As I saunter into the elevator to go down and collect my packages from the building reception (the hallmark of my weekly out-of-home sojourns), I find my usually friendly neighbours, mom and child, bickering. The lady is upset that the child will not lift a finger at home unless it’s to keep tapping on her smartphone, only to be (according to her) back-chatted by the cub that she is “studying online” and, at times, “chatting with friends”. But mostly the former! And I thought the pandemic was going to bring the families closer. Did I get the wrong picture?
On being caged
Dr. Saurav Das, founder of Soul’s Connect, a platform that addresses mental health and wellness related issues, avers that I did get it wrong and with good reason. Stirring in an interesting analogy, he affirms, “If we take two primates from the wild and cage them, they’ll show behavioural issues. Likewise, for us now with no release such as office visits, interaction with colleagues or friends, leave alone travel, we are thoroughly isolated. All family members need their own personal space and now that it’s encroached upon, it’s causing stress. Even pets need time-out; similarly, we need various engagements to occupy us. No wonder, we see anxiety and depression on the rise.”
Shamlee (name changed) couldn’t agree more. Even as a homemaker, she would leave the house at least three times daily; now, it’s been more than three months since that has happened - without an end in sight. “I live with my in-laws, husband and children. Can you imagine being locked in with this crowd for a quarter of a year? And no one wants to help with the increased household workload either!”
She is also worried that “my husband is stressed since he cannot work in peace. I think he misses his commute, colleagues, smoke breaks, etc. and makes up for it by running every errand, which is my department. I long for my evening walks- that used to be my time. And now, I just don’t seem to have a minute, free or alone. Surely, I am going mad if this continues...” she laments.
Rajat (name changed), a student who would have started FYJC, has his own issues. He was anticipating the freedom of going to college; instead he is home, locked in with his entire family who seem to have nothing better to do than keep an eye on what he is up to. “My parents don’t respect my privacy lately. I know we are living in quarantine but why are they preoccupied with me? If I glance at my phone they start complaining how I do nothing else all day.” His voice drops as he confides, “I have not spoken to my girlfriend freely in all these months. How can I with Aai or Baba hovering around? Now, Aazooba is supposedly hard of hearing. So, one day I went to his room and called her without realising that he was eavesdropping on our chat. Can you imagine the ribbing that followed for days after?”
No privacy, no joy
Aditi Sinha, the lead psychologist of Soul’s Connect and recognised in the field for specialising in counselling children and parents, understands the issue. “The steep rise in cases of depression and anxiety in the last few months are primarily due to families being thrown together. Office-goers are bereft of their independent lifestyle while homebirds have completely lost their privacy. Parent or child, we are caught in a face-off issue.”
Dr. Das agrees, “Teenagers with their frolicking can give parents a headache. If they are unemployed, parents saddle them with advice that doesn’t go down well with the younger generation. Where there’s work-from-home, there’s a demand for professional commitments to be balanced with increased familial duties and that’s easily another reason for friction between parents and children.” So everything is a trigger, right?
The silver lining
Dr. Das admits personal space is an alien concept amidst this COVID-19 crisis; yet, he hopes people choose to walk once/twice a day when they can, read books to take flights of fantasy or engage in gardening or cooking. Even such seemingly meagre examples of carving out shreds of me-time can help. It did help Shamlee. She has managed to cultivate a small kitchen garden. “Surprisingly, my son assists me in this endeavour and we bond. My husband too has begun to chip in with the chores. Only if I could resume my walks but we live in a containment zone,” she mulls.
Rajat, on the other hand, is relieved. “The society has agreed to open the terrace for half an hour for each person daily. That’s the break that I need to connect with my girlfriend,” he smiles shyly. “That chat makes being locked up for the entire day worth it.”