The Trouble with Working in the Virtual World

As a kid in the seventies and still now, I can’t watch moving images on screen. By this I mean television, movies, and more importantly these days, virtual communities via Zoom and the such. Large screens or small, watching people on screens disturbs me. I can’t sit still. I’m drained. Anxious. I have to get up and move, leave preferably. Friends would feel obliged to pause the film or tell me what had happened but I didn’t care to know. I can’t connect with 2D people, I’m not engaged enough on a deep level. I’m overstimulated. I don’t sleep well. My brain misfires.

Now that we’re moving into an even more digital age where we work remotely, online, and often through tools such as Zoom, I’m worried. How do I do this? And I know I’m not alone in being concerned about the expectations and needs to be in such virtual chat rooms for workshops, trade shows, conferences, retreats, and reading events. I’m worried that I’m going to lose my communities, both travel and writing. Yes, I’m incredibly thankful for the physical community of Madrid, NM where I’m at home. Yet, as usual, it’s not enough. I need a bigger picture, an international outreach for me to feel connected. The option right now is through screen time.

What do I do then? I work online for Deployhub as their communications director. I’m a writing coach and developmental editor, a publisher of an online travel journal. I write. Novels, shorts, memoirs, even poems these days. I’m online. A presence. I know how to manage that time okay, not great, but I hike, bike, explore, work outside. The issue is that this shift towards the virtual Zoom live events and meetings isn’t something I can do easily. I’m worried. How do I stay present for the writers I support and learn from? How do I stay involved with the travel community, our trade shows and gatherings?

In my twenties, I had a few, er, mishaps shall we say? Bad choices with long term consequences. I’d pass out, hit my head, and after CAT scans and MRIs (I think that’s what they were), the doctors decided I had a mild form of epilepsy. Put on drugs to even my brain waves. I stopped taking them a few months later. The fainting had stopped so that was good enough for me. In the last nine months, I’ve realised that the sleep issues I have, waking every hour or so, go back to those days. It’s so familiar to me that very few friends hear me talk about it. It’s my normal.

A jolt of electricity shocks me awake. Inside my head, lower left to upper right usually but not always. There’s a sound of an electrical short –cartoon-like– loud and fast. My cat wakes first and a second later, a wave of electricity thrums, jerks my head to the side, shoulders twitch, eyes open. I wait for the next one. They rarely come alone. Up to eight times in a row. Then I wait for sleep to reclaim me. It takes a while.

These mini-seizures, I’m told, are not life threatening. They could be a reaction or consequence of coming off the epilepsy drugs cold-turkey. I don’t know.

I do know that stress stirs them up. Since Rosie was killed so horribly, I had these brain zaps although they were fading out in the new year. With the last two months of all the remote work and an increasing shift to the virtual/video live meetings, the brain zaps are back. I’m spending about the same amount of time online as before but more is spent watching 2D people talk to me and each other, moving images, flickering screens, mistimed replies, limited body language, odd lighting, small screenshots of talking faces, the overstimulation of a certain part of my brain is sending the stress into my sleeping self. Brain zaps, harsher, louder. I’m anxious. I’ve lost my joy and playfulness. Yet, externally life is fine. Nothing too terrible or limiting since we’ve had to adjust to stay-at-home restrictions. I’m doing fine. Seemingly.

There’s something about the increasing shift to these interactive digital conversations and events that I can’t live with, not easily. Writing on a computer doesn’t trigger these brain farts, it’s the stimulation of moving images.

My questions, for you and I, are around how do I cope with these new requirements for staying connected? What are the tools or solutions for people like me who can only take limited time on the virtual platforms. How do we keep connected?

I feel that there must be other ways to stay part of these communities. But I’m scared that I’ll lose my good standing as a literary citizen, unable to attend or work at the various writing community events. I’m scared that all the work I’ve done in the last few years to connect with the international travel community will be lost if I don’t show up somehow to give talks about solo travels, exploring with the pets, places to discover in the Southwest, or to sell our travel related books. They’ll forget me. I’ll be lost again.

I wonder if there’s technology out there to limit the flickering of the screens? I’m curious to hear from others about their experiences with being unable to watch television, movies, or online games. Am I the only one? No. What then can be done to help us with this kind of screen time? I’m worried. Do you have any suggestions?


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