‘I’ve become a recluse’, my Sydney friend J. said. ‘There’s nothing I like better than being at home, messing around on my computer.’
J. had worked into her seventies, phasing down gradually, then downsizing to an apartment. She explained that she did ‘something social’ every day, in addition to swimming or going to the gym, and/or playing tennis. It didn’t sound reclusive to me, but perhaps it was, compared with her previous lifestyle.
J. is not the only one to love being at home. The pandemic allowed workers around the world to discover the ease of working from home, free of the daily commute. That happened to me when I set up my consultancy business in 1992. I loved discovering my neighbourhood, being there when my kids came home from school and not having to ‘dress up’ every day. After a couple of years though, I felt I was at risk of becoming depressed, so I rented shared office space within walking distance of my North Sydney apartment.
‘Dressing up every day’, chatting in the tearoom, connecting with people other than my clients, saved me.
These days my social life is what I’d describe as ‘measured’. Accessibility and transport constraints limit where I can go; I don’t like to burden friends with lifting my walker in and out of their cars. Negotiating cramped theatre aisles and sitting still for a couple of hours is impossible; milling around in crowds at a writers festival feels precarious; joining a group at a restaurant I’ve never been to before makes me anxious.
Ken has been a homebody forever, and though it was easy to tempt him out with the prospect of overseas travel, those days are gone. His driving range is self-limited and he rarely feels up to outings.
But I do have some saviours – a local friend is not afraid of my walker or finding a parking spot with not too far for me to walk. From time to time, we enjoy going for lunch well beyond the nearby coffee shops. Likewise, a retired geriatrician is glad to give me a lift to meetings we both attend. My daughter is ever willing of course, but I save her for emergencies.
Around the middle of 2023, I took up the option of a social support person under the aged care program. I’m fine with local and online shopping, but visits to the nursery at Bunnings or to buy new towels or sheets have been few and far between. And it is nice to see, touch and feel what one is buying, occasionally.
So once a month a worker from Hunter Multicultural Communities calls for me at 9 am and off we go for a couple of hours shopping, including a coffee stop and rest. That small service has such interesting staff, many from multicultural backgrounds. When I signed up, I was mainly wanting transport and someone to keep me safe. I didn’t consider myself isolated but I’ve found there’s an unexpected bonus – great company, and the stimulus of meeting someone new.
This month I used the service to go to my breast screen appointment and visit the Mayfield library. Hamilton’s has been closed for weeks due to an air conditioning failure. We even had time for a coffee.
When I found out that my support person that day was a qualified social worker (from Germany) I had the idea of asking her to come with me to inspect the third and last nursing home on my ‘future planning’ list. She jumped at the chance and assured me the roster could be arranged so she’d be free when I wanted her.
The social support service itself is not free, but I am thrilled to have this monthly option to increase my independence. Joining friends for a coffee in Hamilton is something I do often and easily, though I usually pace my commitments, so I’m not overwhelmed. I would have strenuously denied my need for social support – not me! But this service has given my everyday life another dimension, not just useful but also pleasurable.
I too am a homebody, like J., who loves messing around on my computer. Yet it’s possible for anyone, including me, to become isolated and even depressed, without enough variety and stimulation. As health ailments and physical limitations encroach upon our ability to go hither and thither, having supports in place becomes important.
During January, it seemed as if every person I’ve ever known has phoned or visited. I’ve struggled to maintain the ‘measured’ character of my life. But here I am, almost at the end of the first month of 2024, and I am full of thankfulness.