Image Adam Niklewicz
Who else right now is looking at the same four walls, thinking ‘how much longer can I do this?’ We’ve been holed up since March, with many of us facing the reality of an empty calendar. There’s not much on the horizon other than trying desperately to stay safe while COVID-19 rages around us. It often feels bleak, with wild swings from ‘we’ve got this shit’ to ‘my world is caving in’. This shift from hope to despair has become familiar territory.
Even though our worlds have been rolled into a ball, and confined within our houses, many of us have found new ways of working. Zoom is now the norm, and phone calls have become long. One of the things that’s been vital for me is an expansion in the way I’m connecting with people online. While our person to person interaction has been swept away from underneath us, our desire to be social has branched out, with Zoom being more than just a monotonous tool for work. COVID-19 has made us confront this dichotomy within our social interactions. Not only have we been forced to make a shift in how we engage with our friendship networks, this shift has also expanded them. This is the silver lining of COVID: I’ve found new places I fit during a time when everything felt like it was shrinking.
Creating new ways to connect
What began during the first lockdown with a Netflix Watch Party as a way to help a sister out, then morphed into supporting charities together, and has now become a weekly movie catch up with a whole new Facebook group full of connections attached. We started off as a group of strangers and over time grew into familiar friends. We began with Twilight (2008), joking over team Edward or team Jacob, while unpacking the toxic messages it all contained. We’ve watched things that in any other context I would’ve never chosen, but it wasn’t about the movie. It was about connection: a reminder that within this isolation we’re not alone. And while our individual worlds may be contained within our homes, we’re building bridges to link them back together.
It’s these connections with old friends and new that have helped me through so far. When the anxiety felt overwhelming and the walls were shrinking in, the internet has pushed them back out again. Of all the things to have come to the rescue ‘social media’ has been an unlikely hero. For disabled people, this isn’t overly new for us. It’s helped us dismantle the segregation we’ve encountered in our lives, and COVID-19 has brought new people into this fold. While the lockdown has made our worlds contract, in some ways, it’s also enabled them to expand.
Sharing your world on your terms
We’re still in the thick of it, it’s true. Feeling like it’ll never end is real. These seemingly light hearted ways in which we’re virtually interacting have become the life raft that’s helping to keep me, and I’m sure others, afloat. The ability to share, and the right to hold back, are ours to own and use. We can share as much or as little as we want. While COVID has taken away our control surrounding how we connect, this virtual interaction has given it back. It’s everything from sharing our activism to asking if anyone else has started talking to their fridge too, or watching trashy movies together and laughing at how bad they are. For someone like myself who struggles with anxiety, it’s given me new ways of forging friendships.
Social media, and the dichotomy between life online and offline has merged into one. My once separate words have collided and it feels like there’s a renewal of empathy emerging. Call it COVID bonding, or lockdown togetherness, whatever it is, it feels like we’ve grown closer. While we’ve been embroiled in this fight against the virus, we’ve also unknowingly managed to metaphorically break down many walls that in the past had kept us apart. These very physical walls that are keeping us safe have done a whole lot more than we realise. I feel less alone, and I’ve met new people I probably wouldn’t have before. I’ve been made to slow down, say a virtual ‘hello’ to friends old and new alike. We’re hearing each other, and seeing each other more than we ever have. I can’t think of a better Stage 4 bubble to be contained in right now.
Nicole Lee is a fierce advocate for disability rights and the prevention of family violence. She provided evidence at the Royal Commission into Family Violence and was an inaugural member of the Victims Survivors Advisory Council. She appeared on You Can’t Ask That in 2018 and is now a regular panelist on The Drum.