Alone. Tortured. Afraid. What it is like to work from home?

Alone. Tortured. Afraid. Staring meekly into the abyss. Waves of self doubt and self pity. A strange stain on your tracksuit pants of an unknown origin. Occasional flourishes of activity. What are the challenges of working from home? Surely it’s just a productivity gold mine.

Firstly, you save time on your commute. The time it takes me to get from my breakfast (excluding the school run) to a position of potential productivity is the fraction of the time most people spend in traffic. Without the associated road rage. I’ve seen some wild road rage in my time – including one time a very upset young man punched me through the sun-roof of my mother-in-law’s car in a paroxysm of rage. A friend of mine told me he used to play recorder at the lights to calm his road rage. Once I stopped laughing, I admitted it could be calming. Maybe.

index

Once I’m there, in the zone, wired in – sometimes, just sometimes, magic happens. The words flow from my fingers. Coding analysis flows forth like a stream. Ideas form and are expressed with ease. It feels glorious. I am a PhD student, so there are moments, working away that I really feel like I’m not a complete fraud and that my ideas might actually be worth putting forward in to the world.

These moments are precious – and now that both of my children at school three days a week – they are starting to come more and more regularly. However, there are times that despite your focus, someone or something breaks you from the zone, losing your thread. Disastrous. Sometimes it can be something really small or subtle that drags you away. 7c3aFIl.gif

Working from home means that I miss out on the collegiality and support that students or workers based at a university sometimes take for granted. That lack of being surrounded by individuals who are doing something similar to myself, can be really difficult to manage. You don’t all have to be sexual health PhD students to support each other – just the fact that you are working in research means over coffee or lunch you can have a supportive conversation.

Those idle moments that seem simple enough, are really quite galvanising in continuing your work. When you’re at home – those moments don’t happen. There is no idle chat over coffee about how it’s all going. There isn’t another researcher with a similar methodology to bounce ideas off. There is no-one there to reassure you that what you are doing is actually worth it, that you aren’t just wasting yours and everybody’s time. Those moments of success, when you’ve finally ground something out – after hours of toil, to produce a real, tangible piece of academic gold; are celebrated alone. Sometimes I tell my kids. They’re supportive and patient, but they’re under seven, so you really are out there alone.

tom-hanks-in-cast-away

I try and get myself to as many conferences and seminars as possible to make up for those moments. I don’t have a scholarship, and don’t perform my research as part of my direct role with my employer – so unless I snare a conference bursary, I have to self-fund my attendance. This has been the way for many conferences I’ve attended in the past few years, excluding my School’s support to attend SexRurality, a Healthway grant to attend the AHPA national conference, and a bursary from Curtin to attend the SiREN symposium. Amazing support that I am truly thankful for receiving.

Part of working alone means you really have to connect more than that – so other conferences have been critical, but costly exercises in chasing collegiality and support. Even conferences based in Perth provide the challenge of travel – it’s a 400km drive one-way to get there. Its a drive I do every month, but it takes half a day of travel time each way – which means not being able to work an extra few days (whether paid or PhD) and missing time with family. That means a two day symposium is a four day proposition, with the need for three nights accommodation. Not doing this means further isolation, and really is part of the trade-off of living rural.

2661012388_c28f13401b_z

Another significant challenge of working from home, is the massive pull of other home-based labour activities. This is sometimes known as procrastination. Or laziness – depending on the activity. Doing loads of washing; cooking dinner and baking muffins for lunches during the week; installing a new car stereo; and performing back-burning of your bush block are all noble activities that equal procrastination. They need to happen at sometime, but could probably have waited for you to finish your insider-research paper.

You could probably add writing a blog in here too – but I maintain it gets the creative writing juices flowing before the academic stuff has to happen. A bit like a nice entrée before you attack your main meal.

Watching Game of Thrones recaps; having a stress nap; or reading everything you can find in the house that in no way relates to your PhD, in my opinion, comes in under the lazy tag. Resisting the pull of either of these when there is no-one there to ask you why you are on the couch can be grueling.

fitted1extra_nobox

So – what do you do? You have to keep working away, head down, searching for gold. There are times that isolation, both physically and professionally can take its toll – so you need to explore ways to reconnect. I follow as many PhD students as I can on Twitter, and contribute to #phdchat as much as feasible (with being lazy or procrastinating). I use other forms of social media and my blog to get things out there in forums that they may not have – which has been great for clearing ideas from my brain, that perhaps a solid conversation over lunch with a colleague would have.

I search for opportunities to attend conferences and seminars. I rarely video conference into seminars, as VC options are more targeted to people attached to work places, using workplace platforms and services. If you are a floating entity such as myself, you may not be able to have access – or your internet connection at home may not be up to the challenge. That, and everyone ignores you when you VC in.

I try and keep my procrastination to a minimum – but when it happens, I embrace it with vigour. When you are working alone and isolated – self-loathing isn’t going to help anyone. Beating yourself up for not achieving as much as you could’ve won’t help you get more done tomorrow. I did trial a procrastination avoidance app, that blocks “time-wasting” websites, but it would sometimes over correct itself and block something I actually NEEDED. You could log in, plead your case to the algorithm, sacrifice a dove and get back on with what you were doing – but it really broke your flow. And those moments that it all clicks – then you run with it as far as you can, you can’t be searching for a dove or dipping in to the well of self pity. Those are the moments that the gold appears and it all seems worth it, you have to be ready.

photo-1-panning-for-gold

Being a Dad

I’m not a fathering expert. I’m not an expert in anything, really. I’m a general nurse. I have a Masters in THE MOST general health area you could think off. I am average, ordinary and general in many, many areas. I am a father, an average, ordinary one and my kids are challenging, but pretty ordinary and average really. This is just some thoughts – take it or leave it. No expert. Just a Dad.

2017-04-23 10.09.15
Doing cross country with my two boys

Being a Dad can be a tough gig. Now – mothers, I know yours is a special kind of hell. You carry a child; accepting numerous changes to your bodies; birth a child in a variety of different manners, none of them gentle; feed, or not feed a child with milk that your body produces, while having to cope with the judgement and shaming of doing it/not doing it/not doing it long enough/doing it too long. You have to do the bulk of the heavy lifting, are the one your child is predominantly attached to in the early years and more often than not give up a career for the privilege. Or put it on pause. Or go return to work with your kids in day-care, while being judged for your time away from work and doing it/not doing it/not doing it long enough/doing it too long. Or have a stay-at-home Dad help you in return to work, who will be held up as bastion of selflessness for doing what the majority of mothers do with zero praise or adulation. Its balls. I get it. I really do.

Being a Dad is different. It is confusing at times and there are challenges. You don’t have anything to do with the gestation of a child beyond the fun part at the beginning. Unless your child has been conceived through IVF, where your fun bit was in a dark room, alone. Come the birth, you’re really a spare wheel. No matter how doting, caring and empathetic you are – you’re never going to get it. The midwife knows this intrinsically and will pay you no attention, beyond scoffing at any minor complaint you may make, no matter how quietly you thought you were voicing your concern about being tired or stressed. Save it for later. There will be no sympathy here.

The baby is born and you are largely forgotten. Child health nurses will largely ignore you, regardless of how involved you are. Friends will ask how the baby and the mum are going. Workmates don’t care, but will ask. They don’t care. They’ll pretend they do, but really, they’re only asking to be polite. Stop explaining what is happening and go back to work so everyone else can move on. Seriously, no-one cares. If they’ve got kids, they’re just waiting for you to finish talking so they can share their story – if they don’t have kids they are purely waiting for you to finish talking. Its not new to everyone else man. You are not the first Dad on the planet. Move on.

10346360

Being a Dad is a challenge. Being a Mum is more of a challenge, and we should cut our whining and consider ourselves lucky and be more supportive, but it is still a challenge.  You feel like a spare part – but society expects you to be a major player. You feel like there is something you should do to help – but it isn’t very obvious. You want to be involved, but workplaces don’t support that really. Oh yeah – the department has got a family friendly policy, but don’t ask your boss for a morning off to attend an assembly. You’ll get laughed out of the office.

You’ll want to get involved and you’ll want to be supportive and you’ll also want some recognition from society that you are more than a walking inseminator – but none of that is probably going to happen so just try and keep yourself busy and engaged and for God’s sake, don’t complain. DO NOT COMPLAIN.

lostateminor_Inseminator

Here are a few things you can do, to make yourself be less annoying and improve your life, and the lives of those around you:

  1. Forget about sex. For now anyway. Seriously, forget it. Just move on.  For the next few months just sort yourself out. You know what I mean. But even do that quietly and respectfully. You might feel great, and now the baby is sleeping a little more, your feeling a little more like you should try it on and look for a little bit of action. Your partner, despite having grown a 4.5kg parasite for nine months, looks amazing. You’ve never thought she has looked more beautiful. That incredible thing she has gone and done in growing and delivering a child has led to you thinking she is probably the most amazing human being on the planet. She’s also had an unexpected, chest related bonus you weren’t planning on. She is amazing. She looks amazing. She’s the sexiest creature ever. The issue is – she’s lactating. 62035291.jpgYep, those massive fun-bags you want to pounce on don’t belong to you any more (not that they did), they don’t even belong to your partner any more either. She is a walking food source and no amount of sleep, back rubs or gifts are going to change that. She’s also had massive body changes, is feeling incredibly responsible for a brand new, super needy human being and has more things to think of than you’ll ever know. Eventually (I hope for your sake), she’ll bring sexy back and you’ll be back in business – but until then, cool your expectations, be incredibly loving and supportive and focus on being useful. giphy.gif
  2. Focus on being useful. I spent six months as the stay at home parent when my first son was 3 months old. This was in another country, with an incredibly supportive Aunty helping out around the place, but primarily, child rearing was my gig (during the day). IT WAS HARD. Harder than work. Harder than manual labour. Harder than deciding whether to have a macchiato or a latte at lunch. SERIOUSLY HARD. latte-vs-latte-macchiato.jpgSo, when you come home from an INCREDIBLY stressful day at the office, doing whatever the hell it is you do; or get in after a really solid day on the tools and your back is throbbing – get useful. Now, this may not mean coming through the door and helping out by cooking. If you cook dinner, your partner is still looking after your kids. You need to ASK what is the most useful thing to do and muck in and do it. Then, when its sorted and baby is sleeping – turn your attention away from the couch and take on the next most useful thing you can tackle. You need to help the hell out. Raising a child is a full time job. Cleaning the kitchen and doing the laundry is ON TOP OF THAT. It is not an all inclusive deal, my friend – you need to do you share (as in an equal share) of the housework on top of the invaluable work you do earning money, because your partner is doing the invaluable work of raising your child for nothing. It is sometimes called domestic foreplay. If point one really resonated with you and you’re in a massive dry patch right now, try point two on for size. See if you can launder your way back to loving. Try to scrub your way to sex. Seriously, worst case scenario, you’ll actually help out by doing a small portion of the amount of housework you should be doing. Best case, you might gain some appreciation.images
  3. Don’t baby-sit your kids. Don’t do it. And don’t let ANYONE say that you are. You’re not babysitting. You’re not a desperate teenager saving money for next weekend’s binge drinking (or responsibly buying a car, or uni text books). You’re parenting. You’re fathering. You’re not doing a favour or taking on some additional task. You’re being involved in the most important thing in the world to you, aside from your partner. If someone asks if your babysitting your own kids. Tell them to go away (in much more colourful language). If your partner says your babysitting your kids – correct them. AAEAAQAAAAAAAAOQAAAAJGIxM2NiMTYxLTFiN2ItNDU5ZS1hZWRhLTcxYWIxZWIyYjMyNQ.jpgOn a slightly related side note: if your partner refers to you as “one of the kids” or a “mother of three” and includes you in the count – you need to grow some balls and man up. I don’t care how completely useless you are as a partner and a father, if you let your partner believe that you are as useful as a child in her life – forget point one. In fact, forget having any sort of meaningful adult relationship with your partner. Man up, stand up and change what ever has to be changed man-child. 635688549940642012-1245705170_man child.jpg
  4. They’re your kids. Yep, get involved big guy. You’re not doing a “favour” by being involved and taking them to swimming on the weekend. You’re not special. You are just doing what is expected of you – so don’t expect a pat on the head for just being an average father. Being involved in your own child’s life when you are not at work is not amazing. You don’t get a Father of the Year nomination for doing what is basically expected of you, having decided to bring another human being in to the world. tywinlannisterfar_893624.jpgJeez, if you think it is some big deal that you are involved in the most rudimentary way in the raising of your own child – you’re probably expecting a medal Ceremony for Domestic Services for that load of washing you put on. Pull your head in. It is your child, your house, your family. Take responsibility for what is yours and do what is expected of you without wanting a pat on the head every time you fulfil your most basic obligations.
  5. Work on your relationship. Once you’ve got your head around covering off the basics above – put some extra special effort in to getting along with your partner and work on your relationship. Take time out to spend together. Use eager grandparents to care for your child. Don’t feel bad for taking up a grandparent’s offer to look after your kids if your going to spend time with your partner. Your parents or in-laws remember how banal and mind-numbing raising kids can be, and they want to show off to their friends about how engaged and supportive they are. Exploit this for your own gain. They did. Don’t you remember being dropped off to Nanna and Grandad for the school holidays? THE SCHOOL HOLIDAYS! Not an evening so you can watch a movie – extended bloody periods. My parents even went over seas. article-2501704-195AE59800000578-881_306x423.jpgHonestly, get over your self and how important you think you are in the raising of your own children and give Gran and Pop a turn. They want to prove to you they still have it. And seriously, as much as you think you’re critical to your kid’s well being day to day, you are so quickly forgotten once the milo and lollipops come out. Honestly, your kids will go to sleep without you, they’ll be safe(ish), they’ll enjoy bonding without you hovering around being clingy, they’ll love it. Get out and spend some time with your partner and reconnect. Keep dating, well beyond the birth of your kids. Make your relationship a major priority. you’re a team in this childrearing thing, and if that isn’t your number one priority, ahead of kids, work and craft beers – you still have time to re-jig things. Make time. Exploit your parents generosity and reconnect. You never know, point one may be back in play if you’ve done well in the other areas.

So that’s it. I could go on all day – but who needs that. We’re all losing interest. So that ends my general advice to Dads. Its nothing more than the basics really: don’t be a demanding tool, be respectful and fair, and don’t expect a ticker tape for doing the basics. Again, I’m no expert and my advice in general – but I’ve been trying to follow it for a while now and, despite the small sample size, it seems to be working.