Virtual connections are exhausting | Reporter’s Notebook

Virtual connections are exhausting | Reporter’s Notebook

Few, I imagine, would disagree that the ability to telecommute during these strange times is a wonderful thing. With the help of a personal electronic device, families and businesses are able to stay in touch, and stay afloat.

That we are able to actually see the person is even more amazing. The ‘Jetsons are us’ hold meetings, book clubs, knitting circles, cocktail parties, baby showers, even weddings in real time with friends and family all sharing the same experience, at the same time. Only when the internet is overloaded and the screen freezes or the image appears distorted — often a challenge on an island — we are reminded that we’re not really there; that we’re here, in front of our electronic connection, looking on. Maybe still in our pajamas. Maybe thousands of miles away. Maybe just up the road.

Wherever we are during these COVID days, we are finding ways to connect with each other as best we can because that’s what we humans do.

Why is it then, that when many of us complete a meeting or a support group gathering online we’re exhausted? Worn out.

For the first time in over a year, I almost dreaded meeting with a group I have come to adore and rely on for some level of sanity. The energy to write this, three hours after the meeting, is fueled by coffee and a commitment I made to my boss. And because I don’t think I’m alone in my feelings.

The American-owned application Zoom that gives users the ability to hold and attend meetings from home (meetings that often end up looking like the old TV show, Hollywood Squares) appears to be the go-to for online gatherings. In fact, the nine-year-old company has, according to an April 2 Reuters online posting, grown from a maximum of 10 million users a day, to more than 200 million a day as of March, 2020; then saw that number increase to 300 million per day less than a month later!

Without the ability to physically gather safely, video gatherings help allay some of the inherent loneliness many of us feel during these strange days. Even those able to share space with others or spend time with a trusted circle of friends, feel the loss of socializing. Whether the market, the pub, the coffee shop or the bookstore, being amongst others feeds our emotional well-being. The smells, the pheromones, the physical hugs that Orcas islanders know all too well, are missing. Pieces of us are missing.

This strange state of our day-to-day has lasted more than six months. We have seen our spring evaporate; our summer wane. Fall and winter are not far off, and there is every indication that we can expect our lives to be like this for some time.

So how do we manage the physical deprivation so many of us are feeling?

Bonnie Burg, an independent licensed clinical social worker on the island, is seeing how the pandemic and social isolation has affected islanders.

“People seem to be experiencing general discomfort,” Burg said, “that often manifests in boredom, sleep disruption, a slight sense of anxiety, some depression and the feeling of not being productive enough.”

“When we gather online – whether with one or with many – we miss the visual cues normally experienced in encounters. We end up leaving our electronic gatherings feeling less than fulfilled. When the meeting is over, it’s over. There’s no hanging around, engaging in followup conversations with friends or business associates. We leave with only a partial sensory experience.

“It affects the ennui,” she said.

Burg suggests we can counter those feelings by adding more “texture to our electronic encounters. Ask about the weather, what’s happening in your kitchen, or how the garden’s doing – things we ask when we visit someone in their home. We comment on the flowers on the table, ask how the dog’s doing, that sort of thing.

“Asking questions about one’s environment can enhance the experience,” she said.

Memories are also good tools.

“When meeting online, consider sharing memories of previous pleasant in-person encounters. Your last Pilates class, or a shared cocktail or church service. Ask, too, what we might be doing if we were able to meet in person.

“By sharing memories, our online experiences will have more depth,” Burg said.

With so much social isolation we are missing tactile stimulation, she added and suggested we focus on touch.

“Spend time outside touching things we may not normally touch. Feel the different types of tree bark or leaves,” she said. “Do as much as we can to keep our sense of touch, our tactile sensibility, tuned up.

“Staying mindful of our surroundings will provide some solace during these curious times,” she said.

There’s no denying COVID has upended our lives and, like the saying goes, it’s how we manage change that matters. So, until we’re once again able to gather together, stay safe, stay mindful, share the memories and stop and smell the flowers. We’ll get through this. We will. In the meantime, I think I’ll start keeping flowers on my desk at home for my online meetings. And ask more questions when we virtually connect.