"Work from home" has become almost as ubiquitous a phrase as the words Covid or 'pandemic'. There are at least a million Google searches per month for it. And yet, the term may be a misnomer, in my opinion. We are not working 'from' home as much as we are working 'with' home. In other words, the lines of demarcation have become blurred and we can't always delineate where our home and personal life ends, and our work begins.
Why is this important to understand? Because it helps to frame what is going on in our brains and how we all have been struggling in various forms during 2020 and 2021.
We have gotten used to very specific delineations of things that we do, and where we go. We work out at a gym, we then travel to work, we may stop by the coffee shop, and then we might go out with friends on the weekends or after work. All of those lines of demarcation are very blurred and in some cases gone completely. As a result, our brains are confused because the beginning or end is not clear to us. Our homes and private spaces have become, or are becoming our gym, our classrooms, and our social environments.
On top of this, we are now revealing our private spaces- i.e. our bedrooms and homes to people who have never been in our homes before. Zoom life is not only convenient, but it’s intrusive whether we realize it or not. We are revealing parts of our personal lives and spaces that we never have, and it's in the context of work-life.
Is it any wonder we are all struggling with levels of anxiety and exhaustion like never before? This prolonged sense of uncertainty in an enclosed environment causes anxiety to bubble underneath the surface, even if we are not always conscious of it.
The lack of structure in the workplace is playing itself out at home with our family and social lives as well. We are having to learn how we want or need to parent within this new world. How do you balance being available for your children vs. being available to work?
It used to be that when I came home from work, or even during my time away from work, I had this bubble of privacy and protection that was not breached. Now those boundaries are blurred too. When at home, I can easily see who's online and respond to them and they to me. The result? My home is now infiltrated with outside influences and individuals who are constantly bursting my privacy bubble.
We have developed a new sense of Touch Hunger as well. It is the need and desire for human connection and touch that we cannot live without in healthy ways for very long.
The result of all this? Ambiguous loss. Ambiguous loss is a term coined by Pauline Boss, who described it as the ongoing stress that results from having an ongoing connection to someone or something that you can't quite possess or find. Ambiguous loss is not so much a single, specific loss but instead involves ongoing feelings of yearning and longing for a person, place, relationship, or other connection. Ambiguous loss is not just about death, but can be experienced by anyone who has an ongoing emotional bond with someone or something that cannot be separated cleanly-as when an aging parent or relative progressively is taken away due to dementia or Alzheimers. It's the experience of grief without knowing how much time has passed since the loss occurred, and not knowing when, where, and how the loss will end.
All of us are collectively grieving the way things used to be, and not knowing when or if they will ever be the same again.
So is there any good news in all of this? Yes. There is tragic optimism. Tragic Optimism is the belief that, despite all odds, good things will happen in the end. It's a blind hope for something better even when your rational mind tells you it’s probably not going to happen.
Tragic optimism allows us to continue to work, parent, and live the lives we once had even if they have drastically changed. It is what drives us to keep moving forward, even though we are not always sure where we are going. But it's there.
Next time you feel yourself resisting the unknown, take a moment to consider Ambiguous Loss and Tragic Optimism as points on your timeline. What are you ambiguously mourning? What do you hope for?
It’s okay to do that. It's okay to acknowledge that nothing feels quite the same anymore. It's also okay to admit that it's not all bad, which is why we can continue on toward a new way of doing things. And that new can include the creation of new and different boundaries for your work and life.
Here are three tips to move forward in this "work from home" world we are all living in.
Establish smaller boundaries for yourself. For example, turn your computer and email off at a certain time each evening and plan some fun time or relaxing time during that "turned off" time. It could be sitting out in the back yard or front porch with a glass of wine or cup of coffee. Reading a book, or watching a movie.
Create some boundaries with your family. It might be as simple as telling everyone that on Wednesday evenings you are turning off all screens and devices and its family time. Or maybe it’s a promise to schedule or preserve one evening each week for the family where no one has any agenda, just talking and laughing together.
Create boundaries with friends too. Maybe it’s a weekly or bi-weekly date night, or an agreement that you meet once a month for lunch. Not only are these things good for your relationships, they are also healthy boundaries in which you can find relief from work demands and connect with people face to face.
In conclusion, the boundaries between work and home are all but gone. Ambiguous loss is real, pervasive, and ongoing. Tragic optimism keeps us moving forward. It’s okay to acknowledge that nothing feels quite the same anymore, it's also okay to admit that it's not all bad, which is why we can continue on toward a new way of being and living. Here's to a bright future.