Spending time alone, while vital, is something I have always chosen to do in small doses, and only peppered in throughout my week. Unfortunately, with the Circuit Breaker in full swing these past couple of weeks (and furthermore an extended Circuit Breaker), time alone is all I’ve been able to do. Self-isolating for 2 months? This is a brand new challenge for me. So here I am, documenting my journey in isolation as an extrovert, managing my emotions, and learning to embrace the slow quiet life.
Yup, I’m An Extrovert
I’ve always known I’m an extrovert through and through, the many personality tests I’ve taken over the years can verify. And I know this because I find joy in making my friends laugh, having endless conversations, spending time with the people I love, being a source of entertainment for them. I am a people person through and through.
My boyfriend and I are quite the opposite. We often joke about how he has the personality of an indoor cat while I’m a wild puppy on the loose. In my books, a week well spent would be one filled with activities. Going for an evening spin class, catching up with my friends over dinner, stopping by a flea market over the weekend, and having an iced latte at one of the new cafes on my list. To me, a weekend not spent out of the house is another weekend wasted.
Hello Darkness, My Old Friend
Watching other countries having to go into lockdown, I knew it wasn’t going to be long before our turn came. My sister, who lives in New Zealand, started staying home a week before our Circuit Breaker commenced. Seeing how she managed to stay home made me feel I could do the same. As with most experiences, I tried my best to keep a positive attitude. No interactions? No problem! I was happy to go through my list of activities I’ve always wanted to do but didn’t have the time to. Learn how to make my own matcha latte? Check! Pack my makeup drawer? Check! Cook my favourite meals for my family? Check, check, check.
I think it was sometime into the second week of the Circuit Breaker that I started to feel differently. Maybe it was a mixture of “cabin fever” finally kicking in. Or maybe I was just feeling a bout of loneliness, due to the fact that I hadn’t seen my friends or my boyfriend in over a week. I was starting to get irritable and moody. My usual appetite for food had decreased, and I was struggling to get out of bed.
In short, I was your Sims character feeling angry, frustrated, and close to throwing a fit (but I’m proud to say no fits were thrown) when you lock them in a room with no toilet in sight. When that mood strikes, it strikes pretty hard. It starts from feeling restless, snowballing to a dip in motivation and creativity, to straight up just giving up and not wanting to do anything.
Zoom Conversations Are Not A Replacement For Physical Interactions
Loneliness is strange, isn’t it? I’m physically not alone, because I’m living with my parents. I’m not lonely per se either, because I still get to chat with my friends over Telegram or Zoom. In fact, I’m reaching out and video calling more friends than I’m usually able to meet! So why can’t I shake this feeling of something missing?
As someone whose love languages are both physical touch and quality time, the screen time I got wasn’t quite leaving me satisfied. Instead, it left me feeling like a cup half full; somewhat fulfilled, but not quite. Like most extroverts, being around other people helps me feel energised. So (You guessed it!) extended time alone leaves me feeling drained. It also doesn’t help that I tend to see going-out as a reward for myself, especially after a long day of work or just after being busy with ad-hoc tasks.
Going through day after day of facing the same walls and looking at the same things felt like I was being punished. Even though I knew deep down, the importance of self-isolating. But with these needs going unmet, I had to do something about it — or my own mental health would be at stake.
How Do You Solve A Problem Like Mine?
Looking deeper in a bid to work out my emotions, I reflected on the last time I felt like this. A couple years ago, I went into therapy to learn to manage a season of depression I was going through. One of the most important things I took away from the sessions was learning to recognise when I felt myself spiralling out of control, and utilising coping mechanisms to stabilise my emotional well-being. For example, whenever I started to have discouraging thoughts and beat myself up over them, I would recognise that what I was feeling was not really me. I would press pause and take a walk around my block, or put on some music that I knew would cheer me up.
Putting the same steps into play, I start to look out for moments where I will feel restless. Then instead of forcing myself to continue whatever I am working on, I will give myself intermittent creative activities to try; such as putting on a new makeup look, looking through Pinterest for ideas to update my bedroom, or taking advantage of the sunlight streaming through my bedroom window to take a few snapshots of my surroundings. Usually, that helps me refocus my energy and I’m able to re-enter my tasks feeling refreshed.
I also started planning more talk time with the people I love. DM-ing different friends through the day, meeting up over Houseparty for a quick game of trivia, or just a good ol’ FaceTime session. Some days it meant joining a live stream of a yoga class, just to feel connected. Having these as something for me to look forward to helped fill the sense of emptiness I was feeling.
“This Is A Pandemic, Not A Productivity Contest”
Of course, there are still days where I just need to embrace my own feelings of loneliness and sadness. Many of us are struggling with these new emotions, and that is completely normal.
All in all, the most important thing is to have a lot of self-compassion in these strange times. I read this commentary recently, it went, “this is a pandemic, not a productivity contest” and it made me stop and think for a second. All over social media we see people creating works of art, making workout videos and leading what is looking like a fulfilled life. It constantly makes me feel lousy about myself, especially on those days I’m struggling to get myself out of my low moods. And while I don’t expect myself to flourish in these times, this extrovert is learning how to appreciate and be content in these slow days a little more. And that’s enough for me.