Rachael has PTSD from being bullied. She likes certain anime because they offer some emotional solace and show great friendships.
Mental illnesses often come in pairs or groups. I have social anxiety disorder, PTSD, and depression. Being traumatized by bullying and handling social ostracism as a child made me afraid of crowds and social gatherings today. What was helping me in 2018 and 2019 was Meetup. I was venturing out more and doing more gatherings with strangers, with my wife at my side as a source of comfort. And it helped that she was willing to leave early with me if I was stressed, overwhelmed, or triggered.
Then, of course, came the year 2020.
When Illinois went into lockdown, my wife started working from home, I'm only side-gig employed. Staying home was easy and comfortable to me, and I loved having her here as well. I finally felt like I had permission to do things I hadn't made time to do before because of shopping and socializing. I could listen to all my audio books and catch up on my backlog of half-read non-audio books. I could work on my novel, learn digital art, learn Spanish, sign language, advance my understanding of the Japanese language. I was finally free of the pressure to be a social person. I thought that pressure was what was holding me back.
My Lockdown/Stay At Home Experience
I did listen to audio books. I did read. I finished a painting, eventually. I tried to learn to whittle but didn't get far beyond learning the basic cuts. I made a hat with a ring loom, but didn't teach myself to knit. I learned some notes on the guitar, but am still not practiced enough to do chords or even basic songs. I didn't draw or do digital art half as much as I thought I would, and maybe am starting to not like it as much as I used to. I am learning some basic Spanish but gave up on sign language and Hindi. I didn't do much advanced Japanese or kanji practice, I think because my approach to kanji was too boring (repeatedly drawing them over and over).
I wasn't really that much more productive than my pre-COVID self, even though I was almost never leaving the house. It turned out, being social was never the detriment to my ability to pursue work, crafts, hobbies, and serious interests that i thought it was. Telling myself I didn't "need" to be social was just another outbreak of my oldest coping mechanism. When I was rejected by other kids, I would just tell myself I didn't need them.
When I read about introversion and the MBTI in college, I was enamored with the idea of the introvert as a romantic, mysterious, intellectual and artist type. Really, there's nothing that special about not wanting to party constantly. I was just stuck in a college party culture where I felt special for not fitting in.
But there's nothing special about introversion or extroversion, they're just ways social activities generally tend to make us feel. Also, I think now that the personality tests using introversion and extroversion have questions that are hard for me to answer, because so much depends on context. I don't like the thought of going to "a party" for the sake of it. But tell me it's my cousin's wedding or my mom's birthday and I want to be there, for their sake. And if I know someone and will have people I know and can talk to, I'm way more able to enjoy a party than one full of complete strangers. But the personality tests you find online don't have that kind of nuance in the questions. Context is a huge determinant of whether or not I will exhibit introversion. I don't really know if I'm an introvert or if I was just an extrovert who was so bullied, so harshly treated, so hated that I repressed my extroverted side and focused on what happiness could be obtained in the absence of other people.
So back to my lockdown experience. Now it's almost over, I'm vaccinated and my wife will be fully vaccinated soon. And now it won't be easy to come out of my shell again. I've signed up for and later changed my mind and declined to go to Meetups. I signed up for a coworking space membership but can't always bring myself to go write there.
It feels like I had made progress in the winter of 2019 until February 2020, but sheltering in place for all of 2020 into early 2021 erased a lot of that progress.
Avoidance and Anxiety
Avoidance is a symptom of PTSD and all other anxiety disorders. It's a natural response to fear. When your brain decides a fear is rational, it rationalizes avoidance. But while it makes sense to avoid things that might distress you, it's not wise in the long run. It's better to try to gradually build up to conquering your fears (you can learn this with exposure therapy).
Your fears are also not at all rational. By practicing avoidance, we are in effect telling our feelings that we believe they are. We should, as hard as it is, try to do actions that tell our feelings we don't believe they are rational or grounded in reality. And they're not. PTSD, social anxiety disorder, and other anxiety disorders are just our brains overreacting. And while emotions are powerful, they're not impossible to stand up to. Or change.
I just worry that all this having to avoid social interaction has created a "new normal" where I'm too comfortable avoiding social interaction all the time. Going back to normal for me won't be as easy as flipping a light switch. It's more like adjusting to a shower that is too hot or too cold and not what I'm used to.
And, I think it will be like that for many people. A slow adjustment full of trial and error.
Helpful Related Articles
- For some, decline of COVID brings a rise in social anxiety - Los Angeles Times
With the next chapter of the pandemic comes a fear of returning to the roles we all used to perform, even among friends.
- How to Reduce Avoidance in PTSD
A main symptom of PTSD is avoidance, which often occurs in response to trying to limit contact with triggers. Learn how to manage this symptom.
© 2021 Rachael Lefler
Rachael Lefler (author) from Illinois on May 05, 2021:
Thank you for your appreciation and sharing the article! I'm also always glad to hear I'm not alone.
Kathy Henderson from Pa on May 05, 2021:
Thank you for addressing this topic. There are many casualties of this pandemic. Just this week, I talked with a friend expressing the struggle of re-entry and isolation of this season due to their PTSD. It will be nice to share this article and let them know they are not alone.