Getting to know our Online Support Worker, Olivia Hancock

How old are you? 

25

What are your pronouns? 

She/her

How do you define your sexuality? 

I don’t use a specific word. Every time I do, I get stressed out and feel like I need live up to some kind of standard. I usually just say “I’m a part of the LGBTQ community” but that’s a bit of mouthful so l tend to just sit back and enjoy watching people get uncomfortable while they try and work it out for themselves. Sadly, when I tell people what I do for a living, they tend to just assume I’m a lesbian, which is not true, but I got tired of correcting people and trying to explain myself. I felt ashamed of not defining it, and sometimes I still do but I’ve found a really great rule to live by is “my sexuality is mine, no one else’s”

Where are you from?

Sussex

Where do you live now?

I’m in my studio flat in Lewes.

What is your job at MindOut? 

I’m the online support worker. I run the online support service and manage all our amazing online support volunteers. Our service offers free LGBTQ+ support and information, we’re open every day of the week and it’s accessible worldwide.

What does that look like normally on a day-to-day basis? 

Running online support sessions, supporting volunteers in running their sessions, responding to suicidal callers and making sure everyone is ok after this happens!

I’m also promoting the service and ensuring that everyone involved has access to the training and support that they need.

When it was announced that the country was going into lockdown, what were your initial thoughts and feelings? 

By the time they announced lockdown, I had been self-isolating for about 10 days, so I had started to get my head around the idea. But when it started to become clear that everyone was going to have to self-isolate, I had a bit of a meltdown. I was sobbing on the phone to brother for a good few hours. He was nice about it.

I’m a catastrophiser. I was thinking the worst and in a real state of panic. Especially as I was supposed to be getting important surgery and I knew it was going to be cancelled. In order to do my job and support those who needed our services, I had to turn off the news, keep my head down and get on with it. I sort of had to go, “right I’m part of something much bigger now and it’s completely out of my control. I have a responsibility to put certain things aside and play my part” that gave a sense of calm but also pride. It made me want to do right by everyone and have a hand in getting through this as well as we can. I just had to compartmentalise really.

I did however, also feel a weird sense of grief. It was clear things weren’t going to be the same and I felt a lot smaller. Like my existence wasn’t as central to the universe as I thought. I took pride in making an effort to not think that way, but this thing has made me realise that maybe I need to try a bit harder! I think it also came from realising not only that my immediate future had been taken away but that I had completely lost control of a lot of things. I was at the mercy of something bigger than me, there was nothing I could do and people were going to suffer.

What were some of the things you did immediately to adapt at work? 

Since the online support service was obviously based online anyway, I knew I was going to busy! I’m really proud of what we’ve achieved. Thanks to our volunteers, we’ve more than doubled our opening hours and we’ve had themed sessions twice week such as:

  • Relationships and lockdown
  • Addiction and lockdown
  • Disability and chronic illness support
  • Bi support
  • POC support
  • MRAS information & support
  • Money, debts and welfare benefit issues

 What do you think are some of the biggest issues affecting LGBTQ+ people during this time? 

My head has been down trying to deal with the day to day issues and it has been hard to find the mental space and time to step back and look at the big picture. To be able to make assessments and philosophise about the broader cultural condition is not a privilege a lot of charity workers have right now.

I can only attest to what I have seen and this has mostly been people whose mental health has suffered due to things like having to isolate with homo/bi/transphobic family members, people’s relationships being at risk, trans health care, people who have fled their country due to homophobia and not being able to get the help they need for fear of being deported and a spike in suicidal contacts.

What has been the biggest change to your job since lockdown and the spread of COVID-19?

The inability to compartmentalise. Working at a charity can be challenging. The work is amazing but there is an impossible amount of people to help. You just have to come in, do the absolute best you can and deal with whatever is right in front of you.  It can often leave you frustrated and feeling like you could have done more. You can also create a boundary so you only experience that feeling while you are at the office and when you leave, and you know there is nothing else you can do. You can’t do that at home and the feeling that you could have done more sets in a lot easier.

In your opinion, what are some ways people have gone above and beyond to help people? 

Our staff are doing incredible things and have most definitely gone above and beyond. As a mental health charity, our own mental health can sometimes be difficult to manage and a lot of us have a history of struggling with our own mental health. This is a fantastic asset as our lived experience means we have a lot of empathy and patience for our clients, however, it also means we have to be careful and events like this can be detrimental. But even with everything we’ve all had going on, we’ve come together, kept our services open and supported each other. There are days where I feel like I can’t keep my head above water and a phone call with another staff member, both of us being open about our stress and expressing our solidarity with one another, has really kept me afloat.

What has been the most heart-warming thing you’ve seen in response to COVID-19? 

My volunteers offering up so much of their time. They have been incredible and utterly indispensable.

How have you been looking after your health, both physical and mental?

In terms of physical health, I’ve been doing workout videos on YouTube but when it comes to that, the hardest work I’ve had to do is being compassionate with myself when I don’t manage to do it.

In terms of mental health, Working! It’s tough but I’m lucky to still be able to have structure and channel my anger and fear into something. I’m not on social media and I’ve had to stop watching the news. I often feel extremely guilty about this, but I try to remind myself that I need my sanity in order to help others, so I’m doing what I need to do in order to protect that.

My friends have been incredible, and I’ve been obsessively reading.  Also Gaga, she’s so amazing.

Who has been your hero during this time? 

My GP. As a trans man, he has an incredible amount of empathy and understanding for my how my sexuality and work factors into my mental health. I was supposed to be having a breast reduction in April and when it was cancelled, I was distraught. My mental health took a very big hit and it was definitely touch and go for a bit. He’s sat with me, advocated for me, kept checking up on me and did everything in his power to make sure I was ok. With everything going on throughout the NHS (with or without Coronavirus), it was amazing that he took the time just to carry on checking I was alright.

My friends who have supported me over Zoom and sat with me for hours on end as I write essays for university and cry about my surgery being cancelled. I haven’t been an easy person to be around and they’ve shown an incredible amount of humility and patience. My trans friends, who have an experience of medically transitioned, have been an incredible support in regards to my surgery, I feel very, very lucky that they feel able to use their experiences to support me and help me put things in perspective, I’ll be giving them all a very big hug after this.