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Emerging from the Pandemic: A view from the inside

As an actor, I am a study of character and one interesting aspect of the pandemic was the stark divide between how extroverts and introverts responded to physical distancing. One extrovert blogosphere post I saw bemoaned everything that the writer was missing while others by introverts simply adjusted and went about their business in the new norm. Well, prior to the pandemic, I classified myself as an ambivert where I could, depending on the circumstances, be a kind of switch hitter. But now, contemplating my early experiences in the peri-pandemic (not quite post) world, I find I've swung much more to the introverted end of the spectrum. And it’s forcing me to reacquaint myself with me. 

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I’ve spent the past 18 months of the pandemic reading about, watching and absorbing the conflicts between those who proclaim the need for personal freedom from any kind of requirements to care for themselves or others to those who wanted to protect the world.  Perhaps you can imagine a similar spectrum of the partying extroverts who feel the acute lack of partying opportunities to the introverts secretly rejoicing because now they have a valid reason to hole up on Friday nights. On your own personal intellectual or emotional or gut level, can you imagine the differences between how such people fared during the requirement to physically distance?

Now that things are opening up, I find that I am having a much harder time meeting extroverts now than I ever did before. In pre-COVID days I often could meet extroverts and gain juice off their energy and come away having enjoyed the encounter. Now having had a few encounters with extroverts as things start to loosen, I am left with the feeling of "who is really benefiting from this encounter?"

I have been left feeling sucked dry, overstimulated, in fight or flight mode and feeling as though I don't have a friend in the world that understands what I’m going through. Yeah, yeah, yeah, poor me was the initial response. 

I recently went to a gathering where introverts dominated and we had a lovely time together and I left that feeling jazzed, enriched and excited. Then I attended an event that was by its very nature, stressful. Add in lots of mask-less folks (you could unmask if you were fully vaccinated) in a hot, stuffy room. Everything we've been warned against as a potential super spreader event for 18 months. 

I realize, using 20:20 hindsight, that I actually felt completely unsafe even as I tried to participate. In the moment, I chalked it up to the inherent stress of the situation. The smell of someone's perfume triggered my throat to close up to a degree that I had not experienced before. I struggled to make sense of who or what I needed to pay attention to. I couldn’t rely on my own body to do what I wanted to do. It was, in short, a personal disaster.

At the end of the session, with my body feeling like all the water was gone despite the gallon I drunk, I couldn't breathe, I couldn't see because my contacts were stuck to the insides of my eyelids, I had a raging headache and all I could think of was my pajamas and a book.

Stepping away into cool air, I immediately berated myself for not doing a better job. Later, actually in pajamas, I berated myself for not listening to the cues my body was screaming at me to just leave, or perhaps, not show up at all.

And now, in reflecting on my visceral responses to this early peri- pandemic experience, I wonder how the extroverts felt in the same situation. Did they get juice off of the experience? Were they left, at the end of the day, feeling completely jazzed? Are they reflecting on the experience as anything other than an awesome way to feel we are getting back to normal? Are they reflecting on what an introvert’s experience might have been at the same time?

I hope so. The societal divides we've seen illuminated over the past 18 months over politics, pandemic restrictions, vaccines, conspiracy theories, race, cultures (the list sometimes seems endless), which seem dominated by the the ' 'I'm right, you're wrong" approach to “discussions" seems to give permission to be intolerant... this is an approach that articulates, "I'll tolerate you being a part of my world, but you have to be the way I want you to be or you’re fired."

In the end, I'm having this discussion with myself in part because I miss the ambivert I used to be. I suspect she'll be back … eventually. In the meantime, I think I’ll just pause and let the introvert side of me relish in the lingering excuses I can use to not party on a Friday night.