I recently received my first evite (since before the pandemic) to an in person event. Not being vaccinated yet, declining was a pretty easy decision for me to make. But because everyone seems to assume that everyone is vaccinated, COVID suddenly seems like an unacceptable reason to decline. I was surprised when I felt some amount of anxiety over my decision. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced this kind of anxiety before.
The reason I don’t recall experiencing social anxiety is because I lived according to the social expectations. I went along with the norms and met 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’d find things to keep me busy.
I stayed in my place. As a woman, especially as a Christian woman, my place was always one of subordination. 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 that was just how life was. 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 all 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.
Having just ended a 2+ year period that had me out of the house almost daily on behalf of others, I was ready to batten down the hatches, say No to everything for a while, and just stay home.
I don’t work outside the home, so job loss was not an issue.
I don’t have school-aged children, so school/extracurricular activities were non-existent.
I have a roomie, so I am not alone.
I found a way to get everything I needed either delivered or picked up curbside, so shopping was not a problem.
I gained so much tech knowledge and learned how to keep up with folks online.
But now, as businesses and restaurants begin to open up and things begin to go back to pre-covid norms, I am experiencing social anxiety.
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 person 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 mind crowds, but I prefer to connect with people in small groups, or one on one.
I’ve learned to listen, and not filter everyone else’s experience through my own.
There’s more to every story than we can see, and everyone’s story has value. Even mine.
Our purpose in life doesn’t have to be a single, life-long goal; it can be a series of small acts we do every day.
All of humanity is connected in ways we can’t see or even imagine. This became painfully visible and real with the rapid spread of the COVID-19 virus.
My words, actions, even my attitudes impact not only the people I come in direct contact with, but also with those I have never met (for example, you, my dear reader).
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 to things - without guilt, shame, or fear of rejection - 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 is going to unapologetically say No, she’s going to be free of the busyness of society, and she’s going to step on some toes. All while staying home - at least for the time being.