In the last year, we have all been asked to retreat at home. And yet, what this has highlighted for many is that the concept is not to be taken for granted. One of my recurrent dreams since the beginning of the pandemic has been a version of the following: a patient walks into my consulting room, but rather than a quiet space, it turns out that my house is flooded with people. There are builders working in the corridors and mess on the floor of the room that I cannot clear away. Rather than staying in the room with me, the patient starts wandering round my house, while I try to conceal evidence of family life in panic. I was fortunate to have my professional base at home even before the pandemic, which meant that at least, the work space was not lost for me along with all the other series of losses this year, but at times, like in my dream, it felt like the boundaries between the space I needed for work and contemplation and the outside world were too permeable and too easy to blur. More generally, though, what the pandemic has highlighted for most of us is that the concept of home is much more complex and multifaceted than what we may have initially thought.
Undoubtedly, the strongest trend I have observed in my practice during 2020 and since the beginning of the pandemic has been the collapse of the home base, especially for younger people. For some, the question ‘where is home?’ has taken dimensions of existential anxiety and dread. It is actually much more common than we may think in the first instance to have more than one home; the physical home where we live our everyday life, the home of our childhood or our parents’ house, possibly a home in another country and also, a professional home. In normal circumstances, or, in other words, in how things were before the pandemic, the fluidity of our movement between these homes and their effortless interconnection created a secure base for our adult identity. We could usually choose which home to turn to; our everyday home at the end of a working day, our childhood home during traditional holiday times, the place somewhere in the world with which we have made a special connection home and so on. What I have seen repeating itself in my practice during the pandemic is the collapse of everyday home as a safe base. For some of my patients, especially those in their twenties or thirties, that meant that they fled to their parental home or a new home in another country where they could stay with a partner or a home where they could run away from their girlfriend/boyfriend or their flatmates. Others had to make a choice between living with a partner or supporting elderly parents, dating somebody or sharing a house with friends. Yet others were faced with rejection, as their wish to turn to their childhood home was met with a refusal by their risk averse parents. The instability in relationships that the moral dilemmas paused by the pandemic brought forward is shocking and likely to have long lasting consequences.
On the other hand, the collapse of the professional home has been depicted well in the virtual jokes circulated over the net at the beginning of the pandemic, where many attended their work zoom meetings wearing a crisp shirt over their pyjama bottoms and cosy socks. Can this identity split between a private and professional self, no matter how eager we are to represent it with humour, can this state of sustained disembodiment ever be integrated as our enduring reality, if we all begin to ‘choose’ to work more from home? This is a debate that is likely to continue well after Covid. Perhaps, like with the possible multiplicity of cultural homes, fluidity may emerge as the answer in the long term. As for me, after a year of postmen banging on the door as loud as possible to alert us to a delivery safely deposited in our front yard, which always leads to a frazzled and wound up family dog ready to defend us from the intruder, after a year of juggling home schooling, handymen having to be summoned as an emergency and a busier than ever online practice, I long for nothing more than an empty home where I can mercifully integrate my professional and private selves, just like I did before the pandemic
You can subscribe to my newsletter in the footer below and you’ll receive my blogs in your inbox monthly.