Kemi* appeared to have handled the lockdown period perfectly.
For the 27-year-old web developer living on Lagos Island, the idea of working from home isn’t alien, although, before the lockdown, she made a point of occasionally using shared workspaces to avoid being stuck in her apartment every day.
Following the initial coronavirus scare in Lagos, she made the decision to stay home, long before Nigeria federal government’s lockdown of Lagos and Ogun states, and Abuja (FCT) in late March.
All the while, she had it together, or so she thought.
Kemi* has a relatively moderate following on Twitter but sees more engagement on WhatsApp and Facebook where she openly supports social distancing measures.
Five weeks into social distancing and having a lot of time on her hands to goof around on social media, she got attracted to someone she had known and they began dating.
As the relationship blossomed, her desire for the lockdown to be lifted overshadowed her strong resolve to stay home and stay safe, which she strongly advocated online.
Ironically, once the lockdown was relaxed on May 4, she was one of the Lagos residents who went out en masse for different reasons: Kemi went to the Mainland to visit her new boyfriend. She has since made subsequent visits, most times by public transport, which people who know her can swear she dreads.
“My typical WhatsApp status would read, ‘Go out only if you must, please, these yellow buses aren’t following [the] physical distancing order. Hashtag lockdown day 65,'” she says.
“…but the heart knows what it wants, you know,” she adds jocularly.
All the while, she had been careful to give hints only to those in her close circle — who weren’t totally pleased — but certainly not on social media.
She, however, admits that the fatigue that comes with social distancing is real, but putting up the tough front was necessary, given the reputation she had built before the pandemic.
“Of course, I feel like I’m being deceptive sometimes. But I think what I portray is probably keeping someone from being reckless with their health.”
A seemingly valid explanation
Across the world, during the period of mandated physical distancing, health counsellors emphasise the importance of good mental health.
They suggest keeping virtual connections as one of the coping mechanisms while discouraging alcohol and drug use, which have apparently become ways to cope with the stresses of isolation and quarantine among young people.
But, people with noticeable online presence tend to resist the urge to wear any emotions resulting from isolation, like anxiety, frustration, fatigue, fear, or anger on their sleeves, hence, the perfect lifestyles they present.
For Kemi, asides the desire to sustain online engagement, she became a social distancing advocate long before many people around her began embracing it; she even made a few enemies for it as it seemed extreme since the infection was yet to become a real scare. Giving that up, according to her, could portray cowardice, or at worst, hypocrisy.
Gladly, the issue of Internet addiction hasn’t been underestimated or under-discussed. Otherwise, it would be difficult to connect such addiction to neglect of personal life, mental preoccupation, escapism, mood modifying experiences, tolerance, and covering up other addictive behaviour.
In fact, an escapist’s favourite route of creating a world that only exists in their fantasy might be a coping mechanism. But it’s, unfortunately, one which is quite unhealthy.
Asides reasons similar to Kemi’s, heavy users of social media tend to portray a different person or standpoint online for professional reasons, explains Jude*, a social media manager.
“Putting my emotions all over my social media page or displaying a life, not in sync with the current trend is bad for business,” he says.
Apparently, our yearning for human connection is not something that a pandemic can put an end to. Even for people who do not feel the pressure to display the right attitude online apart from what they do physically, like Kemi, social distancing is definitely not an easy task.
Asterisk (*) – not real name