Name: Noah Gwatkin
Dreams of: Still working it out
My name is Noah Gwatkin. I am 18 years old and I’m a proud gay man. I live in Mooro (Perth) on Wadjuk Noongar land with my mum. I’m an only child and Mum is a single parent. She is my main support.
At the beginning of this year I was 17 and in my final year of high school. But by the start of the Covid-19 pandemic in Australia in March, I decided the best option for me was to quit school. Even before Covid hit, I was considering leaving school because of my lack of interest in the entire school system. I felt as though the pressure to achieve an Atar, go to university and “successfully” complete year 12 had placed me under a level of stress that I was not OK with. I was disenfranchised from my own education. Then, when the pandemic came, it meant that my decision became set in stone. I had been online learning for over a month and I lost sight of why I was doing school. I felt as though what I was doing was useless. So with a safety net of close friends and my mum, I made the leap into what I hoped would be a start to my career, a time of trying new and exciting things. Instead there was a long, dark, and – for a while – depressing transition into adulthood.
I had hoped that the pandemic would only last a few months; that we’d be in and out of it quickly. Like a deer in headlights, I came out of year 12 and felt stunned by a whole world in isolation. I wanted to expand my job portfolio, put my resume in for jobs I love and have a passion for – a contrast to the degrading culture that exists around Centrelink payments. Nothing turned out to plan.
From November 2019 to this June I worked as a casual at a local hair salon. The job was to wash hair, get tea and coffee – the odd jobs. But it was my first proper job; my first step from being reliant on my family to being independent. A big leap for myself, and my self esteem. I worked Saturdays, usually a very busy day. The buzz kept me on my feet. I thought about going to Tafe, starting a hairdressing degree.
As Covid unravelled, the little job security I had, and freedom I gained, vanished. I was stood down after the initial lockdown in Western Australia. Being a casual employee was never going to give me major stability, but it was a start. Something to smile about, something to chat about to my friends and family, something I could be proud to do. My wishes to get a start, have some savings, credit for a loan, all the things I knew I was “supposed to do” got taken away with the loss of that casual job.
I didn’t know what to do with myself. I remember a wave of anxiety. It was unstoppable and quickly metastasised into a dark depression, which lingered, like a bad headache, for months. I was in a time-numb limbo. Uncertainty would swallow my days. Hours felt like years. Nothing felt right. Nothing had purpose, for a large part of it. Most days I couldn’t do much anyways; money was scarce and I wasn’t able to see friends during lockdown. I’d become engulfed in my own mind and thoughts. It was a struggle not to let myself sit and wallow, or let the waves of good days and bad days taint how I’d see myself, others and my future. It felt like a huge setback.
There have been good days in 2020 though. I participated in The Y’s youth parliament program, which gave me purpose and space to interact with like-minded young people. It offered me an opportunity to connect with some brilliant young people, and I was able to grow personally, through seeing different perspectives. In the past two months, I was extremely lucky to be offered a position as a Christmas casual at a big retailer. It offers job security for a few months and a good grounding for my mental health.
But in this new Covid world, in the back of my mind I keep worrying whether I will be covered by government support if I’m out of work. Will I be offered a job post Christmas? These are some of my anxieties that rise up whenever I see the news.
I have no idea what I want to do in the next six months. I do know that if I can keep a job, earn an income and grow some independence, it would be a huge boost to my safety net – both financially and mentally. Ultimately, what happens to me is in the hands of politicians, a global pandemic and Australia, as a collective to keep on the right track forward. I’m too afraid to set goals at the moment. This year has shown plans and goals can so easily be taken away and crushed, with neither preparation nor warning.