In the words of my psychologist: we are living through history, Morgan. History. And I think she was expecting me to be closer to a breaking point when she asked me, ‘How’re you going with everything? It’s a very strange time to live through.’ I didn’t have much to say. Like most introverts, making memes and having the last laugh right now, I’m doing what I do best. Staying home. Of course, staying home when you’re told to stay home, and not because you want to, kind of takes the joy out of it. And to my surprise, I’m actually (slightly) missing interacting with friends face-to-face — something I tried to limit as much as possible in-the-before, because of social anxiety (something people had when we weren’t in social upheaval). Those of us studying are trapped in zoom rooms — an idea that most of us late-morning risers probably would’ve jumped at under different circumstances — and inevitably, new restrictions have significantly altered the university experience: whether that be upcoming travel plans, course-goals or the increasingly ludicrous dream of making 2020 ‘your year’. I think I’m right in saying that life is one prolonged sickie at the moment, and the primary-schoolers in us all are very disappointed in the way it’s playing out in reality.
While the crisis (you know which one) has brought the best humankind has to offer to the forefront (healthcare workers, cat photos and Jacinda Ardern), it’s also highlighted those who should remain in the shadows. Of course, there’s no saying what ‘normal’ will be, once the pandemic is over. There’s whispers of this being ‘the fall of capitalism’ and the rise of Mother Earth. Taking only what we need and scaling back the culture of consumerism — i.e., letting the earth flourish and going back to wiping with banana leaves. I don’t oppose this idea, I actually agree with the sentiment; but, I just don’t think we have it in us.
Collectively, we would have to change. And be supported by the people with all the money. The 1%. The big guys and the politicians. They’d have to do the heavy-lifting. And right now, they’re fighting change like they’re fighting a virus coming to tear their economies apart. It feels as if the world as we know it is crumbling day by day — and it really didn’t take much. This virus punched a massive hole in the plan of life and we’re hoping our leaders can patch it back up. And they’re obsessed with being Bob the Builder, because yes they can fix it. At least, they’re obsessed with making us believe they can fix it. But just because you can fix something, doesn’t mean it’s worth fixing.
Impossibly, the voiceless have been overwhelmed further in the frenzy of coping on social media. There’s an outpouring of positive messages online, encouraging others to take up a hobby. Learn a language. Read a book. Do some yoga. Make the most of it — and film it, of course. Banana bread is the isolation food of 2020 (I should know, I’ve eaten enough of it). Then there’s those who say we shouldn’t be pressuring people to be productive — this is a pandemic! Brushing your teeth is a win. Capitalism has trained us to keep moving, keep producing, keep exerting.
Social media has turned us all into activists, as easily as it turned us into trolls. A quick opinion is cool. A quick opinion is trendy. How will people notice you, if you’re not screaming into the abyss as well? Letting everyone know that you still exist, even in isolation. We seem to be saying through gritted teeth and colourful captions, ‘The world has gone to shit, but I’m thriving’. Or, ‘I can see the humour in this situation’ or ‘wash your hands! Did I mention you should be washing your hands?’ We all belong to one of these groups, and who we are as people is reflected in our online presence, or absence, now more than ever.
I feel alone when I admit I haven’t been doing much of anything. Trapped by time, even as it moves faster and faster around me. Exhausted by every news source, and overwhelmed by the pandemic chant echoing across the globe, taking every conversation hostage and locking city’s down. The clock ticks forward and the days drift on: inconsequential and completely uncaring about my circumstances. It’s the closest to a standstill we will ever have, and while I’m stressed about the state of the world, I’m not anxious about my daily life.
I remember what anxiety was, I still get it when I have to Face-Time someone. It’s the moment before you gasp air after being underwater for too long, and you feel strained, like you’re close to combustion, but electric, because you’re about to taste what you crave most. My anxiety feels like never getting that air, and remaining on that edge. Your whole body rearing and tight, flittering between fight or flight and never choosing one. It’s the beat before adrenaline floods your body, and sometimes it follows through, but mostly it doesn’t.
I don’t miss that feeling, and selfishly, I’m enjoying this strange coast through history; this respite. Although for most, it’s none of those things. It’s all a big mess, and no one really knows what’s going to happen, even if their job title says otherwise. The word apocalyptic is thrown around a lot, by myself included, but I think what we really mean is other. This is other. This is a world that we are not accustomed to, but we don’t know how to express that without referencing zombie movies and dystopian YA and making quarantine jokes. Maybe birds think they’re the dominant species now, because the humans have gone back in their holes.
As unprivileged as it feels, we are in a privileged position. We are together in our aloneness. There are people, people living with disabilities, the elderly, single parents and those on the outskirts of society, who have been living in isolation for years. Because family don’t visit them — because they can’t physically make it out of the house. It’s their life. This is a blip for us, an uncomfortable and scary one, but we will get through it. The students studying online, caught between existential panic and procrastination, the parents battling screaming children and work-conference calls — everyone who feels like they’re drowning and lost, we will find our new normal. Everyone’s attention is fixed on that survival; on the macro scale of politics and the micro scale of appearing to have a handle on Instagram — it’s taking shape in a surprising number of ways. It’s about control, in the end. Controlling perception, controlling the uncontrollable forces of nature. Controlling what very little we can. As my psychologist said, ‘we are living through history, Morgan. History’. There’s no guidebook. But a lot to learn.
Morgan De Silva, UQ Student, 2020