Reconnecting with Humans — Harder than You Might Imagine?
For the past three weeks, I’ve lived in almost complete isolation.
Just prior to the U.S. moving to historic social distancing to prevent the spread of COVID-19, I was released from the hospital following major surgery. My physician wisely advised me to “stay in, stay well, and avoid picking up a cold or the flu”, as coughing would certainly compromise my fresh incision sites.
Naturally, I followed her orders. It wasn’t easy, but it was completely necessary.
And I managed to avoid all but a few, essential human interactions – like food delivery and help from caregivers. I conducted all my work from home. I FaceTimed with my loved ones. I even took short walks as sanity breaks.
And then — quite suddenly, it seems — my fellow Americans were advised to do exactly the same.
One week into this collective social distancing, a friend invited me to join the “virtual trivia” game she and her husband were hosting that night. I was thrilled, and not just because I needed a reason to bathe that day. I immediately responded “YES” to the event, which they’d scheduled for that night as a Google Hangout from 7:30–8:30pm.
At 6:30, I turned on the shower, and it felt like I was preparing for a date. As an extrovert, I couldn’t believe how excited I was to *gather* with a group of people.
I knew I didn’t have to bother shaving my legs, but I did it anyway. And while doing this, I considered what I might wear.
A few minutes later, as I stood in front of my closet, wrapped in a towel, I was still uncertain.
Just wear something casual, I thought, but definitely not pajamas.
Nothing fancy, I thought. You’re not out to impress.
Whatever you wear, I thought, it’ll only be on for an hour, and then it’s time for bed, so don’t waste a perfectly good outfit for just an hour.
And then, I thought, Wait, who the hell even cares?
I finally settled on something I’d have worn if we’d all met in person – just a casual t-shirt and leggings.
Then, dressed, I wondered: Should I even put on makeup?
Oh hell yeah, I thought. Not for them.
Our hourlong trivia Hangout was a blast. Over the course of the hour, our hosts posed 26 questions and we all wrote down our responses at home. Using the honor system, we scored ourselves, then compared notes at the end of the game. I only got 6 of the 26 questions correct, but each one of those right answers washed over me like a mini tsunami of victory.
What shocked me, though…
…was the noise, and the visual stimulation, and the mental energy it took to interact with several people at once.
At the beginning of the Hangout, the noise totally caught me off guard. Sound caused by feedback issues isn’t anything new, but the annoying echo and screech of feedback felt particularly grating on my ears. As we worked to identify the sources of the feedback and encouraged everyone to mute their mics, things felt a little less jarring. But then, there were the visuals.
If you’ve ever been in a Hangout, you know that the screen view constantly changes, depending on who’s talking or making a noise. Having been in a quiet, controlled environment the past three weeks, I found it surprisingly hard to adjust to the pinball-speed of changing faces on my screen. And while I recognized at least one person from most of the 10 households participating, I found my curiosity unusually heightened when seeing the few faces I didn’t know.
But neither the noise nor the rapidly changing visual input challenged me as much as the mental energy it took to juggle the overall experience. From picking out my outfit to dialing into the Hangout itself to listening to the questions to thinking about my answers to writing them down to knowing when to unmute or mute my mic to finding the cursor to share a question to figuring out my score at the end — I felt drained. And it sucked.
Being with this group — filled with multiple, live, wonderful human beings — felt at once like a breath of fresh air and an unfamiliar mountain to climb. I really didn’t expect feeling so giddy during our Hangout…or so crushed when our time had to end. When I described the Hangout later to a friend, I was almost ashamed to admit that I was irritable and had to lay down after our virtual game was over.
Still, I have no regrets about participating. In fact, judging by my reaction (and subsequent exhaustion), interactions like this are exactly what I need to keep doing so my socially-driven personality fires on all cylinders.
Clearly, I hadn’t appreciated how much *mental muscle memory* I use to interact in social groups — nor had I recognized how easy it is to lose it, let alone how much work it takes to “get back in the groove”.
The experience reminds me how vital it is to stay connected — and not just via text … or FaceTime calls … or comments typed into Insta and Facebook threads.
If and when you’re able, consider connecting with others — via platforms like Google Hangouts or Zoom or Netflix watch parties and the like — just to keep your social muscles toned and ready for reengagement.
What are you doing to stay socially connected these days? What methods and platforms work best for you? How are you coping with all the social distancing?
No matter what, I thank you for joining me in this historic effort of social distancing. It’s reassuring to know we’re all in this together.
Christine Wolf writes about resilience and the human condition. Follow her writing here on Medium, and subscribe to her newsletter at www.christinewolf.com.