Ten days post second shot, as my jurisdiction loosens more and more of its COVID restrictions, I have come to a stark realization. I am flabby- physically, sadly (stupid ‘COVID 15’) as well as socially flabby. I am VERY out of shape when it comes to interacting with others (physically out of shape too, but that’s fodder for another post).
As an introvert, over the course of my adult years, I’ve had to work hard to build up my social networks in my writing community and my social circle. Socializing, meeting new people, going to parties- not my strong suit. When the initial shutdown occurred in the spring of 2020, I was happy. Finally, it was cool to stay at home and keep to myself. Now that I can get out there, having reverted to my natural introvert tendencies these last few months, I’m struggling to keep up. While many people had anxiety during lockdown, mine kicked in when we started easing restrictions. I daydream about ways to stay isolated a little while longer, perhaps forever, and my mental health is suffering for it.
The cumulative stress of a year plus of unprecedented insecurity and constant change, coupled with this weird new anxiety, compelled me to seek professional help. My counsellor told me that along with movement, mastery and mindfulness- things I was careful to engage in the last year-meaningful connection is essential for good mental health. How does a natural introvert leave the safety and security of Zoom meetings and quiet evenings at home and resume the face-to-face connections so vital for their health?
Slowly. Thoughtfully. And with a great deal of deal of self-kindness.
Whoa! Slow Your Roll!
Extroverts of the world, I’m happy for you. I’ve worried about you throughout this long, long year and a half of pandemic restrictions. I can feel the overwhelming desire you have to be with all the people now, and I’m so, so rooting for you. But, I’m just going to stand back awhile until the fever pitch has cooled down. I don’t like it hot. I like it warm. Frankly, extroverts, your pent up energy unnerves me. If I’m being honest, I don’t know what to do with it. I don’t know where to look, or put my hands. I’ll only be looking at the clock and wishing I’d brought a book, so I’ll see you guys few more weeks? Months?
I promise you’ll hardly miss me.
With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility
In my jurisdiction, we have a multi-step re-opening plan, and over the past few weeks I’ve had a small taste of my pre-pandemic schedule- full disclosure I have three teenagers and I work part-time as an elementary teacher on top of my writing- and even though I have accepted my flabbiness (see my introduction), I cannot keep up. I’ve realized, I really don’t want my crazy schedule back. I did a lot of things I didn’t like pre-COVID. I said yes to engagements, projects and responsibilities I didn’t really want to do, and I resented it. A lot. (See the part where I was relieved when we went into lockdown).
Life is too short to do stuff you find boring, or that diverts energy away from what you really want to be doing. I took up watercolour painting during the pandemic, my mastery project (I already knew how to bake bread and garden, so I branched out) and it makes me deliriously happy. I will not give it up for anything that doesn’t offer the same value creatively and emotionally. The silver lining, or pandemic lesson I have learned, is that I need to be more mindful about how I spend my time. I need to be honest, with myself and my social circle, about stuff that doesn’t serve me.
I deserve to be happy, too.
In a World Where You Can be Anything, Be Kind
On top of saying ‘yes’ too much, I also have a tendency to ‘should’ all over myself. And my inner voice is VERY critical..
I ‘should’ be excited now that things are going back to normal.
I ‘should’ accept every invitation or opportunity that comes my way, or people will stop inviting me.
I ‘should’ be worried less now, instead of more.
But, I’m not built that way. The truth is I like, and need, to be alone. I’m a homebody and take great joy in simple things like hanging out with my family, spending time in nature and reading. I won’t be able to build the life I want in the future, one that serves and nourishes me, the authentic me, unless I accept these truths about myself. Trying to be something you’re not just leads to frustration, anger and pain, in my experience.
I need to be kind to myself- my mental health depends on it.
You Can Do It!
Flab doesn’t have to be permanent.
I’ve improved my diet these last few weeks (bye-bye pandemic bread and wine with dinner) and my ‘COVID-15’ is more like a ‘COVID’ seven now. If I can apply that same care and attention to my re-entry into the post-pandemic world, the social flab will melt away too. Slowly but surely, if I listen to my inner voice and take things one day at a time, before you know it, you won’t be able to tell me apart from the extroverts at that writing conference.
I’m looking forward to that day.