As the headline of this article may suggest, I’m an introvert. This makes it difficult for me to socialise. Even something as simple as being in line at the checkout gives me acute social anxiety. And I don’t even fit in with other introverts, having been bullied by people that I thought I belonged with for pretty much my whole life.
So, it should come as no surprise that, for me, this lockdown has been a blessing in disguise. Yes, like everyone else there are freedoms that I just don’t have anymore. For me, as well as eating out and seeing friends face-to-face, the biggest loss has been exercise. Don’t get me wrong, I am doing the exercise I’m allowed to do, but I miss swimming and Zumba because they were really helping with my anxiety.
But, as much as the lockdown has taken my freedom away, it has given me more time. I’m fortunate enough to still be able to work on my thesis – at the moment, at least. And, alongside that, I take and teach a lot of additional classes, which have now all gone remote. It’s all become much easier to juggle this term, seeing as it’s all on my laptop, in my own space, instead of my having to run from A to B to C across Oxford.
One thing that I’m enjoying – perhaps surprisingly – is socialising less. I have a great group of friends, but I do find socialising with them stressful. This has become easier to manage in lockdown because I actually feel less of a compulsion to say “yes” to online activities than I do to physical ones, although it does present the risk of becoming too solitary.
It makes sense then that I am particularly enjoying having more time to myself. I’m able to take things much more slowly as a DPhil than I could as an undergrad here, and that’s been amplified during the lockdown and has given me a better perspective on how small a part of life a degree actually is – notwithstanding all of the financial and logistical stresses that we’re going through at the moment. I’ve rediscovered video games, and have made it a rule that I have to finish all of my work for the day before playing anything. It’s actually proven really productive so far.
Another thing that I’m enjoying is how much extroverts are struggling with the lockdown. Some of my friends are extroverts and I’m pretty sure that they went mad on day one. They’re the ones who are always asking to chat or play online, seemingly taking any excuse to do so, which isn’t something that appeals to me because I’ve always been happy in my own company. I appreciate that that’s not empathetic of me, but it is satisfying to finally see extroverts trapped in a world that isn’t designed for them but for us.
And yet, the expectation is that the ‘normal life,’ which is designed for extroverts, will continue during the lockdown. The fact of the matter is, even with the aid of technology, it’s simply not possible. That’s not very sympathetic of me, I know, but while it is important for events to be run across the colleges and the university to make sure that people aren’t isolated mentally and socially while they are physically, this shows that the focus is on the negative effects of the lockdown.
It’s true that extroverts’ and introverts’ mental health is and will continue to be at risk for as long as the lockdown lasts, but the emphasis on emulating ‘normal life’ means that it’s not actually acceptable to be okay with the lockdown. And, the fact of the matter is, introverts like me are okay with it. But, even though we’re now living in a world that feels that it should be better designed for us, we’re still being expected to oblige the extroverts rather than speak up about our own needs.
I suppose what that emphasises is that the end of this lockdown shouldn’t send us back to the exact normality that we were living before, but into a hybridised, new one which accommodates both extroverts and introverts equally. This doesn’t have to involve huge changes, either, just simple things like people not standing on top of us in queues, or for it to be socially acceptable to just not want to socialise, or for everyone to be given an opportunity to speak in classes or meetings without the extroverts always scrabbling over each other to be on top and making us feel like a different species.
At the end of the day, all that we introverts need is a little more space and understanding without the cost of the extroverts’ freedom to go out and see each other. After all, what better time to evaluate what freedom means for both introverts and extroverts when we’re temporarily without it?