I’ve spent more time at home these past few days than I ever thought possible, but I’ve managed to connect more than ever before.
There have been group chats, video calls, phone calls, constant messages back and forward with friends, family and colleagues.
I’ve had women actively reach out who I haven’t heard from in a long time, and I’ve actively reached out to my network myself. Particularly to other women running businesses or working as casuals or sole traders, because I know the sudden shift in our financial futures that we’re all experiencing — along with all the other concerns raised by this pandemic.
I’ve also connected with and watched contacts internationally discussing and sharing how they’re coping with the lockdown, school closures and other measures that are occurring in their own country.
I’ve actually never felt more solidarity with women all over the world. I’ve never been able to better connect with their fears, concerns and some of their pain. And never been able to better imagine just what their day to day lives actually involve, given much of it now involves being at home
That’s why I’m not convinced “social isolation” or “social distancing” is the right term right now. It’s more physical than social. It’s spatial. It’s mere metres of distance, especially when it comes to your neighbours. And for many of us, we may find that we’re doing more connecting than we otherwise would, given we may have the time and space — and in many cases the shared vulnerability and anxiety — to get in touch.
But I’m one of the luckier ones, with extensive online networks already established, access to (not perfect but working) NBN and many years of experience working and communicating this way. I’ve also felt well enough (mentally and physically) to keep typing and turning on the camera, even with a houseful of kids.
Such extensive social connecting simply isn’t possible for everyone, and the scale will vary regarding what people can do. Not everyone will have the time and space to connect online, especially those working shifts and odd hours and those working in healthcare and education. Not everyone has the technology or bandwidth available. Not everyone has the tech literacy to suddenly scale up on their online connections. Not everyone has the friends, family members and colleagues to get in touch with.
And not everyone’s in the head space right now to actively feel like they can reach out and establish the connections that may be really helpful to their mental health.
Now’s the time to ramp up the online connecting — with an easy opportunity to ask, “how are you going?” given the shared sense of concern for the immediate future we all feel. Message that friend you haven’t connected with in years. Set up some group chats with different social groups. Check in with your family members, constantly. Have a physically-distanced chat with your neighbour.
Call your gran today, tomorrow and every day after.
But remember, this form of connecting is not always possible nor enjoyable for everyone. Get creative in the avenues that need to be taken to include as many people as possible. That may mean picking up the phone and making a call, as that’s the only form of contact available. It may mean tracking down numbers to try and touch base with neighbours on your street. It may means asking strangers in supermarkets or elsewhere if they’re OK and need any help.
When I watch the videos that have been circulating on social media of women fighting over toilet paper in supermarkets, I see hurt, fear and desperation in their faces. When I watch people purchase more groceries than they need from supermarkets — when I may have taken more than I need myself — I again see the desperation and the concern, not only for themselves, but also for the family members they are often also bulk buying for, their kids and elderly relatives. We’ve been suddenly jolted into a new world that goes against so much of the fortune and opportunities we’ve taken for granted for in the past. Those fighting in supermarkets are not examples of bad people or ‘un Australian behaviour’, rather it may be a glimpse into the anxieties and concerns people are feeling behind closed doors, anxieties that happen to flare up in public spaces, and then get recorded on a smart phone.
And for all those examples that go viral, there are many, many more people who are leveraging their own fears to intentionally connect with and help out a stranger. They’re asking their neighbours if they need anything. They’re offering to help out an elderly person on the street. They’re putting notes in mailboxes saying they’re available. They’re splitting their toilet roll supplies, among many, many other things.
I’ve seen remarkable stories of connecting these past few days. I’ve been the very happy and lucky beneficiary of other female business owners particularly who’ve been checking in, sharing their stories and asking how I’m doing. These simple messages have changed my world.
We may be physically distanced, but the global experience we’re sharing right now is unprecedented. We have a long, long way to go. No one knows what our global world will look like on the other side. The one thing we can try and control is how we look out for everyone else.
Lifeline Australia is available through Covid-19 and self isolation – 13 11 14