• Gray Butler

Stop Calling It "Zoom Fatigue"

I’ve been noticing a number of recurring posts and conversations amongst my peers, people asking if their forgetfulness is a “COVID thing” or talking about “Zoom fatigue” they’re experiencing for the first time. And as a disabled person I feel sort of like that white guy blinking meme: 

But memes aside, there is something both irritating and illuminating about these statements, people really see these reactions as some unique response to living our lives on Zoom, or living during a global pandemic,  that when the pandemic is over suddenly it will go away. But it’s not and it won’t.  Because these occurrences have absolutely nothing to do with the actual nature of zoom or the pandemic, they are classic responses to high stress, and traumatic events; the same responses as many people like myself with PTSD experience constantly. And I suspect a significant portion of folks experiencing “zoom fatigue” will continue to have PTSD-like symptoms for far longer than our mandated zoom meetings will last. 

People will do and say anything other than contextualize it within the context of disability. It’s not simply fatigue, the same run of the mill fatigue us disabled and chronically ill folks face, no its “zoom fatigue”, something contained to the world of zoom, temporary, fixable, everyone is experiencing it. We’re “all having hard times concentrating” rather than executive dysfunction or my personal favorite I’ve been labeled with my whole life “having poor time management”. 

Being tired, out of it, late, disoriented is now socially acceptable, yet people refuse to situate it within a disability context, they refuse to see themselves within any proximity to the realities of disabled people. Because this is temporary, god forbid anyone develop lasting PTSD after these traumatic events and not be able to contextualize it as anything beyond zoom!/s. 

But what is also harmful is that people do not have the language to contextualize what is going on. People will be ill-equipped to handle when surprise the pandemic is over but many people continue to live in the after effects of PTSD. People continue to push themselves in ways that many disabled people have long learned and struggled with work-arounds. 

And what is additionally frustrating within this whole phenomenon is that the failure to connect it to larger conversations of disability, blocks the connection and understanding of the impacts of folks who struggle with disabilities such as PTSD.  People may be experiencing PTSD symptoms without truly expanding upon their understandings of access needs and care that folks with PTSD and other similar disabilities face. 

My “zoom fatigue” won’t end when this pandemic ends, and that fatigue has long existed before the pandemic. But only in these few short months have I had professors, and other folks around me give me the grace I need to collect myself, tend to my own needs, move slower, work remotely, stim in class, step away when I need to no questions asked etc. And guess what, impending doom of our current political crisis aside, my mental health academically and in my work life has been the best it’s probably ever been. And I know this is not the case for every disabled person, or even every person with PTSD, but I do know that in some regards a lot of disabled folks are suddenly getting the access needs we have needed this entire time and have been told was too difficult or “unfair” to provide. 

So the question is, does it only become acceptable and neccecary when the whole globe experiences it at once? How can folks understand this beyond the context of this pandemic, and think about access, and the narratives we have about ability, showing up to places, accountability, professionalism, timeliness etc. The works of disability justice organizers and abolitionists often times asks us to rethink how we frame success, time, ability and showing up. And asks to lean into disabled knowledge.

Those of us who have been tackling our PTSD, chronic illnesses, neurological diversities, and disabilities are expertise in crisis, we have been living it, surviving it, and navigating it for much of our lives if not our whole lives. Start turning towards us and learning from us (and compensating us for some of that labor). Some of us know the tricks to combating fatigue, how to structure our days, when to listen to our bodies, how to come down from panic attacks, how to navigate the world when you are in a state of constant trauma. This has been our lives. Listen, don’t pity us. Reframe how you understand the world and understand that disabled people can be sources of expertise. And for the love of everything, even if you do call it zoom fatigue please recognize and make space for the fact it’s much less zoom related and much more common symptoms of trauma.

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