2020 was supposed to be the year I rebuilt my life. After 10 years of burnout, misdiagnosed as depression by a revolving door of psychologists, I was finally taken seriously by one in 2018, resulting in an Autism diagnosis. In 2019 I’d taken almost a full year off from actively pursuing my career as a flautist, composer, and singer. I had to, my burnout was so severe I was barely functioning in my day job teaching flute to tiny children, let alone keeping up with regular life happenings. 2020 was going to be the first year of something better. I was going to apply for the NDIS so I could access disability support I couldn’t afford as a self-described starving artist. I’d just begun to put together a booking and management team, resulting in more gigs and better opportunities. The other bands I played in were paying better and I finally had enough hours teaching flute to pay my rent, eat food, invest in my music career, and save.
You all know what happened next. In March 2020, COVID changed everything for everyone, everywhere. Except it happened earlier for myself and my musically inclined peers. The gig cancellations were like molasses, then an avalanche. By the end of February, my overflowing calendar was wiped clean. Following the live music cleanse music tutors were removed from schools, redefined as ‘non-essential’. I’d lost an estimated 60% of my income and my post burnout future.
The daily changes were excruciating. For years I’d meticulously crafted a lifestyle that encompassed little change and now I was dealing with more change in one month than I’d dealt with in 10 years. There were the national changes, mask mandates, isolation, and the reclassification of jobs as either essential or non-essential. Then there were the personal changes, a hurried transition onto Zoom, the notification that my place of residence was put up for sale, a sudden move an hour away, a seriously sick cat, a retiring psychologist and an NDIS application requiring the gathering of evidence and completing of paperwork I wasn’t cognitively able to complete without panic attack.
Staying employed has taken a huge toll. I have worked so many unpaid hours in my teaching job trying to keep myself employed substantially enough to pay my rent and save for the months I have no work. Every transition to and from online learning means rearranging work and medical appointments. It means hours of emailing schools, parents, and colleagues. It means inventing new activities and sourcing new music in a desperate attempt to keep the students from disengaging and quitting, resulting in the collapse of my finances I’d held together with duct tape and prayers.
My profession as a freelance flute teacher has continued to fall through the cracks. In October of 2021 when the government pronounced the lockdown over and everything ‘back to normal’, I was barred from my workplaces for a further month and a half. I’d been classed as ‘non-essential’ to the delivery of curriculum. I was working 3 hours a week when the Covid Disaster Payment ended.
There have been a few moments of respite amongst the chaos. During periods of low COVID risk some gigs have returned, although they pay less than their pre-pandemic counterparts. My cat was wonderful company during Zoom teaching, often making guest appearances. My Animal Crossing island was a welcome escape from reality.
Out of all of the waves, Omicron has been the hardest by far. The October conclusion of NSW’s 2021 lockdown gifted some normalcy; a full gigging and rehearsing schedule along with some composing projects that actually paid proper money. Most people were vaccinated, and I could see the construction of a post-pandemic society. I wasn’t in the best mental space, but I was beginning to rebuild the stability I had envisioned pre-pandemic.
December was rough. Here’s the short version: my gigs were cancelled again, my psychologist went on a two-month break, my cat died, and my household came down with COVID, cancelling our Christmas plans and forcing us to isolate in the silence left behind by a death.
I’ve lost hope that I’ll ever get to rebuild my life in the way I’d envisioned after my autism diagnosis. I barely made it through the gruelling process of accessing the NDIS and have been trying to access the disability support pension since July 2021. My dream of being a full-time musician already felt unlikely before the pandemic. Now? It feels downright impossible. I feel gaslit by the government. How can we ‘settle into a new normal’ when normal implies a stability that’s been impossible since the pandemic began?
Flute, Folk, Fashion and Feelings have defined Jennifer’s career. Predominantly practicing as “The Emerald Ruby” across multiple disciplines, she writes, sings, illustrates and dresses based on her experiences as a late diagnosed Autistic Woman. You can view more of The Emerald Ruby’s work here.
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