COVID-19 Warning: You May Become An Introvert
Symptoms of self-isolation include a need to be alone and a distaste for large social gatherings.
Depending on where in the world you are, you may have been spending several weeks or even months at home now. Your life changed, completely. Plans flushed right down the loo, and your four walls became your home. Friends became pixelated faces on a screen, Friday night drinks became a beer bottle at home, and Netflix was the main person to check up on you — “Are you still watching?” may as well mean “Dude, you okay?”.
In this time I created a Friends episode set in COVID-19, as well as wondering how Friends would work in 2020. I tried to read more and more. I binged so many shows. I wrote, and wrote, and wrote. I dived into the world of Masterclass. I didn’t bake sourdough. It all wasn’t enough.
As a highly sensitive person who wrongly obtains my sense of self worth from my friendships, I found this to be incredibly unnerving. My first reaction was to transfer my sense of duty for seeing friends and doing enough for them into constantly checking up on them, thinking of how I can help them, worrying about them every single day, instead of myself.
I went into overdrive, consistently berating myself for not doing enough, not being enough. But slowly, with the help of Zoom calls with my therapist and plenty of reading material, I began to actually appreciate the time alone. Because I liked it, I liked being alone. Sure, I missed my friends and family, I missed going out and walking around the city.
But in all my years, I had never actually been alone.
Being alone is terrifying for many reasons. For me, it was that I finally had the room to deal with my grief, after being able to shove it away for over a year and a half. Others may have different traumas they’re left with, or insecurities highlighted through time with themselves and a lack of social cues.
Sadly, many of us don’t like ourselves, and so we’re horrified to be alone with that person.
We didn’t have a choice. We had to adopt introvert ways, or discover our inner-introvert buried within the extroversion. And from speaking to others and tuning in with myself, I’ve realised that we all did a good job of it. Almost too good. As now things are very slowly creeping back to normal, only for us to realise that we don’t want to be back to normal. We don’t want to be seeing friends the majority of nights per week, filling our evenings, being constantly on the move. We actually like watching TV shows and reading books, keeping up our new hobbies, enjoying the quiet of the moment.
We’ve found our inner introvert. Perhaps it was always there, simply pushed aside in a world that favours extroverts. Perhaps we’re still extroverted, but now know how to adapt like an introvert, how to cradle our inner introvert. The world had to adapt to COVID 19, and that isn’t just restaurant seating, outdoor workouts or Zoom meetings, it’s also adapting our needs, our places of fulfilment.
In Susan Cain’s book about introversion, she discusses how introverts and extroverts are actually well suited as couples, working partners or friends. As you bring out the correct aspects in one another and feed off their strengths. In a world designed for extroversion, we suddenly needed introverts, and they stepped up. They taught us about working from home, about staying connected virtually, and about ways to fill your own quiet time.
But now, now things are changing. And while I used to fill about 4 evenings of my week with plans and dedicate 3 to myself, suddenly that ratio is incredibly off. I saw friends for one evening, one of the first times since self-isolation began, and I was exhausted afterwards. I was so drained, and it left me feeling anxious and depressed. I was running through our conversations, questioning if I contributed enough, if I can still hold my own in a room of people.
And now when people want to start making plans, I’m reluctant. I make one social engagement for the week and that honestly seems like enough. When I admitted this, someone else chimed in with a similar experience. She said she had concerns about retaining enough of her new routines and solo hobbies once she started seeing friends more, she was reading a lot more and feared this would be first to go. Another claimed they now felt overwhelmed in groups, whilst prior they would feel at their best, a true social butterfly at a party. The simple idea of a party now breeds fear within.
We’re very open to the discussion of whether people preferred working from home. The only part we have to claim is that we missed office interactions or coffee corner chats. Well, I didn’t, I’m sorry. Yet it isn’t acceptable to claim that you actually enjoyed parts of self-isolating.
This isn’t to undermine the huge damage instilled on the world, businesses and families by COVID-19, but simply to wonder if maybe certain social aspects could help us grow. Many struggled with their mental health during this time, as did I. But I know for myself, it was more of an exposure to my underlying symptoms, and the inability to escape them for once. So I don’t feel negative about the surge in emotions, as I knew they had been underlying for too long, and it was time to confront them. Those darknesses are inside either way, and isn’t it better to have them confirmed than keep running?
Why is there a guilt to wanting to be alone? In one of my first Psychology lectures, I was informed that humans are social creatures. This fact was repeated continuously over the years of study. We’re considered to be social creatures, and so any deviation is considered maladaptive, it is wrong. You must want to be alone because you’re depressed or anxious, because you don’t have the right friends. It’s seen as rude to not make plans simply because you don’t want to, because you need more time to yourself. But imagine a world where we could take the time to recharge correctly, to build on ourselves? The time to deal with our problems so that we don’t project them on others, and cause pain to those who care about us and get caught in the crossfire.
We’re told that we should be happy to be seeing friends again. That we should be rushing to cafes, planning meet ups in parks and more. But what if I don’t want to just yet? I want to take my time, ease into the social systems I’ve built and redesign them to suit my new introverted tendencies. I want to see friends when I want to see them, not when I feel obligated. I want to be my best self, and I can only do this alone.
And my final message for anyone this resonates with is:
It is okay.
It is okay to cancel plans. It is okay to decline offers to meet up, even if you don’t have other plans, even if they’re disappointed. You are your priority. Make plans with yourself every week and stick to them, as you would to others. Choose how you want to socialize and combine it with your interests, such as a virtual book club. Relish being alone, even when it is uncomfortable or confronting. It is those things for a reason, and when you deal with that and work through it, then you get the true pleasure of alone time.
It’s like sex, it sucks at first, it’s awkward and overflowing with insecurities. But once you get comfortable, it can be so good.
For anyone interested in the matter of introversion, I can’t recommend “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking” by Susan Cain enough. A reading must for both introverts and extroverts!
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