This is such a weird time. There are so many things we’re all afraid of right now. The economic impacts – personal, national, and global. The hundreds of tiny risk calculations we all do now every day. Does this delivery need to be disinfected? How safe is it to go to the supermarket? How often do I need to wash my mask? Is the way I took my mask off safe, or have I just contaminated myself? Does this sniffle mean I need to get tested, or am I just allergic to the cat?
There’s a lot of stress that we’re all under. But there are also a hundred failures of empathy in the rhetoric and conversations that we’re having on a daily basis. Covid19 is increasing so many divides. Between those who’ve kept their jobs thanks to government support. Those who’ve been explicitly cut off from government support. Those on whom the burden of childcare falls, those who still have to go to work. Those who cling to the normality of being able to get take away food, and those who work in take away stores and expose themselves to risk every day so that we can have our coffee, or our fish and chips.
And because we are more isolated than we’ve ever been before, it’s harder to see the impact. We’re not hanging out with our friends who work in retail, so we can’t see the stresses on them. If we’re busy working from home, we don’t see the people who have lost their jobs, or had both job and salary “paused”, leaving them in risky limbo. I worry, sometimes, that we are losing the ability to really see each other. To understand that the impact on us is not the impact on everyone.
Every time I see someone write a bubbly post about how lovely the extra family time is, and how they are reconnecting with their loved ones, I feel a pang for the families who are driving each other insane. For the gay or trans kids who are trapped in a home with a parent who won’t accept their identity. For the parents of small children who can’t get a moment to breathe. For the teachers who have to go to work, regardless of their personal safety or that of their families. For those whose workload has doubled and for whom the “extra family time” is an impossible impediment to actually getting work done.
For all the importance of trying to be positive, it sometimes feels as though it’s getting harder to say “actually, I’m finding this tough”. As though resilience and toughness are the currency we’re all craving now, and to admit we’re not as strong as we’d like feels shameful.
And, in the midst of all of that, there is the extrovert/introvert divide. Popularly portrayed as being the difference between being outgoing or shy, the real difference between extroverts and introverts is how they recharge. I know many introverts who are the life of the party, but they can only manage it if they have access to the introverts’ natural power source: time alone.
Weirdly, in this time of apparent introvert heaven, it can be difficult to actually have alone time, when the rest of the household never goes anywhere. I’m sure my family is sometimes overwhelmed by the urge to throw a handful of chocolate outside and lock the door after the stampede some days (and that’s just to get rid of me!).
Extroverts, meanwhile, literally run on social interaction. And we will talk all four legs off a passing labrador if we don’t have enough social life. I’ve been talking to my houseplants. Shouting at the characters in my books. And becoming unusually invested in the appearance of my favourite delivery person.
At the same time extroverts are becoming emotionally emaciated. We rely on hundreds of interactions every day. From a smiling word with the bus driver, to a quick chat with our regular Big Issue vendor, every positive interaction is fuel. From the tearoom conversations to the lunchtime walks, the social contact of a workplace is crucial.
When we are working from home, especially if we are the only extrovert in a household of introverts (or, worse, living alone), and cut off from all of our usual social interaction, we starve. It’s only a matter of time before the sputtering noise of an engine running on fumes becomes the sobbing collapse of a malnourished hug fiend.
I’ve been fending off starvation by keeping a chat room open all day and inviting my friends to drop by. It has been a life saver. Sometimes we simply work “side by side”, sometimes we chat. But it’s somehow easier and more relaxed than scheduling yet another zoom for an opportunity to hang out. It’s a return to casually dropping by – which is something we lost from our schedules long before the pandemic hit.
I’ve had to actively feed my extroversion. And I’m starting to realise I need to actively feed my empathy as well. Empathy feels hard right now, because there’s so much trauma that we can’t afford to empathise with it all, and because we’re so disconnected.
But empathy can take many forms. Since Victoria went into lockdown my interstate friends have been generous with their empathy. They have shown that they feel for me with a fancy gift box, quick phone calls to tell a story to distract and entertain me, daily(ish) photos of my beloved adoptive niece, and spontaneous ebook gifts. Sometimes all it takes is a well placed hug emoji.
We’re spending so much time pining for each other, and I think we can easily forget to make that visible. And sometimes other people need things that we don’t. It may be the highest form of love to recognise that, and to try to fill that need.
Reach out. Make your love visible in whatever ways you can. And stay safe.