Part of me was incredibly hopeful and excited to hear the words, “we are almost to the end of the pandemic,” as the announcement about masks from the CDC came out recently. But, the largest part of me froze in a huge earthquake of anxiety. Make no mistake; I am thrilled to move toward the place where we can be safe, keep our loved ones safe, and get back to some sense of normalcy with life and work. However, I must admit that the return to whatever our new normal will be also brings major feelings of panic to the surface. As I’m sure is true for so many others, the seemingly endless months of pandemic living have changed me much more than I’d realized.
I have always had my personality quirks; I am an INFJ personality type with over-the-top introversion. I love to interact with my students and colleagues at school and feel totally comfortable standing on stage to perform or speak to a crowd, but as soon as I’m done for the day it is home to recharge my battery and build up my social endurance for the next day. My thoughts come out much, much better in writing than in words. I shy away from crowds, turning into an awkward stumbling idiot when I have to interact with people talking small talk- or if I’m called on out of the blue to say something in a meeting. I can forget my own name when that happens and flush with mortification even thinking about those excruciating moments. Several friends on social media are surprised to find out that I am such an introvert, as I guess I seem outgoing- but that is only behind a computer screen or with people who I am very close to.
The pandemic spared me those interactions with crowds of people or with people I may not feel as comfortable around (cue ever-present awkwardness). As it did for most of us, my world contracted, pretty much shrinking down from a non-stop frenetic schedule of work and travel down to Dan, Marley, Shiva, and Chez Gainey. I worked from home, teaching through Zoom, living on the computer with meetings and virtual events, stayed in touch with friends and family through Zoom, Facebook, and texts. We worked around the house and yard, went on bike rides, talked and laughed, watched movies, dreamed of the future, walked Marley for endless miles, enjoyed holing up together in our peaceful home as the world went crazy. We got our vaccines, staying hopeful that things would get better after such horrible loss of life and the devastating financial impact to so many from Covid. Dan and I both have flourished being home together, nesting and feeling cozy and secure in our little happy bubble.
And things are getting better, bit by bit. More people are vaccinated and we are beginning to crawl out from the confines of our necessary social exile, eyes squinting and voices rusty as the bright light of hope and progress begin to open the world back up bit by bit. But…as these things happen and life starts to expand again, I’m finding that many of my quirks have now become almost debilitating. I feel real panic at the thought of being in crowds of people again, of being social outside of a computer screen. The pandemic has allowed me to live in my comfort zone for a year and three months now and it will be difficult to return to the old me who was always a huge introvert, but who had managed to function well in what felt like an always crowded world as long as I had some time to recharge at home in the peace and quiet.
Re-entry will be tough for many people, as change of any kind is always challenging. I hope that we can be gentle and understanding with each other and ourselves as we begin to pick back up from where ‘normal’ life was upended by the pandemic. We are all different in some way now- how could we not be after what we’ve gone through? It’s an opportunity to think about what we want to keep and what we hope to let go of from our old lives. I am working on learning to say no more, to not take every single opportunity that is offered to me. I don’t want to be on the road so much, don’t want to live my life being so busy all of the time. I love my career, love my job, but maybe I have learned that time spent in your happy place with loved ones (both two and four-legged) is just as important to our happiness and well-being as time spent working. I have always lacked that balance in my life; that is what I hope to keep moving forward and what has been elusive until now. Balance.
We will all figure it out as we go, stumbling along the way in this new and unfamiliar territory of almost-please-God-post-pandemic-life. I’m going to work on not feeling guilty doing what I need to do to protect myself moving forward. There is time to work on opening myself up to society again and not always living in my own little world inside my head (it’s pretty interesting and happy in there!). There is time to wrap my head around performing in front of large audiences again and to prepare for in-person conferences and to being on a campus packed with people- to be an active musician again. Those are all things that the ‘old’ me loved. Now the ‘new’ me has the chance to have all of those things along with new-found ability to know when I’ve reached my limit and need to recharge. I believe that good things can come from bad situations. Let’s grab all of the good that we are able to after living through these difficult months, coming out on the other side stronger, more self-aware, and more grateful than before. Better days are ahead.