Lockdown fatigue is one of the inevitable psychological fallout of COVID-19. The feelings of fatigue or exhaustion one might be experiencing are more likely to be related to the mental pressure associated with the virus induced lockdown rather than any physical burden, writes Shlagha Borah.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) website, a pandemic is defined as “an epidemic occurring worldwide, or over a very wide area, crossing international boundaries and usually affecting a large number of people”, and COVID-19 checks all of these boxes. In India, the first phase of lockdown was announced on the 25th of March by PM Narendra Modi, and since then, there has been an overwhelming sense of panic, anxiety and distress prevailing around the topic.
Migrant labourers have continued to walk home amid the COVID-19 lockdown, to be with their families in these trying times, even as the death toll increases. Looking at these statistics, one can only be grateful for the privilege of being able to quarantine inside one’s home in a healthy environment. However, there are some issues that accompany this privilege, and these cannot, and should not be neglected. As Emma Grey Ellis writes:
“When living with family, a partner or a roommate, coronavirus quarantine is not just about managing one’s own needs and anxieties. It’s about finding a way to co-exist with someone and their baggage, every day in a confined space for an undisclosed amount of time. The experience could be stressful and taxing, and maybe even traumatic.”
We’re currently in the fourth phase of lockdown, and these intra-familial issues are only getting worse. “Lockdown fatigue, the inevitable psychological fallout of COVID-19, is the reason so many people are feeling exhausted, irritable, drained of energy and motivation- even when they’re doing less than usual”, writes Karen Nimmo. The feelings of fatigue or exhaustion one might be experiencing are more likely to be related to the mental workload associated with the virus induced lockdown rather than any physical burden.
In addition to the collective grief the world is going through, some of us are also, unfortunately, quarantined in abusive and traumatic households. More often than not, families have a lot of unresolved trauma, issues they choose to brush under the carpet, and topics avoided in front of children, that are slowly coming to light due to the confining nature of the nation-wide lockdown. These unattended issues are turning into uncomfortable dinner-table conversations, minor conflicts turning into major arguments, and in a lot of households, resulting in a sense of unpleasantness between its members. Most students had to abruptly leave their campuses and are now finding themselves trying to balance the uncertainty-induced anxiety and the pressure of attending online classes, while co-existing in a shared space with a problematic family.
“People aren’t just working from home; they are under lockdown and trying to work during a crisis that is taking a toll on us mentally. In such a stressful environment, it’s not easy to be suddenly around your family members or flatmates 24×7, especially in a small house. Furthermore, for the middle class who are suddenly bereft of their house help, the lockdown also poses logistical challenges of how to run the house smoothly — a responsibility that more often than not ends up falling on the women of the house”, writes journalist Fiza Jha. In fact, reported cases of domestic violence have increased notably in India since the announcement of the lockdown, according to The National Commission of Women (NCW). The number of cases reported are most likely not fully indicative of the actual rise in domestic violence since people locked in with their abusers may not be able to get access to a mobile phone or internet, nor the space and time to call for help. Being trapped in a space with violent or manipulative individuals could lead to increased rates and intensity of threats, physical, sexual, and psychological abuse, humiliation, intimidation, and controlling behaviour. These behaviours often have lasting effects, and can significantly affect mental health and cause trauma to the victim.
There remains another seemingly minute but equally important issue, the concept of personal space diminishing during the lockdown. Most families fail to recognise the need for boundaries, thus evading each other’s personal space and in turn, headspace, too. “I doubt if I am getting the required amount of personal space from my family. I feel like I am surrounded with people who don’t understand me at all. After coming back from my college hostel, home doesn’t feel like home. It gets really tough to make my family understand that there are times when I don’t feel like interacting or doing things, and as a result I have to end up doing things that I don’t want to. I didn’t have a good childhood, and I relive my childhood trauma everytime a little argument happens between me and my mother”, says Diya, a 20-year old from Assam. Women often have the burden of managing their households and work simultaneously, and with the new norm of working from home during the pandemic, some women may find it incredibly challenging to balance the two, especially with the stress of the situation, and stress at home. “My brother constantly compares his success to mine even though we do not share the same profession. My boss is an overbearing bully who expects more and more. My husband is demanding, controlling, and frustrating. And that was life before the lockdown. Now, I’m forced to be in the same house with my husband, brother, parents, while working from home and waking up to emails from the office. I’m always irritated”, says Kim, a working woman.
Trauma stays in the body, and all it needs to resurface is a simple trigger – an unpleasant situation, particular words, or a disturbing memory. Being stuck within the same four walls for days at stretch can bring these triggers in abundance. “These two months inside the home are reminding me of an old time when I dealt with anxiety. I am trying to take care of myself but I keep checking my phone a lot to distract myself, which is hampering my studies”, says Anshika, who stays in Guwahati for her studies but is presently stuck at home.
The lockdown has also served as a reality check, and has made people understand that the veil of ignorance must come down – better late than never. Families are learning to cohabitate better by working on their interpersonal relationships, resolve conflicts by discussion, and give each other the benefit of doubt at times. “My parents always fight and are in disagreement. For two long years I have been ignoring it and not accepting that something is wrong. But the lockdown has helped me realize that this is how it is going to be and it is just a part of my life I can’t get rid of. So I am trying to make peace with it”, says Rwittika, who’s working on looking at the positive aspects of staying in. Speaking from a personal viewpoint, I have been witness to innumerable “taboo-ed” discussions in family Whatsapp groups, with elders passing homophobic, casteist remarks in the name of humour, and being accused of breaking family ideals when tried to make them understand they’re wrong. One can only imagine how uncomfortable these confrontations must be when dealing with members living within the same walls of a house.
All things considered, there is no doubt that we’re heading towards an uncertain future, and our families are one of the most significant elements in keeping us grounded through these tough times. But what about people who have a history of horrific incidents within their families, where does one go in this challenging time, if home for them is one of the most unsafe places to be? In France and Spain, pharmacies are being trained to identify people facing abuse through code words – asking for “Mask 19” is being used as a code for people who cannot speak openly, to indicate that they are being abused and are seeking help. A similar sensitisation process is required in India as well, and protecting victims and survivors of any form of abuse or violence needs to be mandated as an “essential service” by the government. But it seems like a utopian ideal, and until then, one can only hope that young adults, especially young women, find the strength to reclaim their space inside their homes as much as they fight for space in the outside world.
The author is a final year student from Lady Shri Ram College for women.