“I sat in the shower and cried”: The COVID-19 crisis is taking a toll on accountants

covid-19 mental health accountants

Source: AAP/Dan Peled.

I have no words to describe the past three weeks of being a business owner running their own accounting and bookkeeping business during the COVID-19 pandemic, but I will try.

There has been so much negativity, so much uncertainty, increased levels of stress and anxiety, frustration through the roof, so many tears — and that is from both clients and from me.

We are not immune to any of it, our business is equally as impacted — but we have to be strong for our clients.

Let’s rewind to three weeks ago when things started to go south — there was mention from the government about stimulus packages, but no finalised details yet. Despite the lack of details, we already had clients ringing asking what they were entitled to and how they could get it.

In fact, we had people ring during ScoMo’s live press conference, when legislation was far from finalised, asking what it all meant.

I mean jeepers, if we don’t get to watch the press conference we can hardly advise on the ‘not yet finalised’ options.

I get it though, I truly do. Clients are stressed and they want some reassurance everything will be OK.

But, how do you think I feel when I am just not sure everything will be OK? Useless, idle, hopeless, worthless… the list goes on.

I mean, I am an honest person, you all know that. And I simply won’t tell clients it will all be rosy, when I personally see this whole coronavirus pandemic as a minimum six-months of hell for most of us (personal opinion).

Then the closures, social distancing rules and business restrictions came into full force.

I still remember the day gyms were told they could not open and I rang my four clients who owned gyms. Back-to-back phone calls about staff, redundancies, how they would pay rent, franchise fees, how they might not be able to take a wage for themselves for an unknown period of time. Four back-to-back phone calls, all longer than an hour, that all ended in tears.

Then I spoke to an interior design client who has a studio. The landlord won’t come to the party on reduced rent, and she now has a space she can’t use. Work has dried up, so no income coming in, and as a single parent, that is deeply distressing for her. Cue more tears. That was pretty much my entire day.

Then on Tuesday, a client rang me who runs a sports competition. He knew that his business would not earn any income this year as the competition only runs from April to September when sporting fields are available. Halfway through the conversation, he went quiet, and I realised he had broken down and was crying. He admitted he didn’t know how to tell his wife, and didn’t know how to pay the bills, as they simply won’t stop, despite the business being effectively grounded overnight.

To be honest, I was worried about his mental health, and had not even considered how all these calls and tears were impacting on my own.

So the next day I jumped in the car and drove 90 minutes to see him. We had some more information from the government by then, so we went through the options, and there was pure relief on his face. I will never forget that moment.

We have been in contact nearly every day since. I give him a call, just making sure he is OK; I am sure he is doing the same for me, I just don’t realise it.

The phone hasn’t stopped ringing, mainly because calls with clients now are much longer than normal, we need to let them vent, to let them express themselves, and to let them be vulnerable. Basically I have turned into a very unqualified social worker and counsellor, and become a shoulder to cry on. And I don’t do emotional stuff well; I mean, I am an accountant after all.

Then to throw something else in the mix (as if I didn’t have enough on), I took myself to the hospital on Tuesday this week as I knew something wasn’t right. Sure enough, the ultrasound found a blood clot an inch below my knee. Which funnily enough, is good news, as anything above the knee is considered more life-threatening.

I still remember being in the ER, waiting for the doctor to print out the prescription for blood thinners, and taking a client phone call; I asked them if I could call them back, as I was a bit busy. Understatement of the year! But I just didn’t want the client to think I didn’t want to answer, or for them to feel alone.

Then the announcement of JobKeeper payments came out — and the phone continued to ring so much that my voicemail was full. I was getting text messages after hours, and even on the weekend.

I would be on the phone with clients, and I would receive text messages from other clients saying they couldn’t get through to me, so they would send multiple texts and emails asking for assistance. Messages on Instagram and Facebook went through the roof.

But time is my enemy. There are only so many calls and emails I can return during the day and that is when I am working from 9am in the morning until 10pm at night (sometimes later, I just don’t want to admit it).

In the past three weeks, I have not raised one single invoice for my own business. I mean, how can I raise an invoice to someone who rings me because they are frightened, scared and fearful of what the future holds?

They just want to talk to someone. Not talk about BAS or payroll or their balance sheet, but about the future. A future which I sure as hell don’t know the details of.

But during this time I am paying my staff, as god forbid, I don’t want to lose them, and hope that we survive this madness, just like I hope all my clients survive.

The only way we will get through this is by joining together and supporting each other.

I am lucky that I am in several online groups and have ways to talk with other business owners, mentors, friends and my staff. We all need this now more than ever. The honest conversations, no matter how hard they are, is what will give you comfort.  You might not get answers, but right now we just need a safe space to hold those conversations.

But yesterday I cracked. I just couldn’t cope anymore. I didn’t want to hear how unfair things are right now (which I agree, life is not fair right now).  There was just no more of me to give.

At the end of a very hectic three weeks, trying to help more than 100 clients navigate the changes in their business lives, I cracked. I simply couldn’t have another depressing phone call. Not another text message, not another email.

So at 6.30pm — after starting work at 9am, and working non-stop, including eating lunch at my desk during a webinar — I sat in the shower and cried. I cried for my clients, I cried for my staff, and I cried for myself.

I don’t have magical answers for how to survive the coronavirus pandemic. And as an OCD, that stresses me out more than the virus itself. All I know is how to do my job, and how to support my clients.

So I will get up tomorrow, and I will keep going.  Together, with patience and trust, we will get through this.

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