I am an extrovert.
I am not always grateful for this. Sometimes I try to relate to others through my own experiences, and I don’t listen well. I get really enthusiastic and that’s not always appreciated. I can be too loud, too chatty, too passionate. It used to mean I struggled with time on my own and preferred to be in the company of others. If given a choice, I opted to work in a coffee shop or in an open plan office. As a student, I didn’t pick a quiet carrell off to the side of the library – I went straight for the large table in the middle of the room, surrounded by other people, working independently but together. When Richard and I first started dating it was a common debate (which is maybe, just maybe, a euphemism for a fight): Were we spending enough time together? I would argue no. He would argue yes. We were both probably right.
The past two years have forced me to learn new coping mechanisms, even new skills. I’m more capable in my own company. I sometimes see time on my own as solitude and not loneliness. I spend hours and hours alone without human contact. I go months without human touch. I receive party invitations I know I must decline and no longer cry when I send my regrets. I walk past pubs and restaurants, heaving with laughing families and groups of friends, and I don’t always feel the tug of emptiness and isolation.
This has not been an easy transition. I love nothing more than organizing parties. I fully planned a 50th birthday party for myself in the garden last year, complete with bunting and bright table runners, a food truck and games, only to cancel it all when realism set in. I spent a week wallowing in this afterward. I love spending time with friends and working with large groups. I love the belonging and the sense of connection.
This extroverted preference has made shielding particularly challenging. But today I’m grateful for it. Because I think maybe it will help me find my way back. Two years is a long time to live in isolation. It’s not really natural to cross the road to avoid people on a crowded street or blow kisses over a screen. We weren’t meant to wave through a window. But as the days, months and now years pass, I am finding myself too comfortable living on my own, more awkward in the company of others. I don’t know what to talk about, and I dread conversations I used to enjoy. I ask good questions but have nothing to share in return. I leave video calls frustrated and more lonely than I was when I clicked Answer. I feel a sense of anxiety when I think about getting back on a plane, saying yes to the parties, standing in a crowd.
My world is too small. I may not like cave I’m hiding in, but I have been forced back into its farthest depths and I no longer know how to find my way out. It’s dull and dreary here but I can control it and I feel safe. So I’m hoping when the time is right, I can rely on my extroversion to fight its way through the darkness and into the light, away from the silence and back to the noisy chaos of life.