Corona stories: Kati – staying socially connected

By Kati Wicht

Lockdown is here. Taking a moment of quiet in the garden on the morning of day 1, I closed my eyes and listened; the hustle and bustle of Cape Town Main Road, just two streets away, was gone. I could only hear dogs barking and the odd siren blaring, but otherwise it was quiet, a bit eerie for a Friday.

This is bizarre. It is as if we are living in a movie, but it’s not a movie, it is real and it is happening.

Since the arrival of Corona on the global stage, I have watched the buzz on social media grow about the importance of staying connected while social distancing, but what does this actually look like?

For me, “self-isolation” seems to have started at the beginning of March, not because of Corona, but out of necessity to complete assignments. Juggling the world of full time work while doing Masters has been challenging and has meant that my regular weekends of socialising was put on the back burner as I ploughed through readings and wrote assignments. With assignments handed in at the same time as our President’s address on 15th of March, I was ready and looking forward to re-engaging in the social world. But that did not happen. Trying to figure out what a National Disaster meant, how to social distance and the possibility of Lockdown, I became increasingly aware of the fact that social interactions as I know it would be on hold for now, not only in the personal space but in the work space as well. What would this mean for our wellbeing during this time? What impact may this have on our ability to “get through” this pandemic?

As humans, we are social beings and connection is key to maintaining our health and wellbeing. It is well recognised that social isolation can have detrimental impacts on our mental, physical and emotional health. And so, with the new era of social distancing (or physical distancing as some are calling it), how do we move forward and ensure we maintain connections and not become isolated?

Here at R-Cubed, we recognise connection as being two-fold; inter-connection, connection with others and intra-connection, connection with the self. In the time of COVID-19, this two-fold connection is crucial.

I am reminded of the Monday morning after our President declared the National State of Disaster, myself and Grant were facilitating with a group of community members on trauma-informed approaches when working with youth and children. We were met with an atmosphere of uncertainty as we began the day. After discussing the practicalities of COVID-19 (washing hands, social distancing, not touching your face etc), it became apparent that we needed to make space available to recognise what was happening internally for people in the room. Not the practicalities, but the emotional impact of the President’s address and the largely uncertain future which lay ahead. Two critical points came from our discussion in the group: firstly, recognition of our emotions, be it fear, anxiety, panic, confusion or cynicism, is important in understanding what is driving our actions; and secondly, getting through this pandemic together would mean supporting each other. Connection with the self and connection with each other.

Reflecting on how these connections may look like at this time, I am aware of the fact that it will be different for each person out there, not only because of our individual preferences but because of our different positionalities within society. Being a young middle class white South African, privileged to have access to a range of different resources at home, self-connection for me, during lockdown, means online yoga, gardening, journaling and engaging in creative hobbies. While my social connections in the work space (which I derive much meaning from) has declined, I am still able to connect via virtual platforms with friends and family across the globe and spend quality time with those who I am isolating with, thus ensuring my personal connections are maintained through this time.

But this is not the case across Cape Town, or South Africa for that matter. I sit here, feeling unsettled by the stark differences people living in an informal settlement may be experiencing. How do you isolate in a shack the size of my bedroom when there is maybe 5 or more people living in it? Lane’s article highlights the fact that many South Africans, prior to COVID-19, were already living in survival mode, so is this state of being new?

Having said that, I am mindful of not falling into the trap of perpetuating stories of working class people as victims, but rather recognising the immense strength and resilience which lies within our communities across our country. My social media has also buzzed with stories of connection amongst communities, whether it be health workers calling for support or community forums organising food and sanitizer drives, our resilience through connection is strong in South Africa.

I am aware, as I finish this post, of the fact that I am sitting in the comfort of my home, making a comment on our country’s class inequalities. It leaves me feeling unsettled, as the lockdown has separated me from my connections in various communities which ground me as a South African.