Introverts aren’t “anti-people.” We are humans who, in our own unique way, need other humans.
I’ve never been one to give into fear. Typically, when things get scary, I surprise myself and others by finding untapped reserves of bravery. Whether it be moving away from my family, finding the strength to go into therapy, or simply submitting a new piece of my writing for potential publication, courage is something I’ve almost always been able to muster up.
Even though the pandemic has pushed society as we know it to its breaking point, I found myself approaching daily life with a surreal sense of calm at first. I wanted to put on a brave face so others — my employees, family, friends — might gain strength from my lead.
I thought that being a natural introvert would give me an edge — that I’d be able to weather this storm with ease. Before the virus, long weekends and evenings spent at home were never obstacles for me. And during these last few weeks, I’ve enjoyed the chance to work on “back burner” projects, like organizing my comic book collection, doing a deep clean of my house, and sifting through piles of clothes to decide which ones I should keep and which no longer “spark joy.”
But introversion doesn’t equal immunity to the fear and panic of a global pandemic.
Glued to my phone, I have watched with apprehension as once-familiar places flash across the screen: photos of a deserted downtown Seattle; a “National Geographic” style Instagram video showing a long line of people at my local grocery store; and the sign outside my church, which now reads “Services Canceled.” Seeing the familiar in this unfamiliar way, I cannot help but feel that the world is shrinking — maybe even collapsing.
Social Distancing Is Harder Than I Thought
I had expected — and thought I was ready for — the fear pervading this particular moment. Information is power, and I kept myself calm by doing my part as a librarian to quash the spread of misinformation, reading only trusted journalists and trying to keep a positive attitude. But fear was not the only enemy on the board — loneliness was unexpectedly charging forward, lance drawn to pierce my heart with “social distancing.”
All my life I’ve avoided being part of a large group. In true introvert style, I prefer to be on my own or with a small, tight-knit social cadre. Playing Dungeons and Dragons with a few good friends has long been my idea of a fun night out, and I adore attending writer circles of all types. Anywhere I can connect with people on a person-to-person level thrills me.
So who knew that, in addition to silencing a stadium full of Seattle Sounders fans, the virus would also muffle my moments of gentle, easy connection?
I miss the warmth and low buzz of sitting alone in a crowded coffee shop. I miss the dopamine-boost of saying hello to my coworkers as they pass by my door and hearing the excitement in their voices as they fill me in on their lives, if only for a few minutes. I miss the satisfaction of looking out over my campus library as I sip my morning tea and seeing it teem with people.
Being cut off from these moments of familiarity feels like being asked to sleep on a mattress with no sheets or pillows; you can do it, and it’s more comfortable than sleeping on the floor, but you still spend the night tossing and turning, shivering, knowing that something vital is missing.
Introversion Doesn’t Mean ‘Anti-People’
My experiences with social distancing have reinforced that introverts are not — strictly speaking — anti-people. We are not misanthropes. We are humans who, in our own unique way, need other humans.
As I struggle to stay connected with all the familiar faces I can’t see thanks to social distancing, I realize: I love people. Beyond that, I love humanity! I love watching others, even strangers, live and thrive, and knowing that deep down inside I’m part of a community.
This crisis has made me realize that, as much as I love my solitude, I love true companionship at least as much. It’s made me realize that for me, a deep and meaningful friendship can be just as invigorating as a walk in nature. Now that I’m not getting to experience those kinds of relationships in the same way I did before, I am suffering; but I’m also appreciating so much about what I had before.
So what can we people-loving introverts do now that we can no longer step outside and be amongst others in the small, quiet ways we prefer? You can — and should! — reach out in any way you can. Here are five ways I’ve found to stay in touch, so that those you care about remain a part of your life through these novel times.
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How Introverts Can Stay Connected with Their People — Old and New
1. Keep in touch with family and friends.
This could mean a phone call, a video message, or even a postcard that lets them know you’re thinking about them during this uncertain time. You might find, like I do, that even writing a good old-fashioned letter can be fun for both sender and receiver! Don’t be afraid to tell them how you’re feeling about recent events, but don’t feel like that’s all you have to talk about either. After all, life is still going on, albeit a little differently than it was before.
2. Try interacting directly with content, rather than letting it act on you.
It’s really easy to just passively consume data. Instead, try to get more intentional with your time. Reading a great webcomic? Send a note of appreciation to the artist/author. Love the book you just finished? See if you can find an online community of like-minded fans (say on Tumblr or Goodreads) and gush over your favorite chapters and characters. This is a great way to make new connections and find new things to keep yourself occupied while this period of isolation continues. People love to give out recommendations to new friends.
3. Start a digital conversation with someone you don’t know.
With so much of life moving online, the opportunities to connect with new people have expanded. It can even be about something silly or fun to keep your collective spirits up! Now is the perfect time to complete and compare your results to those Buzzfeed Quizzes, post the ninth picture from your camera roll with no context (no matter how weird or mundane it may be), or challenge each other to trivia contests on Sporcle!
4. Consider donating to organizations near and dear to your heart.
And, no, it doesn’t have to be money — reach out and ask if you can virtually volunteer or help in some other way. Look locally and share what you can with those who have less than you. Try going to a site like freerice.com and do some good while exercising your brain. (Since all the gyms around you are closed, you might as well “work out” your brain — and for such a good cause.)
5. Consume positive media. Yes, it’s possible.
Now is not the time for those stories telling us that human beings are, at heart, animals who will always seek to satisfy base and violent desires at the expense of others. Now is the time for stories of humanity and grace, stories about our capacity for good and our ability to be gentle with one another in order to work towards a brighter future.
Watch, read, and create things that reinforce these ideals. When you’re done, share what you liked about the story online. This will give others potentially new things to explore and spark conversation with those closest to you about ideas that are important to you. It’s important to stay informed, but there’s no shame in a little escapism either.
In this time of self-isolation, even introverts need to be reminded that we’re not alone. Videos of people literally opening their windows and calling (or singing) out into the world have gone viral, and rightly so. If we can find the strength and bravery required, we can truly prove that we are all in this together, even though we are geographically apart.