That Feeling When by Nikhil Taneja: The pandemic pretence of being ‘okay’

Published on Apr 22, 2022 07:34 PM IST

Is that a genuine smile behind the mask or just a baring of teeth? The pandemic has definitely changed the way we live and feel

One of the kindest gestures we can extend to others—and ourselves— is to make it clear that we don’t have to pretend we’re fine (Hexcode)
One of the kindest gestures we can extend to others—and ourselves— is to make it clear that we don’t have to pretend we’re fine (Hexcode)
ByNikhil Taneja

Depending on where your mental health is at this stage in the pandemic, it may seem like yesterday or four years ago, but it was actually a month ago that Will Smith assaulted/slapped/smacked/choose-your-outrage Chris Rock on the Oscars stage.

I don’t want to be the 23,001st hot take on who deserves to be punished and how, but I haven’t been able to stop thinking about the incident. For some time, I thought it was due to my discomfort in witnessing an egregious display of toxic masculinity unexpectedly on live television. Then I read a thread by Heidi N. Moore on Twitter that gave me a whole new perspective on it.

The truth is out

Moore wrote how the ‘incident broke the fourth wall’ and was an ‘introduction of reality into spaces of pretend’. She was referring to how ‘sketchy’ folks from Hollywood want to ‘feel like good people’ on the ‘exalted and sanitized’ Oscars night, and this incident broke through the pretence and made them confront their violent reality. It was a well-argued take on what really happened, that even made a case (if contentious) for empathising with the Smiths for being ‘unwilling to fake perfection’.

What got me thinking though, was how the words in the thread actually represented for us something much larger than Hollywood culture, and resonated in me something much deeper than famous people drama. It’s now been two years of us living through a pandemic that we initially didn’t tire of calling ‘unprecedented’, followed by perhaps a year and few months of us tiring each other by calling it ‘the new normal’.

In between these two words, we went from being unable to grapple with what seemed like a Black Swan event, to accepting that we are now living through a Black Mirror episode (or a whole season of it), and just, kind of, moving on. We shrugged and said to ourselves, ‘I can’t even..’ and posted online ‘It’s okay to not be okay’ and then... we all just became okay.

We were okay when a devastating second wave took from every single family, when work from home took from every single home, when anxiety took from every single relationship, when loneliness took from every single soul, when the economy took from every single kitchen, when the lockdowns took from every single frontline worker, and when our politicians took from our singular Constitution. But were we okay? And are we okay now?

Hanging from a thread

As more states relax ‘mask guidelines’ and the white collar junta goes back to working from office, it’s a question no one is asking now, because it’s a question hardly anyone ever asked earlier, either. When no one asks if you are okay, you think it’s because everyone must be okay, so you pretend to be okay too. And when your Black Mirror reality becomes pretence, sometimes it’s a Black Tie event that shakes you from your stupor and forces you to recognise that maybe, just maybe, none of us is okay.

We are all hanging by a thread, up to our necks with repressed emotions, and are one more act of micro-aggression away from blowing up publicly. So then, are you okay? If not, stop pretending. And talk to someone about it <3

Nikhil Taneja is a writer, producer, storyteller, public speaker, feeler of feelings, men’s mental health advocate and co-founder of Yuvaa

That Feeling When is a fortnightly column that offers a relatable take on mental health and emotional well-being.

From HT Brunch, April 23, 2022

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