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Disconnect!

I had a proper meltdown this week!

I’ll be honest – for a couple of hours, I lost it! No, not my phone…my mind! But it was all linked to this Goddamn contraption that has become my bank, research assistant, filing cabinet, personal shopper, tour guide, map, library, yoga guru, Doctor, mental health practitioner, pager, estate agent…the list goes on!

I’m in a support bubble with my son, who actually lives miles away in another county and so we can’t just drop in on each other; but I’ve chosen this option as he and his wife have just had a baby girl – my first Grandchild – and I knew it would be worth it just to be able to be in the same room as her and her Mummy and Daddy. It’s not been an easy time for any of us – solo appointments at ante-natal clinics, little of the joys of fun and friend-filled baby showers for them – and for me, if this ratio of physical time spent with her continues, by the time she is twenty one, it will amount to just ten days with her, if you discount the face-time lullabies from my two dimensional flat face – which actually make her cry! And although the announcements this week signal a better way forward, we are not out of the tunnel yet, as this meltdown helped to demonstrate.

He was sent home from work on Monday, told to isolate for fourteen days as he had been in direct contact with a student diagnosed with Covid. Of course, he telephoned his wife first to share this news and to discuss how this isolation was going to work with a new baby. Then he called me – not in a panic or flap – but to let me know the news as I had met with them, and cuddled the baby properly and changed her nappy for the first time only on the previous day. He was on his way to the testing station. He called me again, immediately after, to share with me the personal details of how this test had gone for him – he used to projectile vomit as a baby if a Doctor tried to examine his throat – so you can imagine the reaction. His trauma and embarrassment was also piqued by his inability to visit the car valet station on the way home!

I remember an unpleasant row with him when he was fourteen; he was supposed to be doing his homework but instead of concentrating on the task, he had the television on, with the remote control by the side of the computer mouse, in a line next to the remote landline telephone, the remote volume control for the music station and his own mobile device. He is of the generation where these devices may as well be glued to the wrist. (I recall sitting in glorious solitude by Lake Bled a few years back, in this most beautiful lakeside restaurant, surrounded by picturesque mountains and forests with the medieval fortress towering above, when four of his most glamorous similarly-aged peers arrived – two stunningly model-like girls, with two equally stunning guys. They spent the entire time totally engaged with their separate mobile devices and connected only with one physical person – the waiter – to order their coffee!)

So, perhaps you may forgive me, excusing my sheer panic when, after sending a message early that morning, to be reassured that there were no overnight developments of symptoms, I had no response for the next six hours. I was in a total flap! Not at first, of course…but as time went on, and I’d received no thumbs up emoji or automatic ‘Can I call you later?’ message to my missed calls, after several hours, I began to worry. And then, with the kind of enticing hook that keeps us addicted to this kind of instant technological connection, I noticed from the data at the top of the WhatsApp that neither parent had been online since the previous day, and by now, I was convinced all was not right!

There have been more times than I care to mention when I have received messages on social media from friends who are a couple, evidently lying in bed next to each other or propped up on their couch; they’ve even conducted a personal dialogue in this very public forum. Talking of feeling piqued, I believe if you are lucky enough in love to be able to physically hold a person during this time of horrible isolation, then put the Goddamn thing down and talk, cuddle, enjoy quiet time, share food, sing together or make love. I am all for disconnecting from technology!

So, keeping my rational head on, I tried to tell myself that this was perfectly normal; he would have to work from home, delivering online lessons via virtual connection, even if he had been instructed to self-isolate. But that only concerned me more, because I felt that he’d have to have his device close by. And anyway, these are the least rational and most confusing times I have ever known in my life – I personally have experienced complete loss of income, loss of purpose, have set up new opportunities only to have them snatched away with lockdown number two.

I have, despite my public misgivings, used social media to escape the terror of this current moment. It is easy if you’re wide awake in the middle of the night to reach for human connection and then find yourself doom-scrolling into the wee hours, consuming more and more news about Covid-19, vaccine and mask protests, and the devastation on the economy. This lunacy means I then wake up agitated, unsettled, and unable to talk to anyone as I live alone. In a moment of mass virtual connection with the outside world, at the end of day, my internal life feels a lot lonely. The irony isn’t lost on me! 

Loneliness isn’t new, but it’s also not just about being socially isolated. The loss of connection and trust is exacerbated by the constant stream into our homes of really disturbing news and then when that news come so close to being a reality in your own inner circle, your own bubble…well! Now, as every other dynamic in our lives has been upended, the dilemma of feeling lonely has intensified. In isolation, I am spending more time online than ever before, trying to build up a new business, (writing this blog!), working from home in total isolation and desperately trying to keep up with new information that will help me to regain my purpose, to recover some financial stability. I know I am not alone, if you will forgive the pun.

But there’s an emotion that underscores loneliness in a whole new way: Ambiguous Loss, a field first created by Pauline Boss. It’s what we feel when we have connections with loved ones, but in every way they feel absent from the relationship. I’ve experienced this when we are trying to support each other in family zoom quiz connections, as everyone else gets to deliberate on answers in their households while I stare at a muted screen, watching their interactions and searching my own chasmic head for the answer to a missing Disney song lyric. And then, there’s the disconnect on those conversations when you’re talking to a someone who is multi-tasking, checking their own social media or watching TV as you chat. 

Followed by those to whom I try to reach out, only to hear back a few days later with a feigned wish to catch up, but the date is never arranged. And now, if I am supposed to self-isolate too, until results from tests are conclusive, even deciding who I can see and who I actually want to see and who wants to see me makes me feel confused and just a bit lost.

I am starving for connection. I am eating without being satiated, taking food without sustenance. I have never had an issue with being alone and have enjoyed soul-replenishing solitude but there are times now when this same solitude is unbearable. I can’t engage with a book or watch a film without my head racing.

So many of my blogs have been uplifting, I hope, with the intention of presenting practical ways of staying strong, of thinking positively, and of maintaining good physical and mental health. But, there are many losses I have experienced this year, I know along with many others, but it is difficult to find the best way of resolving this very different kind of grief.

At times, it may seem easier to connect with our phones than with each other. Trust me, it isn’t!

I have, you will be pleased to hear, forgiven myself for this meltdown – and I will spend the coming days trying to connect myself to nature, to ground with the earth and to disconnect from such damaging technology, so that I can detox and feel whole again.

Results have come back negative, and my son has promised not to have me committed…at least, not just yet!  

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