I am an introvert. Yes, I can be extroverted when required. I am a leader, I am social, I am not afraid to speak up when necessary, I tend to entertain those around me. But my comfort zone lies squarely within my fortress of solitude. I crave those moments I can shut the world out and finally take a breath. I feel empty when I do not have the opportunity for deep and engaging conversation. I love uninterrupted time to focus on a task, and the ability to work independently.
So here we are, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, and life out in the world has suddenly become much more like what I’ve craved for so long. People don’t want to get together all the time. People don’t want to touch and hug. The stores (after the initial panic) are gloriously empty. I am not running my child from one practice or meeting to the next. There are no school activities to work around. My planner has so many blank spaces I’ve been digging for stickers to fill the emptiness. I have room to doodle and add art to my planner pages.
The professional guidance and buzz-word now is “social distancing.” Keep your distance, reduce gatherings in frequency and size, etc. I laugh and relate to the social media postings claiming that introverts have been practicing for this their whole lives. YES WE HAVE!!
Except, this is really hard for the introverted me. The panic and chaos that consumed our lives in the beginning is where I ‘live’ regularly. My need for quiet and calm in a life that does not readily offer it leaves me in a state of constant movement and discomfort and flux. My normal is a never-ending internal battle for calm. I crave quiet and peace and nothing. I typically have to work for that, and push to find it. I put on emotional armor before I leave my bedroom every day, just to feel somewhat prepared for what I may face. I am in a constantly guarded stance. It is the way I learned to function in a world that is not made for me.
But now, to have quiet thrust at me from all directions is…unsettling. I stopped at the mall to pick up an order and it was blissfully quiet inside. I could easily see the clothes on display and move through the store. Though I know it was my mind playing tricks on me, I’d swear even the lights were not as bright. For the first time in more years than I can remember I actually wanted to shop. I wanted to linger and browse and peruse the racks in the peaceful setting. But I left because something felt wrong.
I can leave later for my commute to work now because there are far fewer cars on the road. This means I don’t need to avoid the aggressive drivers weaving in and out of long lines of cars. I don’t get held up through an entire signal cycle waiting to get on the highway. I don’t have to arrive at work thirty minutes early to ensure I find a parking space. I can simply drive to work and enjoy my audio book. But I’m finding the lack of traffic and confrontation leaves my nerves even more on edge.
I have worked diligently for many years learning how to survive a world where I didn’t feel I fit. I fought silently. I challenged covertly. I resisted surreptitiously. I bent and folded and contorted myself into something that could pass. And suddenly I have room to stretch out. For the first time I am able to stand tall. And it is a very frightening thing. I should be able to breathe in this space. I should be finding comfort here. But I do not.
My life has been shaped by the fight and now the path is made clear. There was no gentle adjustment. No one eased me into this new reality where I don’t have to start defensive just to get by. I don’t know how to be this person. I don’t know how to let this natural quiet in. If I didn’t fight for it, I didn’t earn it. If I didn’t earn it, I don’t deserve it. It’s going to take a while to change that thinking.
I figure I’ll start to get comfortable with this new arrangement just about the time everyone can go back to the hustle and bustle of life before Coronavirus. Because that’s the way life goes, right?
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