Space, Mental Wellbeing and the Pandemic
Today my dog Sky spent the whole morning trying to find a suitable place to bury the bone from Easter Sunday dinner. Finally she found a place in a shrubbery that we pruned-back on Good Friday ....that is why she looks so satisfied in the photo. But it got me thinking about space in these COVID-19 times.
Families of all types can be thrown together in ways that they might not be used to. Normal safety valves like just getting out to kick a ball, go for a cycle, walk the dog, meet friends, storm out the front door, go to the pub or go to the shops are not easily available. Too many members of the family may be using wifi at the same time. Nerves get frayed. There may not be enough rooms for everyone to get personal space. The garden may be too small to burn off energy and frustration. In these difficult situations the cracks in couple and family relationships and in mental health can get bigger. In really bad situations vulnerable family members can be at risk from anger, frustration, violence and coercion. Mental health can also suffer and people can feel despondent and trapped.
So let's think about space. Physical space is important, but there is also psychological or "internal" space. One of the ways I myself cope with the lockdown is that I try to use different rooms at different times of the day. The sittingroom is reserved for the evening, the kitchen is used a lot during the day, and the bedroom is the escape pod. And it is not for no reason that people sometimes call the loo the library. Structured use of rooms can help the sense that there is variety in the day. One of the most important things in terms of wellbeing, can be to not hang around in your bedroom in the hour or two before bedtime. Head to the sitting room and watch some nighttime comedy before heading back to the bedroom to sleep. In terms of outdoor "space", I go for a "walk" in the garden in the morning. My sister tells me that she goes for a morning walk around her garden in one direction and, just variety, walks the other way in the afternoon (with the dog on a lead!). When space is limited, it can be good to think of the garden as another room. Thankfully the weather seems to be making that possible.
Getting personal space can be challenging. Normally I bemoan my children spending a lot of time in their bedrooms on social media or watching films, but now I think "good on them" for getting time away from us. Even if we don't have physical space, we can get personal space when we read, or day-dream, or bake, or think, or meditate or plan. And sometimes internal space arises when we see the face of another person, maybe in a skype or whatsapp call and we lose our isolation in the chat. Not all of us need personal space of the same kind or in the same way - but everyone needs personal space however we create it. In the case of families struggling with tense relationships one of the most important things can be to find some personal space, but it can be hardest to achieve. The person who is getting frustrated with the family needs to work at getting personal space and the person who is on the receiving end of the frustration needs to be able to get a break of some sort. People who are frustrated in this lockdown need to take personal responsibility for not taking it out on other vulnerable people.
Victor Frankl survived a Nazi concentration camp and went on to write "Man's Search for Meaning". A key thing for Frankl was that the camp guards could control almost everything but that they couldn't stop him from doing what he liked with his own mind and imagination - and he decided to keep his thoughts and dreams positive - that's how he survived. Hopefully those of us for whom positivity comes easier can keep watch to see how we can be helpful to people who are experiencing the "cracks" in relationships or in mental health. If I had my way, when the restrictions are being initially lifted, I would allow people to buy paint and plant seeds so that frustration could be turned into something useful as we all wait to be let off the leash after the big lockdown. But for now the message is - we all need personal space however we create it. And people who are frustrated need to take responsibility not to take it out on vulnerable people.