Post-lockdown life: ‘Normality is back and I’m not sure I like it’
Lara Kilner’s inner introvert is not enjoying the pressure of the return to a full social calendar, and she can’t be the only one. Sound familiar?
This week, life gets back to almost-but-not-quite the full normal. Sure, we’ve been allowed the social activity of freezing our bits off in beer gardens for a little while, but now, the gloves are off on the nation’s social lives – both literally and metaphorically – as we return to full boozing, dining and hugging indoors. No one can say that it isn’t a welcome turn of events because <of course> it is. But.
Yep, there is a big old but. Because I know I’m not the only one who isn’t relishing a great many aspects of the return to pre-pandemic life.
Take the pub. And with it, take the hangovers (really, please do). I have children, so my social life has been heavily lockdown-style box-set, Beaujolais and takeaway biryani based for a good many years anyway, and that’s fine by me. Yet, pre-Covid, there were regular social pressures, whether they be the need to to make small talk with Sandra from accounts over warm Prosecco on a work leaving do, or filling in awkward conversational gaps with my best lines in absolute blather over drinks with the new class mums.
There are three things I don’t miss about any of this. Number one, the next day. My friends and I call it ‘pub drunk’, in that you can have a couple of wines at home and feel ay-okay the next day, but have those couple (ok, and then some) of wines in a bar and the giddiness/adrenalin/anxiety of being in a social situation and making conversation with friends/strangers/Sandra from accounts, will see it going straight to your head.
Feel The Fear
And then, there it is – the dreadful sleep, the furry mouth, the dull head, the burrito and fat Coke-based breakfast, the need to heavily carb load just to get through the day. And The Fear, let’s not forget The Fear. The anxiety that I’ve upset and offended everyone and must never darken their doors again. Hangovers, you were never my most favourite of visitors but now, you really are no longer welcome in my world.
Two, the sheer effort of it all. On the surface, I’m an outgoing, chatty type who is pretty adept at handling social situations and conversing with different kinds of people (see above – filling silences with absolute blather is high up in my skill set). But there is a well-disguised introvert lurking within. Other than hanging out with my closest of pals, with whom there is both comfortable silence and never a shortage of nonsense to discuss, I often find socialising quite the ballache.
I become anxiety-riddled ahead of parties or nights out with big groups, I really cannot be faffed with the getting-ready process ( I’ve worn mascara a total of four times since March 2020) and I turn into a pumpkin after the News At Ten, never mind midnight. I also crave time alone for my mental health. I need peace, I need calm, I need to just not have to talk out loud, whenever and wherever the opportunity arises. And, as a rule, 8pm cometh, it is bra off, comfies on, sofa, blanket, cat, mindless telly. This is my happy place.
Three, the cost of it all. It might have taken a global bloody crisis but, for the first time in as long as I can remember, I’m not living in perpetual overdraft. And I say this even as someone who was made redundant during the pandemic. I’m attempting to make inroads into the world of self employment and am thus currently lacking a secure monthly income, yet I’m still better off than I was when I was spending half my salary on trains into London, lunches from Itsu, and more on a medium-sized glass of Merlot in the pub than I would on a whole bottle from the corner shop. Then there’s the cost of kid’s wrap-around care, not to mention football practice, swimming lessons, drama club… I could go on.
The Simple Life
The pandemic has taught us that we can all live a more simple life on a lot less. And I really don’t really want to let go of that. I used to spend four hours a day travelling to and from work. It was the single worst thing about my day-to-day life and I don’t think I can ever go back to it – I had to check the Trainline app the other day and just <planning> a journey nearly brought me out in hives. The constant running, the cramming onto a packed tube with my head in a stranger’s armpit, desperate to meet my connection so that I can get home while it’s still vaguely considered evening, rather than time to go to bed, get up and do it all over again. The never seeing my kids, the childcare logistics. No thank you, not ever, never, do I want that life again.
It was only yesterday when I realised I’d have to start writing things on the wall calendar again because we have returned to a point where life must once more be diarised. We have our first clash because a camping trip will coincide with the school fair, and it all feels very ‘Oh here we go again’.
And why is it already getting difficult to find windows to see people? I’m trying to plan a trip to visit an old friend I haven’t seen in 18 months and we’ve already had to rearrange three times. Wasn’t it nice when everyone was just spontaneously free for a socially-distanced walk in the woods on the actual day you suggested it? Can we not just keep it like that, going forward? No more arranging things three months in advance and then having to cancel anyway, yes?
Aside from the practical stresses of organising family, work and friendships, there are different emotional strains in real life. As much as I would not want my kids to be off school again for even five minutes for the entire rest of their education, thank you very much, being back at school means dealing with social issues. Their friends being mean, them being mean to their friends, them feeling inadequate because the kids they do guitar lessons know all the power chords and they don’t, and on it goes.
There was also no FOMO in lockdown because there was nothing to miss out on. Now, kid’s playdates and birthday parties are back and, with them, the sadness and disappointment of your own kid when their name isn’t down and they’re not coming in.
I do not wish to ever go back to the worries and strains of the height of the pandemic, that goes without saying. But equally I absolutely don’t want the stressful life I had Before Covid, and neither does my anxiety-filled brain, my liver or my bank balance. It’s time to find a new way forward. Wish me luck out there…
How to cope with the return of real life
Psychologist Sarah Gregg, author of Choose Happy: Easy Strategies to Finding Your Bliss, gives her top tips:
Recognise How You Feel
Often the problem isn’t how we feel. The problem is we believe we shouldn’t feel that way. If your inner introvert isn’t jumping for joy at the prospect of socialising, simply recognise how you feel.
Your feelings of overwhelm and anxiety could be shining a spotlight on the things in your pre-pandemic life that weren’t working and present an opportunity for positive change. After all, negative emotions serve an important purpose, with research from evolutionary psychologists suggesting that they play a vital role in sparking positive change. It might sound strange but try welcoming in the part of you that feels overwhelmed or anxious. Ask it ‘What is it you’re trying to tell me?’ You might be surprised at the response it reveals.
It’s ok to say no
We’re all unique and there is no one-size-fits approach to how you should respond to restrictions lifting. If an activity feels like too much too soon, it’s ok to say no. And to avoid panicking and saying yes in the heat of the moment, having a pre-prepared phrase ready can help. For example, “It’s a no for now but I’ll get back to you if anything changes”.
Manage your expectations
The pandemic was the emotional Olympics none of us trained for, and re-opening poses its own set of challenges. If it’s been a while since you stretched your social muscles, then you may need to acknowledge that you’re a little out of shape. Be mindful of the expectations you place on yourself and if you find yourself struggling, speak to yourself in a compassionate, encouraging voice. Remember you don’t have to dive straight into the deep end, it’s ok to build your social life back up slowly.