Week 13: Time, Space, Me, and Home in the time of Corona

We are not getting on too well – Me and my two companions, Time and Space inside the Home. The times are hard and they are not getting better soon. I think it is time to accept this fact. The virus is taking hold of every aspect of our lives. Every day, I come across innumerable videos of people struggling with staying indoors. Honestly, the first 10 days, I did not really feel much of a difference, as accounted in my Week 11 blog post. But then the extrovert in my ambivert personality is coming to the surface now. Last week I was hit bad. I could not think, let alone write. I struggled really hard to stay afloat because I suddenly felt like my creativity pool had dried up. I could not put my thoughts down into paper. It was not because I did not have any thoughts but because I had too many of them. So, I spent some time reading up innumerable ‘how to’ articles about self-discipline, self-compassion, self-motivation. I also read up on how having a daily routine helps one to stay focussed. I read articles about how to write every day and what I realised is that self-isolation was robbing me of any direction in life. I cannot find any reason to wake up in the morning anymore. As I have mentioned in a previous post , I am not an extrovert per se. But my every day involves finding that quiet time to myself when I can read, write, and/or think. Although I am in self-isolation, I am unable to read, write, or think. It is ironic but true. So, why is this so hard? I had asked myself this question and I found that it wasn’t such an easy question to answer, as I had imagined. It is complex and multi-layered.

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On choice

Be miserable or motivate yourself. Whatever has to be done, it’s always your choice.

— Wayne Dyer

So, what is it that is bothering me so much? Set aside the impending sense of doom after the virus takes hold of the country in full blast, there is the anticipated chaos that’s going to hit the country once the lockdown is lifted after the proposed 21 days is over, if it is lifted. Who would have thought that stepping outside our homes could be dangerous? Human beings are social creatures. Who would have thought that the worst blow to humanity would be when social interaction becomes the death of us? Even introverts like me are feeling the heat of social distancing. On normal days, I would choose to stay isolated but perhaps, because this is not an organic decision of mine, it feels synthetic. I have chosen to spend many hours in solitary confinement every time I have needed to mull something over, to clear my head, to get outside myself. But this self-isolation is imposed upon me. This kind of self-isolation tends to break the spirit, instead of uplifting it. Although I didn’t choose this, but I can certainly choose how I react to it.

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(Too much) Family time?

I don’t know half of you half as well as I should like; and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve.

— J.R.R. Tolkien

When I choose to isolate myself from the rest of the world, I choose to do the things I love. I can spend time with my self, reading, listening to music, or if nothing else, then staying quiet, meditating. But now, what with everyone in the house at all times, I am not getting the time to spend with myself. I am not getting my ‘me time’ and that is the irony of it all. Even though we are all home-bound, how many of us are actually getting the time to spend in quiet contemplation? As a SAHM, this is all the more difficult because at least pre-COVID-19, I had the opportunity to simply go for a walk if the walls were closing in. Now, I can’t step out for some fresh air. I had family visiting just before the lockdown and now, we are all locked indoors. I am quite relieved that my family is with me. I am also counting my blessings because everyone in my family shares household chores with militant enthusiasm, but there is also a part of me that does not prefer socialising at all times. Now I have no time to escape to solitude except late at night or early in the morning. I have entered yet another phase of sleep-deprivation and what with rationing in progress, I’m worried that I will not have enough tea to keep me sharp.

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(Un)homely Home?

Families are messy. Immortal families are eternally messy. Sometimes the best we can do is to remind each other that we’re related for better or for worse…and try to keep the maiming and killing to a minimum.

— Rick Riordan

The home can only be homely when you have your own corner where you can retreat for some solitude. It ceases to be homely if chaos reigns supreme. So, even though the order is to ‘Stay Home Stay Safe’, who is going to save us from ourselves? The home, which is supposed to keep us safe, is, I feel, turning against us. I just read about the spike in the number of domestic violence cases in the UK. What is it about self-isolation that is bringing out the worst in us? And what about children of abusive parents? And people suffering from mental illnesses? And cancer patients undergoing treatment? And all other patients who need constant medical care? And the elderly, whose only solace can be sharing a few laughs in the park? And what about the care-givers to the elderly and the ailing? Aren’t they in need of some space and time away from the emotionally and physically back-breaking task of staying at their compassionate best? And what about people with pets? It must be a nightmare in Indian cities where the majority live in apartments without backyards. Working from home has taken on a new connotation altogether. Home has become the war zone against not only the dust bunnies, the laundry monsters, the timekeeper, and the incessant noise of the television and restless children, but also against one’s Self. We seek the solace of our homes to escape from all the noise. But how are we to stay safe from ourselves when there is no escape?

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Do we have Cabin Fever?

I am certain that cabin fever has deeply set in our home now. A quick internet browsing revealed that if you are experiencing any or most (or God forbid, all) of these symptoms, then you could be under the throes of Cabin Fever. Cabin Fever has been defined as having certain conditions which usually set in when one is confined indoors for a long time.

  • Restlessness – everybody is restless. There is no doubt about that. Even my 6-year-old is beginning to feel the effects of being cooped up inside the house. He hasn’t stepped outside in a fortnight as of today. The adults have been going outside from time to time to forage for groceries and other essentials but he has been inside all this time. It is making him a bit more fidgety than usual. [I truly feel sorry for the poor kid!]
  • Lethargy – Yes, we all sleeping in. The first week was so much fun because I did not have to wake up at the crack of dawn to get some precious ‘me time’ because the entire household was waking up late. But come Week 2 and I have begun to crave some structure, some purpose in life to get me moving. So, I started on the “10 mins-yoga-10 mins-meditation-write Morning Journal every day” challenge. But soon I found that this was not enough. So, now I have started a 30-Day Abs challenge. This is only a way to beat the never-ending spiral of lethargy that is setting in. I also downloaded an app called Focus, which sets the timer and tells you to get that butt off the couch every 25 minutes. I think it’s brilliant! [I don’t know how much of my own pro-activeness I can handle!]
  • Sadness or depression— I am not sad. I am anxious but not sad. I know there is nothing anyone of us can do about the current situation, so I have decided to put that away from me. What will be, will be.
  • Trouble concentrating—Oh, absolutely! I could not write at all last week. It was really quite scary to say the least. I could not string a meaningful sentence. I am not able to read because I am not being able to focus on something, anything. I am also taking way more time to get into writing/reading.
  • Lack of patience – Suffice to say that irritability is on the rise. It is still under control but there is this seething lava just under the surface. [Read: Please check back on us in a few days.]
  • Food cravings— I would be lying if I said that I am not craving junk food like pizzas and burger and Chinese food. [Oh yeah! I need me some Chicken Hakka Noodles right now!]
  • Decreased motivation – I think it is quite similar to the one about lethargy. In fact, they go hand in hand. I don’t feel the need to wake up in the morning because there is nothing to look forward to. Every day is exactly the same as the day before. I am beginning to appreciate how someone who has retired from active work might be feeling. I think the men are having more difficulty than the women, which obviously points to the sexism that continues (intentionally or inadvertently) at home and how women shoulder the majority of the emotional labour.
  • Frequent napping—Most definitely and this perhaps relates to the second point about lethargy. Feeling lethargic is making us take frequent naps. Also because there is not enough physical exercise, we are not sleeping at our usual time. That means that since we are sleeping late but we are waking up early, we are not getting enough sleep. That means that after being awake for 3 hours or so, we are all feeling that we need a nap. The only exception is undoubtedly, my six-year-old. His energy, bless him, knows no bounds. [You could say that these days my most important job is to ensure that his routine is kept intact as much as possible.]
  • Hopelessness—Certainly. We are all feeling that there is nothing to look forward to. Doom and despair has descended upon us but we are all trying to fight it and trying to stay positive. Rather, we are all putting up a brave front despite what we are feeling inside. [Why worry about things that are not in our control?]
  • Changes in weight—Oh, absolutely!! Every time I check the scales, there is a slight increase. For someone who has been fighting the battle against the bulge all her life, weight gain is adding to the anxiety. [Also, this loops back to hopelessness, lethargy, food (mainly sugar) cravings.]
  • Inability to cope with stress—We are six of us (including a child) in an apartment meant for four at the most, and everyone’s climbing the walls. [I’ll leave it to you to judge whether this is or is not a stressful situation to be in.]

I don’t want to self-diagnose but it seems pretty clear to me that our household may be inflicted by Cabin Fever. Whether we will succeed in keeping our heads, time will only tell.

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‘Me Space’

I need a quiet corner to think. I need that space which is not impeded by guilt, or duty, or responsibility. I need a space where I will not be judged and where nothing will be expected of me. I need that space where there is no one around. I need an empty space where my body will be the only thing that will occupy it. I need to inhabit that space. This is my ‘me space’. This is different from ‘me time’ because you can find your ‘me time’ even in a crowd. You can plug in your earphones and shut out the outside noise, even while your body resides in a space inhabited by other people. Me Space is a space exclusively yours. Let me share what happened this morning because I feel that my son explained ‘me space’ best.

We woke up to find the bedroom door ajar and our son missing from his bed. We found him in the kitchen, making a card from scraps of coloured paper. Note: We are running out of craft materials and it doesn’t fall under the category of ‘essential items’ but I can vouch for all SAHMs out there who will beg to differ. Anyway, so there he was, at the crack of dawn in a silent house. I carried him back to bed and asked him why he was up so early and why he was doing what he was doing. He told me that he wanted to wake up when the room was empty. I realised that he wanted his ‘me space’. He told me that he didn’t want to sleep anymore because he wanted to be alone. I watched him skip out of the bedroom. I found him sitting at the window, staring at the blushing eastern sky. He looked blissful when he turned to me and whispered “There’s a show every day. The sunrise is the show” and he loves to watch it in his own space, when ‘the rooms are empty’. I quietly sat at a distance from him as he watched the sun rise, while dunking biscuits in his Marvel cup of chocolate milk.

He gives me hope. He made me realize that we can still find ways to make our homes homely by finding that window of time and space where we can find ourselves again. It might not be easy and we might have to crawl under the dining table, or close ourselves inside the closet, or wake up before everyone else does, or stay up after everyone retires. But the search for Me must go on in the Time and Space of our Homes in the time of Corona.

We must start with ourselves.

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