the lonliness of thelong distance worker

published in Distans, Stockholm, Sweden. March 1995.

When I chose to have my second baby at home in England many years ago, I was warned by the Doctors that it was a very foolish thing to do and that I was risking not only my life, but the life of my unborn baby as well. This warning was not because of any physical reasons, but because at that time, it was the considered judgment of the medical establishment that women should have their babies in hospital. Being a determined young woman, I decided I would have my baby at home. But also being anxious to please the Doctors, I set about making the bedroom as much like a hospital as possible. The result was the worst of both worlds. I not only managed to remove all the comforts of home from the bedroom ie. I removed the lamp shades and left the large comfortable double bed for a make-shift single bed which was extremely uncomfortable, but also of course I completely failed to achieve the hygienic conditions of hospital. Needless to say, I won neither the approval of the Medical Profession nor the pleasurable feeling of having given birth in the comfort of my own home.

The same difficulty can arise when creating the working environment at home. It is hard to find ways of making use of the facilities that are already there without feeling slightly guilty. There is inside most of us a puritanical self  who has a built-in division between work and home and when that divide is no longer defined by leaving the home to go out to work, the blurring of boundaries which takes place can cause great anxiety. This needs to be understood and dealt with so that there may be the possibility of having the best of both worlds.

Thomas dealt with this anxiety when he first setup his office at home by firmly closing his door at 9:00 AM, and apart from allowing himself a half hour lunch break, he did not emerge until 6:00 PM. Not only was he extremely isolated and lonely, but so also were his children and his wife who felt excluded from the office. The divide between home and work became Thomas' door which took on the psychological proportions of the Iron Curtain.

Evelyn dealt with the divide in quite the opposite way. She allowed herself no office door, and tried to be in the two places at once. This meant such a blurring of boundaries that she rapidly started to lose her identity. It was only when she found herself putting the business plan into the washing machine that she decided something had to be done about the situation.

Elizabeth realized a whole new world of relationships when she discovered the world of the computer - browsing through the e-mail and surfing on the internet, she quickly established a dialogue with hundreds of kindred spirits; loneliness was not a problem for her, but a problem for her husband when he felt he couldn't compete with this new and fascinating world she had discovered in the spare bedroom.

Peter solved his feelings of isolation by leaving messages on the answering machines of all his business contacts very early in the morning. He then waited for his calls to be returned, and sure enough they were. He was inundated with calls first thing in the morning - his day was off to a flying start.

We need to able to recognize our inner and outer resources and to realize that it is possible to have a coffee with a neighbour or take the dog for a walk without losing our capacity to do a full days work. We need to understand and help our families to understand that sometimes the door has to be closed in order to establish that sense of working self which is so important to our sense of identity, and we need to be aware that working from home affects the whole family.

When it is not recognized that this home/work situation is an innovation which demands a re-thinking of the way we see work and home, there is a possibility that the end result will be the uncomfortable no-mans land I experienced when I had my baby at home, neither home nor hospital. In this situation, which is neither home nor office, a no-mans land can be created where it is difficult to find an identity and all too easy to feel lonely, where rather than being able to use the resources of both the home and the office, you find yourself unable to use either.

Loneliness can come from thinking you are the only one battling with the uncomfortable feelings associated with establishing a new working routine - you are not - more and more people are establishing their work place at home and finding practical ways to combat loneliness. Perhaps a way can be found to share that practical information, and in so doing, alleviate the emotional isolation too.

© Pauline Hodson