We’ve been here before, we ‘should’ know what to expect ... so why is it so hard this time round?
Quick note- this is quite an honest blog, anybody who knows me (mum, I know you read this!), know that I’m fine but that this is about a very wobbly week.
Also, it’s a bit of a brain dump and longer than usual my usual blogs so I thought I’d give a bit of a shortcut upfront in case you don’t have the energy to get through it all!
This is where I ended up; my ‘to do list’ to try and combat the relentless doom:
Stop and notice what time I draw the curtains. The longer it’s lighter the better I feel- I need to notice the bit of physical and metaphorical light in the day to see that things will change; the seasons move on regardless, spring is on its way and the cold and the darkness will not always be relentless
Wash all my favourite, brightest coloured clothes and wear them. Even if I’m not going anywhere. I feel better in my favourite stuff, if I feel drab on the inside, looking drab in the outside exacerbates that feeling- not ideal and something I can consciously influence in a predictable way
Remember that we’ve been in this for a year- the pandemic that is, the uncertainty, the difficullties trusting the powers that be, the unknowns. Any sustained challenge to the norm drains energy, so it makes sense that my energy is not tip top. It also makes sense that with less energy I have less capacity to cope and ‘get on’ as easily as I might want to
But also remember that this specific lockdown, this particular set of circumstances, demands and challenges, well, this has just been 4 weeks. I think I (we?!) need to give myself a break, I’m still adjusting and it takes time and energy to adapt
And that’s it. Not too much expectation, not too much pressure in an already pressurised situation.
Notice the small things, do the small things, remember the context
This is going to be my mantra over the next few weeks, let’s see if it helps!
But, how did I get to these conclusions? Well, here comes the brain dump!
I am finding this lockdown really difficult. And from conversations with friends, with clients that I work with, by looking at social media, I know I’m not alone in this.
The other week it was my eldest son’s 9th birthday. We had the best lockdown day we could manage; just a smidge of home school so I didn’t feel too guilty, he played with the brilliant presents he’d been sent by family and friends, he had a Zoom call with his mates and they did a virtual escape room, ate the birthday biscuits I’d dropped on everyone’s doorsteps and played video games whilst having inane, 9 year old boy chat. He was happy. I, however, was a bit of a mess.
I couldn’t stop crying. It started because I was listening to a Dolly Parton special on the radio. Now, ‘Two doors down’ is not generally known as a tearjerker but for me it seemed to hold so much significance that day:
1) it’s about a party, something I felt that Ben was missing out on and something I was definitely missing in this year of isolation.
2) me and my sister love Dolly Parton. I have so many brilliant memories of dancing with Jess and shouting along to Dolly (remember the “very slippery floor” - yeah right Jess, just too much vodka, mixed with heels and too much excitement on hearing the first notes of 9 to 5 in Le Tigre!).
3) on my first date with my now husband at a car boot sale (oh the romance!) I bought a kitsch vinyl album of Dolly’s that my sister still has on her wall. So more memories of good times with no restrictions and lots of love without worrying about where we can go and who we can see.
So basically, Dolly holds lots of good memories for me and hearing so many Dolly songs one after another just tipped me over the edge. I couldn’t stop thinking about all the things I miss. I was so sad that Ben didn’t get to see family on his birthday, didn’t get to have a party with all his mates in real life – virtual just isn’t the same.
I cried for all the loss of normality for the kids, all the things I used to take for granted that now felt weird or wrong or just plain not there.
I cried for all the people who have it harder than we do and the heart-breaking losses some families have endured and are enduring.
I cried for the pressure and trauma that is daily life for healthcare workers, teachers, care workers, all key workers, all those that have lost jobs and the sense that there is no end in sight, that we will all just have to keep going and going and going.
The worst part of this whole thing was that I found it really hard to shake that feeling; the feeling of doom and despair has rumbled on in the background for the past few weeks. And I don’t like it. I don’t like feeling that its hard work to feel happy.
Now, I know that I am fortunate. I have job security, no health or financial burden that feels too much and happy, healthy kids. But that doesn’t mean I can’t find this hard; I can know that I am generally in a good position and still feel overwhelmed by the difficulties of the world right now.
So, in this blog, I’m trying to push myself to look at the situation with a new perspective, to try and understand why this is so hard so that I can maybe find those moments where I might be able to see glimmers of something different, moments of hope and light.
So, here goes…
I do love a structure to help me reflect. The reason for this that if I don’t have that, I get stuck in the thoughts that have been whipping around my head already, the very thoughts that I’m trying to put into context.
The model I’m choosing today is the Person-Environment-Occupation model (again!). I use this because it makes me consider not only additional elements about but also makes me put myself into the wider context of the things I’m doing and how I do them as well as the physical and social environments I’m in. It makes me think about how all these things come together to create my specific experience at this moment in time and space.
Person (the things that make us who we are):
Hormones, now this may be a bit personal, but I do get ups and downs of emotion linked to fluctuations in my hormones. I know this on a logical level but the other week it was like a ‘perfect storm’ of circumstance, valid and real feelings all exacerbated by the hormonal influence that basically pushes my ability to manage any emotional stuff to the very limits. It also has a lot to answer for in terms of being unable to shift myself out of that mood. It’s not ‘to blame’ but it certainly has a part to play in the extremes of emotion I felt the other week.
Values, it is so important to me to have family and friends in my life. To be a daughter, a sister, a daughter in law, friend. It’s important to me that my kids have real relationships with wider family and they get to be the kids that they are when they’re not with us. I value the love that we all get from wider family and friends and all of this feels harder to touch right now. I know it's there, but without hugs and kisses, it feels more distant. I miss it all.
Occupation (the things we do and how we do them):
Obviously, lockdown changes a lot of this for a lot of us. For me, work stuff actually didn’t really change as I’ve been working from home since March. However, for one reason and another, I have more work at the moment than usual. It’s good, I enjoy work, but it’s another thing to negotiate into the routine and expectations of daily family life. The big shift for us was home school for our two eldest and the youngest also at home fulltime. But, I hear you say, ‘that’s exactly like it was in March’. Well, I don’t think it is exactly like it was in March and here’s why:
Schools were expecting this to happen at some point meaning that the virtual home school programme has been much more organised, much fuller and much more focussed than it was in spring. This is a good thing for us (mostly!), the kids have got more to be getting on with and I don’t have to think about things for them to do. However, the flip side is that there is more pressure to ‘get on with the day’. A lot less just playing in the garden, a lot less sense of family time and freedom like there was in spring. I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing, I just think it makes the occupation of home schooling a different occupation than it was last year.
This means that I need to adjust to that change, it also means I need to adjust my schedule, my organisation, my expectations around that. As I’ve said before, anytime that we’re having to adjust our thinking, planning and routines, it takes energy. This adjustment period isn’t just ‘slipping back’ to the home school routine of spring, it’s a whole new ballgame. So it makes sense that it feels harder work than I perhaps anticipated. I expected it to be more habitual and familiar and so hadn’t expected to have to adjust- AGAIN!
Environment (the physical and social spaces we spend time in):
Never mind winter is coming, winter is well and truly here for this lockdown. The weather makes such a difference for us. The sense of claustrophobia of being trapped in the same four walls with the same four people is heightened when it’s harder to even just get outside and feel some air on your skin. I hate the cold, I hate the rain and I don’t adhere to the ‘there’s no bad weather, just bad clothes’ school of thought. I hate it. I don’t like having a cold wet face and there’s no clothing to stop that is there!
I also struggle with the dark evenings and the depths of winter. I love our house, there are really cosy bits to it and as much space as we need but the early evening darkness makes it feel like I’m enclosed rather than choosing to be indoors and I don’t like it.
The political and cultural environment feels really different this time around. Last time there was a sense of community, a coming together across the nation. This time, a glance at social media or listen to a news report on the radio and you can hear the conflict of opinions, the uncertainty and what I feel is a lack of clear direction from the top. Last time, the uncertainty felt logical; we were all, including those in power, responding to an entirely new, exceptional circumstance. Responses were likely to be disjointed, ‘as good as we can do given the situation’ type response. This time I can’t help but feeling that after nearly a year, it would be nice to feel more confident that there is more understanding, more knowledge to inform a plan, and that there is an end in sight. I don’t feel like there is any of that coming from the top. I find this unnerving, irritating and depressing in equal measure.
This uncertainty, the lack of faith in the people supposed to be in the know is pervasive and, for me, is definitely part of the rumble of discontent that I’m feeling.
I love my family and see them regularly in normal times. I love the relationship they have with the kids and really value it. This lockdown has meant that not only do we not get physical support from family, but also, we haven’t had that physical support for nearly a year. When I type that I’m almost crying again; nearly a year of these virtual, no hugs, no kisses relationships with family when hugs and kisses and physical proximity are central to those relationships normally. No wonder this is hard to think about, no wonder the trigger to my emotional low was a day that would normally bring lots of hugs and kisses and love.
It was that day that highlighted what I’ve known throughout; I really miss the people I usually have in my life and having them virtually is not the same.
So, what to do?
The eternal question of occupational therapists everywhere.
Well firstly, I’ve written this. This emotional brain dump and a bit of sorting through has helped; it’s helped me to see my struggle in the wider context, to give it some meaning, to better understand my current situation. And I find that helpful in itself.
Plus, I’ve created my ‘to do list’ that I started this blog with.
Who knows where it’ll go next but rest assured that whatever happens, I’ll be wearing a clashing combination of bright colours and patterns whilst I search for snowdrops in the last dregs of evening light at incrementally later and later points in the day- if there are any literal or metaphorical signs of change coming, I will be ready to see them and more than ready to celebrate them!
Thanks for reading