In recent days on social media, my fellow introverts have been joking (perhaps half-joking) that the social-distancing or self-isolation of the Codvid-19 pandemic is something us quiet people have been waiting for all our lives.
A lazy conflation persists whereby introversion is seen as synonymous with shy or anti-social. This is bunkum; I love connecting with people. But it does leave me needing to recharge and I do have a pronounced need for my own company. Being alone can be rejuvenating for me long after it bores or depresses my extroverted friends. Being alone holds no particular fears for me. And I am really sure that there are other introverts out there who will enjoy it, at least for a while.
At least for a while…
As happily introverted as I am, there have been periods of isolation in my life that did not enhance my wellbeing, but were, instead, enervating or distressing. These were times when, due to poverty, I lacked the resources (money for public transport, phone, internet, or even food) to leave my home or contact anyone. They were miserable times, bad for my physical health due to extremely poor diet. But they were even worse psychologically, with extended bouts of anxiety over choosing between paying the rent or eating, anger over employers or clients paying me late, and sadness at having to halt and watch my efforts to move forward with my life atrophy. Tackling the corrosive effects of all of this was made worse by the fact that I would lose contact with my networks because I couldn’t afford to ring or visit them. I will never forget the chilling sense of being cut off from support in an apparently uncaring world.
These times were not the manifestation of an introvert choosing the pleasures of their own company, or of any personality type (extrovert or introvert) choosing to dedicate themselves to concentrate on a project. These episodes were things I went all out to avoid but which happened despite my best efforts. They were exercises in enforced passivity and shit-eating.
A matter of choice
These days I often choose to live inside my own head. While sometimes a little too exciting, I have good adventures in there. It’s an interesting and enriching place to be. But during my earlier stints of compelled isolation I felt I was forced to go inside my head and stay there, deprived of the solace or distraction of friends and family. My inner landscape during these times was not a safe place to be lost in, it was full of quicksand, or snow, and without shelter.
“Oh the mind, mind has mountains; cliffs of fall / Frightful, sheer, no-man-fathomed.” ~ Gerard Manly Hokins
In my life, the difference between prolonged bouts of time spent joyously alone as a self-determining introvert in comparison to unwanted isolation from my community as a poor person is one of agency, of feeling able to make a choice and then equally able to act on it. When I choose to distance myself from people for a while – either to rest or to create – I love it. But in the past poverty forced me into a solitude I was never ready for at the time. There was never any alignment with my needs, my energy levels, my goals.
We are all going into a time where people feel that, for their own protection and the good of their communities, they must physically distance themselves or self-isolate. Depending on where they live, some people may be compelled to stay home through the coercion of their State. Some people will be better equipped for their time alone than others, both in terms of inner and material resources. Some people will be able to exert more influence on their home conditions than others. But none of us are doing this as a holiday in the first place, even though there will be a few lucky souls who will shrug their shoulders and be able to choose to look on it as such. There is an element of compulsion behind our isolation right now. Let’s not forget that; let’s not forget that therein lies a challenge. Be gentle with yourself and those around you.
Regardless of how well we are able to cope with this anti-social communal adventure, all of us carry a certain amount of tension within us: when will this be over? Will anyone I know get ill? What is happening to the economy and how will it affect me? Which talking heads should I trust?
Even if you are good at pushing all of this to the back of your brain, it will still hum there as a sort of psychic white noise. This hum will eat up your own personal wavelength; it will be a constant leech of energy. This will leave you with less focus for your work, even the work of relaxing and having fun. It will leave you less energy for your emotional labour of supporting those around you. It will nudge your imagination off its normal trajectory (although this could be a bit interesting). Take this into account. Adjust your expectations. Be reasonable with yourself.
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