They say when you are stressed, you need to remove the stressor. What if that stressor is your husband and you have been together for nearly 25 years? It’s not that easy.
This is the situation I find myself in at the 2.5 year mark of my husband working from home. As I write this, I hear the universal chorus of wives and mothers marching in the streets with placards shouting, “The office is the place to go, please please please just go.”
When lockdown hit Singapore in March 2020, my husband was forced to set up from home. He could not travel for work. After 10 years of being on the road, he was now in the house 24/7. He had strong opinions about how the household should run and we were all in a spin. The chilled rhythm we had established over the previous decade was suddenly replaced by beating to his drum.
Then there was the other matter of our one spare room. Well, not entirely spare as it was our shared office. I was consequently booted from said office space and set up my desk in the corner of our bedroom. We have both been working like this ever since. At night, I drift off to the relaxing view of my whiteboard calendar with its multitude of appointments and tasks. At bedtime, I need to unplug things so that the light of the mouse and other devices doesn’t pierce the darkness. If my husband wants to go to sleep early and I still have work to do, I take my laptop downstairs and sit un-ergonomically on the couch.
As the months of restrictions passed, my groundhog days involved rolling out of bed to my desk and back again for an afternoon nap, only venturing out to go to the kitchen or do a chore. As grandparents overseas got sick and were hospitalised, I began living with a heightened sense of dread about getting ‘that call’ and being unable to return home. I lost all motivation for exercise. Everything started to unravel with my relationship with my husband. 24 months of living as a stressed out hermit resulted in my under control health conditions unravelling and I am now a medicated pre-diabetic.
Downstairs, things were also unravelling. My children were locked at computers in their rooms – homeschooling during the day and gaming with their friends all afternoon to dinner time. Sat on their backsides with team sports cancelled their mental and physical health started to deteriorate.
The irony of the situation was that we were all in the same house. All day. Together, yet not. We were five people in five rooms with doors closed. We met at dinner, watched some TV together and then went back to our rooms and closed the doors. People in boxes, boxed in and not communicating.
I knew I was not alone as we are a global community. Friends in cities that had imposed harsh restrictions were experiencing similar distressing situations.
The majority of my friends are parents to older children. Our kids have faced this pandemic as teenagers – a confusing and hormone-infused clusterf#@k at the best of times, yet now with a dash of global pandemic thrown in. For the kids, the news over the past two years has been terribly scary – a barrage of unpleasantness about climate catastrophe, war, school shootings, misogyny, racism, recession and disease. Despite our love and best efforts, we watched our children unravel before our eyes.
We witnessed a unique phenomenon of global fear and confusion intersecting strongly with gender and sexual identity. Anyone with high school students will have experienced your children or their friends identifying as straight, gay, non-binary, queer and back again (or not) all in the space of a few days or weeks. In the search for identity and meaning, many kids spiralled into anxiety, depression and suicidal ideation.
Navigating all this as parents has been incredibly difficult. For many families, they chose not to share their troubles. Governments were so focussed on immediate pandemic response that by the time they realised the mental health cost on their populations, there were not enough resources to deal with it. I do not know of a family that has been spared from some degree of this.
When things unravel, it is very hard to put it back together. We are pushing against the resistance band and trying to live and travel like we did before the pandemic, yet now with the weight of layers of disfunction and no end in sight. The pandemic never ended like it was supposed to. We are all unravelled. We are one big mess.
Not everybody is naturally resilient. “Doing life” isn’t as easy some as it is for others.
People stand strong and put a brave face forward not to try to fool you, but to feel functional, useful and accepted. A person with big dreams and visions may be concealing crippling doubts and low self esteem. Not one person on this planet is unscathed by the past two years. Please keep that at the front of your thoughts in your personal and professional dealings.
This is a time when we need to be the village that comes together to support families and children. If you are struggling, please tell someone – a friend, a counsellor, a help line. If we acknowledge that we are all a jumbled mess in varying degrees of unravelling, there really need not be any stigma attached to sharing your story or asking for help.
For my family, taking action has been the first step in pausing the unravelling and learning from it. Hopefully we can move forward stronger.
I am reminded of one of the profound memories submitted to our NFT project, New Day Tomorrow:
“That moment when you realise reality isn’t what you thought it was, and you have years of unlearning to do.”
And so it is.
Sending my love to you all.