by Carolyn Thomas ♥ @HeartSisters
Except for those blissfully naïve months of January and February when we had no clue what was about to hit us, 2020 has seemed like a dumpster fire called All COVID, All The Time. Everything we knew and loved changed in ways few of us could have ever predicted. But I’ve noticed another big change overall – and that’s been in me. . .
The more I hunkered down inside my apartment this year, the more I began to like hunkering.
Because I had to take early retirement 12 years ago due to ongoing cardiac issues, I didn’t have to worry in 2020 about needing to go to work or about losing my job or about home-schooling my kids. My monthly (modest) pension is nicely deposited automatically into my bank account. I know and truly appreciate how fortunate I am. I have family and friends close by, lots of good food, a cozy little home, and – because I live in Canada (known also by some Americans as “commie pinko land of socialized medicine”) – free healthcare. 🇨🇦
When COVID-19 first hit, of course, I jumped right in like so many others did. I started a daily at-home pandemic agenda. I baked and baked (and shared all of my home baking with neighbours). I sorted cupboards and closets. I rediscovered jigsaw puzzles. I watched virtual concerts and took online tours of famous museums. I walked for one hour every morning out in the fresh air, and booked regular Zoom chats with friends and family.
Then one morning, when I was deciding what I was going to put on my pandemic agenda for Day 21, all I could think of writing down was this:
“Make a decision about washing my hair.”
NOTE: this didn’t mean that washing my hair was on my To Do list. It just meant that I needed to decide whether or not I was actually going to wash it or not that day.
And that was the day I stopped cleaning out my kitchen drawers. I simply lost interest in being busy every minute of every day.
By the time restrictive public health precautions were in place requiring us to stay six feet apart, wash our hands, wear masks and stay home if possible, I was happy to be at home. As a heart patient at high risk for catching this virus (and worse, at a much higher risk for a very bad outcome if I ever did catch it), I knew that I simply could not get sick. Period.
As I often told my family and friends,
“I’m not STUCK at home. I’m SAFE at home!”
The pandemic, however, did touch my extended family (my brother, his wife, and two grown children all tested positive, but happily have recovered without incident).
While my girlfriends continued to meet in groups for open air coffee visits in the park over the summer and fall, I felt safer being at home. When my son Ben generously offered to take my grocery list to the store to shop for me, I felt safer being at home. When I was invited out to birthday events, I felt far safer being at home.
I didn’t feel unhappy at all about being deprived of crowds. In fact, I felt lucky. It really seemed to help when I decided that there is nothing “out there” that I need to go to, or see, or do that’s more important than keeping myself, my family, my friends and my neighbours as safe as I know how.
After the first two months, I felt especially lucky to be able to spend in-person time again with my darling granddaughter Everly Rose, who has been in my family “bubble” ever since.
I love my home. I enjoy my own company. I am never bored, as long as I have my books, my laptop, my art, and people who care about me at the other end of the phone. And whenever I check the kitchen calendar to see what’s on for today, I now actually feel a wee frisson of joy if I see a perfectly blank page.
But what is happening to me? Who is this homebody who has somehow moved into my body? I’ve spent my whole life as an outgoing, extroverted social butterfly. I’d always been a party person (both hosting and attending), a committed community volunteer, and a person with a bulging calendar who was always up for invites for morning coffee or drinks after work.
But now, the less I plan to do each day, the better. I wondered if I was becoming more introverted because of the pandemic scare, or because of my ongoing heart condition, or because I am just getting older?
I looked up what Jenn Granneman (author of the book, The Secret Lives of Introverts) had to say, and decided to do her “Introvert or Extrovert Quiz” to see if my disappearing extroversion had really disappeared or not.
For example, one of Jenn’s quiz questions asks about socializing with other people:
Q: In general, after attending a large party, how do you feel?
- Tired and drained, even if I had fun.
- Energized and ready for more!
I felt tired and drained just thinking about answering this question.
I have in fact felt that way since 2008. Having to make small talk with lots of people, especially people I don’t know well, seems utterly exhausting to me now. Depending on the time of day, an extended conversation with even just one person can wipe me out for the rest of the day.
But now I can cheerfully say NO to crowds by blaming this pandemic of ours.
Susan Cain, former lawyer-turned-best-selling author of the book, Quiet, reminds us that it is quite common that we seem to be more introverted as we age. Psychologists call this phenomenon “intrinsic maturation,” which means our personalities become more balanced as we get older—“a kind of fine wine that mellows with age,” she adds. And there may be an evolutionary/biological reason for this shift:
“High levels of extroversion probably help with mating, which is why most of us are at our most sociable during our teenage and young adult years. If the task of the first half of life is to put yourself out there, the task of the second half is to make sense of where you’ve been.
“In fact, it might be just what we need to flourish as adults. If there’s one thing we introverts know, it’s just how satisfying a quiet, calm life can be.”
We don’t know yet if 2021 will bring us this quiet, calm life – just as we didn’t know that 2020 was about to unleash a global pandemic upon us. Even with the new vaccines, this virus just doesn’t behave like other viruses when it comes to ensuring that antibodies will make us immune to future infections. We’ll still be following basic public health restrictions for some time yet.
The more we fight against reality, the worse we will feel. The more we protest precautions recommended to protect the common good (and especially those healthcare professionals trying to help us), the more we’ll feel like weaklings railing against fate.
Speaking of 2021, I just heard CBC broadcaster Shelagh Rogers quip on her radio show:
“I’m not buying a 2021 calendar – until I see the trailer.”
Q: Have you too been feeling more introverted lately?
NOTE FROM CAROLYN: I wrote more about why severe fatigue is so common among heart patients in my book, ““A Woman’s Guide to Living with Heart Disease“ , published by Johns Hopkins University Press. You can ask for it at your local library or favourite bookshop, or order it online (paperback, hardcover or e-book) at Amazon, or order it directly from my publisher (use their code HTWN to save 20% off the list price of my book)
Image: Gerd Altmann, Pixabay
–My other Heart Sisters articles this year about COVID-19
–25 tips to manage the crushing fatigue of heart disease
–Welcome to your new country called Heart Disease