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:: why phased reopening is tougher for me than quarantine ::

People are kind of the coolest. So is the great outdoors.

I know… bear with me for a second.

There’s a lot that people need to get better and get right in this world, and a lot or work to be done to get there. That being said, I love ‘em.

I thrill at the experience of the shared — moments, glances, heart fullness and break. Inside jokes and same fave songs. Collective connection and community spirit — heads nodding in sacred recognition and souls seeing themselves in each other.

I love the world, too. As silly a sentence as that sounds, I just plain do.

I find solace and inspiration all over the place in the natural world — sun sets and rises, moon glow and cloud cover, blooms upon glorious blooms. Waves that crash and those that slowly lap. Catching dancing light as it magically flits by and then coquettishly passes out of sight.

All of these simple silly things are true — and yet, I don’t always want to be out there, in the world, among the people, feeling on display even though rationally I know I’m mostly not.

Sure, like any good introvert, I generally need plenty of time by myself to really recharge and restore. 

For those who speak Myers-Briggs, I’m an INFP (just this side of I at 58%, which still leaves a fair amount of extraversion to be had.)

Added to the mix is some sneaky mild social anxiety that messes with my mind and convinces me I’m better off at home.

I tend to dread that moment when you walk into a room and everyone turns to look at you. Even when no one does, I dread that they might. And then I dread feeling bad that they didn’t lol.

It doesn’t happen every time I enter a room, but more often than most would guess.

I seldom make my way through a crowd or walk down a street on my own without feeling at least a little self-conscious, and I’d rather risk peeing my pants than stand up in the middle of a performance or meeting or otherwise enclosed space filled with others.

So as challenging as the stay-at-home orders were for me, I may in fact be having a tougher time now that the world is opening back up.

Before all this I had a tendency to spend strings of days inside when there wasn’t anything in my schedule to prevent it.

I live alone, work from home, and don’t have an outdoor space to easily claim as my own.

I mean, I’m also out and about plenty doing lots of cool things with amazing family and friends.

It’s just that there’s this thing that sometimes happens and when it does, it’s a thing.

When it’s like that, with each day I pass inside it gets physically and mentally tougher for me to step outside again. Something irrational starts to ground me to my indoor space and keep me from brave-facing out into light of day.

When I finally do go out, I feel exposed. Judged or at risk of being judged. Safer somehow inside, though there’s nothing safe about feeling like this.

Sometimes that feeling passes in a flash; others it lingers all day.

And when I’m caught in one of those inner-dwelling spirals, I forget how much I love being outside, how nourished I feel by sun on skin and fresh air on face and the sounds of the outside world that abound.

I forget how much I love to be IN the world and WITH the world, connecting with friends and family and sharing space and glances with strangers.

The line can be fine between solitude that replenishes and that which unintentionally punctures skin to leech it dry.

All of that was true BEFORE pandemic social distancing set in.

Now, we’ve got masks. I feel self-conscious wearing them and self-conscious not.

And here’s how things play out in my head on any given day these days:

  • wonder if I should put the mask on now or wait until I get where I’m going
  • don’t want to seem vain and don’t want to look foolish or ignorant
  • realize how silly I’m going to look with a mask, ball cap and sunglasses (but am unwilling to remove any of the three)
  • hear the group of neighbors outside my window and decide to wait until they leave
  • get frustrated when they don’t
  • decide Walgreen’s and drugstore nachos can wait another day
  • mentally assemble a dinner of olives, pickled asparagus, crackers and an egg :)

It may start have started with the mask, but it’s 100% about the self-consciousness.

I’ve developed practices of self-trust, self-love and self-care over the years that have helped me learn to finesse this delicate dance.

Consciously crafted routines, rituals and supports to help prevent or lessen the effects of unhelpful inner dialogue and irrational self-consciousness.

And most of them were severely inhibited, if not either entirely eliminated, by our springtime stay-at-home orders. 

Soon strings of days became woven into links of weeks that made shackles of months only lightly marked by visits to the outside world.

And after all that time acclimating to a whole new brand of solitude, the phased reopening of late May and June felt abrupt, seemed so uncomfortably fast after such slow and low months. 

I felt caught unaware and ill-equipped, stripped of the routines that had kept me an object in motion in the world rather than one at rest apart from it. 

Some had to contend with how to fill suddenly wide open days, whereas mine were exceptionally full. Either end of the spectrum leaves one either looking for distraction or awash in it, both of which make it a challenge to properly tend to necessary routines or adapt them.

Then, in what seemed like a snap — restrictions began to be lifted. We were swiftly expected to human again (some in a landscape we struggle again to re-enter.)

Having over-swaddled myself in pj pants and blankets well into late spring, it was suddenly summer and time to bare tender fleece-sweaty seasonal flesh.

To learn all over again how to navigate the thin line between what fuels and restores versus what saps and leaves spent.

To be clear — this isn’t how I live most days, but its touch and tenor is never too far off.

And if you’re at all like me — an introverted people person with mild social anxiety and a deep need to connect, having just spent 3+ months in varying degrees of social isolation (none of which involved baking that goddamn banana bread everyone’s STILL talking about or reaching the mythical end of Netflix), then you might just relate to how I kind of feel right now.

You know that feeling when you fly back home after an intense conference and the flight was long — late day departure with a couple of layovers, your luggage last to be claimed from the carousel, time zones working against you and you didn’t drink enough water and you’ve got that inescapable layer of all-day travel ick on your skin that water petulantly rolls off of, and once you finally make your way to the long-term parking you’ve still got an hour+ drive ahead of you, and your foot feels slow to press the right pedals and you find yourself trying to shift up instead of down, activating windshield wipers instead of blinker and for a moment you’re certain you’ve forgotten how to drive at all?

That’s kind of how I feel right now, every time I think about stepping outside my door to human in the midst of phased reopening.

Of course I haven’t forgotten how, but I could really use a nap and a shower first :)

I’m very well aware that I may in fact be the only one, but if by chance I’m not, I’d love to hear in what ways you feel the exact same way :)