The COVID-19 pandemic and the global lockdown has impacted us all in different, unexpected ways – almost weaving itself into every part of our lives. For me, it affected the way I am able to interact with others.
Over the years as a socially-anxious introvert, I have taught myself specific techniques to communicate with people to avoid any awkward interactions. I make a mental list of questions or responses that can be eased in conversation. I would put up the persona of an extrovert and hide how awkward and afraid I felt. I would be overly-emotive and smile too much to compensate for the lack of conversation. For the most part, it worked. I was able to function in social situations despite my social anxiety.
Then lockdown happened and I found myself in my most comfortable position – being alone in my room undisturbed. I didn’t have to worry about the possibility of talking to someone in person or how I would respond. Nor, did I have to make up excuses to avoid hanging out when I wanted alone time. So often, I was told that I had to be louder, bigger, and more out-going except for now. Now, it was commendable to stay at home. I was given the opportunity to finally fully enjoy my solitude without the expectations to change myself into a more extroverted version for the world.
So I relished in the gift I was given. I fully immersed myself in my solitude. However, I soon learned that too much comfort leaves no space for growth.
As lockdown regulations start to ease down in my country and people begin to socialize again, I feel anxiety close up my throat. I know I will have to speak to people again, but I wonder if I even know how to do that anymore.
I had spent months tucked away in my mind and only conversing with myself. Now I am expected to socialize and be happy about it. To be frank, I’m not. I am scared and anxious. I missed my friends and family dearly, and I still long for warm, long hugs and physical affection. But I have forgotten all the techniques that helped me hold a conversation. I struggle to express myself to others and to show the genuine interest I have in their stories. I became so accustomed to the worlds in my mind during lockdown that real conversations and experiences can’t keep my attention.
To add to this, my speech impairment worsens the anxiety I already have about speaking to people again. I’ve been so out of practice that the act of speaking aloud is difficult and tiresome. So many words are unable to form in my mouth, and I have no urge to try to say them. I am disinterested in engaging with others because social interaction exhausts me. My social battery is depleting sooner than before lockdown. After only two hours with someone, I am drained and crave solitude.
I contemplated the reasons for all this. It was simple. I had been thrust out of the cocoon I was in for months. It was safe and comfortable, and now the outside world is cold and disorienting. I’m still finding my feet like many of us are as we discover the new normal. I think many introverts are overwhelmed and struggling to adapt after being pushed out of our most comfortable state. It will take me a bit of time to get used to the fast-paced, extroverted world again. I feel like I am a terrible person for struggling to connect and interact socially. I wish that I could snap my fingers and on command be more engaging and attentive when I speak to the people I love.
Until that happens, I am giving myself the space to learn how to voice my emotions and thoughts again. I hope all the introverts that are battling with social interaction now more than before, can do the same. Just as importantly, I hope that the people in our lives understand how hard we’re trying.
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