I can feel the vein on my right temple pulse almost every day these days. You know how it is when you clamp up your panic or anger and try to stay calm while your brain is telling you to do just the opposite, and all the mayhem in your body turns itself into a tiny thump that you feel rhythmically near the corner of your eye. My life is fine. I have a job, my family is safe, my kid eats fruits and veggies, and yet, I feel that by the time this pandemic ends, I will develop hypertension. Blame it on more than two adults working from home, from the same room and a tiny individual studying from home, which demands that her parents have a degree in computer science and Marie Kondo-esque organisational skills for her to keep up with rest of the class.
My little one is in the first standard and yet for the fifth time in the past two months her school has (out of good intentions of course) come up with a new plan to make follow up on classwork and homework “easier” for parents. “But I just became a pro at downloading worksheets, having the kid fill them on the phone, and then upload it on the school portal!” I mumble, feebly. Turns out I still have to do this and then upload more submissions on a different portal. I had to process all these new changes while I could hear a flurry of pings on my Slack. There is something about work-related pings, you develop this itch to check them immediately. The combined effect of all these seemingly normal scenarios on a person, even in what can be labelled as a healthy work and home environment, is that you feel constantly restraining a tantrum that is one bad internet connection away from fully flaring up. And I have a hunch that I am not alone.
In an online survey conducted by the Your Amigos Foundation on the impact of work from home during the lockdown on employees, whose results were published by The Hindu in June, show a majority of the participants claimed that work from home was more “stressful and lethargic” than working from an office. In 2017, a United Nations report had claimed that 41 percent of people working remotely reported high-stress levels, as compared to just 25 percent of those who worked out of the office. And this is from when we didn’t have the news of COVID-19 cases, floods and fires breathing down our neck.
Every time I experience a power cut, or lose internet connectivity, or have my work interrupted by a chore that cannot wait, I find myself asking, are we ready for working from home forever? Is this even good for our health? While the disintegration of the office culture might save companies some money on renting out office spaces, and the employees a lot of time and energy spent on the commute, we are not fully equipped to make working from home a convenient experience that it is supposed to be. Now I have been working from home for close to three years now, but the last five months have been hard even for me, but more on my techie husband who would any day choose to travel 50 kilometres to and fro because he spends most of his day losing his temper over power cuts. There are those who are still to develop the superhuman ability to block out Spongebob Squarepants and pressure cooker whistles and focus on work uninterrupted, that most working from home mommies have. But even such moms are finding it hard to control their anger and anxiety, crushed under the burden of household chores.
I think a lot of us stop ourselves from bursting into a rant (which could help release all the pent up stress) because the woke culture has taught us to count our privileges, before counting our problems. The downside of this is that we feel guilty about feeling so bogged down by the pandemic and the resultant erratic work culture (59 percent participants in the online survey mentioned above complained of increased workload). We feel guilty to say it out loud that we are finding it hard to cope. That we are angrier and more restless than we used to be. Yes, we have a job, yes, we have our health, but that doesn’t mean that we are okay. A lot of us may be struggling to keep our sanity intact, crying silently in the pillow at night, dreading Mondays more than ever, or having a panic attack thinking what would happen if we lose connectivity during that important client call.
Don’t feel guilty. Every one of us deserves to stand up and say that we are struggling to cope, to demand help and to be heard as much as we are expected to hear. Have that meltdown, reach out to that counsellor your best friend was talking about, chat with your partner or take a day off to just playing with you kid. You and your health come first, especially during such exceptional times.
The views expressed are the author’s own.