Opinion

The camera as my villain

Words by Fiona Candice G. Uyyangco

Palms are sweaty. Legs trembling. Cold sweat trickling down the side of my head. Rapid heartbeat. A jittery feeling in my stomach.  There is something ringing in my ears. I feel dizzy. My breaths are shallow. The clock hits five. My fingers shake as I press the “Join Meeting” button, succumbing to the pressure of this virtual world.

Discovering that I have this hidden fear of cameras before the pandemic was the least of my daily worries. There was no urgent need for me to present myself in front of a camera every day. I always have a choice not to be seen when there is a group project that requires a video output. Truly, I enjoyed being the camera. Working behind the scenes is my forte. Not as much as being the subject of the camera.

In fact, I would really rather not be seen at all. I especially avoid being photographed candidly. I had my fair share of photos that made their way to the internet. They were embarrassingly ugly. I hated the way that I looked so different. It’s as if the camera highlights the insecurities that I badly conceal. 

The camera is mocking my efforts of presenting myself in a perfect manner wherein nobody can nitpick the way I look. The camera is making me vulnerable to such remarks that would crush my fragile self-esteem.

When the pandemic hit, remote and distanced learning became the norm. Online classes were implicitly advocated as the “better” mode of learning with the teacher still virtually present. Unlike in modular learning, the students learn without proper supervision and guidance.

The pressure of enrolling in an online class loomed over. Likewise, the pressure of being seen on camera troubled my already troubled mind. 

“A consistent honor student has to be resilient.” A notion instilled in my mind growing up in an academically competitive environment. There was a need to exert the best efforts regardless of any situation.  

But there I was, completely defying the expectations of enrolling in online classes and instead chose the mode of learning that I was least expected to choose, modular learning. A tough decision for someone who had always been striving for high grades. When the upbringing you grew up in made you equate your worthiness to the grades you get in school, it is always a hard pill to swallow whenever your grades do not match your effort. 

The lapses of modular learning in my previous high school put a lot of us at a disadvantage. Ceiling grades and prejudice hindered our chances of achieving high grades despite hard work. The only consolation that I kept telling myself was that there was a literal pandemic outside and grades should be the least of my worries.

I did try to be an online learner though. 

When we had a dry run, there was a persistent uncomfortable feeling in my stomach that made me want to puke. The camera was not even turned on but I felt as if thousands of eyes were judging me. With the camera just in front of me, my brain simply thinks that the whole world is watching my every move. The pounding of my heart was suffocating and traumatizing. 

I never experienced a panic attack before, but at that moment I felt like I was having one. I felt extremely cold even if it was scorching hot outside. I was bouncing my leg up and down because I was extremely nervous. I was clenching my jaw too hard in hopes that I would not be called to speak. 

To some, it may appear as an overreaction; an irrational fear about something so shallow. But I was fighting for my life in those moments.

After that, I knew to myself that I could never bear to have that happen to me every single day that I have to attend class. It would be detrimental in the long run. I was already in a terrible headspace because of the pandemic and the lack of an urgent government response, literally killing thousands of Filipinos. I need not another factor to further deteriorate my declining mental stability. So I took refuge in my comfort zone where I have control. Where there exists no camera that will render my insecurities bare for the world to talk about.

It did, however, make me feel like a coward. I felt as though that decision of avoidance defined my entirety as a person. The looming feeling of inadequacy haunted me for the rest of last school year. I pondered every day if I made the right decision. Did I pick the right struggle? Did my camera anxiety take over my better judgment in exchange for comfort?

After a series of self-doubt and self-loathing, I had this consensus between the parts of me that it was okay

What I felt was valid. Feeling anxiety was okay. Feeling anxiety was valid. It was valid because I was hurting. 

The uncertainties that the pandemic forced upon us could be too much to handle at times. Most of us were never ready to transition to remote learning. Most of us lost the motivation to keep doing well in the things we used to be passionate about. Most of us now are just feeling empty.

Remote learning is hard. It has been almost two years since the Department of Education started implementing this rather ineffective setup. Remote learning, to me, proved to be more physically, emotionally, and mentally exhausting. Whether it be online learning or modular learning, the intense workload took a toll on my overall health.

The intense workload is one thing. With the implementation of remote learning, personal challenges that were almost non-existent before, emerged, and became cornerstones of suffering to us students. To some, it is the lack of financial capability to purchase gadgets and pay for internet connection for online learning. Thus, only affording modular learning. 

To others, it is the lack of interpersonal communication with their peers from which they gather their strengths to survive the education system. To some, it is the lack of a conducive environment for studying. Some students do not find their home conditions appropriate for their studies. 

To me, however, it was the fact that I hated the way I looked through the lens of a camera. 

Accepting the fact that I am not invincible took some time. Admitting to myself that I have limitations and that I’m in need of help was not easy. I always took pride in solving my own problems by myself. But this pandemic brought about foreign challenges. I try to be kinder to myself in times that academics and my personal insecurities become heavy. I do succumb to the pressures of this setup still, but I encourage myself to try again tomorrow and do better if my time and energy permits me to do so. 

Doing enough is okay, so long as I survive another day. 

Now as a university student, I finally became an online learner. Some days I still feel anxiety jolts within me every time I press the “Join Meeting” button. On better days I let my imperfections show just because. We are all but victims of an education system that is detached from reality and is tone-deaf to the calls of its constituents. 

Even so, with the personal battles that we face in this setup, may we all emerge triumphantly. Slowly, I am learning that the camera is just a camera. The camera is not the judge of my own character. I am more than what my camera depicts me.

Palms are sweaty. Leg trembling. Cold sweat. Rapid heartbeat. Butterflies in my stomach and for all the wrong reasons. There is something ringing in my ears. I feel dizzy. My breaths are shallow. The clock hits five. My fingers shake as I press the “Join Meeting” button, succumbing to the pressure of this virtual world.

Discovering that I have this hidden fear of cameras before the pandemic was the least of my daily worries. There was no urgent need for me to present myself in front of a camera every day. Truly, I enjoyed being the camera. Working behind the scenes is my forte. Not as much as being the subject of the camera.

In fact, I would really rather not be seen at all. I especially avoid being photographed candidly. 

When the pandemic hit, remote and distanced learning became the norm. Online classes were advocated as a more effective choice than modular learning. And I had no choice, I had to be there; I had to be an online learner. Being one should be a no-brainer. I was an honor student therefore I had to be on top of my game regardless of the situation. I was expected to push through. 

But I didn’t. I chose the mode of learning that I was least expected to choose. I would say it was a tough decision for someone who was extremely conscious of having high grades. I knew that I would be at a disadvantage if I chose modular learning. The only consolation that I could provide myself was that there is a literal pandemic outside and grades should be the least of my worries.

I tried to be an online learner. And I almost died trying, or at least that’s how it felt to me. When we had a dry run, I wanted to puke during the online meeting. I never experienced a panic attack before, but at that moment I felt like I was having one. 

To an outsider, it is an irrational fear of something so shallow. But an outsider is an outsider, and will never absolutely understand the inner workings of another person. 

There was so much anxiety during that short online meeting. The camera was not even turned on but I felt like it was. The camera was in front of me and my brain simply thinks that the whole world is watching my every move. I still felt as if thousands of eyes were judging me even if they can’t even see me. The pounding of my heart was suffocating and traumatizing. 

After that dry run, I figured I might actually die from extreme anxiety. I was already in a terrible headspace because of the pandemic that is literally killing millions. I need not another factor to further deteriorate my declining mental stability. So I gladly compromised. I ran. I took refuge in my comfort zone where I have control. Because in my comfort zone, there exists no camera that will render my insecurities bare for the world to talk about.

It did make me feel like a coward. I felt as though that decision of avoidance defined my entirety as a person. The looming feeling of inadequacy haunted me for the rest of last school year. I pondered every day if I made the right decision. Did I pick the right struggle? Did my camera anxiety take over my better judgment in exchange for comfort?

After a series of self-doubt and self-loathing, I had this consensus between the parts of me and assured myself that it is okay

What I feel is valid. Feeling anxiety is okay. Feeling anxiety is valid. It is valid because I am hurting. 

It should not matter what others may think. It should not matter if people will be disappointed by my decision to choose me. I should rather be concerned about disappointing myself by pushing through when I simply am not ready. It shouldn’t be selfish to choose what’s best for me.

Comfort is not eternal. I knew I had to face my fears eventually. Especially as a new chapter of my life begins.

I understood that I had to face the cameras. I can simply keep choosing to avoid the camera, but this time I don’t want to. I wanted change and change starts within me. Despite the recurring anxiety butterflies that I feel in my stomach, I went with the gut feeling telling me that I am ready somehow.

I enrolled myself in online classes. I became an iska doing online classes. My past self would not have thought of such a thing. But I knew she would be proud of how far I have come. 

She would be proud to know that despite the uncertainties and anxieties that lurk in my mind, I deliberately chose to fight head-on. I took the liberty of breaking the chains that hold me back from achieving more and being more.

Before formal classes started, a chance was given to me to practice the online setup. A perfect time to test out how I would react in front of the camera. I still felt nervous and conscious about appearing way too imperfect in the face of the camera. 

Too afraid to say the thoughts in my head, thinking that they have no place out in the open. The road was rather bumpy and there were countless times that I wished things were different. Yet, I kept doing it blindly. I wiped the tears in my eyes and immersed myself in the uncomfortable feeling of the foreign situation. I did it again and again. In the end, I saw the camera not as a villain but as a mere tool in this remote learning set-up. I emerged triumphantly.   

I still feel some anxiety jolts within me every time I press the “Join Meeting” button, but now I can breathe normally. I still think that I look weird from some angles but every day I say to myself that other people are probably too busy with their own lives to notice. 

Growth is not linear after all. 

It’s not impossible for me to regress to my old thinking and not want to be seen on camera again. However, it’s also not impossible for me to bounce back from negative thoughts and to exude confidence.

After all, the camera is just a camera. The camera is not the judge of my character and I am more than what my camera depicts me. Because I view myself in my own lens. [P]

Graphics by PB Yapjoco

0 comments on “The camera as my villain

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: