I have not sat in the presence of another person since March 18, 2020 (I am writing this on June 5, 2020). I do have housemates, but we all do our own thing and may chat for a minute or two when we happen upon one another in a common area of the house. I am not responsible for another person, I live on a small pension therefore am not impacted by not being able to go to work. The most impactful thing about this time of quarantine has been that some of the things I have done in person I now do through internet interfaces such as ZOOM, FaceTime, Skype, etc. The only things I really miss are being able to sit in person with friends to talk, go to a local coffee shop and sit and drink tea while I work on my computer, go out for breakfast, and get a haircut. Well, my car keeps telling me that it needs maintenance but I am not ready to do that. I do not live in a densely populated area so even the communal spread of the virus has been quite low in comparison to other parts of the country and world. I understand that as things go, I have been less impacted directly by this pandemic than have been many others. Still, it is my experience.
This time of pandemic has actually given me permission to live in a way that is more comfortable for me in my exteme introversion. It has given me permission to stop pushing myself to do things that are of a more extroverted nature than are generally comfortable for me. The thing about the personality traits of introversion/extroversion is that we are not to simply accept what our particular preference is as being absolute and claim our preference as being de facto what we are so we and everyone else need to just accept that one simple fact. No, what we know when we discover if we introverted or extroverted is what our natural preference is in how we interact with the world. What often seems to me to be lost is the fact that what we are called to do is find some way to become more balanced. That means that someone like me who is so highly introverted is that I have to work harder to develop the extroverted skills I need to interact with the outer world. Conversely, someone who finds themselves strongly on the extroverted side of the spectrum has to work harder to access their introverted side.
Or do they?
In our society, one MUST have extroverted skills in order to navigate the world. In order to be successful, according to our society’s concept of successful, the more extroverted you are, the better. Thus the need to for the natural introvert to develop extroverted skills in order to participate in society. I do not suggest that this is, in itself, a problem. Every single person is a member of society and therefore must participate in some way in social conventions. One might consider that there is even a benefit to being introverted and having to develop extroversion to some degree as it helps the introverted person develop skills beyond what comes naturally and therefore helps with developing a more balanced existence.
Perhaps a problem arises, in this highly extroverted society, when people who identify as being highly extroverted are faced with the need for introverted skills for which they are unprepared. In this extroverted society there really are few things that may compel an extrovert to develop introverted skills. One thing this time of pandemic shows us is that there actually may be a cause for extroverts to gain some introverted skills. Perhaps I am simply a jaded introvert, but I doubt that this clarion call for introversion will be heard.
But back to my experience of preparing to leave this time of quarantine which has provided me with a respite from the need to act extroverted. Within the last few weeks I have begun to wonder what it will be like when it is time to leave quarantine. During this time of quarantine I have let go of those activities that caused me to be “out in the world”. These activities have all proven that they can be adequately accessed with technology from home. I even had a FaceTime appointment with my primary care physician. I have become very comfortable in my little world. It feels as if I were made for times like these.
However, this time is coming to an end as society begins to “open up”. As this begins to unfold, I find myself faced with increasing anxiety. It really has sort of come to a head for me when my therapist announced that she was thinking of going back to her office and seeing people in person again sometime in the next few weeks. It seems to me like this should be a good and welcome thing, yet I find myself inexplicably anxious about this. Then, when she also announced that she was thinking of asking her patients to wear face shields, I find myself in near panic mode. As I listened to her discuss this in a group (online) meeting, I found my heart rate increasing, my chest tightening up and my breathing become faster and more shallow. All physical responses to stress or fear. Where was this coming from? I am surprised and astonished that this is my visceral response to the idea of moving out of quarantine.
I hear about people deriding others for being afraid of the virus. Well, for one thing I am over 60 and I am diabetic. Supposedly these are two demographics that put me at particular risk in the face of this virus. I am not so concerned that it would prove to be fatal for me, but I simply do not want to become as ill as those who recover from the virus report it to be. I, personally, do not equate the desire to avoid illness with fear of the virus. But there is one fear I do experience in regards to leaving quarantine …
… that fear is of people.
We live in times that I might want to think of as being unprecedented, but I think that might be a misconception. I think there are plenty of precedents as to what we see happening not only in this country (the US) but around the world. Recently, I was in a hardware store that required face masks for all staff and shoppers. I was standing in line on one of those now familiar spots that designated a safe distance from those around me in accordance with the current norms of social distancing. I was wearing my filtered mask as well as gloves. (I wear gloves (cloth) simply as a way to remind myself to not touch my face and to wash my hands when I remove them.) I began to feel the presence of someone behind me and turned to find an unmasked man standing about 2 feet behind me. I asked him to step back and indicated the mark on the floor that indicated a safe distance. He did not respond, instead standing resolute in what felt like defiance. I explained that my age and the fact that I was diabetic put me at increased risk and I would appreciate it if he would observe the recommended distance. His response was that he was also diabetic and how many people did I think had really died? This was just before Memorial Day weekend and I responded that we would soon pass 100,000 deaths. (Which did happen that weekend.) He still stood within 2 feet from me. Finally, in desperation, I said, “And I am a doctor.” OK .. so that wasn’t quite a lie on my part as I do have a PhD, but I knew I was misleading him into thinking I was a medical doctor, rather than an academic, but that seemed to make the difference as he did step back. So be it. There was a time where this deception on my part would have really bothered me … actually, it would never have happened. But these are different times.
Although this instance in the hardware store was relatively innocuous, to me it is but an indication of what is possible. This particular person looked as if he would just as easily have had a gun with him as not. Perhaps this stereotyping on my part is wrong, but the whole experience leads to fear on my part as to the people I may encounter when I leave quarantine. Just look at what the news media puts out there in regards to people who are calling for the opening of business because they want a haircut or to get their nails done or to go clubbing,
As we gear up to reopen our communities not everyone finds it to be a relief. From were I sit, I observe so much anger and vitriol behind everything that I truly do not want to encounter people “out there”. The virus I can pretty much take precautions against, but I don’t know how to deal with the people other than to find some cabin in the woods to go live in and thereby quarantine away from people because of who they are, not because of the virus they may carry.