Emerging after the pandemic: ‘There’s an awkwardness to my interactions, like I’ve forgotten how to socialise’
23rd May 2021
In just a few months, human contact became one of the most feared gestures. Being around people we loved was dangerous. Being in a room with others, a crime.
It’s taken an emotional toll. It’s hard to switch from distancing to embracing, from hiding to high-fiving.
But beyond the health fears of transmitting Covid to those around us, a new anxiety is beginning to emerge – the how-to-be after 15 months of cocooning ourselves.
After a year of being told what to do, suddenly we have the agency to make our own decisions. And that’s frightening.
“A lot of older people, even those vaccinated, are still afraid to leave their house,” a physiotherapy friend of mine confides. “They are at home all day listening to the Covid numbers on the radio. Even the short walk they may have taken before has stopped. It’s creating unimaginable problems when it comes to their mobility.”
Another friend tells me she’s just unsure of how to be now around others. Having an underlying condition meant she properly cocooned. Now, vaccinated, as she emerges into the fringes of society, she’s lost confidence in her ability to socialise. “There’s an awkwardness to my interactions. Like I’ve forgotten how to socialise.”
Unlocking us was supposed to be the relief – the joy of escaping the Covid nightmare. We were counting down the days until we could hug again, see friends, have a party. And while some have sprinted out of our homes, others describe a reluctance to re-emerge, leaving behind the stay-at-home orders harder to shed.
In the UK, a poll for ITV found that many of us are confused about what happens next. The Guardian reports that “almost one in five thought we were now meant to behave “like before the pandemic”. While 41% thought ministers were in favour of hugging, 30% thought the opposite.”
People hear what they want to hear, perhaps. That’s been the theme of the pandemic. But what this really reveals is that our understanding of what is and isn’t now socially acceptable is skewed.
But how can our post-pandemic world ever be the same again? We’ve seen the best and worst of people, had a great deal of time to think and reflect about how we want our lives to look after lockdown. From big problems come great changes. We can’t underestimate that.
We have embraced remote work, the commute no longer the norm. Covid meant that big chunks of our lives have only been seen on a phone screen by those we love. Some who live alone have gone without human touch for months. Others have had no space to themselves for months.
With totally different experiences of the same social storm: surely they cannot but profoundly change us for the long term?
Emily (32) didn’t participate on the Zoom quizes, she threw herself into work and her beloved dogs. But the social anxiety that she’s known for the past 10 years now means she’s nervous about meeting up with anyone. “I know it’s silly to be afraid to see your friends. It’s fine one on one but the thought of being in a group all together gives me anxiety. I’ve adapted to being on my own.”
Same same but different
The pandemic has served as a reminder that, as human beings, we are adaptable. It’s what helped many of us survive the past few months. Emerging back into society will be a slow dawning for some, and we should respect that.
It’s impossible not to suffer some kind of fallout from the year we’ve all had. But hopefully, lockdown will be a distant memory. That’s we will walk out into the full glare of society and find ourselves again – a new version maybe, but with new appreciation and deeper understanding of who we are and what we want.
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