Kicked Out Of My House During COVID-19
The Circuit Breaker was especially tough for me. My relationship with my father has always been dysfunctional. Before the pandemic hit, I coped by spending most of my waking hours outside. Unfortunately, being under one roof 24/7 brought our relationship to a breaking point. Eventually, he kicked me out of the house.
Making things more complicated, I also had to go from working full-time to freelancing due to COVID-19 circumstances. I had been saving up for a flat and never planned to spend any money renting. But recently, I heard a preacher say, “If you want to make God laugh, tell Him about what you planned.”
Amen to that.
Creating a safe space for myself
The combination of potentially being homeless and having a less stable income was extremely stressful. Thankfully, years of being consistently thrifty provided me a safety net and allowed me some leeway in rental options.
Growing up with a Tiger Dad had given me an anxiety disorder. Now, for the first time in my life, I was independent from his critical presence. When you live under the same roof, it’s hard to differentiate yourself from your parents. But after being kicked out of the house, I could live according to my own values.
I started out looking at rooms in far-flung neighbourhoods in Singapore, before going with a tiny space in a centrally located condominium. Having had some experience renting during my time working overseas, I usually run the other direction when landlords use the term ‘cosy’ to describe their rooms. But keeping my budget in mind, I settled into my new abode.
Small rooms require more love but less objects
One point of contention with my dad when I was living in my family home was over how messy and unhygienic he was. After learning from senpai Marie Kondo, I could put my own home organisation skills to the test. Although my space was small, filling it up with objects that sparked joy made it feel like a million bucks.
This didn’t mean spending a fortune either. Comparing prices and shopping for my new space helped me to forget about my family troubles momentarily. As an environmentalist, I did not always pick the cheapest options but chose objects that would last a long time.
Mixing and matching homeware from brands like IUIGA, MUJI and Daiso created a space I could now call my own. Facing rejection by my own kin was traumatic, but it allowed me to finally have my own life.
Happiness and suffering are two sides of the same coin
Despite my new environment, anxiety and insomnia continued to haunt me. I’d be awakened by muscle spasms at ungodly hours. Meditating frequently, however, has helped me to cope.
Wanting to improve my practice, I chanced upon a book at the library, No Mud, No Lotus by Thich Nhat Hanh. In his book, the meditation master explains that the art of happiness is the art of suffering well. It challenged my idea that happiness is the absence of suffering.
“When we learn to acknowledge, embrace, and understand our suffering, we suffer much less. Not only that, but we’re also able to go further and transform our suffering into understanding, compassion and joy for ourselves and for others.”
—Thich Nhat Hanh
An illustration I made to remind myself of the impermanent nature of suffering, after being kicked out of the house
Without my family squabbles to distract me, I could meditate for at least an hour a day. Worries, resentment and negative thoughts would arise as physical sensations, such as a cramped chest or a migraine. By holding my pain with loving attention, their fleeting nature manifested and they eventually left.
Memories of lost relationships would make me feel sad and angry. Because I had not processed my grief previously, I saw life through a lens of fear and loss, making me anxious constantly.
However much we prize our relationships, they too are temporal. Nobody, not even your closest kin, can be there for you forever. There was no point in clinging onto happy memories or people, so with every breath, I let them go.
Even my wanting a good night’s rest or a worry-free life was no different from coveting worldly goods like a Lamborghini. I observed my unfulfilled desires with compassion and without succumbing to them, they eventually dissolved.
Yin and yang exist in all things
Silence and solitude helped me to see the yin and yang in every situation. In every bad, there is good and in happiness, suffering awaits.
Being kicked out of the house was no walk in the park, but it has allowed me to blossom into a full-fledged adult. Similarly, while the pandemic shut down many businesses, some e-retailers are booming. Companies have also realised that telecommuting can be a viable option that cuts down unnecessary travelling.
A major disruption can encourage us to use our creativity for innovation and entrepreneurship. Personally, my freelance schedule has made me more productive by taking frequent breaks making coffee, cooking or sweeping the floor.
Such productivity hacks would not have happened in a typical 9-to-6 office environment.
Hopping into the pool to escape the heat helped me overcome my writer’s block on this article
As I watch the sunlight dance upon the pool water, I am tempted to wrap this story up with a neat little bow. You know, how meditation helped me to forgive my dad and how I’ve gone through the storm of being kicked out of the house to see a rainbow. But I am well aware that I’m still vulnerably dependent on the kindness of strangers.
Depending on the kindness of strangers
Getting kicked out of my house forced me to humbly ask for help from friends and acquaintances. It awakened my gratitude for even the smallest gestures of kindness. For example, I know that if my housemates were not clean and respectful, but cantankerous like my dad, I would still be living under great anxiety.
When the cleaner arrives to clean our apartment weekly, her dedication to her task is how she shows love to me. As long as I bring mindfulness to every moment and interaction, even transactional ones, love and compassion will never leave me.
In this sense, I have not lost my family; they simply changed faces.
A quote from the book that I turned into wall art
Many of our difficulties stem from our families
Not everyone with an abusive or toxic family member can afford to move out. Even as we face the pandemic, suicides and divorces continue to rise. Our need for privacy or to ‘keep things within the family’ might be causing us to suffer, as it prevents us from reaching for help.
The concept of a nuclear family unit is relatively modern, appearing only after the economic boom brought about by industrialisation. With greater prosperity, humans no longer had to share resources beyond their family name. It also meant that humanity’s problems saw the light of communal wisdom less and less, creating many skeletons in our closets.
Would this pandemic be contained if all we thought about was our own family? Would social distancing or wearing a mask work if we only did so within our household?
Family is an over-romanticised concept that is way less important than our community-at-large. But of course, looking like a #blessedfam on Instagram strokes our egos more. Without the collective wisdom of healthcare specialists and policy makers, your family would not remain blessed in a pandemic.
This alert from the astrology app Co-Star really hit home
Anxiety and depression are communal problems
For most of history, humans have raised their children in agrarian communities. As the popular saying goes, “It takes a village to raise a child”. While the idea of a village has changed, our core needs have not. Mum and Dad can only provide so much—just ask working parents whose kids were unable to return to school during the lockdown.
In his groundbreaking book and TED Talk, journalist Johann Hari alludes that depression and anxiety are not personal problems, but communal ones. He shared an illuminating story from a psychiatrist who studied casualties of landmines in Cambodia.
One such victim lost his leg while farming. Even with an artificial limb, working in a water-logged field became excruciating. Returning to his scene of trauma daily was also anxiety-inducing, resulting in him becoming depressed.
In the West, he would probably have been prescribed some antidepressant drugs. But thankfully, the villagers around him understood the power of community and mindfully listened to his difficulties. They shared resources to buy him a cow, so he could make ends meet as a dairy farmer. The cow became his antidepressant and helped him to recover.
Being Kicked Out During A Pandemic Made Me Realise The Importance of Community
When people around you are practicing compassion, they’ll be wiser and happier, not only individually but also as a group. Combining our experiences and insights leads to a collective insight that can be wiser than the sum of its parts.
—Thich Naht Hanh
In Singapore, there are also generous, community-minded folk, like the people at Open Home Network who rehome the vulnerable here, where rental is exorbitant. I pray that those in positions of power and wealth would also look beyond their job scope to uplift those who struggle during this trying time.
With the economic uncertainty, I, too, continue to worry about the future. But I practise mindfulness daily to guide my frenzied mind to the present. Every morning, I crawl onto the tight space between the rack and bed. I close my eyes to enjoy the feeling of my warm butt on the cold floor.
I breathe in the morning air and direct compassionate energy to my lust, ego and worries. If I get caught up in past regrets, I gently guide my awareness to the here and now.
When I breathe out, I hope that the Universe has heard my prayers.
All images courtesy of Asher Mak.