Celebrations, isolation, withdrawal, and inabilities that creep up over years

For the last few weeks, I have been working on something that needed figuring out a lot of technical stuff, and today morning, finally, I managed to finish off that chunk of work. And as I sat back to breathe in deeply and try and feel happy about it, I thought of one major change that has happened over these last few years: I have fewer ways to celebrate, because I have moved to an isolated, work-from-home setting

I started working from home around twenty years ago, after my father fell ill a number of times and coordinating his care was tricky with full-time work outside home. My mother (she was okay then) could not handle that work along with looking after my five-year-old son, and so hubby and I re-arranged our professional lives to a freelancer mode with the base at home. Hubby’s work continued to include travel within and outside city, but I worked off a home-base and only took up assignments in Delhi (where we lived then).

I have always been an introvert, a non-socializer, a misfit in parties, but till that point I was used to working from a typical office. My initial assignments as a freelancer were mainly system studies and design, which required visiting client sites often, but I had the flexibility to arrange the dates and times and was therefore available to support my father when needed. But then the profile of assignments moved to writing reports or developing systems, and I was spending most part of most days at home. The Internet was in its infancy, and many people did not have emails or did not check them. Work-from-home was rare and considered an oddity, but I managed. I also had to go out often for meetings and presentations–and used long phone calls with clients and fellow-professionals for supplementing these and get work done, but my amount of communication and social/ professional contact kept reducing.

It seemed convenient and gave me flexibility; I did not think this included a down-side.

Because, without intending to, without realizing, I became a recluse. The two or three times a week that I needed to go out began tiring me more. Just a few years before that, returning at 8:30 pm or 9:00 pm every day had been normal, and I would be energetic when back home; now such timings felt like truancy of some sort. They exhausted me. I was surprised to realize how dark it was by that time.

Then my social circles fell apart, professional work dwindled and I had to finally shed it off because of caregiving responsibilities and inability to go out for even that occasional meeting. I switched to writing, rightly recognized as a solitary profession. Hubby was busy in his work and travel, as was the rest of the world, my son was off for his studies, and I often went through days when I would not get to speak to a fellow-adult other than a couple of functional sentences with neighbors or a sabziwallah, or some time with my mother and her attendant. No avenues for intellectually stimulating conversation. And given how critical and lacking in understanding people around me were, no social interactions either.

It hits me on days like this, when I realize how limited my celebration options are.

In offices, celebrations often happen at a drop of the proverbial hat. You know, the mithai dabba for a birthday or a wedding or a newborn child or just because it was someone’s turn. The samosas, the impromptu snacks, the let’s-have-dinner-out or let’s-have-lunch-out stuff. The deadline-is-met parties. The increment day parties. The laughter. Shared lunch-boxes and comparisons on whose pulao recipe is better. Just…company.

One is not alone in an office setting, even when working in one’s cubicle. One can get up and walk down to another desk if one has found something interesting or got an email that makes one laugh or rage or something. Or to the coffee dispenser, to snatch a small social moment with a fellow caffeine seeker. There are many ways to work off restlessness, and to fulfill the craving to see someone else to exchange a few inconsequential words. Or share something important; in an office there are enough people who understand the sort of work one is doing, so no lengthy explanations are needed to say why one is happy or sad or angry or tired about some element of work. There are heated debates on politics or stuff. There are examinations of other persons’ clothes to understand trends. Movies are discussed, overcharging autorickshaw-wallahs are cursed.

All this is missing at home, working alone, where I do my work which is now very different from hubby’s work. We were colleagues and business partners years ago, and he is still in his profession, traveling, meeting people, working outside home or at home but fully connected with his peer group. But my work is solitary, and fully home-based.

The coping mechanisms I have evolved are different, but not always adequate (or healthy).

The main place I walk down to now, when I need company, is the fridge, where I break off yet another chunk of dark chocolate to either celebrate something I did or to get that sense of company or self-indulgence…

Ditto when I am restless.

When the day’s chocolate ingestion quota is over (and I keep increasing this quota), there are jigsaws (fix three pieces to get a break from work), there are re-read sections of Harry Potter, there is Sudoku, there are gobble-fantasy-books, and so on.

…these breaks help sometimes, but they don’t always work…I remain restless…

Not having someone who fully understands what I am doing, not being able to celebrate small achievements and big hits me sometimes. Talking about them to others (the only “other” readily available is hubby) doesn’t work as well because what I do is so self-driven and so “detail oriented” that by the time I explain why I am feeling good, the euphoria has diffused…

…and so, most of the time, I forget to feel good about completing things, because it is easier that way🙂

Another downside of my “altered existence” is that I have also lost the ability to socialize.

This means, if I am plunged back into an office setting, I would no longer be able to handle having so many people around me all the time, morning to night, day after day.

My inability to socialize did not happen in one day, it grew slowly, over a decade, as long and forced isolation atrophied my smile-and-share-small-stuff muscles to a point where I find myself tired after any long face-to-face meeting.

I still enjoy meeting people face-to-face. I look forward to those rare occasions when I’ll get to talk to someone other than my hubby and my mother and her attendant. I love the affection and warmth of friendly contact, the variety, the stimulation. I get to exercise my voice chords, my rusty wit. I get to hear different things, interesting things.

But another part of me gets fatigued. After the fun-times, all I want is to go home and curl up and hide. For some days after that, even the thought of a social outing tires me. I need solitude for that social-muscle-springback time.

I’ve found that I function best at a maximum of one social occasion a week, and can just about stretch myself to handle two such occasions. I can, on the other hand, go through two months without noticing that I’ve not met anyone (that is, other than long-suffering hubby, mother, and attendant).

So here I am… part of me wants company, wants celebrations, wants parties, the other part of me shies away from them and I am often in this precarious tug-of-war balance with myself. Whichever way I do things, there is dissonance inside me.

These thoughts rush as me today because I finished a piece of work, and that, in an office setting, would have called for a party.

When I embarked (without intention, and oh so gradually) on the caregiver journey, this change in my life approach was not something I had anticipated. I therefore did nothing to avoid the change. I was often thrown into situations where people just would not understand the challenges I was facing, and instead of supporting me or being matter-of-fact, they said things that hurt (though that was not their intention). I found no way to handle such interactions and I shrank back. The more I could work without meeting people, the more I withdrew. The more I could remain available at home, the more I re-arranged my life to reduce going out.

Had I been warned of the cumulative impact of this gradual withdrawal by some fairy godmother, I might have forced myself to remain socially active even if it meant making compromises and putting up with some thoughtless comments of others. But now, the effort of reverting to a more “normal” social life is just not worth it, because anyway I don’t get the time or opportunities and am even more isolated. The chasm to be bridged is too wide, and I lack the energy.

Maybe later?

But if you are a newbie caregiver and find yourself shying away from people somewhat, give this post a thought…

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About Swapna Kishore
I'm a writer, blogger, and resource person for dementia/ caregiving in India. I have also been a dementia caregiver for well over a decade, and am deeply concerned about dementia care in India; on this blog I share my personal caregiving journey, my experiences as a resource person for dementia care, and musings on life, aging, dementia in India, and such sundries. More about me and the work I do for dementia care. For structured information on dementia, for discussions, tools and tips on caregiving issues, for resources in India, and for caregiver interviews, please check my website http://dementiacarenotes.in (or its Hindi version, http://dementiahindi.com). For videos on dementia caregiving (English and Hindi), check the youtube channel here.

One Response to Celebrations, isolation, withdrawal, and inabilities that creep up over years

  1. austere says:

    Tougher later, I think.
    What about some mindless class once a fortnight? I know, too much trouble.

    I have reclusive tendencies, and there are days I paste on a smile, yes, even though I work.

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