Cade Lucas is a writer from Melbourne who has ADHD. For Inform, he writes about his experience of COVID-19 and managing the loss of routine.

It’s unfortunate that it’s taken a once-in-a-century pandemic to achieve it, but a rare upside of the Covid-19 has been the attention it’s finally brought to the problem of insecure work.

The amount of people who’ve kept working despite showing symptoms or even after testing positive, because they simply cannot afford not to, has shone an unflattering light on casual, insecure jobs and the ‘flexible’ industrial relations policies that support them.

As someone who’s spent years trapped on the mouse-wheel of casual employment, this is no surprise. Flexibility in the workplace is usually lopsided: employers have it but many of their workers don’t. Employers can hire and fire at will, but the lack of security and entitlements mean casual employees are either hog-tied to their jobs or they don’t have them.

I’ve felt this more keenly than most given I have Adult ADHD, a condition I was diagnosed with due to my inability to hold down a job. Its main features include chronic forgetfulness, poor organisation, and an inability to focus and complete tasks; qualities that don’t look great on a resume and are even worse when repeated in the workplace.  As a result, dozens of employers  used their flexibility to get rid of me.

Purpose, structure and routine

A combination of medication, education and luck has stemmed the flow of workplace failure over the past decade, the last half of which has been spent in the fulfilling but precarious world of ESL (English as Second Language) teaching. In pre-Covid Melbourne there was plenty of work, the money was ok and for a single man in his 30’s, this was fine. I had a social life, something resembling a career and most importantly from an ADHD perspective, purpose, structure and routine.

I found the job sufficiently interesting to keep my mind engaged, while the insecurity and constant threat of the sack kept it from wandering off. But the upshot was that after nearly two decades in the workforce, I’d never had a full-time job with paid sick leave and holidays. Apart from public holidays, weekends and an unpaid fortnight over Christmas and New Year, I’d been living to work rather than working to live. I needed a break. 

Luckily Rona rolled around and sent me and hundreds of thousands of other Australians onto the dole. This was disappointing but not unexpected and with the payment being re-badged Jobseeker and nearly doubled to $1100 a fortnight, it was as close to a paid holiday as I’ve ever had.

Life wiped clean

I soon realised though that it was not just my job which the coronavirus had taken away. The gym closed, the footy was suspended, and my community radio gigs were put on hold. Live music ground to a halt, pubs, bars and libraries shut their doors and my friends and family were out of reach. Like the deep cleans used to disinfect Covid-19 affected workplaces, my life had been wiped clean.

This took me back to my childhood, when after the initial excitement, school holidays became interminably boring. The tedium was only broken when I was able to go to work and ride in the fuel truck with my Dad. When health and safety rules put paid to that, my Mum would pack me a lunchbox and send me off to my imaginary job in the old cemetery across the road. There I’d pace around the old gravestones pretending to drive a truck of my own. My buzzing brain required purpose, structure and routine even if they weren’t real.

Achievable goals

Fortunately, I’ve had real tasks rather than imaginary ones to keep the lockdown boredom at bay. I’ve thrown myself into a creative pursuit (an ADHD memoir of which this is a part), though a lack of deadlines and scope has presented problems. My mind fizzes with creative ideas and I start many and finish few, so I’ve added dexamphetamine to my medication to help me focus on it to the exclusion of others. Breaking it down to essay sized chunks has made it more manageable.

Household chores have become more regimented and bringing home gear from the gym has helped me replicate the release, if not the fitness levels, of my CrossFit classes. I’ve kept these activities to the weekdays, while having the paper delivered, the return of football and having a few drinks on a Saturday night and feeling hungover on a Sunday, has retained the feel and rhythm of the weekend.

The greatest source of routine though has been Covid-19 itself. From the blizzard of rules and regulations around washing hands and wearing masks, through to watching Dan Andrews’ 11am press conferences, the pandemic has required discipline. Even from the unemployed sitting at home. Like me with my memoir, governments have reduced an intimidating task to a series of achievable goals; three weeks here, six weeks there. They provide purpose, structure, routine and above all, hope.

We can all do with that.

Cade Lucas is a teacher, writer and broadcaster from Melbourne who has ADHD. His work has appeared in the Guardian, The Age, Crikey and The Jakarta Post.

Ready to read more? Try these Inform links:

Living with ADHD: how I learned to make distraction work for me

Virtual cultural experiences to enjoy today

Why I’m bucking the ‘disabled people cannot work’ trend

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