Grumpy on Social Media?

As I browse through some conversations on social media, I am noticing that there seem to be a lot of grumpy people out there, taking things personally, and attacking each other at the slightest provocation. I am going to assume that most of us who are active on social media are part of the group of workers who are not able to return to work under level 4 rules, and are therefore still spatial distancing at home, and isolated from most of the people we usually socialise with.

Three stages of reaction to prolonged isolation have been identified, as “a first stage of heightened anxiety, a second stage of settling down to routine marked by depression, and a third stage of anticipation marked by emotional outbursts, aggressiveness, and rowdy behaviour.” 1

At this stage many of us are experiencing powerful emotions like anxiety, frustration, impatience and fear around what the future holds for us. It is easy to become caught in an ever tightening spiral of increasing tension, and this makes it so much easier to bite off somebody else’s virtual head. Anger feels so much more powerful than depression and fear. There may even be an element of addiction to it. Long-term, where are these angry outbursts going to take us? Do we really want to go there?

I think we need to give ourselves and each other a good measure of grace as we honestly ask ourselves some hard questions:

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Roles and boundaries in the level 4 home environment…

On a group call this week, a fellow coach mentioned that before a specific conversation, she put her “coaching hat” on. Clearly, this was a metaphor, but it got me thinking.

As most of us continue to be limited to living our numerous roles within the same four walls, many people are struggling with the enmeshedness of it all. It feels like work has intruded and taken over our personal space. Work needs to be done, but so do household tasks, there are meals to prepare. There may be children running around in the background while I am on a zoom work call. My children may need to do schoolwork, and this involves me too for now. Is it possible to find some other way of re-instating the boundaries that have been blurred during the last five weeks?

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The freedom to look beyond the screen

Today we celebrate Freedom Day without the opportunity to attend a large gathering of like-minded people, without the feeling of celebrating our progress from the past together in physical presence, without the heated discussions grappling with the strong hold that the past still seems to have on us. Instead, there are live-streamed events, and perhaps we will have the possibility of an online interaction which touches on some of these topics…

Lately, I have been part of a few online conversations, where it was obvious that people are misunderstanding each other. The reasons are complex. How does the isolation of physical distancing influence the mix? In South Africa we have a history of living in our own bubbles with little awareness of what other’s reality looks like. In lock-down, with minimal exposure to others, we look through the screen of our opaque bubble and see that we are facing the same storm out there, feel that we are burdened with the same loss of freedom. Yes, we are slightly aware that there are differences in people’s experiences, but we’re all in this together, aren’t we? Let’s have a closer look.

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Joy in learning?!

With the lock down continuing longer than the school holidays, some of our children have already started schooling again. For others this is looming ahead. The possibility of a staggered return to school is being explored. For many of us as parents, our children’s schoolwork may feel like another burden we need to carry, another source of stress in our already busy, pressured lives. For others schoolwork will help to structure our family routine. For some this routine may feel boring. The question “how long this will continue?” hangs over us all. In these circumstances, the word joy does not seem to belong in the same sentence as learning. We know that schoolwork needs to be done, and for now this will be at home. Are there any choices we can make that will affect this situation? Let’s have a look at how we think about the subject…

Will you be schooling at home, non-schooling or home-schooling? To illustrate the difference I am sketching three exaggerated pictures.

The school at home picture is drawn with a ruler – lines, strict patterns and geometric shapes – taking the school structure and imprinting it on your home routine. The family gets ready for school as before. The only missing element is the school commute. School starts at approximately the same time as before. One subject follows the next. The time-keeping bell between periods rings in our heads. Perhaps there is an on-line teacher giving the lesson on zoom at a specific time. In other cases, the parent feels the pressure of morphing into a teacher themselves. Joy doesn’t have much space to grow here.

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Grieving during lockdown

This week a friend of mine heard that her mother had died. There is no way that she can be physically present to mourn with her family. The physical distance is too far. This is going to be a problem for numerous people over the next few weeks. (Approximately 1500 people died every average day in SA pre lockdown) How can one grieve well under lockdown circumstances? How can we, who have lost a close companion, experience some closure when we cannot reach out to comfort each other, to hold, to hug, to weep on each other’s shoulders? It is a difficult conversation to have. An unspeakable reality we do not want to even imagine. But let us dare to explore this topic now, so that we are not immobilised when some of us need to find a way for our own sake, and for the sake of those we love.

Here are some ideas, that admittedly cannot replace physical presence, but are a way in which we can still support the grieving:

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Easter, weekends, public holidays…

How do we make these days ahead still feel special, and different to every other day during lockdown? How do we keep our sense of a calendar, and time passing, when one day can so easily look like the one before, and they all become one long blur?
These are some of the things we as a family are going to do:
  • Sleep late.
  • Listen to a prayer app.
  • Dress in the way we feel is fitting to the occasion.
  • Eat differently to the average week day – have hot cross buns and tea, make unleavened bread, eat boiled eggs that we have decorated (with food colouring), make some special Easter dishes.
  • We will probably change the position of the furniture in one of our rooms.
  • We will not work or school, in fact, I am not going to even sit at my desk.
  • Join up to a church service on-line. (If you have never physically attended a church service, now is a great opportunity to visit one incognito.)
  • Connect with the broader family on a whatsapp group call (this might even be during the meal-time we usually spend together at Easter).
  • Have an Easter egg hunt, inside and outside the house.
  • Eat supper by candle-light, use a special tablecloth.
  • Make memories with our lockdown family: re-enacting old Easter traditions and maybe adding some new ones, reading a book together, looking at photos, playing games, trying some of the newly free on-line activities e.g. visiting an on-line museum together, having a look into the Kruger park game drives, downloading an audiobook from Audible. There are so many other fun ideas for free family activities (physical & virtual) if you do a quick Google search…

What will you be doing this weekend?

(If you are looking for websites for any of the ideas I mentioned, you are welcome to contact me by email or whatsapp)
Artwork: “Glory of the Cross” by Sawai Chinnawong
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Control?!

Some of us feel like we are on the verge of panic as we realise how little control we have over the current circumstances during the lockdown. Coming to terms with this reality is hard. It is ok to be sad and lost, maybe even angry at this time. If we are feeling this, we are connected to reality.

However, I have observed in myself and others how focusing on the turmoil out there can so overwhelm me that I have no energy left to do what I can, in the close spaces I actually could have some control over. So perhaps it is helpful to look immediately around me, at the things that are possible for me. These things that I can do may keep me from falling into panic:

* I can give myself a break, and not put myself under pressure to carry on coping as if my life has not changed.
* I can sleep a little longer on some days.
* I can get up each day and get dressed. I can choose what to wear on which day.
* I can make my bed.

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Let’s take a moment…

After the frenzy of activity of the last few days, trying to keep up to date with rules and regulations as they were published, getting ready for lockdown and cleaning the house yesterday to start lockdown with a germ-free state, I am taking a moment (or this weekend ) to assess where we find ourselves at this moment.

During this week we have done many things for the last time for the foreseeable future – shopping at places we know will be closed, visits to family members and friends, walks/jogs around the neighbourhood. These were intentional experiences that were appreciated, greeted and gently left behind.

Then there were those things where we did not know we were doing them for the last time – because the market was cancelled the evening before, the library was closed to the public with staff still working inside, the next weekly face-to-face Sepedi conversation falls in the lock-down. There is a sense of irritation and unfairness around losing these experiences, it does not suit us that we had to unexpectedly leave these behind.

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A clean slate

Today, if possible, start your lock-down home off on a “clean germ slate”. Clean the surfaces you often touch – doorknobs, handles, drawer knobs, window fasteners, light switches, taps, counters, fridge and oven doors, stove top controls, electrical equipment, phones, remote controls, hairbrushes, tooth brushes, water jugs, dustbin lids etc.

And as you do this, think about the people you are going to be sharing your space with for the next few weeks. What is necessary to wipe the relational slate clean? What do you need to forgive so that it does not infect your interactions?

Wash the clothes you wore during the last few days, clean your shoes, wash kitchen towels, hand towels, bath towels, bedding, clean the floors.

And again, think about the people you are living with. Where do you need to repent, and ask them for forgiveness? What relational work do you need to do to socially draw close to those now physically closest to you?

Wash your body and hair thoroughly.

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