I am no stranger to being at home. I swapped my full time job for being a full time stay at home in November of 2013 just before we had our first baby. I love being at home, I hermit better than most, loving the comfort of my tracksuit pants, fluffy socks and dressing gown.
But 2020 really threw a spanner in the works. 2020 in Melbourne was brutal. This is not to say that it wasn’t tough for people in other cities or countries similarly affected, but this is a recount of my lived experience and my mental health journey throughout the year.
In February 2020, I fell pregnant with our fourth baby. Planned and welcomed, we were so excited about the final member of our family finally joining us, 7 years after we started having our family. Mere weeks later, things got out of hand where the virus was concerned, borders were shut, shops were shut, schools were shut and life paused. Except it didn’t. The world inside our four walls was as hectic as ever.
March 2020 saw schools and kindergartens close and suddenly I was freshly pregnant for the fourth time, while being the stay at home parent and now home schooling teacher for our three children, Owen, 6 & in grade 1, Ethan, 4 & in Kinder, and Paige 2 & in family day care, a firecracker, fiercely independent and determined to toilet train herself.
None of my 6 years of being a stay at home parent prepared me for what life would be like throughout 2020. My years of battling post natal anxiety and depression after Ethan & Paige didn’t prepare me for the mental battle that 2020 would be. My years of staying home with the kids didn’t prepare me for the endless monotony of not leaving the house for anything, for day after day, telling myself not to worry about the housework because we weren’t going anywhere and my pregnant body wasn’t going to be too happy about me cleaning the whole house while my tornado children were still there.
Now in saying all of this, I did have help last year. As a matter of necessity, we had our weekly sleepover arrangements still in place with my in-laws. Not a physical necessity, but a mental health break necessity. We stayed in very close contact with another family who mid year had their fourth baby also. And we had driveway coffee catch ups when things were at their hardest. I taught said friend how to crochet over coffee in camping chairs on the driveway while the kids had some actual interaction with each other to save their sanity.
My pregnancy, while medically event free, was brutal. The exhaustion and the mental toll it took on me was really tough. Mentally I struggled to get through each day and I couldn’t tell you the number of times I called my husband in tears feeling unable to make it through the day. I reached out for help during my pregnancy and started telehealth psychology sessions with a wonderful therapist. These fortnightly sessions were a big help, if for nothing else than for venting my challenges and hearing that yes, even people without kids and without certain challenges in their lives are struggling through these new and different times. I ended up increasing my anti-depressant while I was pregnant because I could barely get through the days without crying most of the time.
Lewis Michael Collins was born on his due date on 15th October, 2 weeks before Melbourne began it’s long walk out of lockdown. Which meant that while my husband was able to be in the hospital with me while I birthed Lewis, once I was on the ward, he was out of there and I was on my own. And more than that, given we had 3 kids at home, and there was only a one hour visiting window during the day I was in the hospital (5-6pm- hello witching hour!!), Jezz was only able to see Lewis for about 2 hours, and then not again for the next 36 hours, until I was able to convince the nurses that I would be fine going home (extra supervision was needed due to my anti-depressants).
Thankfully, while painfully slowly, the lockdown began to lift over the next few weeks which meant people were able to actually visit us and meet Lewis, either in local parks or a few people at a time in our home. And we were able to enjoy summer in a mostly normal way.
Now, in June 2021, Lewis is nearly 8 months old, and we are starting down a worrying slope of lockdowns and it is really hard to keep the mind from spiralling out of control given the start of the 2020 lockdown was announced as a 2 week lockdown!
This shit is hard. There is no sugar coating it at all. Yes, this year I am no longer pregnant, I am now off my anti-depressants and in a much healthier place mentally, but this is still no cake walk.
There is a massive difference between thinking ‘oh we don’t have any plans this weekend, let’s enjoy some time at home and catch up on things and recharge before a busy week’, and being told, ‘no you cannot go anywhere, you may only leave your house for 2 hours a day, only one person from your house can go to the shops once a day for essentials and you must not welcome anyone into your home’.
I could certainly rabbit on for many many more paragraphs about what I found hard last year and even in the last 2 weeks. But instead I would like to share a few things that have helped me in the hopes that they might help you too!
- Weekly family trivia sessions via Zoom with my family – we took turns being Quiz Master and it was so fun to have that to look forward to each week.
- Gourmet donuts delivered to your door – we had donuts delivered a few times thanks to beautiful friends and family and man did they help bring a spot of sunshine to our day. (And yes once I did eat 3 large gourmet donuts in one day – no regrets!)
- Coincidentally running into friends at the park – humans need interaction, adults need conversation that isn’t tiny humans being demanding, and even kids need to interact with other kids. The hardest part of lockdown last year was the no playground part – the kids suffered something shocking not being able to see any of their friends. Video calls are great just not the same thing.
- Failing a playground – front yard coffee dates – just a bit of adult interaction helps.
- Friends willing to swap a kid for home schooling. A few amazing friends last year did a kid swap with me, swapping their school kid for my kindergarten kid, which made for much smoother days having 2 kids together to do school or 2 kinder kids together to play.
- Puzzle & game swaps – a few friends and I swapped our puzzles and games so the kids would have a bit of variety of things to play with on those endless days at home.
And my biggest help of 2020 was being the Mum Boss that I am and saying ‘NOPE, we are taking term 3 off school.’
Half way through term 3 I logged onto a parent teacher conference on Zoom to explain to the teachers why Owen hadn’t submitted any work during term 3. They were greeted by my pale bloated face, large uncomfortable belly, Ethan jumping all over me, and Paige running past the zoom call naked, and the teachers immediately understood that it just wasn’t possible at that stage for me to be teaching Owen anything. I think the naked 2 year old sold it for us, but the teachers were lovely about it. They got that we weren’t just uncaring, we explained that where we could we would still have Owen reading things and spelling words, but we could not lock into any sort of expectation that we could submit completed school work.
Our mental health and relationship with Owen was and is way more important.
Who knows what the next few weeks and months have in store for Melbourne. Hopefully it’s not anywhere near as bad as it was last year, but it is totally understandable if your mind does go straight to the dark place that was 2020. When this lockdown was announced #4.0 for those keeping track, I immediately felt a sense of dread and anxiety wash over me, a million questions running through my mind.
I hope you are doing what it takes for you to get through this lockdown, no matter what that is. I mean, be careful if you are leaning too heavily on the wines or really unhealthy coping tools. But really, do what you need to. And if that means saying no to home schooling, the kids will survive. If that means online shopping to give yourself something to look forward to when the postie comes – google some coupon codes so you get the best value for money! And if that means living 2 weeks in your PJS, I hope you have some really comfy Peter Alexander ones or something!
P.S – Don’t stay over there – come here and have a coffee with me in my front yard!