REMOTELY: Familiar Ties During Coronavirus

by Elizabeth Sihombing
28th May 2020
For a city as busy as Jakarta, how has living one metre apart affected its people? From bringing families together again to learning how some fare in times of uncertainty, physical distancing has taught us the importance of taking care of oneself, mentally and physically in the constant presence of housemates and family during a lockdown.

In our effort to make social distancing less monotonous, REMOTELY is a special series from Manual Jakarta where we roll out comforting and practical articles to keep you company and motivated during this period of self-isolation.

Like other bustling cities, living in Jakarta with a 9-to-5 job means that you only get to see your housemates or family twice a day during the workweek: early in the morning and in the late hours. But who could have foreseen since late March the severity of the situation causing large-scale social restriction (PSBB) measures to be extended all the way into hotter months? Jakartans have developed a case of cabin fever, bringing up unwanted emotions to surface. 

Recently, a study done in Britain found that individuals who have been isolating, whether by themselves or with others around them, have experienced “heightened anxiety and fear of becoming mentally unwell since the pandemic struck”. An aspect some people miss to have a healthy life, many folks have had to evaluate how they stay healthy without having their go-to solutions being on hand. As each day holds new uncertainty, we ask different individuals with unique perspectives on the highs and lows of bonding with their family and housemates during isolation while also maintaining their physical and emotional health. 


Time for quality

After a long day of fielding video conference calls and daily tasks from the office, how does one enjoy their down time in quarantine? Without the usual standbys of going out, some have had to get creative to pass the time, whether in finding new hobbies or refining existing ones. 

As a new parent, chef and founder of Oui Dessert Ardika Dwitama has his hands full with the newest addition to the family: “We just have a newborn daughter who spreads all the joy in the house.” Since his plans to open a restaurant are put on hold, the chef has turned his home into a tiny bakery and kept his creative juices flowing by experimenting in the kitchen. “I bake sourdough bread every morning. Since I do it all by myself, I find it very therapeutic.” Thanks to this time, bread-making has become a newfound passion for him. 

Finding passion projects isn’t all that people have been getting into. Photographer Probowo Prajogio’s family has brought back activities that bring the family closer: from sibling cooking nights, Netflix binge-watching sessions, rediscovering the plant parent life and even family workouts, the family of six found grounded ways to bond again, especially since each member of the family has different schedules spanning from different industries, coming together under one roof is a rarity.  

But of course, isolation comes with its own drawbacks. For Ardika, despite having a new daughter to revel in, he cannot share the joy with his mother and brother who he used to meet almost daily prior to the pandemic. And for Prabowo, who considers himself to be an introvert, he questions whether the situation is ideal at all for himself and his family on a long-term basis. Whether a family of three or six, quality time with loved ones is a blessing, but prolonged and constant exposure can also be a disastrous recipe. 


No way around communication

As many juggle home and work life under a single roof, families face the challenge of living together as adults. For Prabowo, who lives with his parents and three siblings in their childhood home, this means scheduling a time slot for who gets the family’s office space. “A prime working area with the best internet connection,” he says, Prabowo and his family have gone as far as giving each other one-day notices to reserve the coveted space. 

In closed quarters, some find communicating their needs helps mitigate large arguments from happening. This seems to be working for graphic designer Jordan Marzuki, his wife and their cats. “I have to discuss almost everything – from what we should eat for breakfast to what to watch on Netflix.”

For some, communication takes form in strict and set boundaries, such as the case for graphic designer Jesselyn Nathania. With her family, “I had to make it clear to them that even when I’m home, I still have to work [full time],” the 23-year-old says.

Jane L. Pietra, psychologist and programme manager at Yayasan Pulih, explains that “when setting self-limitations, informing other members of the family is important so that they know the extent of our limits.” Whether it’s by constant check ups on one another like Jordan does or by clear-cutting the boundaries of familial involvement, all is done to avoid potential volatility.  

Just the same, if conversation about boundaries falls on deaf ears, another solution to consider is to create space apart from the people that most create the negative energy. “Boundaries allow us to have a life according to our own values, needs, and feelings that exist within us,” Jane notes. In that respect, “as social creatures, we still set limits for ourselves related with others so as to not disrupt our sense of autonomy.” 

So long as boundaries are respected by each member, life in a family home can ensue with relative peace. Jordan and his wife work their daily ongoings together “based only on mutual agreements.” For Jesselyn, creating a daily schedule is the safe space for herself to relax rather than engage in family disputes that can occur on any bad day. Through this boundary, she can bask in her personal time without negative energy. Prabowo, on the other hand, sets his boundaries by locking himself in his bedroom to indulge on the popular Animal Crossing game when he needs to set himself apart from family life.


Keeping a sense of normalcy 

Personal time has taken a whole new meaning in times of isolation. Creating a safe environment to help deal with the day-to-day stressors that derive from work, freelance fashion stylist Dista Zefanya and her family have set up their own ‘work stations’ in different parts of the house. They reconvene for meals and avoid sacrificing their own personal time and other winding down activities. 

Wanting a time out from life is not uncommon and the use of having personal time to regroup has kept most individuals from losing their sanity. “As much as possible, a routine that needs to be done with clear boundaries will help maintain a healthy body as well as a healthy mindset,” Jane says. This resonates with Dista, whose nightly walks create a clear schedule for personal time. While Prabowo’s simple act of dressing up like a normal work day every morning and Jesselyn planning out what to have for lunch and dinner, generate a sense of normalcy to these unusual times. 

Some households have the added bonus of having pets to liven up the house when the tension gets too thick. If the day is too long and stressful, Dista’s cat Kastengel will sense her owner’s distress and come over for a little distraction to perk up the spirits, while Ardika’s two golden labrador mix or Jesselyn’s pomeranian and corgi have been a great source of energy and companionship. Snowy and Mickey are “quite old and love to sleep,” Ardika says about his dogs. “But I play with them whenever I get a break.”

While isolation has come with adjustments, being able to stay at home and work or finding personal time in the midst of chaos is nevertheless a blessing. Prabowo noticed that “[my] parents finally get to see and understand what their children do for a living since we all don’t work in the same field.” And with Prabowo’s parents and many others in the city, isolation reveals the things one often overlooks in retrospect, from how to be mindful of each other and live in harmony, and ultimately, how to take care of oneself through this difficult time.