These times we find ourselves in are so uncertain...
Yes, it is social distancing; no, it’s not social isolation. But being at home on your own, without your usual scapegoats, can be triggering. I know the signs that I am slipping into darkness. I get angry, I start to eat whole packets of biscuits without hesitation, I start to feel blank and I stare at things, at nothing. When I feel like this in normal times, I usually escape to my local playground. I plonk myself on a bench, my good mate will get me a large flat white and we sit in silence, or we chat, laugh or cry, and eat the food we brought for our kids. The kids know the playground so well that they can be very loosely supervised and there is a gate around the entire park which means no one is running on the road. But what do you do when your usual tricks are illegal? Yes, there is Facetime and Zoom but it’s not the same. It’s just not.
Since people have started to work from home, the complaints to Inner West council have gone through the roof. Noise complaints. Construction work, lawn mowing, music, instruments. Read: general annoying repetitive sounds that would send anyone spiralling into a frenzy. Their complaints seem justified. How are people supposed to work with all that racket? The thing people may not realise is that as a person who stays at home with their children, I was already here, at home. Crying when the postie thumped on the front door, screaming into my pantry when the leaf blower would blow the front path, and just about losing it if someone honked their horn or used our street to test drive their new car.
Throughout the process of being held captive in my own home, I have come to realise that my life has not changed all that much. I have had some good days and some weird days — like everyone else I assume. The thing that is different about this Covid-19 induced isolation is there is a common language and a common understanding, on a societal level. There is solidarity in the unknown. There is #iso. Challenges, online community, iso-jokes, iso-craft projects, iso-workouts, rainbows and teddy bears in windows.
When you first have a baby, the feelings of loneliness, boredom and isolation can be quite profound. Putting a baby down in the dark quiet, creeping around the house to make some tea like a little mouse, is unsettling. When you suffer from depression and anxiety, this isolation can become very dangerous. Sometimes I would hide in the middle of my house, pretend to seep into the walls unnoticed. Quiet, still. Without a funny hashtag in sight.
We don’t validate mothers’ isolation like we should. We still don’t understand this time like we should. People are trying to express how this time effects mothers. Alexandra Sacks, a Reproductive Psychiatrist, is one who has researched the perinatal period extensively— out of the need to understand her patients and their anguish over not feeling ‘like they thought they should be’ after having a new baby. She likens the period to that of an adolescent— she calls it matrescence. However, unlike adolescence, there is little information on this period for women. Raging hormones, confusing feelings, changing bodies. Our mothers were told that childbirth was a natural process, so any adverse feelings or hints of depression or anxiety were not even acknowledged. There is still huge courage required to speak about hard things and as mothers, we are pressured to ‘fake it till we make it’. Put on a face of sunshine, cure tiredness with a socially acceptable degree of coffee addiction: #mumlife. It is all on the surface, nothing too dreadful, nothing too real. I have always felt hugely misrepresented in the online world and have only found solace in the rare article or some more honest representations through creative non-fiction by writers such as Rachel Cusk, Jessica Friedmann and Jacqueline Rose.
What about the feeling of dread every night when I go to sleep? The heavy feeling on my chest. Thinking why would I bother trying to sleep, my baby will just wake up soon anyway. The deep cuts on my fingers from washing my hands too many times a day, the weird tufts of hair that look like I’ve taken a curling iron to them, the stained undies, the bra that works harder than most? The soft belly, the scars, the pelvis that causes daily pain and frustration and didn’t quite ‘bounce back’. Throw on some active wear and hope your giant surfboard of a pad isn’t showing. We can have a hard time of it, sure, but then there’s a point where we need to just get on with it. There’s also the argument that we got ourselves into this mess and we could have just not had kids. The thing is, we don’t actually know what we’re getting into because there isn’t a clear enough representation of the truth. We are left to fend for ourselves and make it up as we go.
Why are we so uncomfortable to talk about these feelings? Why are we so uncomfortable to talk about anger and frustration, about loneliness? If I have learned anything from #iso it’s that there is comfort in solidarity— hearing other people’s struggles and hardships and confusion helps us to identify our own. Even if you are not able to speak up about your dark thoughts, sadness or confusion, just know you’re not alone. We are all wading through this swamp together. Sticky, messy, foggy and broken. Doing our best.
Words: Lucinda Georgiou