... yes, here we flippin’ are. 12+ months of social isolation, eat out to help out, a winter of hibernation, January’s home school frustrations, bits of anxiety, moments of peace and so many changes, adjustments and accommodations along the way. Whatever this last 12 months or so has been for you, it has been far from the usual and now, here we are, thrust back into a social world with all the logistics, expectations and ups and downs that brings… I, for one, feel unprepared at best,
How are you faring?
Don't get me wrong I properly love being able to see people again, to go out beyond my four walls, to be warm when socialising! I love being able to work without a screen for some of the time, the kids are back at school and sports and playdates and love it all.
But…I am definitely out of the habit.
Out of the habit of the juggle, out of the habit of organising and scheduling conflicts, out of the habit of small talk and being busy in BOTH work and personal life. I know it was busy in a different, more groundhog day kind of way, in lockdown but somehow the busy schedules and planning as the world opens up again has taken me a bit by surprise. I’m not entirely confident I know how to do it and not completely sure I’ve got the requisite skills not to drop one of the many balls I seem to be juggling.
Does this sound familiar to anyone or is it just me?
It’s been a long break from my musings on how occupational therapy can help us understand our daily experiences (somewhat ironically given the focus of this blog, this is because I’ve been really busy with work and social stuff!), but I’m back with some more thoughts about why trying to get back to previous schedules, back to 'normal life' feels like such hard work.
I think there are a few things going on: there’s something about habit and familiarity, another thing is roles and competence and finally there's time use and planning. They’re all linked but in trying to work out where the rub is, I’ve tried to unpick the details so here goes:
1) habit and familiarity: I wonder if I (we?) have lost that sense of habit and familiarity that lends itself to easing daily life. In lockdown, for various reasons, we didn’t have to choose. There weren’t many things to choose from and the decisions in a sense were made for us: don’t go out, then, go out a bit then don't go out again. Generally, ‘here’s the rules you just need to follow them.’ As hard as it was at first to adjust, over 12 months we’ve kind of gotten into a habit of less: less people, less plans, less having to think. And we’ve adjusted to that state of being meaning that now, as things are ramping back up with more to do, more choices available, we have to gear up and think about what we want, what’s possible, the practicalities and logistics of how we’re going to make things happen etc etc etc and it feels like starting something new.
2) roles and competence: with fewer opportunities during lockdown to be in the 'normal' range of roles in our lives, we've had reduced opportunity to competently enact our roles. That is, because we haven’t been able to do our roles, we haven’t been able to receive validation (whether external or internal) that not only can we do them but we do them well enough for our lives to run. Things which previously were automated, things we did that we never even registered because they were so much part of who we were and how we do things, now feel unfamiliar. With the unfamiliarity can come that sense of being a bit rusty, a bit out of practice. I’m talking about things like: knowing who needs to be where on what day and with what equipment (a lot of what the role of ‘mum’ is for me) previously, this stuff was just there, implicit, it happened without me thinking about it.
So well practiced that I felt ‘expert’ in my ability to fulfil that element of that role. Now, I have to think about this stuff more consciously, I have to put that role back into my life and recognise that for while, that wasn’t a big part of my ‘mum’ role.
I mean, lets face it, during lockdown I knew where everyone was because where else would they be! Also I could hear them (CONSTANTLY) aand 9 times out of 10 they’d be in the kitchen looking for more food.
The current lack of familiarity with the role, the lack of physical doing of the things that make that role work is what makes me feel less competent. The nice thing is that the more I do return to that role, the more often I do the things encapsulated in it, the more automated it will become. Eventually, I’ll slot back in to that well-worn groove and feel expert once more- I just need to give it time, be less harsh to myself about my own skills and competence and not worry about it.
3) time use and planning: I surely cannot be the only one that has had to readjust to planning travel time rather than zoom breaks into my day?!! It’s an effort to remember that to get from one place to another will take more time than my usual toilet and tea making break on Zoom days.
This is one example, and I’m sure there’s many more but the readjustment in having to change the way I think, organise and plan takes up energy and resources that I haven’t had to use throughout lockdown.
Perhaps this explains why everything feels so full on; not only is there more to plan, schedule and organise, but its something that I am, again, out of practice at. I’d slipped into my lockdown groove, my pattern, my routine, and now I need to consciously amend that and adjust to the new demands on my time and my energy.
This is one thing I know how to tackle- get the planner out. I love a structure and a plan, I just need to remember to plan some time in to sit down and have a proper look a my diary and make sure I’ve not been over optimistic with my timings as well as needing to put in some breaks and down time.
Just because I can do lots of things doesn’t mean I have to do lots of things!
As I’ve been writing this, I see that all of these challenges, at some level, are about change. Yes, good changes in many ways but change nonetheless. And as I have said before, change takes energy and energy takes resources and less resources means things don’t always feel so easy.
I think we can anticipate that as time goes by and we get that opportunity to do things we haven’t done for while the habits and familiarity will return. Life will start to feel less conscious thinking and more automated and so the demand on our resources will even out a bit. We’ll feel more in charge, more organised, less reactive and less lost in the chaos. We’ll feel more energised because there’ll be less energy going out just to get through the basics.
The question then will be: do want to go back to previous patterns or has the experience of lockdown taught us something about how we want to organise our lives?
And if we do want something different, how do we make sure we hold onto that in the chaos of full speed life with all the attendant juggling, sorting and organising that reduces our time and space to think and plan? How do we make changes or hold onto changes that we know work for us?
However, that, is a question for another blog…
Thanks for reading