Illustration by Bel Giles

I cried a lot while working on my last project.

Sometimes I kept how I was coping to myself. Sometimes I shared it with the people around me. As a project team, we had a lot to process.

In partnership with Beyond Blue, we were exploring how COVID-19 is affecting people’s mental health and wellbeing, especially people who were already experiencing mental health challenges before this all started.

For a project like this one, being able to talk about how I was feeling was incredibly important. Working with experiences like isolation, suicide, or family violence is challenging on the best days – taking it on in the midst of this pandemic was nearly all-consuming. I found my own mental health lurching around wildly at times, and I'm grateful to the people who I was able to talk about it. 

I noticed that when any one of us shared openly about the emotional impact of the stories we were hearing, it became easier for others to do the same. When one of us allowed ourselves to be vulnerable, it created space for more vulnerability. 

I want to be mindful here about how I’m talking about vulnerability. Environments where people are expected to share openly about themselves are almost always harmful. What makes a challenging day can vary significantly from person to person, from too many Zoom meetings to the re-triggering of a trauma, but the window of ‘acceptable’ responses to the seemingly innocuous “How are you today” is often quite narrow in workplace contexts. The question becomes a trap: come up with a lie on the spot, or be judged for oversharing.

That being said, I can’t imagine how the time with our community of co-design participants would have worked out if we had all tried to remain impartial and unaffected. Embracing vulnerability – safely – as part of how we worked together allowed us to be deeply moved by the stories we were hearing, and for these stories to open up new possible futures to explore together. But, maybe more importantly, a shared sense of vulnerability made it easier to take care of each other – to anticipate concerns and anxieties, respond to difficult moments, and make sure everyone was getting the time they needed to process everything.

I am grateful to have spent the last few months with the people that I did. To the folks at Paper Giant, at Beyond Blue, and our co-design participants – thank you for being gentle with me.

— Ryley Lawson & the PG Team

Read the rest of Issue #66 here