“I’m finally living” – thriving through lockdown

Bhavisha Mistry came down with coronavirus in early March 2020, and as sole counsel in her organisation carried on working from home. She shares her story, and how far from struggling in self-isolation, lockdown has reinvigorated her.

Woman working at desk at home

Just before Covid-19 hit, I remember thinking that I felt like I was on a hamster wheel. Every day, I got up at 5am to go to the gym, came back home to get ready for work, commuted to the office for an eight-hour day (at least), headed back into the traffic, got home, made dinner, watched an hour of TV, then bed. I’d do it all again the next day.

It’s not that I don’t love my job: quite the contrary. I love being a lawyer and the organisation I work for. But what I’ve learnt through having coronavirus myself and then self-isolating is that we have all become conditioned to think that our pre-lockdown routine is normal.

We have filled our lives with so many mundane and unhealthy routines that we’ve forgotten how to enjoy the simple things in life and look after our body and mind. We’ve been operating at an unnatural pace, trying to get as much done as we can in less and less time. With that, there’s less time to spend with the ones we love, one of the very things we live for.

I remember thinking the only way I would get a rest would be if everyone else around me also shut down. But when would that ever happen…?

Catching the virus – and working through it

I fell ill with coronavirus in early March, before the lockdown, and before the government gave any advice beyond regularly washing your hands for at least 20 seconds. There was little guidance or help for those suffering with coronavirus, or for health professionals or employers.

As the virus did not seem to affect my mental state, I decided I would try and work through it at home. I took paracetamol for the migraine and the aches and pains, which seemed to do the trick for a few days. I still felt extremely fatigued and had the annoying dry cough. My organisation was supportive and, following the government’s advice, it felt I would be fit to return to the office after seven days.

I lost my sense of taste and smell

However, the migraine and aches developed into a sore throat, blocked nose and total loss of taste and smell, followed later on by a strange tightness of chest. I prepared my employers for the fact that it was probably best that I didn’t return to the office, as I was still symptomatic.

I had government-engaged doctors calling me every day to see how I was, but at that stage they really couldn’t give me much advice or assurance.

I had to use common sense and go back to basics, eating healthily and getting rest where I could. As the sole counsel in my organisation, I was very conscious about not letting my colleagues down and keeping the business moving. I had to gauge priorities and get as much of the important and urgent work done. As my organisation is one of the main suppliers of medicines to UK hospitals, you can imagine how busy I was and how many things fell into the urgent and high-priority pile!

Team work is so important

With the help of colleagues, we managed to get things done. We had calls to work out how to streamline processes, and they would help by obtaining some of the initial information I would need or doing some of the drafting work. It wasn’t easy, but with a good team (albeit non-legal) around me, we managed very well. That’s why I always stress the importance of building good relationships with colleagues outside of the legal team.

Would my sense of taste and smell ever return? Mentally, it was scary, as no one knew the virus enough to be able to say if I was going to be OK or not. Would the tight chest lead to breathing difficulties? Would my sense of taste and smell ever return? Was there another stage or stages to this virus that I was yet to experience? I tried my best to keep calm, doing light exercises and resting when my body told me to. Fortunately, I didn’t have to go into hospital. After about three weeks, I began to feel better.

Life during lockdown

During the period when I had coronavirus, I thought a lot about my life. I realised that since I embarked upon a career in law (circa sixth form college), I’ve been setting myself goals and tirelessly working to get as much experience and knowledge to achieve those goals. I’ve worked so hard and given my all. I can say I’ve achieved a lot, and it has left me a little exasperated, waiting and longing for some respite.

Well, in terms of my working day, nothing has really changed. But in other areas of my life, I feel like I am living! There are no more 5am starts. My laundry is hanging on the line outside by 8am, and breakfast is whatever I fancy. I go for a walk around lunchtime each day and catch up with my elderly neighbour, who tells me tales from his past working life with the Beatles and Cilla Black! I speak to my family at least three times a day. I even have to take the advice of my car dealership to start up my car at least once a week, because I drive so infrequently. It’s absolutely joyful.

I enjoy video calls with my colleagues. I’ve always been a proponent of showing my individual personality in my work as a lawyer. What better an opportunity than to show them my personally-hand-painted flamingo wall art in the background of our calls?

On a more serious note, when I’m in my own environment I am more inclined to be myself. I’m not saying we should all throw all formality out of the window at the moment – it’s important to make an effort with your appearance in particular – but showing a bit of the “real you” can be truly beneficial as a lawyer, as it helps you to connect with the people you’re advising.

Remote working

I’ve found that my organisation’s additional investment in digital and remote ways of working has led to more efficient and collaborative work practices. I can share contracts onscreen and my colleagues and I can work together on them at the same time. As a business with many offices and depots across the UK and the world, it is also helpful to work through things face to face (sort of), rather than on calls or via email (which is never my preferred method). It helps to build relationships and really achieves a collaborative approach to contract negotiations which need a good mix of commercial and legal input to be successful. I think the same can also be said about negotiations with the counterpart – it aids a more relaxed and cooperative approach.

It’s also great to be able to get some fresh air and sunlight when I work out in the garden. In between tasks, I am also more inclined to move around, which makes me feel healthier and I’m sure is appreciated by my body. I might even do a few exercises whilst working – bring in the plie! It surely isn’t natural to be sat on your bottom for eight hours straight.

The best bit is the total lack of commuter-related stress and worrying whether I’ll get a parking space on my road when I get home!

I feel so much more fulfilled and happier now that I can get things done in the house, keep my body and mind healthy, and have real time to speak to loved ones. Each task is so much more enjoyable. There is more room for creativity and innovation in my job, as I’m more focused on the task at hand, rather than worrying about other things or just feeling unhealthy, stressed and exhausted. Rather than being detrimental to my work, lockdown has been a huge benefit.

I wouldn’t rule out entirely going into the office once the “new normal” begins, but now I’ve discovered so many benefits of working remotely and no negative impact to the quality of my work or my productivity, it’s a no-brainer – for me at least – that this new way of working should become the new norm.

Bhavisha Mistry is general counsel and company secretary at Mawdsleys, and chair of the In-house Division committee.

Views expressed in our blogs are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the Law Society.

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