Sometimes I eat my feelings. Other times, I write them out.
As I write, it is 6 April. Many of us at King’s have been in home working mode for nearly three weeks and in ‘lockdown’ for about 10 days – possibly – who can keep track?
On the whole I have felt remarkably cheerful and like I am ‘coping’. When reflecting or talking to people, I say – and genuinely mean – I can’t complain. My family and I are healthy. We have a comfortable, spacious (including outdoor space) home, a full fridge, all mod cons – Wi-Fi, Netflix, Sky, recently acquired Disney plus, books, games, puzzles and we generally get on well. I have instigated a lovely personal routine of reading, meditating and exercising everyday as well as eating and drinking well with my family and a dear friend who has managed to get herself locked down with us.
King’s has been exemplary, in my view, in the sensitivity, compassion and pragmatism it has shown during this ‘unprecedented’ time. For more information about King’s response to Coronavirus, see the pages on our website. And if you haven’t looked already, check out the wellbeing pages which provide helpful information on topics including working remotely, staying active and mental health.
But every so often I find myself angry or resentful, tearful and upset – sometimes with a cause, sometimes inexplicably.
My primary stressor currently is being a parent. I am eternally grateful that my children are well and that those that are still school age are old enough to understand, look after themselves and self-entertain. The days of trying to ensure I kept a baby, toddler or tween fed, washed, changed and content are now the past for me, but still in my memory. I send hugs, high fives, handshakes, medals to all those currently pulling off this magic trick while working from home and trying to maintain their own wellbeing.
But what’s it like parenting teens at this time? Watching them react as school is summarily cancelled; all daily contact with friends – the people they spend all day with normally – is either gone, muted or mediated via a screen?
The world gives teenagers a bad press. Teenagers are often spoken about like they are feral animals. Watching one of my daughters come to terms with having spent years working towards GCSEs – being good, working hard – only to have them be cancelled, was devastating. There will be no prom, no shirt signing. The hard work initially expected of Easter has gone and will not be rewarded with the joy of the long summer holidays.
When will they get to go back to school? How will GCSE results be decided? Everything is up in the air.
One of my daughters – in deadly seriousness – was talking about the future, and the fact there really wasn’t one; that we would all be dead before they could have children, a thought so grim I found it hard to take it seriously. But from her point of view at 13, having lived through years of Brexit hokey cokey, if everything you’ve ever understood to be normal is removed, why would you not think that there is nothing you can rely on? It breaks my heart.
Chez Guerra-Clarke we have instigated a practice of getting ‘dressed’ for Sunday lunch (actually held at about 630 pm). I am famously one of the world’s biggest slobs and lockdown and its endless comfy clothing possibilities are something I need to boundary. During our first well-dressed lunch, I felt a very smug mummy asking what we had all enjoyed that week? What we’re going to achieve the next? Getting great, engaged, answers from everyone. Look how well we (I) had done – lockdown, schmockdown!
Last night was a different story, as I determinedly tried to set some sense of how this first week of the Easter holidays might be in an inclusive and collaborative way (I really carry EDI to my core), I was met with a mixture of silent, resentful, helpless, shoulder shrugging resistance, negativity and unspoken opposition.
What’s that phrase? Like pulling teeth? For someone like me who is active, who is a doer, who is a problem solver, who goes at life with an ‘ok there’s a massive problem – how do we fix it?’ attitude, I realised how helpless I feel now. I can’t ‘fix’ COVID-19 for anyone or myself.
Parenthood has an Alice in Wonderland impossibility about it – already a 24/7, lifelong, ever demanding and unpredictable ‘job’ at the best of times and the universe has made it impossible times infinity. I have feelings of uselessness and despair that I am not used to. I so far have been able to keep these in check and ping myself back to my default ‘can’t complain’ mentality, thanks to the wellbeing measures I put in place for myself and by taking perspective: in comparison to many, I have it easy.
So, what words of wisdom do I have? Only to recognise for myself that we are living in extraordinary times and all my usual reactions, methods and go-to behaviours are less failsafe than usual. It is ok to not know all the answers. It is ok to have a little (or a big) cry or a rant. There is help out there, and the fact I have family at hand who sometimes make me nice lunches and bring me cups of tea through it all is something to be celebrated.
I am a proactive extrovert. I tend to get my energy from the outside world, and spend my energy trying to make the world a better place. The new normal has been much more layered and difficult than I was willing to acknowledge. Thank you all for listening and giving me this opportunity to share.