An event decorator's story...
From my perspective, the psychological impact of COVID-19 needs to be managed in the same way fiscal policies will be handled. The world is perhaps now more than ever forced to look at anxiety and depression in a purposeful way. You can't exactly plot someone's level of despair on a chart, or give restaurant workers a fixed 30-day period to mourn their lost income.
One of the hardest hit industries globally is event management (decorators, rental companies, entertainment, food, and so on). Its ironic that towards the end of February into March, Trinidad and Tobago went from being an eruption of colour and euphoria to a nation under siege; all in a matter of mere days. This transition was a piercing, abrupt blow for entrepreneurs like Michelle (real name concealed) who runs a decorating company. The entire events industry has come to a grinding halt as gatherings of no more than 5 persons are allowed. For weddings, funerals, or any other 'essential' event - you'd have to choose from your absolute 'ride-or-die' circle- cousins, colleagues, childhood friends, neighbours who helped change your nappies will not make the cut.
This particular interview challenged me to question how people recover from trauma. I'm not a psychologist, but I'm concerned that we may not be doing enough to prevent a cascade of depression and poverty among the population. I write this post after a sobering read of the NYTimes article "My Restaurant Was My Life for 20 Years. Does the World Need It Anymore?"
(Here's the link-https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/23/magazine/closing-prune-restaurant-covid.html) It provides a compelling account of the closure of the Prune Restaurant in New York, and the unsettling stages of anxiety and depression the owner experiences as she lays off her staff including her own wife, decides on the format of the final meal, packages the rest of pantry stocks as survival food kits, and faces her unrelenting bank for an extra line of credit.
This read was a stark reminder of my conversation with Michelle the night prior. Michelle's well established decorating company, 10+ years of experience in the industry, social media following of more than 40,000 persons on her company's Facebook page, could not collectively give her the comfort and resilience she needed when reality struck.
The flurry of wedding cancellation calls started coming in. No income for the foreseeable future. No weddings until perhaps 2021. Issuing refunds that could have paid for freshly imported supplies to meet the demands of the now cancelled season. Storage rent. Mortgage. Food. School fees. Nothing about luxuries here, just covering the bare essentials.
Every entrepreneur faces challenges in different manifestations, but no one can ever be fully mentally prepared for a global cataclysmic event.
Michelle's enthusiasm for her career had shattered the way a large window pane would if dropped from a twenty-story building. Imagine watching this as a slow motion video, pausing at the millisecond when the glass shatters into hundreds of broken shards. Many entrepreneurs are still on that twentieth floor looking down at the broken pieces, trying to figure out how the hell the pane became dislodged in the first place. They have not even began to accept this new reality. For Michelle, this emotional phase has been the worst part.
Her daze was evident through her social media pages. There were still images and videos expressing couples' exuberance as they entered into marital bliss. Regal decor. Those perfect 'first kiss' photos. Finesse. Beauty.They were blissful escapes from the pandemic's heaviness. The business' voice had not acknowledged COVID-19.
You've spent much of your life's savings and energy advising couples on creating their dream wedding. Discussing colour schemes, themes, the right flowers, budgets. Decorators are the fairy godmothers every Cinderella wants by her side at their wedding. They bring the magic.
What do you say to couples now? Their dreams of the perfect big day have dissipated into nothingness. They have to compress their vision into a modest gathering. No frills. Only the key players. For them, the 'glam factor' has always been optional, yet highly desirable. It was a key ingredient that made your wedding day outshine the mundanity of everyday life.
But for you, creating magical moments is the backbone of your business, your lifeline.
A few days after our conversation (and dealing with my own guilt of still being gainfully employed and feeling a sense of uselessness), Michelle messaged me. I am not sure whether our conversation provided any sort of inspiration, but I was relieved when I listened to her voice note. She was ready to resume interacting with the virtual world. She eagerly talked about creating content for imminent newlyweds in the era of 'Covid Weddings'. How to create simple arches, DIY decor, or any other small gestures that could make your big day that much more memorable. I listened intently.
"Covid weddings" I thought. It's now become a thing.
Michelle is one of the luckier entrepreneurs who was able to unearth the courage to continue providing a service in the midst of this chaotic and seemingly unending time. I don't know how I would have responded to this pandemic as an entrepreneur. Hopefully, I would not have been one of those on the 20th floor of the building, looking down at the shattered pane, paralyzed with shock.
I am rooting for her all the way. I even offered to lend any support since I'm in the business of starting digital conversations. Maybe it was destined for us to meet after all.
“There is no education like adversity."