Written by: Kim Napo
As an introvert who is used to doing things on her own and has also spent time working from home, I am no stranger to solitude. So, when the COVID-19 lockdown and need for social distancing was announced I was not worried. I am used to this. This will not have an impact on my quality of life or how I live my life. I will still be able to do the things I love doing – writing, reading, cooking and shopping for food – all of which, by the way, do not require the company of others. I am not much of a team person and I thrive on working alone with little human interaction but for the occasional meeting and a call to and from those closest and dearest. Nothing will change, except for the fact that most people will be walking a mile in an introvert’s shoes, so to speak. Wrong. What I didn’t bank on is the psychological challenges that come with enforced isolation.
I understand the importance of setting up routine and having structured daily schedules because this is how I normally live my life but now I find myself procrastinating and pushing away tasks for later. Instead my days are spent trolling the internet to read up on coronavirus and going through the numbers – number of people tested and infected, the number of deaths and recoveries in South Africa, the continent and the world. This has become an obsession of some sorts for me. This is a daily activity.
My energy levels are also out of balance and I am tired all the time. I sleep more than I normally would, and the sleep is not restful. I think this is due to a loss of control and the inability to plan. Prolonged lack of quality sleep has also affected my appetite and my moods. Although others have reported eating more during this period, my appetite is non-existent, and I eat a lot less. I suffer from occasional bouts of self-pity and melancholy. Nothing prepared me for this. My days have also become jumbled up – every day is the same, weekdays and weekends are non-distinct.
Other than worrying about the possibilities of getting infected with COVID-19, I think most of us who are consultants or are in jobs that require us to be out and about in the world are worried about the impact of the lockdown on our livelihoods.
I have also discovered that I miss seeing people smile. Not grimaces but big toothy smiles from strangers that make you glad to be alive. On days when I do venture out to buy food, I am now met with masks where the smiles once were and faces laden with worry. Everyone is sombre. Even though I and fellow introverts talk about how this type of life is normal to us the truth is it isn’t. There is nothing normal about going shopping with a mask on your face scared that you might catch a disease, there is nothing normal about not being able to hug the people you love, there is nothing normal about only leaving the safety of your home to go buy food. There is nothing normal about losing freedom of movement. But again, there is nothing normal about COVID-19. We are all doing the best we can to stay heathy and sane, the government is doing all it can to ensure that us, the citizens and residents stay safe and healthy.
I am one of those people who tend to be intellectually curious, creative and imaginative, so what has been keeping me sane is reading and creating. I have always been a voracious reader and in the last four weeks I have read a lot – this has ensured that I feed my mind healthy positive information amid the negativity that surrounds me. I have also discovered that creating something with my hands also helps me focus on something other than gloom and as a chef cooking is my creative outlet of choice. But you can only bake so many banana loaves before you lose your mind.
Introverts are not immune to loneliness and life in the time of coronavirus, is indeed lonely.
We do not want to be alone all the time but now we are forced to do just that, especially us introverts that live alone. No amount of phone calls and video calls with friends and loved ones can ever replace face-to-face physical human interaction. This is what this time in enforced isolation has taught me. As much as I do not need a lot of human interaction, I do not think I will ever take for granted the friends and family who normally give me my weekly ration of physical human interaction. However, I shudder to think what it must be like for introverts that, all of a sudden, have to spent 24/7 in close proximity with loved ones that they share their living spaces with.
It does not look like the coronavirus is going anywhere any time soon, for now, while I am still healthy and somewhat sane, I will need to learn new coping mechanisms. These include, accepting the situation for what it is, learning a new skill – apparently that’s what some people are doing – following the regulations which are meant to keep me healthy and hope for the best.