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Mental Health

To Mask or to Unmask— the Social Dilemmas of the New Normal

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.

Edited by: Lavanya Goswami

L and I go a long way back—both of us are escapists and very big fans of ostriches who bury their heads in the sand, to avoid the troubles of life. I chanced upon her in the Ceri Bellum cafe while she was drinking her tenth mango milkshake with a blank stare on her face. We got to talking about how tough getting out of the house was these days and I share our weird - wonky conversation with you.

***

Me: Hello! Are you ready for this?

L: Can I get away with saying nothing?

Me: Don’t say that. We might be bad at this but we can still get most of our ideas across, I hope.

L: Sure we can, but these days I wonder if it's worth the effort. I unravel too easily under the eyes of others—like a paper straw that twists open when you try to suck in the remaining dregs of your drink.

Me: That’s okay, L. You should take out the time to rest when you’re feeling like a string stretched too thin, you know. 

L: Do we have the time, though?

Me: Loads of it.What makes you feel uncomfortable when meeting someone face to face now?

L: I have to speak out—there’s no mute button on my mask. People in front of me loom over my frame, and I feel that making a mistake will mean that we never meet again. I can hear the other conversants breathe, even see them blink. I can see you doing it!

Me: Well, this isn't a virtual meeting.

L: Tell me about it. I can't just type something out on chat as a response. 

(I remember how pre-Covid L could deliver a three hour seminar on why she thought vampires were real and a confusing warmth blooms inside of me.) 

Me: Do you think you’re uncomfortable with people after a large period of zero social interaction?

L: Of course not. I have great fun using hand sanitiser after they shake my hand. They look very betrayed at this action of mine though.

Me: Maybe offer them some too, the next time. What do you discuss with these people?

L: I don’t know why but they all seem really interested in the future.

Me: Hmm—maybe they don’t want to miss out on experiences just out of ignorance. What is life without a to-do list, right?

(I pause at the stink eye she gives me).

L: Here’s the future for you then—there are only two months left of 2021. We’ll be entering a new year soon and we’ll still be attending online college. I’ll still be shouting at the Gmail app for pinging me with too many emails.

Me: We can only hope to get past this someday. Any exciting plans for college at least?

L: I studied the wall lizards of my house in 2021. If we still have an online semester in 2022, I shall conduct a census of all the pantry rats. I will further proceed to make all of this fit into an essay about human existence.

Me: That sounds... interesting. Are things really okay though?

L: At times I fall behind, at times it hurts too much but I learn new stuff everyday so it's all about balance, I guess.

Me: Do you think that this will be enough?

L: I have the attention span of a kid watching a chocolate fountain. It's new and interesting as long as I haven't put my hands through the spray of chocolate. My satisfaction is a tricky, bothersome concept and I might never have enough. (She hurries to add something on seeing my alarmed expression.) But I’ll live with it, I guess.

Me: [laughs] Very vividly described. Halloween’s coming up—any plans for that at least?

L: Can’t you tell that I am wearing a costume right now?

Me: You’re wearing a shirt and a skirt. How is that a costume?

L: Ha! I wanted to come as a burrito of blankets but that's not socially acceptable. So I'm in costume as a functional human being.

Me: Blankets, huh. How is your sleep schedule? 

L: I handle it as well as someone holding slippery fish in their bare hands.

Me: You…let it slip?

L: I have long given up on trying to conquer my sleep habits.

Me: Speaking of habits, is this cafe a common haunt of yours?

L: It was the only place that didn't judge me for not being able to use Paytm. I ordered a milkshake out of sheer gratitude. Wait, I’ll get something for you as well.

(We both ignore the fact that the milkshake is a horrible radioactive yellow—how appetizing could it be? She orders a black coffee for me, calling it her treat. The cashier stares as she fumbles with the paper notes while paying. The interview is over.)

***

 It's difficult trying to get back to social normalcy so, L and I try to set up something new to explore together each time we meet. An aching stomach because you laughed for too long, the weird sounds you make when you’re giddy with joy—these little but amazing things need to be felt again. Drinking terrible coffee while talking to someone who’s in as hopeless a situation as you, isn't that bad. Or you can cuddle up with warm, soft things and just watch something fun. At the end of the day, it’s your choice.

Sthitee is a writer of the content team of the Her Campus Ashoka chapter and is in her first year. She is a huge fan of coffee and loves talking about how awesome nature is. Bribing her with pictures of baby animals is very effective and she's always on the look out for book recommendations.
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