When social distancing restrictions and stay-at-home orders first started coming down in mid-March, lots of memes circulated about how it was an introvert’s dream. I might have even liked or shared a few. Because it’s true, staying home is kinda my love language.
As Awesomely Luvvie wrote, “When this pandemic was declared, introverts were like we have been practicing for this moment all our lives! We ain’t gotta go to random places and deal with crowds? We don’t have to people? Sweet. We’ve been social distancing as a life mantra for a long time so we have more practice than most on staying put and not gallivanting everywhere all the time.”
But we were wrong. I was wrong.
I love being at home, and I enjoy my own company. As much as I enjoy traveling (and I really enjoy traveling), I love being at home just as much. I also have social anxiety, which means I generally prefer to spend time with my inner circle people or alone than getting together with lukewarm friends and acquaintances. I like quiet, comfort, and one-on-one conversations.
At first blush, the idea of staying at home seems like heaven for an introvert like me. In a lot of ways, it hasn’t been all that bad. I genuinely like my family and enjoy spending time with them. I have a safe home, and what it lacks in fanciness or trendy décor, it makes up for in coziness.
But just because I am an introvert homebody doesn’t mean this whole pandemic quarantine thing has been a walk in the park. Far from it.
For one, there’s the relentless anxiety that makes it hard to breathe sometimes. And there’s the extreme sadness that is making it hard to be motivated or productive right now. Instead, I spend a lot of time fretting and staring into space imagining worst case scenarios. Fun times.
Then there’s the fear: The boogeyman-is-lurking-around-every-corner fear. “COVID-19 has me stutter-stepping on my own stoop now, questioning whether it’s safe to walk to the park or just drive to Giant Eagle,” Damon Young wrote on The Root. “It feels like I’m getting bullied by a cloud….”
Amen to that. COVID-19 shall heretofore be referred to as The Bully Cloud.
But even setting aside those mental health challenges, quarantining as an introvert is challenging AF. Sure, the open social calendar might not be a shock to our system like it is for the social butterflies and extroverts among us, but it’s still brutal sometimes.
Unless you live alone, your home is probably very loud right now. Like next-level loud. There is constant input coming from any number of sources. Your kids are shrieking for another snack. Your spouse is engaged in a heated Zoom meeting in the next room. The TV is blaring some long-abandoned kids’ show that no one remembered to turn off. All of this makes it really freaking hard to get just one minute of silence. It’s like information overload all damn day – and it’s exhausting.
Then there’s the loneliness. Let’s clear up a major misconception about introverts right now: Just because we like more alone time than others doesn’t mean we don’t like being around people, and it certainly doesn’t mean that we don’t need connection. We crave it just like everyone else. Small talk might literally make me queasy, but there are few things I like more than a long heart-to-heart with a good friend. I love small, intimate dinner parties and casual family BBQs. And I miss those things immensely right now.
The key to introvert alone-time recharging is the freedom of it. It is on our terms – when we want it and how we want it. Nothing about this situation is on our terms. As our hero Dr. Fauci tells us time and time again, the virus is in charge here. Fuuuuuuuuck.
“I used to long for self isolation but now that I’m supposed to do it, it feels different,” Second City Performer Jillian Welsh told Vice. “I realized that there are certain quiet activities I really love doing around people. I love my brooding alone time but I’m used to balancing that time by being in my community.”
Sure, there are lots of people who are connecting over FaceTime or apps like House Party, but I’ll be honest, House Party makes me as jittery and uncomfortable as walking into a PTA fundraiser with hundreds of people I recognize but don’t know all that well. It feels cliquey and exclusive to me. FaceTime is a little better, I suppose. But these apps still make it hard for introverts with social anxiety – like me – to pick up on social cues like facial expressions and body language. So, instead, I end up reading too much into things and coming to the worst possible conclusions (namely, that I’m awkward and weird and OMG do I really have that many forehead wrinkles? Shit.).
About those ubiquitous virtual gatherings … like in-person socialization, they can get overwhelming. The Instragram posts of you and your 25 besties on a virtual happy hour can get overwhelming. The Zoom meetings that could have been an email are overwhelming. All of it. It’s too much for us.
“They have a way of making everything feel like a meeting,” Abby Ohlheiser wrote in MIT Technology Review. “At a happy hour of 10 people in a bar, you can settle into a side conversation, step away for fresh air, or listen to a conversation while nursing your drink. Virtual happy hours eliminate that extra space.”
So what’s an introvert like me — someone who needs alone time and personal connection — to do while locked down for who-knows-how-long? Well, for one, I’m trying to focus on enjoying the relationships I have with my husband and kids. I’m lucky to be quarantined with my favorite people. And even though the house is loud and wild most of the time, for a few blessed hours a day, the kids are occupied with video games and my husband and I can have those heart-to-heart conversations I enjoy so much. We can enjoy alone-but-together-time while I knit and he plays games on his phone.
I take walks alone. Instead of large virtual online happy hours, I prioritize frequent and individual text messages and FaceTime calls with a few close friends. Group text messages are relatively small. I’m doing what I can. Most days, I’m just trying to survive with the relationships I value most intact and as strong as before — which I think is the best any of us can hope for right now.
Because regardless of your personality, the reality is, this shit sucks. It sucks for everyone. So let’s take care of each other. Check on your friends. All of them.