by Covid started to worry me and weigh heavy on my mind.
I really felt that the world was in dismay and I felt helpless to do anything about it. When the first lockdown was announced in March 2020, I felt deflated and demoralised. Being a very social person, not being allowed to go to work, meet friends or go to the pub was a real shock to the system. We were told to work from home and try to keep things going.
The first week wasn’t too bad – phone calls, Zoom calls and general work on the computer. By now Covid-19 was on the radio, the TV, the internet and social media – everywhere. It started to occupy my mind totally. I found it very hard to concentrate on anything and was less and less interested in being productive for work or at home.
I got up later and later from bed and my normal routine just went out the window. Life had changed. I began to feel more and more isolated and even texting friends seemed to be a chore. My head was in a dark place during that time There were inevitable strains. Eventually, the end of the lockdown was announced, and it started to feel like everything was going to be OK. It wasn’t.
On return to work there was now a raft of new Covid-19 measures on construction sites. Social distancing was one of the things that hit me the most, working on a building site is hard enough without distancing yourselves from your work colleagues. It was very hard for the men. To be fair I think the industry has coped well with social distancing, with people working in pods to reduce the risk of contamination.
Everyone got on with it, but it was extremely hard to break the habits of a lifetime. This was really a struggle for me. I’d normally be hands on and get stuck in to explain, demonstrate and get my feelings and opinions across. With all the Covid-19 issues on site, health and safety paperwork had become a major part of my work on top of the usual stuff.
I was challenging authority on Covid-19 issues and this made me feel sad and depressed. With no personal interaction on site, it felt numb and blank. There were Zoom and Teams calls but it wasn’t the same. There is a camaraderie on site once a design team is in place and that becomes something to look forward to. This was not happening and I really felt alone.
I sometimes found myself pondering for minutes on end and then would snap out of it and try and get back to work. I would normally eat lunch with the men but this all stopped with Covid. Staggered breaks and room sizes meant eating alone. I was just getting used to life on site when the second and third lockdowns came. I was devastated.
Back to working from home and now even less social interaction with colleagues and nowhere to go with family or to meet with friends. My mind was not in the game. Sleeping was very intermittent and I would regularly wake up in a lather of sweat, on a few occasions with a severe pain in my chest like I was having a heart attack.
After calming myself down for an hour I tried to get back to sleep. I remember often spending nights eyes wide open just staring at the darkness wondering what was going to happen. Spending 24 hours a day at home trying to make up things to do, trying to motivate myself to do them – the days were very long.
Not meeting my work colleagues and friends has impacted me the most. Phone calls are great but they can’t substitute real life meeting up and having a chat and banter. My kids were not in school and couldn’t see their friends. They had to spend 24 hours a day at home – it really affects me thinking about their well-being and mental head space.
But they are brilliant in how they are handling this with such young minds. God bless my wife and children, without them this would be even harder. Social outlets are simply a part of life and without them things become mundane. Even going to the local shop now, no one knows each other, everyone is masked up. The personal touch and personality are gone out of life.
I cannot wait for the days when we can meet up on site without masks and deal with issues on a more face-to-face level. I can’t wait to go out and meet up with my family and friends and have a good time and a laugh, to remember times other than Covid and make new memories.
I am hopeful. Thanks for reading and I hope you can share a moment with someone to relieve the anguish if you need to.
Ivan McCarthy, MCIOB, is a chartered construction manager who has worked with Co. Kerry company KPH since 2003. With a background as a joiner, he now oversees residential and commercial contracts.