I don’t know about you, but since lockdown began I’ve joined approximately five virtual gatherings per week. From book clubs to work socials to pub quizzes – you name it, I’ve dialled into it.
At first it was great fun, and a real novelty being connected to those I wouldn’t see so often under normal circumstances. But I have to admit it’s starting to turn into a mental drain.
Somehow, my diary now is even more packed than when we were allowed out. When I’m not working normal hours (sometimes longer) as an advertising professional and freelance writer, I’m struggling to find time to work out, spend quality time with my partner, call my family regularly, as well as cook and clean – let alone get my mind in gear for more general knowledge rounds. Really, how many quizzes can one participate in? Actually, don’t answer that.
The thing is, it’s hard to have a good excuse not to show up. In the real world, if you feel a bit knackered after a long day at work or need to excuse yourself from dinner with the girls because you’ve got to work late, or even just have a headache, you know your friends would understand. Normally, we’re not so fearful of being judged if we have to bail because we all lead busy lives.
“I feel like I can’t opt out of anything. Saying I need some time on my own doesn’t feel valid”
But now, I feel like I can’t opt out of anything. Saying I need some time on my own doesn’t feel valid, and I have no real excuse to bail: I’m home, I don’t have kids I can blame for needing my attention after a long day of business calls. I don’t even have a commute.
Yet the moment my phone pings with another Zoom invite link – this time for a ‘fancy dress Netflix party’ – I feel a pang of anxiety. It has started to get too much for me to keep up with on top of my day job, that I genuinely cannot be bothered to think of an outfit to customise and dial in and keep up appearances for, well, another appearance.
I feel guilty for not wanting to attend every social ‘event’ – but I don’t think I’m alone. Am I really the only one lying about already having a quiz with my home friends at the same time as my uni girls virtual bingo, just so I can sit on my sofa and have a bit of ‘me’ time?
For the first couple of weeks of lockdown, I didn’t feel this way at all. In fact, none of us did. Most of the world downloaded one piece of video conference software or another and hopped on the virtual social bandwagon – and it was great! Suddenly we were no longer constrained by having to leave and catch the last train home.
But here I am now, trying to cut down the amount of social calls I participate in every week, for the sake of my mental wellbeing. Saying our laptop battery has died is akin to the real world ‘popping to the loo and never coming back’ move.
“Across the world we’re in the loneliest time in living memory… and yet interacting with each other is beginning to become a mental drain”
Ironic, isn’t it? Across the world we’re in the loneliest time in living memory… and yet interacting with each other is beginning to become a mental drain. If we’re being honest, I think we’re all being people pleasers and feel bad about saying ‘no’. We’re fooling ourselves if we think we actually need this constant interaction at the same time – especially compared to those less fortunate who would kill for a Skype call.
I worry too about how all these digital interactions take a toll on relationships with our loved ones. Like many couples, my partner and I used to have dedicated date nights – but now that we’re together all the time, they’ve fallen by the wayside. The times I want us to have a movie night together, he has a pub quiz, and vice versa. Despite the obvious irony of spending more time with each other than ever before, it feels like we’ve got less time for each other. Hell, I don’t remember the last time I shaved my legs, so who am I to blame him for not putting movie night on top of his to-do list.
I know this is a first world problem – and I completely appreciate there is a much larger number of people who are currently really struggling to cope: those who live alone and feel isolated, those who’ve lost jobs, or even those struggling with anxiety about the future. Parents having to juggle homeschooling along with their own jobs, and their kids struggling to understand why they can’t see their friends.
But now is the time to put ourselves first, and stop feeling guilty that we just can’t fit in another virtual social activity. After all, if in the normal world we didn’t feel bad, why should we in our ‘new’ normal?
Tanisha Sakhawat is an advertising professional and freelance journalist living in London. Follow her work at writebytanisha.com.
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