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COVID-19 Is Giving People a Taste of What I Regularly Experience as an Introvert

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A couple weeks ago, my phone started to buzz way more than usual.

A week ago, it was completely on fire.

What is it about a pandemic that causes people to feel community? Perhaps it’s the sense literally at any moment our friends and loved ones might die, disappear or suffer?

Is a pandemic what it takes to foster a sense of community?

As everyone else braves the turbulent winds of social distancing and quarantine in the home due to the coronavirus, the new viral strain in the coronavirus family that affects the lungs and respiratory system, I feel, paradoxically, only a slightly heightened sense of normalcy.

You see, staying in the house, day after day, lying in various stages of repose, feeling lonely, staring into space and sometimes out the window and having a lot of undefined things to “emotionally process” is quite normal for me. In contrast to what some people are now experiencing — a sudden, inexplicable rupture to their lives — I feel, for the first time in years, others are developing a dim understanding of my daily experience.

I’ve struggled with depression, complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD), social anxiety and social isolation for years. I’m not alone in that, and for those of us for whom there is a reason to be confined to the home — whether it’s mental illness, disability or poverty — this lifestyle is not new. What is strange for us is the gallop of the outside world. As other people went to work because they could, or events because they could, or dinners and parties because they could (and quite regularly, too), I would stay in, hoping someone would text me, but also having no energy to respond even if they did. The only people who contacted me would inevitably be those who wanted my money: credit card offers, auto insurance deals, bosses expecting output and bank account birthday emails. As the world spun on its nine-to-five circus, with many of my friends seated on the merry-go-round, I followed my own rhythm like a cat, in a haze of introversion and isolation.

It is hard enough to be an introvert in today’s world: many of us tire after a few hours of social interaction, not to mention eight to 12 a day, if you’re to “have a social life,” “network,” “connect with your peers” and “advance your career.” Lock an extrovert in a room with just one or two assignments to focus on, no stimulation and no chitchat (even virtually), for an entire workday, and that’s how an introvert feels in the extroverted world. It’s even harder when you’re an introvert with any issue that intensifies your reclusiveness.

I can’t help but feel a little judgmental when I see more social, more active, more supposedly “put-together” (in the eyes of the world) people essentially fall to pieces when they have to live my lifestyle (which they are frequently judgmental of: “why don’t you go out more?”). For extroverts, interacting with others is their life’s blood, just as alone time is mine. But do extroverts consider how introverts must feel, or have they assumed too long extroversion is the natural order? I was expected to be social for 20 years, and I see people struggling after two weeks. This is the other side.

I also feel resentful of how many times I felt alone, isolated or forgotten about without others reaching out to ask how I might be. Miraculously, “how are yous” start sounding sincere, and with gusto and consistency, texts become answered. Without the compulsive tick of the career machine, it seems people are awaking to what’s important. Is it truly a revelation your friends and family could suffer or die at any time?

The first time I stayed home from one of my college classes, too lethargic to attend for the next four years, a lesson was reinforced in my mind I had inculcated from an early age. It was especially painful to see others in their early 20s running amok, with an energy I was supposed to have. We will all face pain, loss and disaster in the upcoming years (especially if climate change is not addressed). Will we still realize our values after this pandemic? Maybe we should be nicer to each other normally, for life is a temporal gift: fragile, to be shared with only a few, whom you’ve had the chance to know.

For more on the coronavirus, check out the following stories from our community:

A version of this article was originally published on Medium.

Unsplash image by Serge Vorobets

Originally published: April 9, 2020
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