The Pressures of Being Creative
I want to move away from talking about writing for today's post (although I will briefly touch on the subject!) to write about something I've been thinking about and reading a lot about over the last few days.
Facebook has been filled with images of people doing fun things with their families while in lockdown. I am just as guilty of this as the next person and I suspect that for most of these people, like me, their motivation for sharing these posts is honest and sincere. We are living in a terrifying situation at the moment and the media, including to some extent our social media, is full of images and headlines that are almost guaranteed to instil fear and anxiety. Being faced with this kind of barrage of bad news has meant that my brain is in full-on flight or fight mode most of the time. This is not healthy and it is exhausting. After reading an article about the long-term effects of this kind of prolonged anxiety, I decided that in order to survive, I needed to focus on being as positive as I could in public. That way, I reasoned, I might start to believe that we are not in the middle of the apocalypse and stand a reasonable chance of coming out of the other side with my sanity intact. Hence, the posts about all the lovely things we're doing and the achievements of my four year old.
However, this trend of being positive created a problem that I - perhaps naively - did not anticipate. In recent days I've seen Facebook posts and WhatsApp messages from friends and acquaintances saying that they are feeling alone because everyone seems to be having fun apart from them. With hindsight, this is unsurprising. When everyone around you appears to be boasting about how wonderful life at home with their family is and you are sitting in yesterday's pyjamas while your children wreck your home, is it any wonder that you feel like it's you who's just getting it wrong?
The fact is, you're not alone. As one of the people who is trying to be positive on social media, I can promise you this. If you look at my Facebook pages, you will see lots of lovely crafts we've done, you'll see that my teenager is missing school and happily doing his schoolwork with relative ease, you'll see that my four year old has made huge strides with his reading and is asking to do extra maths. All of this is true, but it doesn't give you the full picture of our home life. For example, I didn't post anything about the screaming row I had with the teenager about his failure to do something I'd asked him to do and his inability to listen to instructions. Nor did I post about the meltdown I'd had when we thought my husband was going to be at work everyday while I battled with home schooling the kids. I haven't even posted about how much I loathe doing crafts with children, or how C-A-T spells Dinosaur makes me want to gouge my own eyes out with a spoon! I left the house yesterday for the first time in two weeks and could feel an anxiety attack bubbling below the surface. I'm normally the kind of person who will stop and chat to anyone and everyone in the street and I wanted to run a mile in the opposite direction anytime we saw anyone yesterday. When a man approached from behind us and crossed the road, I practically leapt away from him. Whilst these reactions might be normal in the current climate, they are not normal for me and I was genuinely relieved to get home and be back safely behind my front door. I'd expected to feel a sense of freedom and release, having practically begged my husband to allow me out (I've had several problems with my chest and breathing over the last eighteen months and am currently waiting for a test to check if I have asthma, so his concern is understandable). I definitely did not anticipate just wanting to come home. I'm lucky - I have an understanding husband and a fabulous group of friends. When I told them how I'd felt, one of them came straight back to say that she'd also gone out for the first time in two weeks and had experienced a very similar reaction. It was unbelievably reassuring to know that I wasn't alone in my craziness!
It's very easy at the best of times, to just accept what we see on social media as being the complete truth of someone's life. In the current circumstances, when our perceptions of things are warped anyway, it's even easier just to see what's on the surface.
BUT and I want to make this really clear. Do not EVER feel that you are alone. We are all struggling in our own ways. So remember this:
Home schooling children, whatever their age, is hard. If you're doing it with more than one under the age of 11, you deserve a medal.
For every person who is alone and craving company, there will be someone else who is desperate for some time away from the other occupants of their house and vice versa.
For every mum or dad who has moments of wishing they were isolated away from their children, there will be a parent who desperately wants to be with their child (whether small or grown up).
For every worker who resents having to go out to work when others can work at home, there will be someone on furlough, or unemployed, wishing they had a job to go to.
For every person who complains that they are eating too much and are putting weight on, there will be someone wondering how they are going to pay for their next meal.
I guess the point I'm trying to make is this: Somewhere in your community, there will be someone who shares your feelings, there will also be someone who feels the direct opposite. We may be isolated physically from each other, but we don't have to be isolated emotionally. Now more than ever, it's important to talk to the people around you and to listen to others without judging. We are all fighting our own battles and dealing with the situation in the best way we can. None of us are perfect, none of us get it right all the time. None of us can do this on our own. One of the things that truly warmed my heart was that certainly amongst my friends, whenever anyone has shared how they are feeling, there has been an outpouring of support - you're not the only one who hates doing crafts, you're not the only one whose children have basically turned feral, you're not the only one fighting with their teenager, you're not the only one eyeing up the gin bottle by 10am and you're not the only one googling the prison sentences for mariticide (only kidding - I need someone to teach the 4 year old to read!).
So please continue to show off your creativity on Facebook, it genuinely brightens my day to see it, but at the same time, if you're having an off day and being creative and entertaining is the furthest thing from your mind, please don't beat yourself up about it. Cut yourself some slack, congratulate yourself on having got through the day and remember that tomorrow is likely to be better.
To demonstrate what I mean, the two pictures below were taken minutes apart. In the first one he'd stolen my rusk (OK so they were bought for him, but they taste so good with tea!) and was eating it. In the second, he'd finished said rusk and was having a paddy because it was all gone! The same day, but the photos tell very different stories if they're shared on their own.