Back in March, when the Shelter in Place mandates were implemented across the country and we were told we needed to avoid public places, wear masks, and stay six feet apart from the people we did encounter, several of my friends joked that my life wouldn’t change much at all. Initially, I agreed with their assessment, laughing at the memes popping up on social media that said writers and introverts would be the last ones standing when all of this was over. As both a writer and an introvert (I don’t know too many writers who aren’t at least somewhat introverted) the idea of staying home all day, every day, felt endlessly appealing.
Fast forward to months later, and that appeal has faded significantly. Like the rest of the world, I’m struggling. My days, in between writing gigs, are spent working on home projects, walking the dogs twice a day, facetiming with friends and family, cooking food I probably shouldn’t be eating, and baking Instagram-worthy loaves of bread. My dogs are super happy. Me? Sometimes I don’t want to get out of bed.
Right now, we are experiencing a global crisis that is like nothing we’ve ever known, and while the impact on the economy has been obvious and immediate, the impact on our mental health is less visible, but perhaps even further-reaching. According to reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) symptoms of depression and anxiety disorders increased exponentially in the United States between April – June of 2020. Surveys of adults over the age of 18 indicated that more than 40% of the people polled reported symptoms of one or more mental health disorders, to include anxiety, PTSD, depression and thoughts of suicide. We are scared, we are worried, we miss our friends and family, and even though I’m an introvert, I’m not immune to any of this.
Introverts tend to be a very misunderstood faction of society. It’s assumed that we don’t like people at all and prefer to be home alone rather than being forced to interact with others. And while that might be true on some levels, the reality is much more complicated. Generally speaking, extroverts get their energy and are able to recharge by interacting with others, while introverts recharge via alone time.
Yes, going to big social events does leave me exhausted at the end of the night and I usually need to regroup for at least a day afterwards. Yes, I enjoy my own company and don’t find dining out or going to a movie on my own uncomfortable. I can spend hours reading, writing, or watching movies without feeling the need to talk to or see another human. But that doesn’t mean I don’t ever want the company of others. Despite my natural affinity for alone time, I still need people. And while I’m used to spending large chunks of time by myself, I’ve been surprised at just how lonely I feel.
I miss seeing my dad. We normally meet for coffee every weekend, but haven’t been able to since the onset of COVID, as he has some health issues that make him vulnerable. I miss going out with my girlfriends for drinks on a Friday night, I even miss packed bars and crowded restaurants, or standing elbow to elbow with people while waiting in line for the movies. The other night I found myself scrolling through YouTube videos and came across an old live Coldplay concert. Watching all those sweaty bodies crowded together, hands lifted, joyously singing along, actually made me teary-eyed over what feels like a huge loss.
It doesn’t matter if our character traits lean toward introvert or extrovert, it’s a biological fact that humans need other humans. Lack of touch and connection can cause irrevocable damage to infants, and even as adults it wears on us. Most of us are working from home now, zooming our meetings rather than having coffee in the conference room. Our kids are going to virtual school. Our parents sit at home, unable to scoop up their grandchildren for a kiss or hug. As for my introverted self, I never thought I’d want to hug someone more than I do right now.
I’ve found a new appreciation for the whole idea of human interaction; how necessary it is and the importance of trying to maintain it despite our current reality. I’m on my phone a lot more, I zoom with my kids and my parents, I text and email friends, even sending silly cards via snail mail, anything to stay connected, to let them know I care, and to feel like they care about me.
As we navigate this uncharted territory, there’s no way of knowing how the isolation will affect us as a whole. Researchers at the University of Georgia recently started a study about the effects of the lack of face-to-face contact and loss of connection. Their “Love in The Time of COVID” project documents social relationships during COVID and how people are dealing with social distancing and isolation from their loved ones.
I feel like I’m one of the lucky ones, as my family has, so far, all remained healthy. My husband and I didn’t lose our jobs, and while we are stuck at home, it’s a house with food, books, the comfort of our pets and all the Netflix or Hulu we could ever want to binge on. This too shall pass, and the world will find its way.
And when it does, when we can all go outside freely, when we can hug a friend, hold hands, sit in a busy restaurant I, for one, will value it much more. I’d like to think we can all learn from this, and maybe for us introverts, part of that learning is understanding that regardless of our individual quirks and idiosyncrasies, regardless of our aversion to crowds or need to recharge alone, we still need people. I still need you. All of you.