A few days ago, my incredibly bored friend sitting miles away conducted a poll online, wherein she asked people what they are doing/watching to keep themselves amused in this period of self-quarantine and social distancing. I replied to her poll saying this pretty much sums up my regular life, since I identify as an introvert.
She wrote back: “So, how do you feel now that the entire world is espousing your way of life?”
I had just paused to reflect on the gravity of her statement, when another friend shared a crafty meme which suggested the coronavirus crisis would make no difference to the life of an introvert, since social distancing is their way of life, anyway. And I allowed some perverse part of my brain to imagine myself fist-pumping to the fact that my extremely extroverted pal(s) would now have to cancel on me, as opposed to me flaking on them, following a nationwide directive that social distancing be implemented pronto.
And as comforting as that seemed, I reminded myself that I am an introvert, not a sociopath. And the current global crisis does affect me. The uncertainty bothers me, as does the fact that my father is still expected to show up at work. I feel livid that people continue to panic-buy and stockpile essential and non-essential household items inconsiderately. I am shocked at the suggestion that cow urine be considered an antidote to the deadly virus. It makes me wonder if cow dung will be next – with a section insisting it be consumed as fritters with evening chai.
All of this troubles me; but, social distancing? Not so much.
it turns out i’ve been social distancing my whole life
— Aparna Nancherla (@aparnapkin) March 18, 2020
I do not feel the urge to find out what others are doing to keep themselves entertained. I have been living inside my own head for ages now. I can continue doing that for some more time then. But does that, in any way, suggest that I enjoy isolation?
No introvert enjoys isolation. We just value ‘me time, me space’ more. Which is why, it is quite exasperating that people would use the terms ‘social distancing’ and ‘self-isolation’ interchangeably. I am not in isolation; I am with my family – cooped up inside the house, trying to keep myself and others safe.
Bengaluru-based Agomoni Bose (33), a project manager at a leading NGO, agrees with me. She tells me that she is not finding this period frustrating at all. “I am working from home, but if I didn’t have to work, I would have read like crazy; or watched something on Netflix; or done some lettering and writing; or have gone for a drive, safely, of course, not entering anywhere. There is so much to do,” she says, adding: “it can be frustrating for younger people, especially kids, who cannot go out, or those who cannot spend time with themselves. I am an extrovert through and through, but I really care about not falling sick and not spreading the disease”.
Unlike Bose, I cannot think of myself as being even remotely extroverted. And, like me, every introvert will agree that we do enjoy socially-distancing ourselves intermittently. It is not that we do not take pleasure in going out; we do. We just get exhausted relatively faster. And then we have to retreat into our shells and charge our social batteries. So, in a way, social distancing does not make much of a difference to the life of a person who is thinking of ingenious ways to flake anyway.
One thing that I have learned during this crisis period is that everything else is inconsequential, and that extroverts can ‘live like introverts’ if nature demands.
Gurugram-based journalist Jahnavi Chakravarty (31), too, identifies as an extrovert. But, she says that while she is enjoying staying at home, she gets restless in bursts. “I am beginning to realise that staying at home takes away a lot of stress that comes from public commuting. I am actually feeling more productive working from home, because it was stressful having to constantly wash/sanitize hands at the office.”
Chakravarty says she is choosing to be fully optimistic about this. “It is not scary to stay away from people; it is actually scarier having to meet them now, because you do not know who has been where. Yes, it is difficult on weekends, but I am choosing online shopping, FaceTime calls, digital entertainment and spending quality time with myself and my family,” she says.
JOMO versus FOMO
For some time now, there have been constant debates about whether a person seeks joy when they are missing out on crucial moments in their social life, or fears it. JOMO, or ‘joy of missing out’ and FOMO ‘fear of missing out’, have – as two distinct ideas – always clashed with each other. It has been said that for every person who experiences FOMO, there is someone who feels JOMO.
Now, there seems to have occurred a greyer gradient – or a middle ground – between them. At best, people are beginning to understand that they are at the mercy of this unprecedented situation.
As an #introvert, I’m not struggling with the solitude. I love being alone. I love having my obligations canceled. I’m struggling with a deadly disease attacking the most vulnerable among us, and the anxiety of wondering what the world will be like before it’s done. #coronavirus
— Jenn Granneman (@JennGranneman) March 17, 2020
Fellow introvert and Mumbai-based journalist Shrishti Negi (25) tells me that she does not experience FOMO. “I’d like to believe that I have been practising self-isolation for the past 15 years. So, I feel that every day is just like the day before – except that now there is this constant anxiety about this emerging health crisis. Being introvert has nothing to do with anyone else; it is just what I need. I am always sitting in my tracksuit pants, munching on French toast and consuming endless Korean dramas. I relish solitude, so I don’t think anyone needs to feel sorry for me when I say that I don’t like going out, or don’t have many friends,” she says.
An introvert’s frustration
Yes, introverts are also feeling flustered and frustrated. More than anything, it is the fear of the unknown that is plaguing several minds.
Twenty-three-year-old Anandamayee Singh, a writer from Delhi, says that when she first had to self-quarantine, she was excited because she “wouldn’t have to see people, and sit in bed and read, and watch Netflix”. “But then I started feeling frustrated about not being able to go out; and I also realised how important it is for my mental health. Just a short walk makes a huge difference to my depression. So, yes, even as an introvert, it is difficult, because human beings need to step out and interact just to have a balance,” she says.
I wish to tell friends, and by extension, the world that while introverts are the most misunderstood lot, they are also comparatively more pragmatic. And yes, ostensibly, the world seems to be embracing our ‘way of living’. But, let’s not forget that there is no ‘us’ and ‘you’ here, anymore. It is a global crisis that communities around the world are grappling with. So, extrovert or not, keep those cooties away, and stay safe. This, too, shall pass.
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