The 5 Surprising Things I Haven’t Missed In Isolation

Cute hamster in tunnel.
Image from Unsplash by Zimbahcat

What’s surprised me most about this virus and its impact on my life is WHAT I HAVEN’T MISSED in isolation. While the 5 O’clock shadow above my lip is evidence of how much my body has missed the minimal amount of upkeep it demands – there’s loads of stuff I thought my happiness depended upon that I haven’t missed of all.

Obviously, I’ve missed certain elements of my life – going to restaurants, weekends away, and trips to the movies, to name a few – but what this virus has gifted me is a window to put into perspective what’s truly important in my life and what isn’t.

Below are 5 surprising things I haven’t missed in isolation:

1. People

FRIENDS, before you rush to Facebook to unfriend me, hear me out. Because I’m not talking about people per se, I’m talking about people I don’t really know that I’m forced to mix with at large social events or in the work environment. You see, one of the chronic sides to my anxiety is my social anxiety, which I’m sure is not that obvious to most people – because I’m a professional at disguising it, AKA an alcoholic – but it’s a problem that explains why a big part of me is loving this excuse not to leave the house right now.

Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t become a recluse in isolation whose only source of happiness comes from her dog and bullying her husband – I’ve been working my butt off within the four walls of our home – but I think the extra enthusiasm for work has derived from my contentment at being alone, rather than under the gaze of others.

The work required to socialise is what kills me, i.e. the diplomacy required to fit everyone in and not offend anyone. So while I’ve kept myself busy during this time, I’ve not missed being socially busy and I’ve embraced the extra time and energy to pour into projects I WANT TO DO that I’ve had to put on the back burner in the past.

2. Shopping

There’s not much point in clothes shopping when there’s nowhere to go – not that that stopped me before – but on the rare occasion I’ve visited the mall for “essentials”, I’ve discovered that my desire to shop has all but disappeared – cue fist pump from hubby. Materialism really does feel unessential right now.

And it’s nothing to do with not having the cash to splash, it’s about that change in my priorities again. I used to waste hours at the mall, trying to live up to unrealistic expectations that now seen ridiculous. Like many women, treating myself and spending compulsively used to make me feel better about myself – now I wonder why.

3. My Anxiety

This is a strange one when governments around the world are preparing for a mental health emergency, but it makes complete sense to me. Aside from the ramifications of certain domestic triggers (hmmm…), my anxiety hasn’t been exacerbated by COVID-19 – if anything it has reduced, and recent research in Japan confirms that I’m not alone. This may be because triggers such as work have been removed, or it may be (my theory) that the threat of the virus trumps most of the fears anxious people like me ruminate about on a daily basis. COVID-19 is the disaster of epic proportions we over-thinkers have been waiting for our whole lives, and now it’s here it feels somehow more tangible. It’s like looking the enemy in the eye.

Added to which, health anxiety simply isn’t an option right now – I mean, NO-ONE in their right mind wants to end up in the ER at the moment, right? On the personal front, while having Kurt back at home has added some tensions, it has also removed the fear those calls in the middle of the night caused. Enabling or not, it is much easier to support him during this pandemic under our own roof.

4. “The Treadmill”

The treadmill issue ties in with people and my anxiety. While I like my routine, I don’t necessarily enjoy all of the functions on my personal treadmill. At fifty-four, I’m still trying to shape my life into the one I want i.e. working for myself (preferably from home); and doing something I feel passionately about that scales well with my work-life balance. This break from certain outside pressures has paused the tension that usually mounts. It has provided me the opportunity to step back and do exactly what I want for a short space of time, when I want to. I’ve been able to step off the treadmill and roll around in the bedding.

5. The Weight Of Expectation

I am aware that it is my personal responsibility to control the weight of expectation I feel – or so my therapist says. Everyone wants to succeed, but for those of us who measure success in terms of work- life balance rather than financial reward, that weight of expectation can feel heavier and be difficult to keep in proportion. This difficulty is interlinked with my anxiety and I can only describe it as needing to nail everything, to be there for everyone, not to let anyone down even if when I’m drowning. With less expectation, my head has bobbed back to the surface of the water again.

Of course, these thoughts may just be symptomatic of middle age

I can’t deny that I’ve had an innate desire to find more inner peace for some time, and for those of us lucky enough to come through this virus unscathed, a positive of this COVID-19 experience has been how it has highlighted areas of our lives we took for granted. Nature, family relationships, and my health have been pushed back up to the top of my priority list. I may be missing the opportunity to explore countries I’ve never travelled to before, but I won’t miss the anxiety that used to accompany those trips, in much the same way I haven’t missed my invisibility at our local pub.

Is there anything surprising you haven’t missed in isolation?

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The Regression Of Middle-Aged Man Back To Toddler

You worry about how your marriage will evolve with age. You prepare yourself that one day there may not be enough to hold you together and you’ll end up another divorce statistic. What you never consider is that you might end up alone when your husband decides to become a hermit. sand-1500351_1280

 

As another dinner party looms ominously closer this evening, I’m concerned about getting the old man to actually leave the apartment. I understand that this is a common problem with middle-aged men, who can become so set in their ways they regress back to the behaviour of toddlers who are known to be highly reactive to change and things they don’t want to do.

 

It is becoming more and more apparent that the old man is not just the grumpy, old, middle-aged sod I had begrudgingly grown to accept, but that he would actually prefer to live on his own and pledge his troth to his man shed and the dog rather than me.

 

There have been signs of his yearning towards a solitary lifestyle for some time, that I’ve either chosen to ignore or bullied out of him, but the attraction has strengthened with age and as he becomes more intolerant to life in general.

 

Since he began to work from home, he rarely leaves the apartment unless he has to –  for exercise and to buy food. Fortunately for him there is a gym in our building – I call it a ‘gym’, but it’s actually the size of our kitchen, which as you know makes an appearance in the Guinness Book Of Records for being the smallest functioning kitchen ever designed. The gym holds two pieces of equipment, which the old man fights over with the Chinese lady on Level 1, who cleans down the saddle of the bike each day before her husband uses it.

 

The old man never cleans it down after use.

 

I managed to persuade him to come out to lunch with me at my favourite noodle restaurant the other day, because he was looking a bit peaky and I had watched an ugly, nervous rash develop when I reminded him about our weekend plans, but he got himself in such a state about the hoards of ‘people’ at the train station that he accidentally rubbed chilli in his eye and ended up crying through the entire meal, then made some excuse about needing to get back to check the post box.

 

The little conversation he has these days is with The Princess, who does a good impression of listening to him. However, I suspect that she isn’t as bright as we her proud parents like to believe, and so their dialogue is more likely to render her into a permanent state of confusion, and maker her more and more anxious by the day.

 

I’ve stopped turning around to him now when he says ‘hello, beautiful!’

 

He occasionally shifts from the two seater sofa to the three seater sofa, I assume to mix things up, which I see as a positive sign when he is such a creature of habit and bagsied the two seater when we first moved into the apartment. No-one apart from the Princess dares sit there.

 

Instead of going to the golf driving range, he has converted the small area in front of our lounge window into his golf practice area and we have the dents in the ceiling to prove it. He practices his small game down the narrow hallway to the bedrooms and The Princess, a willing partner in their symbiotic relationship, retrieves the ball for him each time.

 

Meaning there is less and less reason for him to leave the building.

 

He has told me that he will only holiday in Australia next year and now I am beginning to think that by Australia he actually means the Lower North Shore, which is the area in which we live. He has begun to graffiti ‘keep free’ through weekends in the family calendar.

 

This is why I expect him to throw himself on the carpet and kick and scream around 6pm this evening.

When Do You Let Your ADHD Teenager Spread Their Wings?

Autumn 2005 in Vienna. Berlin's Ellen Allien m...
Autumn 2005 in Vienna. Berlin’s Ellen Allien mows the floor. Rave is King! See where this picture was taken. [?] (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Kurt is going to a ‘rave’ tomorrow night.

 

Which obviously fills me with immense joy.

 

Due to social anxiety my boy rarely goes out, so I’m not really in any position to lay down the law on this one. Obviously, I’d feel better if it was a Disney movie at the local cinema, but so be it.

 

The hardest part about the teenage stage is having to let them go.

 

He must be exaggerating when he tells me about what really goes down at these under 18, no alcohol ‘raves’, the fine details of which fill me with horror. I know that teenagers like to provoke their parents, so I am trying to take the threat of pills, illegal alcohol, (blah blah blah!) with a pinch of salt; but this is my boy we’re talking about.

 

If I could lock him away for the night, I obviously would.

 

But he needs this. It’s only the second time he has chosen to go out this year with his new school friends, even though he has been invited to several events.

 

Small White butterfly (Pieris rapae)
Small White butterfly (Pieris rapae) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The problem with ADHD is that the executive functioning skills which help non- ADHD people make the right call on what is appropriate to tell and what not to tell are not developed, so they tell you everything.

 

This can be a good thing. Sometimes. I’m desperately trying to find an example of when, exactly. It probably wasn’t when he told me that I looked the oldest out of all the ‘mums’ he knew.

 

But sometimes too much information can backfire. I remember that when NC started going out into the Big Smoke I was always relieved when she stayed the night with friends so that she became someone else’s responsibility and I didn’t have to sit by the phone until the early hours.

 

I didn’t know what was going on and I could sleep soundly in denial.

 

A normal teenager wouldn’t dream of telling his mum about the shenanigans he plans to get up to on a night out, but Kurt has given me all the gory details of what he hopes to tick off his ‘how to kill yourself as a teenager’ To Do list, whilst ‘raving.’

 

He has been practicing his ‘rave’ moves, planned his outfit and no doubt found a way to secrete some alcohol into his system (for Dutch courage) before the event.

 

And I don’t want to ruin it for him by overloading him with my own anxieties because he’s got enough of his own and he needs to get out there and experiment and mix with his peers and make his own mistakes.

 

BUT he’s the male equivalent to Miley Cyrus when he’s high on life – with too much energy, no fear of consequences and absurdly impulsive – personality traits that don’t correlate with good decision-making, generally.

 

But worst of all, he’s still my baby and I’ve lived through his complicated development and feel as though I wear his fears around my heart. So every time I read a story about another teenager who has died from a drug overdose or jumped off a balcony, I get a sinking, sick feeling inside.

 

Even though deep down I know that it’s time for him to break the cocoon and spread his wings.

 

In answer to my own question, you have to let them spread their wings when you think they’re ready.

 

The Seven Year Itch

Terrace Houses
Terrace Houses

So, we are leaving the Beaches in search of streets paved with gold (and no doubt littered with syringes) in the Big Smoke. The choice is one of circumstance, not because we are in any way unhappy here, which makes it emotionally harder.

For me.

I would be lying if I didn’t mention that, of course, when we held our annual Christmas drinks last Sunday, the old man was rubbing his hands with glee in the secret knowledge that none of our guests realised that this was actually a drinks/farewell party, as well as a seasonal jolly.

I’ve mentioned the old man’s social anxiety (here), which dovetails rather nicely with my propensity for itchy feet. We have to have nurtured this five to seven year ‘flight’ plan during our over-extended marriage. We move, we settle, we make friends and then we f*ck off to pastures new. It is a behavior that sates my need for adventure and impulsivity and the old man’s need for anonymity….for a precious short time. It is possibly the singular most important factor for keeping our marriage just shy of the ‘green mould’ stage, (apart from secret passion for Macdonalds).

And each time we decide to move (and even though I have generally precipitated it), when the decision has been approved and the lease signed, and I finally consider the consequences of the impulsivity of my rash behavior and throw my hands in the air and have one of my prima donna hissy fits about not having any friends AGAIN, (and no doubt rant and wail about how absolutely hopeless the old man is in cultivating friends and how I simply don’t have the energy this time to go through the whole faking rigmarole another time), he just smiles knowingly.

And rubs his hands with glee, again. Because he knows that for a while he will have his safe little lost unit of four, depending on him again. No new faces = no stress in his world, other than the stress of having to listen to me despair every Saturday night about how boring he is and how we have become nomads with no mates, and how will I cope?

This will be a tough one, this move. This house was supposed to be our last before we retired to our palatial penthouse apartment in Palm Beach once the rock star has earned his fortune and repaid his debts; the house with the in-built coffee machine, customized sofas and matching remote controlled reclining armchairs.

The old man, in an uncharacteristically benevolent mood, has promised me new sofas from Domayne if our existing ones don’t fit through the dolls house doors of our new terraced rental and promised to take me to the cinema once a month to counterbalance our new status of social outcasts.

Terrace Houses courtesy of Bjarte Sorensen at www.flickr.com

Midlife Mayhem – Can’t You Just Tell Everyone I’m Dead

Words of desperation from a despairing man, on the brink of a cosy Sunday lunch with close friends. ‘A Dead Man Walking’ sprung to mind as I laughed nervously at him, but the implications were more serious – he is an introvert in crisis. Telling everyone he was dead, however, was never an option. But should something happen to me, I do worry that no one will know the truth about the Howard Hughes-esque recluse, who lives in the house, at the end of our street.

It’s not a question of him not liking people, or that he is fashionably eccentric, just cripplingly shy. So even though Sunday’s guest list included some of his dearest friends, the thought of being dropped into potentially unknown territory, because there may have been infiltrators (i.e.people he didn’t know), filled him with social anxiety.

His preparation involved relentlessly firing the names on the guest list at me, a ‘clearance’ system of sorts, a practise usually the domain of law enforcement agencies. At work he has no choice, but on home ground he exercises his free will to anonymity, within the frustrating constraints (for him) of being married to a serial social organiser.

So when he uttered those seemingly glib words to ‘tell everyone I’m dead’, I knew that the avoidance disorder was taking control. You see, he had been thwarted in a misguided escape plan just before we left, when he thought I was offering him a ‘get out of jail free’ card by feeling unwell, (when in fact, cancelling became an option because my inflamed throat was threatening to compromise my drinking prowess). I watched the build-up of pressure dissipate from his face with that tiny nugget of hope, and I felt something akin to pity for him. Then it dawned on me that he had assumed that he could stay with me. I had to burst his bubble – the bubble about no longer being a child!

Apparently, the thought of a boozy lunch with my mates can render him immobile with fear if the stars aren’t aligned, and only a thorough risk assessment can manage his anxiety. I managed to ignore his pathetic last-ditched suggestion of ‘cuddling on the sofa  with a romantic DVD’ and began loading the car, as the last flick we’d watched together was ‘Four Weddings’, back in the nineties. As soul mates, I am as aware of his misanthropist tactics as he is of my vulnerabilities. I am so used to his spin, that surrendering to his bargaining pleas would be the equivalent of allowing the dog to eat chocolate; I have to be cruel to be kind, before his anxiety becomes toxic.

Howard Hughes, former aviator, engineer, indus...
Howard Hughes, former aviator, engineer, industrialist, film producer and director (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

How can a successful, professional man be so constrained by shyness? And how do I cope with these early onset hermit symptoms, which threaten to destroy the social bonds I have so carefully cultivated, in spite of his resistance? Our social life has developed into a game of ‘one step forward, two steps back’ with rules, terms and conditions and maddening negotiations. Social arrangements are permitted only once a weekend, on a strictly rotating basis and only with people who ‘understand’ him. New friends need the persistence of a mosquito.

They say that opposites attract, but how can I organise the party if no  guests are permitted? I dream of the community of a retirement village, while he dreams of acreage, high fencing and separate bedrooms.

My analogy of friendships, like cars that need servicing, falls on deaf ears, while every week he conspires against me, diminishing face-to-face social time with all but our direct line. And as the diary fills, so too does his trepidation, and he says it’s time to move suburb again.

Hermit Street – EC1 Photo courtesy of http://www.flickr.com (EZTD)