Pandemic Withdrawal: Are We Ready to Be Offline Yet? 

A room full of people with fifty different forms of expression feels a lot more intimidating than a group call on Google Meet for the same amount of time. I found myself in a similar room a month back and switching off my camera seemed like the best option; if only I could exercise it. In another instance, sensitivity to loud noises has been a common occurrence, and wanting to mute conversations that are happening right in front of me seems valid. Around the same time, I came across an article published in the New York Times in its Opinion section rationalising my fear that, “There Will Be No Post-Covid.” 

My brows, out of their own accord, end up furrowing when I hear someone coughing five feet surrounding me. As if on autopilot, the sanitiser that I keep as close as my phone comes out to the rescue. In alternate cases, one would think of running away and disinfecting immediately, with the thought process always leading to you catching the disease. Maybe these thoughts are on the extreme side and while we adjust to a post-covid world, we are in a state of a pandemic withdrawal. 

People of every age have shared experiences. Many remained isolated, lost loved ones, were forced to make life-altering decisions, and did not interact with people for a long time (especially children). This of course puts a person’s growth on hold. After adjusting to a virtual means for more than 731 days that equals 17,544 hours or 10,52,640 minutes or uncountable seconds – we are forgetting that we can never go back to the conduct of things before the pandemic. Charles Blow in his NYT piece rightly said that there will be no post-covid. We cannot treat a global pandemic as a house guest who initially refused to leave, and how we collectively rejoiced when they did. Similar to healing from a relationship, acceptance towards Covid is the key. 

The way we interact, communicate, perceive things and situations have changed remarkably. Small screens of laptops and our phones seem comforting; staying in bed looks like a great idea. But these choices are making us lose out on so much of the world as it slowly resets. Children, the ones that were in their prime age have been classified as at risk of mental health conditions by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Overall, pandemic withdrawal looks to be all-pervasive – social anxiety, depression, difficulties in concentration, changes in behavioural patterns, disinterest towards activities that were loved pre-pandemic, any other noted change appears to be the new normal. 

Answering questions that no longer remain relevant. 2020 looks like it happened yesterday, when in fact it has been two years. As for acceptance, reaching out and having an honest conversation about the impact the pandemic has had on you with anyone – a friend, a mentor, a parent will go a long way. Slowly assimilating back to what we call the “offline” world as seamlessly as we can is needed; letting everyone know that “normal” is a human construct that is up to us. 

On a parting note, here’s a Frank O’Hara quote published in Meditations in an Emergency. 

In times of crisis, we must all decide again and again whom we love.

By Kamiya Arya

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