COVID has turned me into a shut-in.
Ok. That’s not entirely true. A more accurate statement would be that COVID, moving across the country to a place where I have no friends, having kids, taking care of those kids while Sarah works, and working exclusively from home have turned me into more of a shut-in than I already was. Not some manifesto-writing, greasy-package-sending, sunglasses-mugshot sort, but quicker to stay in and avoid interacting with other people in other than a passing way.
During lock down, I’ve realized I am more of an introvert than I ever gave myself credit for. I knew for a long time that social events took a lot out of me, that the recovery time from those social events was long. I’d much rather hang out at home or with a small group somewhere quiet than be surrounded by people. I am excellent at entertaining myself! It’s a skill I honed through endless years of being grounded as a teenager. Going to be alone for a few days? Perfect! I’ll fill the time with something that I enjoy.
Lock down was that multiplied by, what is it at this point, 18 months? I still haven’t run out of things to do to keep myself busy. I’ve learned that I can go on for a long time and be basically all right with the situation.
Similarly I’ve never been good at spur-of-the-moment social outings. I’ve always needed a long time to prepare mentally for engaging. Even when I have a long time, sometimes I get to the day of the thing I’ve been preparing for and I can’t think of anything I’d rather do less. The idea of going somewhere and being stuck in a large crowd fills me with anxiety. Concerts, sporting events, parades, the mall before Christmas, or any place with a ton of people are immediate “No”s for me.
I don’t draw energy from being around people; I spend it. And that equation is not in balance. I am often left in psychic debt after a company Christmas party. Or after schmoozing at an industry event. Or any time I have to turn on the charm and interact with people, especially in a context where that interaction has an impact on the greater scope of my life. When I was an editor, I had this sort of interaction all the time and often left me totally drawn out, temperamental, and grouchy. And while I like to imagine I was reasonably good at hiding my moodiness, I know that I was not.
This tendency had been slowly worsening for the last five years or so, but the protracted period of isolation that COVID brought on accelerated the downward spiral. I can remember in the recent past being at shows with friends and becoming overrun with anxiety about being there and wanting nothing more than to leave. Some of the shows I did leave! But, at the very least, I made the effort to go out in the first place. Now? No way. Don’t even ask if I’ll go. The answer is no.
And, really, there is absolutely nothing wrong with not wanting to be social. Staying in and tinkering or having quiet time is a perfectly valid, reasonable choice. I don’t miss parties. I don’t miss crowded bars. I don’t miss concerts. I don’t miss any of it. I’ll kiss my babies’ drooly cheeks, drink a beer, and learn about something all by myself. A perfect evening.
The problem at the root of all this is that I feel anxiety over feeling like I should miss those social interactions. Part of me is super cool with not having that stuff in my life for the foreseeable future, but another part of me—a mean part—is all twisted up with this idea that I should be making an effort to get out and interact with the world, make new friends (another thing I am traditionally BAD at), and do more than spend time alone. That part drives me to make bad decisions, fueled by agitation, in the expectation that my life would be richer with more external interaction.
For example, tonight I was supposed to go to a dinner at Sarah’s restaurant that they do every year where they pair a multi-course menu with various beers. Pretty cool! Yet, the idea of sitting at the bar by myself, while Sarah worked, making small talk with people I don’t know so I could create some appearance of wanting to not be a weird shut-in dropped a red-hot glowing lump of iron in the center of my chest. I almost went, too, even though I knew I wouldn’t enjoy myself. I knew it. Certain as sunrise. But part of me thought, Well, I should just go and do the thing because I never go out, even though the rest of me was like, This sounds like pulling teeth.
And when Sarah gave me an out? Oh, you know I took it as quickly and definitively as I could.
Do I feel bad about taking the out? Yeah, a little. But not as bad as I would have felt engaging with strangers tonight, pretending that I wanted to be there.
Would my life be better for having more adult interaction than just Sarah and our babysitter? Honestly, yeah, it would. I’ve been pretty depressed and the growing tendency toward being a shut-in is pretty clearly an expression of that. This has been a hard year. But the solution to my depression is not small talk, surrounding myself with strangers at some event, or engaging socially. I feel confident in that. Still, I feel bad.
Photo by Ian Wagg on Unsplash