As a child in elementary school, a rainy day always made my heart flutter with a strange excitement. In addition to the peaceful aura of a dark gloomy storm, rain during the school day also meant one thing in particular: indoor recess. As the lunch hour approached and the rain didn’t let up, I heard my classmates groan at the denial of outdoor games and space to run free, all wriggling with the urge to laugh and play and socialize with their friends from the entire grade. Exactly the kind of situation that activated my anxiety. So many people to interact with and they all had their best friends and favorite games so why would they want to play with me! By contrast, it was much easier to adjust to the small community of my classroom, and while everyone was sad to be stuck inside, I could offer a refreshingly silly happiness over board games and marbles. During indoor recess I felt free.
Fast forward about seventeen years to April 10, 2020, and I have come a long way to conquer my social anxiety, graduating into a confident introvert. It is now the end of the fourth week of the social quarantine in New York City, enacted to stop the pandemic from spreading. Exactly four weeks ago, after returning from a long weekend trip for my sister’s bachelorette in New Orleans, I woke up with a low-grade fever, sore throat, body aches and chills. When I contacted my local urgent care, the operator on the other end of the Coronavirus hotline told me I probably just had allergies and I should go outside so long as I cough into my arm. (My friend interning at New York Presbyterian at the time was livid). Luckily my fever broke that night, my strength came back a few days later and my infrequent cough subsided altogether, but alas my quarantine was just beginning.
I would like to pause to acknowledge that being outside was never to blame for my anxiety as a child, but rather the social requirements I felt from outdoor recess. Now more than ever, confined to an (admittedly spacious) one-bedroom apartment, which I invaded to share with my aunt and is nestled between the Upper West Side’s Riverside and Central Park, going outside is incredibly freeing. With few social obligations in my foreseeable future, I feel at ease whether I am physically outside for a walk or indoors with my drawing pad. I am living in a reality where almost the whole world is placed under indefinite indoor recess.
As an introvert, I acquire most of my energy from my own mental stimulation, while talking to anyone else for too long can be exhausting. I’ll go so far as to admit that other people tend to bore me, but I rarely bore myself. I share this trait with my mom, we even laughed over the phone about the realization a couple days ago. Sure, we love to catch up and be silly with our friends, but what exists of our outgoing social side just makes our downtime all-the-more appreciated. My sister on the other hand feeds off social interaction, and like I imagine so many others right now, is going a little stir crazy. While I share her infinite desire to wrap arms around one another and squeeze tight, a small part of me is panicking inside about the inevitable adjustment back into normal bustling activity. My initial feelings of confusion, anger and uncertainty that manifested into an emotional fog have begun to dissipate with time, and I now find myself, well… enjoying this.
I am enjoying the time to experiment with creative projects, take long walks through sparse streets and follow my thoughts without all the usual interruptions. Even so, the mind is complex and that is just one part of me. Unsettled confusion creeps back up when I jolt awake to a racing heart on Monday morning and see the heartbreak on the news. I miss my extroverted friends who fill in scary silences and conjure fun without trying. I miss my introverted friends who let slip soft and comforting smiles while we contemplate existential life. And guilt, an emotion I usually try my hardest to avoid, I invite in for a moment over my newfound enjoyment while so many others are suffering. Grief comes in many forms that I cannot begin to understand, but I imagine there are many out there now who are experiencing their version of what I felt on the night I went out to party with my friends but wound up in a panic attack shaking on the floor of the crowded bar gasping for breath and trying to convince myself that I was not going to die.
Everyone has a commonality to find with one another, and in times of hardship, empathy brings us together. I used to be so afraid to say the wrong thing to another person that I would not say anything at all, but never before has a time better shown that nobody gives a shit what I am saying, what really matters is that I am genuine and that I am saying something. That I am there.
I cannot predict how I will feel tomorrow, let alone the day we are all together again, but I am rooting for the extroverts to come out on top. Like my sister – who has immense optimism, and faith in humanity to properly social distance, that in five months from now Nashville, TN and all domestic flights into the city’s airport can reopen, and her fiancé can break from the New York City hospital surgery room, and their 150 closest friends and family can come together in celebration over their officially rescheduled wedding. I hope the extroverts like her are right.