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Stop horsing about! Equine and 'ghost' therapy will not cure Zoom fatigue

Exhausted and jittery after an eternity spent on video calls, Sbu Mkwanazi wonders if even his friends have lost the plot

20 June 2021 - 00:02 By Sbu Mkwanazi
Horsing about in therapy.
Horsing about in therapy.
Image: 123RF/Popaukropa

I definitely need new friends. I came to this conclusion recently as I poured out my heart to my current stock of mates about how lockdown fatigued I am.

Over yet another dreary Zoom call — exacerbated by their hideous virtual backgrounds of an actual Coronavirus cell and an alien family on holiday in Iceland — I just couldn't believe how they thought their advice to beat the lockdown blues was sage.

I told them that isolation and a lack of social interaction was getting to me, and that I felt my mental health was just not the same as before the words "Fellow South Africans" struck fear in our hearts. I've found myself being more fatigued (largely due to daily attempts of looking interested on Zoom calls) and I struggle to concentrate for longer than 12-minute intervals, how long it takes to tell people that they are still on mute!

I confided in my friends and told them that my brain can no longer absorb seeing so many people on a single laptop screen, and this was really increasing my irritability levels, something that I see might end up with me becoming a cranky old man by the time we've been emancipated from empty phrases that are meant to trick us, like "adjusted level" lockdown levels.

Surely we know that this is a government version of the well-used restaurant ruse of buying time, deployed in various ways including first bringing you bread, then the cutlery, then condiments and only two hours later, your main meal. We are hungry!

Back to my former friends who, in their infinite wisdom, suggested that before I have Zoom blowout — which will probably be recorded, knowing my luck — I should seek professional therapy. That is when I actually considered reinstating them as people of interest, in my life. Alas, I spoke too soon.

Being liberals — they actively Google breakfast restaurants that serve biltong flavoured omelettes — they told me to try to open my mind to the latest therapy techniques that are allegedly revolutionising participants' lives.

Gestalt therapy is when the person in question — yours truly — sits in front of an empty chair and pretends that someone else is on the other chair. You then have to tell "Casper the Ghost" how you feel, and as if you don't feel ridiculous enough, you have to switch chairs, role play and pretend to be the other person, replying to your own narrative.

According to my learned friends, this technique of performing both roles is supposed to make me dig deep into my psyche, which will force me to tackle any unresolved inner conflicts and give me tools to express how I really feel.

I'm of the opinion that so-called 'traditional' therapy techniques such as laughing, listening to music and being in nature are just as effective as some of the more unorthodox approaches

Predictably, this was a hard pass. As soon as I highlighted that this is exactly what isolation looks and feels like, and I was not about to pay for playing musical chairs, minus the music, opponents and a prize.

Plus, surely if I'm talking to myself, why am I paying for a therapist?

The next suggestion slowly solidified my suspicion that I needed to get a fresh batch of friends. If you don't know, I am a 38-year-old township boy who has never owned a pet. My interactions with animals is limited either to the Pretoria or Joburg zoos.

Fully knowing these facts about me, my friends suggested I visit the horse-crazy area of Kyalami, and take part in equine therapy. I quickly used the "rolls eyes" emoji in our Zoom chat.

Apparently, equine-assisted psychotherapy is beneficial for jittery and irritable individuals such as myself, as these well-endowed creatures have a calming effect. Protagonists of this technique claim that speaking to a horse provides understanding on how others receive you. I tried isiZulu, Afrikaans, even a little bit of XiTsonga, and all I got back from Amigo was a lift of his tail and a fart.

Suggestions deteriorated to a point where a silent retreat was even put on the table. This "art" apparently can assist me to drop limiting self-beliefs, crippling worries and my long list of regrets, including my teacher-nurse combo parents not buying me a horse when I was young so I could teach it vernac.

Do people not realise that all you have to do to benefit from silent treatment is to upset your significant other? And even better, it's for free.

I'm slowly learning that therapy should be something that's comfortable to the person in question. Just because the latest trend involves shouting and walking around naked (as per the primal technique), does not mean that all of us should subscribe to it.

I'm of the opinion that so-called "traditional" therapy techniques such as laughing, listening to music and being in nature are just as effective as some of the more unorthodox approaches.

But whatever I will be exploring in the near future, I can tell you that it won't involve a screen at all. Zoom calls and the latest round of "break-away" Zoom rooms are actually causing me more anxiety than I signed up for.

I now need more therapy after using "virtual" sticky notes on a virtual board!