Finding ‘virtual” connections…

So much has changed since the pandemic started. (Now that’s a sentence I never thought I’d be writing.) 

The world is different in ways unimaginable. For me, it’s been like riding a roller coaster, with each day bringing different news and views. I’ve tried to write, and I’ve not been able to put any words down, as I think of the huge tidal waves of what I hope will be positive change in the years to come. 

There are days when I’m at home and stuck in my head, thinking too much about the practicalities of the next few months. I worry about colleagues and friends who are all dealing with different challenges. I work in the film industry and our world has come to a definite stop. I make independent documentaries; usually, intimate portraits of people’s lives and issues. My days are filled with anxiety-filled discussions about how to keep crew and cast safe on set as we also confront the bigger question: What should we be filming these days? What stories will we tell? When will we be able to go back to work?

Notice the “we”. Because for me, making films has always been about connection, with the people in our films in front of the camera, and the crew behind the scenes, with whom we create these stories. 

And so I find myself searching for connection. And finding it in the weirdest places. 

Two weekends ago was a “first” for me. I did a group Type1 Diabetes bicycle ride. 

I’d love to say that I headed out of the house, clad in my cycling shorts, sporting a team jersey and shoes, hopped on my bike and joined hundreds of others at the start line. Or that I got caught up in the excitement of the pre-race vibe, listening to snippets of conversation, taking swigs from my water bottle and mentally psyching myself up for the 30km plus ride to come. 

Well, I kinda did that…. I joined a virtual ride on ZWIFT, an app I’ve been using to cycle indoors. So yes, I pysched myself up mentally and physically, drank a few gulps of water, but I did this while staring at my computer screen and listening to my cycling playlist, in the comfort of my living room. 

Especially these days, when I spend most of my time indoors, this sense of community is vital. I’ve written about this before the pandemic started, in previous entries; the need for connection, for people who “get me”, who wear a pump or a Dexcom or some other type of constant glucose monitor (CGM). It’s about the feeling when you see a fellow diabetic and do “the nod” that signifies you get what they’re going through, as much as anyone can get what another diabetic is dealing with. 

So it was that when my ZWIFT app told me that there would be a Type 1 ride that Saturday, I jumped at the opportunity. The app I use classifies riders by their “work output” (something I really don’t understand and am constantly asking my husband to explain to me) and this one seemed to be within my “range”. It was marked “E” for everyone. I figured it was incentive to get on the bike at 10.10 a.m. and see what happened. 

And there I was, lingering with a crowd of other riders, my “digital me” now clad in a TEAM T1D jersey, instead of the usual nondescript one I’d chosen for my avatar. There was a start line and I felt excited and confident. I figured if I needed to stop for a minute and check my blood sugar, this group would understand. 

Not that they would notice, I realized. It’s all virtual. The ride leader, Mark from the T1D community based somewhere in England, was flooding the screen with encouraging words, yet no one would really know that I’d quickly lost the pack and found myself alone on an animated street in London.

My lack of speed meant that I missed out on the sprints and a couple of ride events.I was touched when one rider asked another if they were feeling okay; I guess he’d noticed she’d stopped somewhere on the route.

And then it was over. I was somewhere at the very bottom of the pack,  as I expected. The goal was a staggering 33 kms, of which I’d managed 24 km. I was proud of myself, and felt like I’d done something positive, as a diabetic, as a grown up diabetic (!), as an indoor cyclist, as someone who figured it was kind of cool to be riding with people from all over Canada, the US, France, England, Japan, Brazil, etc.

I wasn’t bold enough to connect on the message board, mostly because I have enough trouble keeping my legs moving while concentrating on the route, so the idea of typing on my phone while riding would surely slow me down. 

There’s opportunity here, in this new virtual world of ours. Introverted me could live at least part of my life this way indefinitely but the fact is, I miss the daily in-person social interactions. If I go to check the mail in our building’s lobby, I’m happy to see a neighbour and chat briefly as we wear our masks. I haven’t driven in weeks. My outings are short trips to the grocery store with my husband (we divide and conquer, he to the pharmacy, me to the market), or walks around the block to get fresh air or an occasional 5 km run. 

I’ve been able to attend classes on-line (hey, if not now, when?) and partake in professional conferences that have been out of reach previously, by price and by location.

Do I want this to be my future world like some kind of extended episode of Black Mirror? Ummm, no thank you. I hope the near future will bring some sense of balance. And connection that takes me out of my living room to a world that isn’t streamed on-line. 

Me, sort of, cycling on the ZWIFT app.

(Please remember, I’m not a doctor or an educator. Just a person who has had type 1 diabetes for the past 26 years. Please follow me on instagram at @grownupdiabetes.) 

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