The Video-Call Monster

It’s been almost two weeks since the lockdown began in India, and it has taken a toll on everyone’s mental health. Reports of domestic violence across many cities around the world have been on the rise since March as the coronavirus pandemic spread. A lot of people have lost their jobs and there are many people out there wondering if they will have a job by the time the pandemic ends and life returns to whatever semblance of normal is possible, because businesses have taken a severe hit.

In these anxious times, when it should be considered completely alright to welcome that anxiety and the insecurity, it is startling to see lifestyle bloggers and, worse, mental health professionals doing workshops on how to stay productive, maintain work-life balance and other such themes! The entire world is facing a health crisis right now, and this includes a mental health crisis. Work-from-home is not easy for everyone. Juggling between household chores when most of us are used to having domestic help, having to spend time with children in the family, or just being around family members all the time can be overwhelming, anxiety-provoking, and even scary and depressing for some. All these uncomfortable feelings one may be feeling at this time, it’s allowed. It’s all welcome.

Physical distancing hasn’t really been a difficult task for me because I’ve lived by myself, away from home, right from the age of seventeen. Living in Mumbai for almost a decade now, it wasn’t until two years ago that I even had maids who were regular. Honestly, the lockdown has not yet instilled any fear in me, nor invoked any level of panic. However, I do find myself feeling a sense of exhaustion seeping in since yesterday. While doing my bit of self-work, I realized it was the video-calls that was completely tiring me out!

As a mental health professional, I have often conducted sessions over Skype, Zoom or other online platforms – that’s not what’s exhausting. Being on video-call with my entire world is exhausting! Before the Coronavirus pandemic, I have never had video-calls with friends I went to school and college with the way I am having now! Even cousins and relatives who are rarely in touch are messaging and trying to schedule video-calls! Technology is a boon in today’s times, but, here is how video-calls and too much of them can be an issue – video-calls lead to the plausible deniability of each other’s absence. When we are on a video-call with a loved one, our mind is tricked into the idea of being together even though are body feels we are not, and this dissonance can be exhausting.

It is always easier being in each other’s presence or each other’s absence, than in the constant presence of each other’s absence. Our body processes so much context, so much information, in encounters, that meeting with a loved one on video is like being in a weird kind of blindfold. We sense too little, and we cannot imagine enough. That single deprivation requires a lot of conscious effort. In fact, it would be easier to just call someone who’s apart over the phone if intimacy is what one is craving. And if you want someone to know you are thinking of them, just write.

With work-from-home being the only option for so many of us, there is a lot of new social navigation happening and we are co-creating norms in a foreign setting that is the virtual world. Some platforms like Zoom have the option where you don’t need to see your own face even when the other person can, because how else would it be in the real world? We wouldn’t be seeing ourselves at all unless we looked in the mirror.

All of us must remember that each one of us is living through one of the most traumatic periods of our lifetimes. Virtual work is fine, and it’s great that we have technology on our side making it easier for us to go about our day-to-day functions. However, virtual grief can be intolerable. That is why absence is so painful. A really important part of being a human being is being in each other’s presence. So, next time you find yourself getting tired just after half an hour of being online on Zoom when in a physical setting, you could go on for hours, do not think less of yourself and feed the negative, automatic thoughts of being not productive enough, not good enough, not ___________ enough. There is nothing wrong with you if you are avoiding connecting with your loved ones. You don’t need to feel guilty or think of yourself as being insensitive, cold, or a person who doesn’t care. You aren’t any of those things! You are only human!

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