I don’t know about you, but I’m an introvert. I need a lot of time to myself in general, and especially after doing anything social. I need to “recharge my batteries,” so to speak. And I’ve always been this way. I’ve been saying for decades that there’s a finite amount of sociability in me at any given time.
Still, there are times even I feel the need to socialize. But COVID-19 is certainly making that more difficult than usual.
ISOLATION DURING A PANDEMIC
For those of us who prefer to avoid people even pre-pandemic, the isolation resulting from COVID-19 maybe hasn’t changed the way we do a lot of things. After all, we’re not exactly social butterflies. Staying home and keeping ourselves busy inside, and maybe even outside, is not exactly a departure for us.
As we Warriors know by experience and by educating ourselves about our condition, isolation is one of the most common symptoms of depression. I know I battle it literally Every. Single. Day. (Regardless if there’s a pandemic going on or not.) It’s a real struggle. I like people (most of us do) and I have the most excellent friends and family.
But the truth is, I get very anxious whenever I have a social engagement coming up, even as I look forward to it. (How is that possible, anyway? It seems like an oxymoron to me!) The anxiety creates a lot of tension in my body, and before I know it, my stomach hurts, I have a massive headache, I get diarrhea, and/or I generally just feel bad all over.
So I cancel. And then I feel like a loser. And it sucks.
Here’s a silver lining for us: At least we haven’t had much reason to decline social requests or cancel on our friends, and that’s a good thing. I ALWAYS feel bad about myself when I have to cancel on someone, and yet I do it on a fairly regular basis and have for many years. Many factors play a role in this – introversion, depression and isolation, lack of physical energy (the bane of my existence), anxiety. Especially anxiety.
I’m going to guess that you isolate sometimes, too, pandemic or not. Am I right? Speaking only for myself here, isolation is a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing precisely because I need to recharge my batteries and I need a lot of time to myself in order to stay balanced, emotionally speaking. I couldn’t do that if I were around people and noise and lots of stimuli all the time.
And it’s a curse because I have great friends, but I miss out on spending time with them. I miss out on living life and trying new things and having fun (it is allowed, you know – *GASP!*).
I don’t even know if I have control over how much I isolate. Arguably, we all have control over our decisions, but anxiety and depression make it really hard to work through our issues and do the scary things. And yes, meeting a good friend for lunch can be a scary thing. (I know, it makes no sense.)
THE PROBLEM WITH CONTINUED ISOLATION
“They” say that all things are good in moderation. I suppose that includes isolating. Hell, I would be isolating even if we weren’t in the middle of an international health crisis. No question.
But isolation causes me problems after a while. I’m guessing it probably does for you, too. We all have limits. The trick is to be aware of them – and then maybe see how far you can push them. “They” also say that it’s good to get out of our comfort zones, but I’m thinking it might be too much to ask to jump right into the deep end when we’re used to wading calmly in the kiddie pool.
When I’m stable, I try to get out of the house every day – which, for me, means running errands and maybe doing something a little fun. I am definitely not referring to getting together with friends and family.
Wait, that sounded like an insult.
Don’t get me wrong. I love my family – I even like them – and I love my friends. And I get so anxious about being with them – any of them – that I ruin it for myself. Instead of having a nice, mellow time with a friend or with my fabulous brother and his fabulous wife, I’ll spend the whole time being anxious. I spend a lot of time checking my watch and can’t avoid feeling like I should be getting home soon.
(What is that all about, anyway? What am I so anxious about? Am I having a terrible time? [No.] Am I afraid they’re judging me because I’m not living up to my potential? Or that they secretly look down on me because of my status as permanently disabled? I’ve been trying to figure this one out for a really long time…)
What can I say? I’m best in a group of one.
I know in my heart that I’m not the only one who has this problem, but my head tells me that I am. People with depression and/or anxiety have an especially hard time relaxing and allowing themselves to “just be”. Maybe that’s why isolation sounds so appealing to us – there’s no pressure when it’s just you and the cat.
To outsiders, I imagine it looks as if we would rather stay in and do nothing. And sometimes that’s true. Actually, most of the time, that’s true for me. But too much isolation opens the door for our mental health issues to come in, talk nasty to us, and take us down once again.
My depressed and anxious brain goes into panic mode when I’ve done too much isolating. I start to believe nobody would even want to get together with me, and why would they? My brain tells me that no one gives a shit about me, and that’s a very powerful statement to contend with. Especially if you lack the emotional tools and support to counter it.
As a matter of fact, one of my dearest and oldest friends called just to say hi the other day, and I couldn’t believe it. Do you know how long it’s been since someone, anyone, called me just to say hi? I’m not exaggerating when I say it’s been years.
But I didn’t hear my phone ring and only noticed the missed call a couple hours later. I know you must be wondering, Did she call her back? (j/k; I really doubt anyone cares!) That answer would be No. I did text her back, though, and we had a conversation that way. Yup, that’s right. I chickened out. Again.
“DANGER, WILL ROBINSON, DANGER!!”
Those of you who are of a certain age will recognize that quote, which was frequently uttered by the robot on a TV show called “Lost in Space” back in the day. But it’s relevant here, too.
There is real danger in isolating too much. The media has mentioned, mostly anecdotally, that people with mental health issues are suffering more than most during this pandemic. I wish they would focus on it more. I haven’t seen any research on it, but I don’t doubt it for a second. In fact, all of this isolation isn’t doing anyone any good.
I know it’s taking a toll on my mental health. I recently realized that I’ve gradually become more depressed and anxious than I have been in quite a while because, even though I have people to be social with now, the coronavirus is keeping us home (and understandably so).
And even though I love my time alone, I’m getting sick of myself. There are social things I’d like to do that just aren’t in the cards right now: I love to dance, but I’m not going to risk my health for it. I’m sick of running through drive-throughs and losing out on the electricity and the low rumble and the camaraderie of actually eating in a restaurant. (Yes, even as an introvert, I miss it sometimes.) And I want desperately for sports to get back to normal! When I moved back to Michigan, I was all excited to be able to see my Detroit Tigers again, only to have the MLB season way shortened and with no fans in the stands.
People like us need to be more vigilant than ever now. With no end to the pandemic in sight (at least here in the US), we need to pay close attention to our moods, thoughts, and resulting behaviors.
Checking in with yourself daily is crucial right now. We need to keep ourselves top of mind for the foreseeable future. I know how hard that is, I do. I also know you can do it.
Take a quick little inventory of yourself every morning, just to keep things in check. Ask yourself How am I really doing? Are my bad habits getting worse; are they hurting me? Have I looked at my Safety Plan lately? Am I believing everything I think? *shiver*
NO MAN IS AN ISLAND
It takes a village.
Cliché as they are, both of these statements are true. Humans are hardwired for interaction, something none of us has gotten much of in the last six months. And frankly, no one knows when life will return to anything even resembling normal so that we can get our sociability fix on.
Look, I know you’re hurting. So am I. But we will make it through this. We just need to take care of our mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical health, even on the days that suck. Especially on the days that suck.
You can still invite people over for a BBQ, as long as your guests wear masks (except when eating!) and your lawn chairs are all six feet apart. You can go play tennis – a fun way to exercise without the need for close contact. You can keep yourself busy by picking up that last project you started and then set down when your brain told you it was too hard. You can get a little exercise by going for long walks. And I’m sure your parents would love to hear from you more often. They worry, you know.
IN A NUTSHELL
- Being an introvert is a blessing and a curse.
- Anxiety disorders never helped anyone, and they’re especially not helpful during this pandemic.
- I cancel my social engagements all the time, and I hate that about myself.
- “They” say that all things are good in moderation.
- Who are “they”, anyway??
- Too much isolation can cause BIG problems, including a recurrence of clinical depression.
- Confession time – I wouldn’t have answered the phone even if I had heard it ring. Talking on the phone sucks!!
- We’re all in this together and we’re all suffering right now. Be kind out there.
- Check in with yourself every morning before your mental wellness slips away.
- It really does take a village.
Previously Published on Depression Warrior