To honour Mental Health Awareness Week and to encourage our staff, volunteers, and organisations we work closely with to pay more attention to the present (aka mindfulness), we’ve asked a few of them to write a journal post and diary a day in lock down. These blogs will provide a snapshot of the everyday lives, experiences and wellbeing of our people.
Order, the only way through this was order. 9 weeks ago it was just myself and my recently two year old son at home, his two older brothers were at school, my wife (their mother) at work, teaching.
The weekdays prior were a loose structure of flash cards, kids tv, small household chores, animal noises on Alexa and lunch before nap time. I’d jump on the computer and type a few pages of my books or record another episode of my podcast in the slim window of “me-time” as he slept. Then wake up the boy, collect the elder two and prepare dinner and make lunches for the next day. The boys however could enjoy home as a place of chaos, relaxation, fun.
Come the weekend, I was able to escape to work, talk with people outside my house. A kind of weird self-isolation five days a week with a two-day chance to talk to adults, everyday could be different but there it was; that predictable, comforting sense of order. Suddenly unable to have that escape I thought I’d struggle but we had a new plan, a new order to focus ourselves. Order worked, so naturally order would work again, right?
Day one came.
The elder boys had schoolwork and a timetable scheduled by their respective teachers, we set up Alexa to give helpful timed reminders – like a home-school bell. We’d organised the front room, toy boxes for lego, cars, odds and sods. Desk spaces clear, pencils sharpened, paper crisp and clean the order worked. We started the day with ‘PE with Joe’ The Body Coach (as recommended on the teaching timetable, as a family group) then it was eyes down numeracy, literacy, an odd art task or project till 3.30pm when it was “free time” – an ordered chaos of Xbox for the eldest, playing in the garden for the middle one and the little one with toys or the garden also.
Day two came and cracks began to appear, suddenly the boys were struggling. Their order of the world before isolation wasn’t there, the comfort blanket was gone. My wife and I were coping fine, exercise was proving invigorating, it gave us focus, a sense of achievement. We then explored healthier eating to match our exercise, we began to order ourselves physically and we were finding isolation an easier time.
Days turned to weeks and the boys were doing less and less work. Arguments, tantrums, fierce rebellion, bartering for time and outright refusal to work.
We incentivized working, it failed.
We chastised, it failed.
We calmly tried to remember all those helpful nuggets from SuperNanny, they failed.
We screamed back, it failed. No amount of order would work, but neither was any amount of chaos.
As my wife and I are getting fitter, healthier, happier with order, our lockdown has helped change our lives for the better. We retain links to our families, friends and work colleagues via Facebook, skype or Zoom. We know how to build a community outside our four walls.
The boys are unable to shake their sense of “home is chaos” – not order, they may know how to use the technology but they haven’t yet learned how to build their own order. And so they lack the sense of achievement and they spiral deeper into chaos.
Today has been a hard one for them – hours spent on basic maths questions we’ve done before, three sources of stress and screaming for attention. We can only offer so much order but until they feel a sense of ownership it fails.
Lockdown and isolation hasn’t been the issue, the lack of skill in building an order of self-achievement in a world without physical contact, community and chaos is the struggle.
What to learn about this? I’m not sure I can offer anything, we still have days of chaos but some days are better than others and sometimes that’s all we can hope for.
We build our “best order” and it works only as much as we get a sense of achievement from it; if it doesn’t work we need to learn to maybe adjust our order – it’s not about blindingly following rules, it’s not about productivity, it’s about making rules that allow us to be rewarded. Rebuild and start again if need be.
Failure is never avoidable, Success not always achievable but the attempt to avoid the former and gain the latter is what keeps us going.
With mental health awareness week, I hope you can all find your own “rewarding order”, if it hasn’t worked yet; then keep trying, adjusting, rebuild; never give in to belief that chaos is the only way, or that chaos is a failure. It’s just the gap between finding what works for you.