The reason I don’t recall experiencing social anxiety before this is because I lived according to the social expectations. I followed social norms and met all the expectations because that’s just how life was lived. I allowed the social protocols to determine my identity and to shape my behaviors.
I’d say Yes when I wanted to say No. Declining an invitation without a ‘good’ reason was rude and could cost future invitations, leaving me out in the cold. There was an unspoken pressure to be accepted by the group, even at the expense of my own preference or well-being. So I’d say Yes.
I kept my calendar full. I’d have to coordinate with friends to find the first available date for both of us just to grab a cup of coffee - one time that date was three weeks out! Our culture values productivity; if you are not producing, you do not have value. And if you don’t add value to our culture, you are a burden to it. So I stayed busy.
I stayed in my place. As a woman, especially as a Christian woman, my place was always one of subordination - to my husband, my pastor, church elders (who, in my experience, were all men), my government, my brother, my parents, the man behind the counter telling me I need my radiator flushed … So I’d stay in my place and everybody was happy.
None of these things caused me social anxiety before because I accepted that that was just life. I accepted the norms, adopted them into my being - as part of my identity- and viola! I was accepted, valued, and happy. I had no need to question or challenge any of it.
But the pandemic changed that. Actually, losing Rod got that ball rolling; the pandemic dropped it right off the cliff for me.
I actually like how I’ve been living for the past year or so. I’m one of those anomalies for whom the pandemic was more of a relief (or a reprieve) than a problem.
During the pandemic, while social expectations were temporarily suspended and outside distractions were minimized, I spent a lot of time basically getting to know my post-loss self.
I know that sounds weird, but I changed so much after Rod died and hadn’t really had the time to figure out who this new me is. The lockdown gave me that time.
So I’ve figured out some things about who I am now, and I’ve learned something about being part of a global community.
I don’t want to go back to my pre-COVID, pre-loss self. I want to live in a way that honors these new lessons.
I want to be able to say No - without guilt, shame, or fear of rejection - to things that don’t align with this new self so that I can say Yes to people, and to opportunities, to practice those small acts that give purpose and meaning to life.
I want my busyness to be organic. I want to be able to stop and connect with a person without having to look at my watch worrying about the next thing on my schedule. I want to be available for opportunities to connect with people on short notice, because we don’t always get advanced warning of life events. I want to be able to sit with someone and listen to their story, to bear witness to their experience.
And I want to be heard. I have a story that is unique and worth telling. My story will have an impact in the world - even if it makes people uncomfortable, or unhappy - but only if I tell it.
So, there you have it. Post-loss, post-pandemic Gail will unapologetically say No, she will be free of the busyness for the sake of productivity, and she might step on some toes along the way.
Moving forward, not moving on.