The international lockdowns weighed heavy on relationships globally. Hannah Emerson talks to Motley about how it affected hers. 

The pandemic complicated many relationships. From newly courting pairs finding themselves in awkward romantic no man’s lands to already faltering romances entering a sort of relationship purgatory. It even went as far being the final curtain call in numerous marriages – China, for one, having reported the highest annual amount of divorce applications this year. As we can see, the pandemic showed no mercy, not even for love.

I too had found myself in a complicated relationship. An already somewhat toxic love affair, exacerbated by the lengthy lockdown, it underwent its fair share of hardship in the forthcoming months. This particular relationship was between me – and my phone. 

Living through this technological era, the majority of people can sympathise with the paradoxical relationship we foster with our phones. A sort of love/hate saga between us and our device. Somewhat like going back to that boy (or girl) that ruined your life, you know you shouldn’t, but well, you do anyway! I’m not alone in feeling like sometimes your thumbs are being controlled by a separate biological entity. As your brain wills them to stop scrolling, you’re thumbs prevail. Now, I’m sure we’re all too aware of the addictive elements of social media. Various “offline” advocates have harped on about these dangers and contingency measures we can all adopt to avoid this unhealthy habit, and they are right, of course. In an ideal world we all throw our smart phones into some sort of mass grave, vow to use Nokias from here on out, and (probably) live much happier lives, keeping socialising as a physical, authentic experience, where what you see is what you get. Bliss.

However, on March 12th when Ireland was thrown into lockdown, urging everyone to stay at home, online communication was the last remaining morsel of human connection we had left. Beggars could certainly not be choosers, when our only way of talking to our friends was through these addictive platforms such as snapchat and Instagram.  Alas, my vow to cut down on my ‘online time’ was no more. At this point I believe there was a shift in mindset amongst the general public. When before as a society we’d try to resist living life through our phones, we now accepted that these, dare I say, ‘unprecedented times’ meant living through these screens was unavoidable. People, including myself, were happy to scroll the day away for the time being until the virus was no more (…. still waiting). That general acceptance of circumstance, coupled with the multitude of online yoga classes, virtual workouts, the five kilometre running challenges, the raw egg-swallowing challenge (what was that about?) and endless other tasks for people to partake in, meant that online presence was greater that it had ever been before. Whether these various trends were in aid of worthy charities, a testament to one’s own fitness journey or even just as an activity to spice up the monotony that is a day in lockdown, I felt there was a notable community spirit on these social platforms. I would even go as far to say it was a place to seek solace during a time of such uncertainty.  However, it was not long until it took a toll on my mental health. Of course, there were vague feelings of inadequacy when my days were significantly less productive than those of whom I saw through the screen completing record-breaking running times.

 Yet, these feelings of envy and inadequacy after scrolling through Instagram were nothing new. Growing up during my teens in a newly online world meant I had grown accustomed to these feelings and had found ways to deal with them. What was a more notable beast during this time and more detrimental to my mental health, was the sheer volume of bad news. This came in varying forms. One being the pessimistic predicted trajectories of the virus, claiming that these unnamed “experts” predict that coronavirus will exponentially mutate into some form of killer mutant ninja turtles, continuing to take over the human race only to enslave us mere mortals forever. (Mild exaggeration but to that same effect). This bad news also came in the form of infographics depicting tragic events happening across the globe. As people were now spending more time than ever scrolling through their feeds, it was not long before a surge of keyboard activism took hold.

While raising awareness for injustices is, by principle, a good thing, it is when it takes place at a mass scale that problems ensue. The flood of these awareness raising posts shared by a house-bound public meant that no corner of the global interspace remained devoid of these heart-breaking events. Before you write me off as an anti-activism…activist.? I can assure you I think activism is great. Activism is essential, especially in the world we live in where the gap between winners and losers is being extorted from a mere crevice, to a cavernous cavity. Activism is one of few tools left we can use to try render this world a more equal place. While I am aware of all of this, and want to do my part in this rendering, the sheer volume of human suffering that we became exposed online over the past few months was exorbitant. I was regularly made hopeless by the world we live in as I saw the suffering that it housed. It’s a blessing and a curse that social media has made the word a smaller place. In one sense we should be witness to the happenings of the world, good or bad because it is in the end, reality. However, in another sense we must pose the question, can our brains really internalise all this catastrophic content while at the same time, maintaining good mental health? Despite knowing the feelings of despair that would ensue, I’d find myself compulsively searching world news, only to be bombarded with the latest heart-breaking happenings of the planet.  I understand it is a privilege to merely read about tragic events rather than be living them, but I think the human condition is unable to consume such misery at a mass, global level. I can’t be unique in feeling that the internet became a rather dark, hopeless place in the recent months. But despite these headlines inducing feelings of sadness and fear, I could not look away.  I think the term coined for this phenomenon is ‘doom-scrolling’ and a phenomenon that many of us lockdown-ers fell victim to in the recent months. Now, if you’re somebody who can read about various world injustices day in and day out and fight on their behalf, without it affecting your mental health, then hats off to you. But if lockdown has taught me one thing, it’s that I am not one of those people. During lockdown being on my phone left me feeling dejected and hopeless by the news stories I’d read, yet I felt I HAD to read them. It was exhausting. The complicated relationships we all have with our devices is rather fascinating. As I said, we foster a somewhat paradoxical relationship with our phones as while we seek sanctuary in them, we often are as equally desperate to escape from them. 

If I could break up with my phone I would. But as we all know, it’s hard to leave something/someone you depend so much on, even if you know they’re bad for you.