Sure, we all feel it now and again. But recently, I seem to encounter this word more than usual. It pops up on my Instagram feed and lingers in the air from overheard conversations at work. A few weeks ago, Singapore was even cited in an article as being the most fatigued nation in the world. This article, by a UK bedding manufacturer, based this by calculating working hours, time spent in front of a screen and sleeping hours; it concluded that Singaporeans have the highest levels of fatigue. Now, while my competitive, cosmopolitan city loves coming in at number one, this is a ranking that we should be concerned about. Do we really not get enough rest? And do we even realise it?
These days however, the fatigue I hear about and which is more detrimental, extends far beyond work hours and screen time. It’s an exhaustion that has recently set in, an exhaustion brought about by battling the Covid pandemic, an exhaustion that we cannot so easily remedy with some extra rest or time off from work.
As I thought about the kind of fatigue that I experience (because it’s not a matter of ‘if’ but ‘how much’), I asked some friends if they felt this way and the majority of them answered with an overwhelming ‘YES!’ The most common factor was the inability to travel. We probably took spontaneity for granted, underestimated the freedom to travel, and never truly appreciated how some time spent abroad was like a magical reset button. The friends who find the county’s closed borders much harder to bear are my expat friends who have not been able to return to their home countries in close to two years as well as those with families living abroad.
Having been an expat, I truly empathise with these friends as the trips back home are necessary to re-establish familiarity and comfort, to reconnect with your loved ones or just to be around for important life events. I appreciate that this is an essential part of an expat’s life. So it’s understandable when my expat friends commented that they were tired of waiting for big changes. There have been many smaller targets in Singapore, for example, of breaking transmission chains, controlling the cases in the foreign workers’ dormitories, or achieving a national 80% vaccination rate. But for many expat families, these provide little concrete relief or hope that they will get to go home for a visit anytime soon, and I can sympathise with their tired frustrations and impatience.
The exhaustion could also stem from an imbalance of work and home time. Many people here have switched to a default work-from-home arrangement. While working from one’s laptop at home, it seems even harder to tear ourselves away from our work. The overlap of spaces creates an inability to properly draw a line and cease working. Just yesterday, I had to stay home and conduct lessons remotely from my dining room table. Between lessons, marking and the preparation of examination revision material, I sat in my dining room for the most part of twelve hours.
On usual days, I try not to bring any work home when I leave the school. I feel like the extra hours I put in may have resulted from an overcompensation on my part. Since I was not in the classroom and teaching the students face-to-face, I felt like I had to make up for it by preparing extra notes. This overcompensation has been obvious among my other colleagues after each lockdown or period of home-based learning. While we comfort our own students and try to ensure that they are coping well with the changes of this pandemic, we attempt to make up for precious lost curriculum time and interaction with students, forgetting that in the end, we’re overloading ourselves and the kids. And as I say this, I will guiltily and sadly admit that in doing this over the past year and a half, I have had much less time, energy and patience for my own child.
Emotionally, I think many people are exhausted too. We’re all tired out from trying to be positive all the time and hoping that things will turn around quickly. As part of a bigger community, people living in Singapore have rallied together to abide by restrictions and measures, minimised social interactions and worn our masks faithfully. It’s amazing how we’ve been plodding on in the hope that life can soon return to normal. But with recent spikes in cases in May and with another surge in cases happening at the moment, our synchronised steps are getting more and more weary, and it is of no wonder that we are fatigued.
Do our kids feel this too? My 8-year-old daughter says she misses everything pre-Covid – fun celebrations in school like lion dances during Chinese New Year celebrations, running around with her classmates in the playground during recess, and most of all, she’s really sad that she hasn’t been able to visit her cousins and extended family in Australia for such a long time. Even though kids might not be able to fully process these changes and communicate this like we are able to, I’m sure they too feel these losses in their little lives. Kids and adults alike are facing both immediate and long-reaching effects of this unprecedented global issue.
No matter how well we are coping with the pandemic, there is no doubt that we are fatigued. Do you feel it? Maybe one way we can cope with this, is to share something that enables you to tend to your health, your mind and your heart. For me, yes I acknowledge that I am feeling burnt out, and I shall go text my sister in Melbourne and commiserate with her.
This is an original post by Karen Grosse from Singapore.
Karen is a Singaporean with an 8 year-old daughter who’s a little fire-cracker version of herself. She’s spent the last 15 years in her various roles of supportive trailing spouse, mother, home-maker and educator. Having experienced six international moves alternating between overseas postings and her home country of Singapore, Karen considers herself a lover of diverse foods and culture, and reckons she qualifies as a semi-professional packer. She is deeply interested in intercultural and third-culture issues, and has grown immensely from her interactions with other World Mums.
Karen is currently living in Brunei with her family.
My 16-year-old son left for a summer study session this morning, only to message me from the train station thirty minutes later. Oops, it had been cancelled. Now a long day in the oppressing heat and humid hell of Japanese summer stretches long and lazily before us. It is not what we were expecting.
But this has been a long season of not-what-we-were-expecting. Other countries seem to have the pandemic under control. Other countries return to life as normal, but not here in Japan. Life never shut down or locked down to the extreme of other places, but we live long, drawn-out half-lives under continuous states-of-emergency while the Olympics flash on TV. It is not what we were expecting.
We didn’t expect to wake up one day to find school cancelled, and for it to stay that way for months. We didn’t expect to learn the ins and outs of indoor ventilation or the effectiveness of different kinds of masks. We didn’t expect to be separated from our friends and loved ones for so many long, long months while simultaneously being shut-in with our nuclear families while trying to work and study from home.
For me, that became a stream that burst through the cracks of my marriage until the boat was no longer seaworthy. I’d always been what I call a “solitary mom,” since my husband left all of things kids and household to me. Now the kids and the household and the mom are in another building, and all things husband are left to him. It’s not what we were expecting. I wasn’t expecting to start graduate school; that was a dream I’d given up on, but when programs that required in-person segments changed their policies I saw my chance. I’m one term in. So far, I’m doing better than I was expecting.
I didn’t expect that so many old friends and acquaintances would have such different opinions on something as simple as a mask. We’ve worn them in Asia from before. It isn’t new. It also isn’t hard. These old friends and acquaintances are not the people I was expecting them to be.
I never expected to be relieved to the point of tears when my children were able to get an appointment for a vaccination. In this country, very few children have had that chance yet. I am still nervous and worried that something will go wrong with the supply or the appointment system, and they won’t be able to get their second shots. In efficient Japan, this distrust is also not something one would expect.
The anger is new, too: anger at people’s selfishness and silliness that puts other people in danger, anger at the government for not being more decisive, anger at myself for being powerless. It is new but not really unexpected. The unfairness of the world has always made me angry.
Some days I feel hopeless. I want to see my sister again; I want to meet my niece. I want to hug my friends and go for coffee on a cool autumn evening. I want to feel the breeze on my cheeks uncovered by a mask. I want to wear lipstick. I see pictures of friends and families from countries where these things are now possible, and the deepness of the envy I feel is unexpected and takes my breath away.
Beyond all of this, though, I have discovered that I am so much stronger than I expected. I have held the disappointments and the sadness and the loneliness of two little people along with my own, all of this time. But they have so much more resilience than I expected. We are all so much stronger than we were told. We exceed all expectations.
This is an original post for World Moms Network by Melanie Oda.
If you ask Melanie Oda where she is from, she will answer "Georgia." (Unless you ask her in Japanese. Then she will say "America.") It sounds nice, and it's a one-word answer, which is what most people expect. The truth is more complex. She moved around several small towns in the south growing up. Such is life when your father is a Southern Baptist preacher of the hellfire and brimstone variety.
She came to Japan in 2000 as an assistant language teacher, and has never managed to leave. She currently resides in Yokohama, on the outskirts of Tokyo (but please don't tell anyone she described it that way! Citizens of Yokohama have a lot of pride). No one is more surprised to find her here, married to a Japanese man and with two bilingual children (aged four and seven), than herself. And possibly her mother.
You can read more about her misadventures in Asia on her blog, HamakkoMommy.
The United States is one of the few countries in the world providing the COVID-19 vaccine for anyone who wants it, yet our vaccination rate stagnates around 49%. America has lost precious ground against misinformation. What can we do to convince vaccine-hesitant and vaccine-opposed people to get immunized?
For early COVID-19 vaccine adopters, it’s baffling that anyone would refuse a solution to a disease holding the world under siege. The choice to immunize is so obvious to some that they heap insults on those who choose not to vaccinate instead of trying to understand how to change minds. I’m no behavior expert, but I’m certain that demonizing an audience is not a convincing strategy to change behavior.
Personally, I wrestle with two questions:
Why would anyone oppose a life-saving vaccine?
How can we change their minds?
To help us better answer these questions, my friend Bernadette shared her story. Now a proponent of vaccines with grown children, she was once a young mom planning not to vaccinate her baby.
SETTING THE STAGE FOR VACCINE HESITANCY
The first part of understanding Bernadette’s early vaccine suspicions is to know that her first pregnancy at 19 years old resulted from an act of violence. Young and vulnerable, she fled from a friend who had suddenly become an abuser.
She sought medical care from four different obstetricians, but as a single, low-income mother, she received little compassion for her traumatic history. The dismissive attitudes of male doctors eroded her trust in traditional medicine.
She eventually decided on an illegal home-birth with “underground” midwives because she feared her abuser could find her at a hospital. Bernadette recalls, “The midwives were the first people to ‘hear me.’” They gave her excellent advice about nutrition and childbirth.
The competence and kindness of these caretakers primed Bernadette to accept that the medical community was not all-knowing. Unfortunately, these particular women also gave her misinformation about the pertussis (whooping cough) vaccine. It’s important to note that midwives are valuable, trusted birthing partners around the world and often support immunizations.
When her baby girl was born, Bernadette still wanted to provide the best protection she could. So she took her daughter for vaccines. It horrified her when a lump the size of a walnut appeared at the injection site of the first shot. The follow-up shot caused an even bigger lump. Even though lumps are a common side effect, it convinced Bernadette that her midwives were right in opposing vaccines. She added her voice to those expressing mistrust about immunizations.
CHANGING HER MIND
Eleven years later, Bernadette was pregnant with her second child. This time, with a loving husband and health insurance, she looked forward to consistent care for the new baby and her daughter. However, she still distrusted vaccines, and brought that attitude with her to interview doctors.
That’s when she met Dr. Patricia Wolff, a highly respected St. Louis pediatrician. Bernadette remembers her as respectful and unflappable with a wry sense of humor. It was a very impactful conversation. She says, “She didn’t seem like she was standing four steps above me. We were having a discussion. She wasn’t trying to make me submit.” Bernadette wanted to work with this woman!
Dr. Wolff told Bernadette that she wanted to work with her, too. However, for the safety of her current patients, she wouldn’t be their doctor unless Bernadette agreed to vaccinations. Dr. Wolff didn’t show anger at the anti-vaccine position, only disappointment. Bernadette’s desire to work with Dr. Wolff won out. The doctor was flexible enough to alter their vaccine schedule, so the kids only received one shot at a time.
When Bernadette talks to anti-vaccine folks in 2021, she feels a reluctant kinship. She remembers the temptation to dig into a position when others belittled her intelligence. It was empowering then to think, “I know something those so-called experts don’t know.”
She believes the speed with which COVID-19 covered the globe contributed to helpless feelings. People act illogically, faced with helplessness and fear. Nobody wants to feel ignorant or out of control. They can’t control job loss or ventilator supply, but they can control whether they get a needle in their arm or wear a mask. She sees their hardened beliefs and notes, “Once you take a stand, it’s hard to reverse because that would make you look and feel stupid.”
LEARNING FROM EXPERIENCE
What can we learn from Bernadette’s experiences as we talk to people who mistrust the COVID-19 vaccine?
Listening + Respect = Trust
I noticed themes of listening and respect. The midwives were the first people to hear Bernadette. The doctors who wouldn’t listen made her feel small and ignorant. Why would she trust them over the women who took the time to care for her emotions and her body?
Dr. Wolff listened to her. It didn’t cost the doctor anything but time, but she gained trust. Far too many people in Bernadette’s life were condescending and dismissive when she longed for validation and respect.
Trust is essential
Trust was the element that caused Bernadette to change her mind. Once you stoop to ridicule or insults, there’s no trust in the relationship. If you make fun of others, they can dismiss you. They no longer see you acting like someone with their best interests at heart. You go from being a friend and resource to “one of them.” The response switches from “I’ll hear her out because I respect her” to “I don’t care what she says.”
Stand firm without punishing
Dr. Wolff didn’t berate her potential patient. With compassion, she denied services based on the safety of her patients. She was accommodating, but never compromised the protection of children under her care. We can be firm without being hateful.
PUTTING LESSONS TO THE TEST
After talking with Bernadette, I reached out to a vaccinated friend who hadn’t taken her 12-year-old for his COVID-19 vaccine. I recognized her desire to protect a child was the same reasoning that led me to vaccinate my kids. Focusing on that common emotion helped me speak less and listen more. Shortly afterward, I received a message from her saying that her son received his first dose!
Of course, not all conversations will go that smoothly. Yet I hope others might find inspiration here to help start the hard conversations. Lives depend on it.
Cynthia Changyit Levin is a mother, advocate, speaker, and author of the upcoming book “From Changing Diapers to Changing the World: Why Moms Make Great Advocates and How to Get Started.” A rare breed of non-partisan activist who works across a variety of issues, she coaches volunteers of all ages to build productive relationships with members of Congress. She advocated side-by-side with her two children from their toddler to teen years and crafted a new approach to advocacy based upon her strengths as a mother. Cynthia’s writing and work have appeared in The New York Times, The Financial Times, the Washington Post, and many other national and regional publications. She received the 2021 Cameron Duncan Media Award from RESULTS Educational Fund for her citizen journalism on poverty issues. When she’s not changing the world, Cynthia is usually curled up reading sci-fi/fantasy novels or comic books in which someone else is saving the world.
Socially distanced but digitally connected. That pretty much sums up what happened globally when COVID-19 hit us in 2020. Who would have imagined that in order to stop the spread of the virus, we have to isolate at home, get quarantined, and go as far as having lock-downs across cities, states and countries. It was no different here in Singapore.
In April 2020, the Singapore government announced a circuit breaker, a partial nation-wide lockdown, where non-essential workplaces including schools had to close and move online. Prepared or not, eLearning became the default learning mode where students had to quickly adapt to digital learning.
But guess what, our children proved how adaptable they are as they rose to be digital natives like fish to water. I saw my daughter navigating video platforms like Zoom, and Teams with ease and I even had to take a lesson or two from her.
To cope with social distancing, she took to playing games online and chatting with friends on WhatsApp and Google hangout. Entertainment choices were at her fingertips ranging from streaming channels, YouTube, Spotify and the list goes on.
While I saw how technology was a saviour to keep us entertained and socially connected to the world outside, it could have potentially been a curse if there were no ground rules with a free for all pass. It is one thing to read news and articles about how technology can draw us and suck us into our devices, making us oblivious to the ones next to us, and it was another to see it unfolding in my family.
I was particularly disturbed that it drew us apart as a family because we were so caught up about being connected with everyone else online. What an irony.
So even though I saw many benefits from a digital lifestyle, enough was enough and we decided to dump our devices and head outdoors instead. We picked up cycling as a family and explored places on our wheels. We cycled on familiar routes in the city and got more adventurous with longer routes along the coast. It was refreshing for body, mind and soul and became a new family activity that we looked forward to on the weekends.
Being in a lock-down made us appreciate nature so much more and it was a much needed respite with all the negative news on escalating COVID cases here in Singapore and around the world. Our weekend cycling adventures gave us something to look forward to and it bonded us tighter as a family of three.
It made me realise that even though our children may appear to choose their devices over us, it’s up to us as parents to draw the boundaries and offer them an alternative. An alternative which the whole family can be involved in while building deeper connections. An alternative that is healthy, wholesome and it never hurts if it’s lots of fun too!
Parents, let’s win the war to win the hearts of our children to strengthen and protect our parent-child relationship instead of leaving them to their own devices, literally. In a world where things have thrown us off balance, we can be the stabilising force in our kids’ lives to give security and hope as we look forward to the day when we stamp out COVID.
What activities did you start with your family during COVID-19?
Susan is from Singapore. As a full-time working mom, she's still learning to perfect the art of juggling between career and family while leading a happy and fulfilled life. She can't get by a day without coffee and swears she's no bimbo even though she likes pink and Hello Kitty. She's loves to travel and blogs passionately about parenting, marriage and relationship and leading a healthy life at A Juggling Mom.
While countries around the world are dealing with different stages of lockdowns and reopenings, the state of women’s safety has been put off to the side.
The focus on COVID-19 has been ever-present and with good reason. The number of cases continue to rise around the world and at the same time, there’s also a rise in domestic violence cases. China, Spain and Italy are just some of the countries seeing increased cases of “intimate terrorism” due to lockdowns.
Lele, from China, has suffered multiple abuses from her husband including one such incident where he beat her with their child’s high chair. The beating was so severe that two of the metal legs snapped off and left her with bruises all over her legs. She called the police and the abuse was documented, but no further action was taken. She then tried to get a divorce but the lockdown during the pandemic made it more difficult to get the paperwork done, so she was forced to remain in the same home as her abuser. Lele’s story of being abandoned by a system that she thought she could rely on is not uncommon. According to Feng Yuan, a co-founder of a Chinese advocacy group called Equality, another woman in China who called an emergency line for help was told by the operator that the police were too outstretched to help her but added, ”We can come to your place after the crisis”.
In Spain, a woman named Ana has also been continuously physically abused by her partner, extending to surveillance of her every move. Surveillance has become extreme for Ana as it has resulted in breaking down the bathroom door, eliminating any semblance of privacy. In spite of the case being reported, not much has been done. Her constant fear of being victimized has gone unnoticed, leading to more violence.
Domestic violence or “intimate terrorism”, a term used by experts, has only increased with the continued lockdown due to the pandemic. When Italy shut down in March as a result of the Coronavirus, the number of domestic abuse cases on women increased by 30%, according to a study done by UN Women. Shelters were unavailable due to fear of being exposed to the virus. It would take another month before the Italian government would requisition some hotels to become temporary housing for women who had to escape their abusers.
Prior to the pandemic, resources such as restraining orders and complaints to emergency lines were used by victims of domestic violence, but has since decreased or completely disappeared due to fear of retaliation by their abusers. What makes it more challenging is that since the outbreak of COVID-19, women haven’t been able to reach out to agencies that can help them due to imposed restrictions of movement. According to Maria Angeles Carmona, president of the government agency dealing with domestic violence in Spain, the number of women who contacted support services via email or social media had increased by 700% during the first two weeks in April. Since then, the numbers sharply decreased partly as a result of the imposed lockdown, but more so due to lack of a support system which increased their isolation. Per Carmona, “Around 30% of police complaints are about breaking restraining orders, but under the lockdown no one is allowed to leave their home”.
It’s not just the delayed actions of government agencies that are affecting women’s safety, but the lack of adequate services that could help women escape from their abusers, giving them a way to start over. One organization in Spain that is helping women to break free of their abusers is Fundacion Ana Bella, founded by Ana Bella, a domestic abuse survivor. One of the ways her organization supports women in abusive relationships is through her Amiga Program which offers peer to peer support. Women who have escaped and reconstructed their lives from abuse connect with women who are struggling to get away from their situation. The program advocates “breaking away” rather than remaining with their abuser. By doing so, Ana believes that the stronger women become, the easier it is for them to move on and build a life away from their abusers.
In addition to services that need to be increased, the dissemination of these services has to be monitored and adjusted to the needs of these women whose lives have been upended as a result of the pandemic. The women affected by these atrocious acts of violence and inadequate support by their government creates a perfect storm of chaos that abusers use to control their victims.
While I have not been subject to physical abuse, I have been a victim of mental and emotional abuse by an old boyfriend. This man grew up in a violent household, but I would not discover how he dealt with his emotions until I saw it for myself one day. We were visiting his parents’ home and sometime during the visit, his father said something that set my boyfriend off and resulted in him shouting violent threats towards his father. Seeing this made me afraid of him, but I shrugged it off, thinking it was just his frustration towards his father, but it wasn’t. Since that violent outburst, I started seeing signs of passive-aggressive behaviors toward me, making me think that I was doing something wrong. It would take another year of being manipulated by him to make me realize that he was a destructive person and that I had to leave him.
My abuse was not violent, but the constant emotional and mental manipulation was hard to shake off. I constantly questioned myself and thought that his pleas of staying with him was because he cared about me, but that was how he controlled me. How did I get out of that relationship? It would take me finding out that he was married while he was with me that gave me the strength to leave him. My family never knew that he was married and I never told them because of the shame I felt for not knowing until I realized I needed to leave him.
Unlike so many women who are currently going through an abusive relationship, I was able to leave my abuser, but so many are not as lucky. The support system they need to get out of the situation is far from adequate and that has to be resolved, especially during the pandemic. The longer it takes for government agencies to create lasting solutions, such as legal and psychological aid, more women will be abused or killed by their partners. Here’s hoping that government agencies in charge of implementing policies to keep women safe in countries that are most at risk do so before more women lose their lives unnecessarily.
Tes Silverman was born in Manila, Philippines and has been a New Yorker for over 30 years. Moving from the Philippines to New York opened the doors to the possibility of a life of writing and travel. Before starting a family, she traveled to Iceland, Portugal, Belgium, and France, all the while writing about the people she met through her adventures. After starting a family, she became a freelance writer for publications such as Newsday’s Parents & Children and various local newspapers. Fifteen years ago, she created her blog, The Pinay Perspective. PinayPerspective.com is designed to provide women of all ages and nationalities the space to discuss the similarities and differences on how we view life and the world around us. As a result of her blog, she has written for BlogHer.com and has been invited to attend and blog about the Social Good Summit and Mom+Social Good. In addition, she is a World Voice Editor for World Moms Network and was Managing Editor for a local grass roots activism group, ATLI(Action Together Long Island). Currently residing in Virginia Beach, VA with her husband, fourteen year-old Morkie and a three year old Lab Mix, she continues to write stories of women and children who make an impact in their communities and provide them a place to vocalize their passions.