As COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are less scary plus more and more people are getting vaccinated, it seems like there is finally hope for somewhat normalcy in the coming months. There is a sense of optimism in the air and people are thinking about plans to return to in-person activities and traveling for the first time in a long time.
There are so many things about “returning to normal” that I am looking forward to and that I am grateful for. I am excited to eat inside restaurants, go to the movies, and be around my grandparents more. I am so happy that people living in long-term care will be able to have more family visits and hug their loved ones again. And, I am happy for many business owners who will feel relief finally. And, I cannot wait to go on a big trip sometime in the next year.
But, I also feel a lot of anxiety and I think it is mostly about being social again. I think that I used this time of quarantine and social distancing as an excuse to disconnect and stay in my comfort zone. I haven’t had to worry much about small talk or engaging in conversation with large groups in over a year. I have been able to retreat and be selective in my engagement.
In the weeks and months just after Boris died I wanted to be around people, but only certain people, and I wanted it to be one-on-one. I didn’t want to go to gatherings or out to restaurants with large groups of people. Partly it was because Boris was sort of my social buffer–being with him made me feel more comfortable in social situations. Even though he was an introvert and quite self-conscious, he was outgoing and personable. He was interested in so many things that he never had trouble engaging in conversation. Those qualities felt like a security blanket when we were with a group of people. Without him, I felt very naked and alone. I was so used to having a partner with me at a social event that not having him with me felt so lonely. And, even to this day, I feel his absence. My person isn’t with me and he never will be again.
So, when COVID-19 hit and parties, dinners, or group gatherings became unsafe, I didn’t have to worry about this anymore. I was almost to the 2-year mark when we began “quarantining” and I expected that I’d feel very lonely during this time. But, then I kind of didn’t. To be fair, I have been part of a “pod” that includes my immediate family due to the caregiving needs for my dad, so I have not been completely isolated. I have seen a few friends occasionally, including outdoor walks and an occasional outdoor meet-up. I’ve FaceTimed friends and kept in touch via social media and texts. But, there has been very little social engagement that required small talk or meeting new people or parties. I haven’t needed my “security blanket” much in the last year.
Needless to say, returning to a “normal” social life feels a bit daunting right now. For one, I think I am anxious about safety after spending so long worrying about contracting COVID and infecting my dad or another loved one. But, I am also anxious about being invited to parties or group gatherings again and missing Boris there. I feel anxious about making small talk or talking about trivial things when all I want to talk about is grief and death and Boris. I don’t want to be asked if I am married or have children or if I am dating anyone. I don’t want to feel awkward when someone asks me a question that makes me feel compelled to tell them my tragic story but then they seem uncomfortable with my honest reply. I want to keep a safe distance from anything that will overwhelm me and make me feel as if I may burst at any moment.
I know I need to give myself grace and allow myself to ease back into social life. But I know it will be difficult for me to manage. I already feel pressured into saying yes to social invitations that have not even been asked of me yet. I already feel anxious about something that only exists in my head right now. I just wish Boris were here to do it with me. I wish I had someone to leave the party with and gossip with on the way home. I wish I had someone to enter the room with me to help me feel brave. I just hope his energy will help guide me over the coming months, whatever that may look like.