raise a toast

After traveling so much, I found in pre-pandemic times that I could lull myself into an extremely zen-like state as I boarded long flights. I rarely tried to read a book, catch up on work, or make that time “worth it”. Instead, once I got through the stress of security and knew I had plenty of time to board, I eased into a calmness knowing I had nothing to do except be still. I’d relish in watching movies, catching up on my favorite podcasts, or sleeping for longer than I should (never helps with jetlag).

I feel in between destinations right now hurtling through time and space stuck in four walls. The pandemic has put me into a strangely similar headspace as a flight interspersed with sharp moments of turbulence in the form of feeling the miles, feet, inches away from my loved ones. It’s created a seemingly never ending liminal space — a flight with few updates and no ability to check time remaining. What does one do in a liminal space that lasts this long?

The word liminal comes from the Latin word ‘limen’, meaning threshold – any point or place of entering or beginning. A liminal space is the time between the ‘what was’ and the ‘next.’ It is a place of transition, a season of waiting, and not knowing.

From inaliminalspace.org.

This analogy has helped me understand my body’s reaction to this time and a recent grip of introversion. I’m often one for action, seizing the day, intentionality, etc. I’ve caught myself numbing instead and almost enjoying this “sabbatical from social life” as I’ve sometimes referred to it to friends. As someone with surprisingly intense social anxiety, it’s been bizarre and almost a relief to suddenly live a life that encourages that I avoid triggering that anxiety.

I’m used to stretches of solo time interspersed with extremely intense social interaction of back to back lifechats, full day conferences with dinners going late into the night with coworkers, etc. Without the jolt of this kind of socializing, I can feel myself becoming even more introverted and sensitive — like I’m losing the muscle of socializing but don’t care to build it back up.

Hilariously, I’m aware both of this atrophying muscle and that it’s strangely proving to be a strength during this time of forced isolation. Why should I build this muscle back up that will likely only make this time both harder to get through and potentially riskier? All signs point to hermitting for the win! I shall hide myself away in my apartment turned tower and keep cutting my hair every week so all Rapunzel like situations can be avoided! I can and will do this for years! My childhood dream of living in my closet has come true (real story for another time)! Safety finally within my grasps.

While I could sustain this, I won’t. I fast forward a year in my mind as I often try to do when making decisions (changing timeframes for decisions can be a powerful mental reframe) and I think about the damage this narrative of isolation will do to my soul. This narrative of separation, fear, independence, etc. when truly this should be a time of returning to and underlining that which makes us human.

I force myself to call friends. I become mindful and careful with numbing agents. I try to pick up the phone when people call. I send more texts to people than I can respond to. I send my mom a book about Degas paintings with a note saying that since we can’t go to the art we love I’ll send it to her. I buy packs of 40 stamps knowing it won’t last me more than a few weeks. I print photos of memories with friends, write on the back what I cherish about those times, and quickly send them off. I act as my own shock to my system while recognizing this liminal space as a time to get even more creative in connecting with others and taking care of myself. How can I use the energy I’m saving from not having to deal with my social anxiety for good and for connection?

As this liminal space settles in and my eyes adjust to the dark, I’m waking from my social slumber. Some days this looks like hiking, hammocking, and reading. Some days this means back to back calls with loved ones. Some days it means pulling out my camera and safely exploring the world around me with an eye towards capturing moments to send to loved ones. Some days I day dream about my ideal house party filled with friends from different parts of my life, throwback jams, and late night lifechats.

I smile writing this because I love a good challenge and I recognize this as one. Alright, isolating introvert Anne, you can have your safety measures and hermiting habits but, in return, I ask the following of you:

Expand — don’t shrink.
Connect — don’t hide.
Engage — don’t fear.
Reflect don’t numb.

I’ll take this glorious compromise and raise a toast to this challenge. If only I had someone to cheers with 😏.

4 Comments

  1. Bryan Wagner

    I identify with much of what you say. I find that I am not losing so much in the way of the tools of interaction as much as re-calibrating and restructuring my values about interactions and relationship. It’s a little like going on a silent retreat where the absence of interaction focuses me on the value and importance of my interactions in the first place. I value that because without that space I wouldn’t even look in the places I am currently examining. Thanks for this post, more to consider.

    1. Anne McCarthy

      Ah yes! A silent retreat is another great analogy. I spend most days not talking to others due to working remotely in a mostly text based company so I’ve been feeling the strain of speaking more recently too. Lots to consider here! I always appreciate your thoughts, Bryan.

  2. CRK

    I’m guilty of what you describe… The pandemic has been a great excuse to avoid social interactions, which, very much like you, trigger my anxiety. But with this new challenge (looking after baby L. full time), I need to put his needs before mine, and once we’re moved into the new house and explore the neighborhood maybe we’ll make some new friends. 🤞🏻

    1. Anne McCarthy

      Can’t wait to see how this goes for you ❤ I wonder a bit if this social "break" could make my anxiety worse or help lessen it as I suddenly miss those social times even more. Let's keep chatting about this 😀

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