The Art of Giving Space

Recently I went to a private ward to be admitted just so I could sleep well for a few days. The irony was that it happened just a week after I had come back to Singapore to be with family – I had done that precisely so that I could have more stability in my housing situation and better sleep. 

I had been struggling for a few months with sleep issues. At times I could not fall asleep because there was too much noise in the shared house where I lived. Other times I would wake up for apparently no reason and find it hard to go back to sleep. Stress from different fronts happening simultaneously was driving me to the edge. 

I had to take a break from pursuing my PhD in Brisbane and I decided to go home to Singapore for a couple of months. I knew taking a break would not solve all my problems; I was prepared for some adjusting to living with family again (I live in an apartment owned by my 1st sister and myself, with our parents). 

However, within a week of coming back, I was still unable to get good sleep. At first it was because I was adjusting to sharing a room with my 1st sister, but just as I adjusted to that, we had to vacate the room and go sleep at my 2nd sister’s place. This was because my mother had said yes to hosting 5 adult friends from overseas and that took up all the room in the small apartment. 

So I had to adjust again, and this time it was to sleep in a room with 3 others, including my young niece who was having a terrible cough (found out later it was pneumonia of both lungs!). It was just too much – I got more edgy, I was perpetually defensive and even an attempt to apologise via WhatsApp to my 2nd sister ended up with both of us shouting at each other. 

I was not proud of how I lost control and shouted. Two nights after that, when I could not sleep again because my niece was crying and fretful from her cough, I decided to head to the hospital and get myself admitted for sleep deprivation. Looking back, it was a rash decision – but it did help me to sleep for a few days and prevented a relapse.

After I was discharged, I talked the matter over with my sisters and I have learned that it is worthwhile discussing what “giving each other space” means. My family has made available the study room for me to sleep in (the guests have left, thankfully) so I don’t have to share with my sister. There will be times when we get defensive or reactive, and we get upset at each other. When that happens, I told my sisters that I have to go away by myself to cool off. My sister asked me to let her know that I was doing that, and not just leave the house angrily. It’s not going to be easy, but I will try.

I think she does not like the idea of me leaving suddenly when one of us is upset because it seems like I am just walking out and not caring. I understand that view because I use to share it. But since I started a relationship with my boyfriend who does better with the “let’s cool off first” approach, I have since adapted. There is no right or wrong in this. Taken to the extreme, either approach has its down side. 

Through all this, I am learning that giving space is not easy, but one that is worth trying to get right. Here’s to all of us who are trying to do just that. A word to the wise – it’s okay to get it wrong sometimes. Where there is space, there is also room for error. We are humans after all.

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