A year into the pandemic, my extrovert batteries are running low after a year of working from home. But I know I’m not alone in the struggle.
I knew that 2021 would be a struggle for me. And for once in the last year, I can’t blame it solely on the pandemic. Sure, the stay-at-home orders and the quarantine behaviors haven’t been easy. However, I have been luckier than most with my at-home situation. But the stay-at-home orders don’t account for my current stress about 2021.
You see, it has been almost three years since I worked full-time and the isolation of working independently has hit me hard.
I have written about my adventures in job-searching in my book, Tales of a Displaced Worker. I have also written about the job-search process throughout my blog. And I have tried to pivot to online course-writing and coaching in the past year.
But the biggest stressor, still, is the lack of interpersonal interactions that used to fuel my creativity and natural problem-solving cravings.
At the start of the pandemic in the US, initial data from a survey conducted by the Virginia-based research consultancy, Greater Divide, showed that extroverts were fairing better than introverts due to their large social networks and overall positive outlook. I believed this applied to me as well.
But there are other factors at play, other than the pandemic, that I am trying to resolve. Here are a few I am exploring.
The Struggle is Real
While extroverts generally have positive outlooks and emotional resilience, this resilience is not an unlimited well. We still need and crave in-person interactions. Zoom calls and virtual hangouts were great last spring and summer to recharge the energy. But in 2021, they just aren’t doing the same level of recharge and I have found myself looking for new ways to recharge my extrovert batteries.
So I am choosing the acknowledge the struggle, rather than act like a typical extrovert and say everything is okay. A favorite coping mechanism for an extrovert is to power through challenges with our positive outlook. Say it out loud enough and it feels real. But my extrovert batteries are nearly zeroed out and I hope they get recharged soon enough.
Acknowledging My FOMO
Over the past few months, I have gazed longingly at my friends who have felt comfortable increasing their pandemic bubble. Like other extraverts, whether it was a trip to someone else’s home maskless and closeby or skimming through travel pictures of groups of friends who decided to stay at an Airbnb together, I have had to take measure of both my fear and jealousy.
Fear, because as a person with multiple comorbidities and as someone who has lost a parent to COVID-19, I have not felt the same level of comfort as others to be maskless around others. Even if I felt I could trust them as much as I trust myself. Now that I am weeks away from receiving a COVID-19 vaccine, I believe I’ll feel the same level of comfort and the fear will subside. But the last few months have just exacerbated my fears.
And my jealousy? It’s grounded in the same emotions as my fears – my intense desire to be around people, in person, enjoying life! But it’s compounded by the fact that without co-workers, I haven’t been able to cultivate my social network in the past year.
Grieving in Private
And don’t begin to ask me about grieving in private during a pandemic!
In October 2020, my mom caught and died from COVID-19. She was living in Ohio, while I was living in Boston. Our family is scattered across the country, but is mainly in California. With travel restrictions in place, and an over-abundance of precaution, I decided not to return to Ohio or California to mourn with family members.
While many people choose to grieve in private, with personal rituals and tributes, there is also a need to mourn with others. These traditional events, such as funerals, shivas, wakes, or other family traditions help bring closure. Missing out on one of these “final goodbye” moments can be overwhelming and can make the mourning process much more difficult.” I’ve tried to manage the private rituals, but I can tell that missing out on the family rituals and get-togethers is what I am missing the most.
I am comfortable waiting until we can safely do this together, but for now, its impact is felt.
Compounding the Isolation
Being self-employed in a pandemic feels just like being unemployed. The isolation of the experience is unique and you’re without peers to share it with. Or at the very least, I feel alone in the experience. The irony is that talking about this on Zoom just highlights the loneliness and isolation, so it makes me want to avoid talking about it.
Because my work has been, by and large, different than my peers, I haven’t been able to commiserate with them about the challenges they face. And I miss that feeling. I was a good commiserator. But the work I used to do has shifted in a way that I haven’t experienced and I feel left out.
And since it’s been almost three years since I used to do that work, I wonder if I’ll ever feel that sense of connection again. So I not only have FOMO for what is currently going on with friends in general, I also have FOMO for my friends I used to work in ina field I haven’t worked in for years now. It’s complicated and nuanced. Layered, if you will.
Layers are nice in pastry. But they aren’t so nice in this situation.
I Know I Am Not Alone
Intellectually, I know I am not alone in my experience. Extroverted people have shared their experiences online, and their worries and needs have resonated with me. I believe that an end is in sight, for me, but that doesn’t alleviate the stress. Emotionally, I am drained and desperately need an infusion of energy fueled by people, places and things.
Normally, my blog posts would have some solutions to share. But in this post, I am going to avoid doing that. Because this isn’t some issue easily wrapped up in a pretty bow.
All I can do – and encourage you to do as well – is hang in there. Rely on my (and your) natural optimism. And keep a list of people, places, and things you plan to see and visit once you’re safely allowed to.
If you need someone to reach out to who understands what you’re going through as an extrovert, look at my calendar and make an appointment!
Even if you just want to chat about something – anything – to get you through the day. We can hang in there, together.