Beyond Zoom Fatigue, or Why I asked for Accommodations

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This post is difficult to write, and I approach writing this week with humility and a sense of empathy for the challenges that all of us are facing. I have ADHD, and Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), and I have written, reflected, and created multimedia as a way of processing how these disabilities interact with my brain and the rest of my body. I cannot say how Zoom fatigue feels for anyone else, but for me it was a shock to the system. 

ADHD helps me hyper focus when I teach on Zoom, but I cannot shut off the hyper focus when I shut down Zoom, and then, also off camera, GAD kicks in. After two months of fully synchronous Zoom teaching, GAD erupted in shrieks and loops of non-stop thinking. Overthinking, over-emotional, idealistic, taking life too seriously—all the words applied to me by others in childhood, graduate school, and afterward, came ripping out of my brain again. This was quarantine, but also not quarantine, the election, but also not the election. This was my brain on too much Zoom.

In “Higher Ed Needs to Go on a Zoom Diet,” Joshua Kim suggests: “Whatever the reason that Zoom tires us out, we should all start listening to our bodies and begin making some adjustments.”  The first body part I knew I needed to adjust was my brain, and I decided to ask for accommodations for next semester: I would need to spend less time teaching on Zoom, and more time working with students asynchronously on email and; work I already knew how to do because of online training I received years before this pandemic, and my current employer’s online training.

Changes in policy and scheduling are mandated by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and as an adjunct, I understand that asking for such changes presents risks. Yet, as Eddie Glaude, Jr. reminds us, James Baldwin urged that we use our pain “to connect with other people’s pain; and insofar as you can do that with your pain, you can be released from it, and then hopefully it works the other way around too; insofar as I can tell you what it is to suffer, perhaps I can help you to suffer less.” In other words, it seemed an even greater risk to ignore what felt like a tornado in my brain, and there was no option to keep the tornado invisible. 

Sharing our suffering shares our humanity as well. With white privilege, and with the privilege of excellent mental health care, which is rare in this country, comes the responsibility to resist invisibility. I asked for accommodations and received them. Thanks to the ADA, with proof of documented disabilities I am legally eligible to receive reasonable accommodations to do the same job as everyone else.

In The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action, Audre Lorde, black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet,” who also lived with disabilities, writes, “I began to recognize a source of power within myself that comes from the knowledge that while it is most desirable not to be afraid, learning to put fear into a perspective gave me great strength.” Indeed, we cannot wish away the problems and consequences of this pandemic. But, for me, for my students, and for my colleagues, my hope is that those of us with disabilities feel less invisible, less ashamed, and less alone.

About the Author
Susan Naomi Bernstein (she/they) writes, teaches, and quilts, in Queens, NY. She blogs for Bedford Bits, and her recent publications include “The Body Cannot Sustain an Insurrection” in the Journal of Multimodal Rhetorics and “After Basic Writing” in TETYC. Her book is Teaching Developmental Writing. Other publications include “Theory in Practice: Halloween Write-In,” with Ian James, William F. Martin, and Meghan Kelsey in Basic Writing eJournal 16.1, “An Unconventional Education: Letter to Basic Writing Practicum Students in Journal of Basic Writing 37.1, “Occupy Basic Writing: Pedagogy in the Wake of Austerity,” in Nancy Welch and Tony Scott’s collection Composition in the Age of Austerity. Susan also has published on Louisa May Alcott, and has exhibited her quilts in Phoenix, Arizona and Brooklyn, NY.