I’ve included this because I really, acutely, remember feeling like this after the Election result had sunk in. Four years suddenly felt like a life sentence. Who knew what could go wrong in the next four years? How much criticism I’d have to face? How much of that would be justified?
If you’re a worrier or an over-thinker like me – and I suspect quite a high proportion of Deputies are, believe it or not – then you might be feeling exactly the same.
I couldn’t have imagined, four years ago, what challenges we were going to face this term. Even without the pandemic, so much of what keeps you occupied in politics is unpredictable, and much of it carries life-changing (if not life-or-death) significance, almost by definition. Who knows what the next four years will hold for you? It’s probably a blessing not to be able to see too far into the future – it means we carry on just putting one foot in front of the other and, step by step, we make it through. You’ll reach the end of four (and a half) years more knowledgeable, more experienced, much more tired – but almost certainly proud of much that you’ve achieved, and glad you didn’t give up on it.
Let me be clear: if you need to walk away – for the sake of your own health, mental or physical; for the sake of those who are dear to you; for the sake of your conscience; or for any personal reason (which you are not obliged to share with the public, by the way, though you will doubtless be asked) – you can walk away at any time. Whether that’s a week in, or a week away from the end of the term. If you can afford to do so, I think it is probably wise to give yourself time to think it over and be sure this is absolutely the decision you want to make. It is pretty irrevocable once you have done so. But you will know your own boundaries. You are not obliged to sacrifice your health or your sanity or your life or your children’s happiness to this work. I think we can all think of instances where we’ve seen that happen, or at least seen people dancing pretty close to the fire. You don’t have to.
But know this too – when you have a moment of bleakness or overwhelm (or even if those moments stretch on into days or weeks), you won’t be the only one who feels that way. Most of your colleagues will have gone through the same experience at one time or another. The intensity of this work means you’ll make wonderful new friends – draw on them for moral support and share your battles. And draw on the people you’ve always loved, who have believed in you and supported you up to now.
Try to keep some kind of work-life balance. Try to find stretches of time where you can put it all out of your head and unwind. Give yourself positive things to look forward to. Don’t be embarrassed to ask for professional support if you feel your mental health unravelling. Know that you have an escape hatch if you need to use it. Take care of yourself and each other – do what you can, and remind yourself of why you did it in the first place. Four years will pass – in the end, you may even be surprised at how quickly they’ve gone, and how much you managed to do in that time.