Social Anxiety + Covid = ?

As 2020 came to a close, the family and I celebrated Christmas Day at home and then took off to spend a week in a small beach shack in the Outer Banks.

I’ve always wanted to get away from the dizzying nature of the holidays, to escape the stress of the usual onslaught of social commitments, and just be somewhere else. Anywhere else. Bonus points, though, for a place where life is allowed to be slow, the schedule is clear, the screened-in porch is inviting, the sunrises and sunsets are glorious, the sound of the waves is hypnotic, the beer is cold, and where you may find yourself wondering what in the hell you’re going to do in order to fill all the hours of the day.

It’s not that I don’t love my family or enjoy seeing friends, because I truly do love spending time with them all. What I perhaps don’t like, though, is how so much of this visitation is crammed into a span of 7 to 10 days.

I mean, fuck, there are 51 other weeks in the year to get together. Do we really have to shove and compress and overschedule our holidays to the point that it causes stress and exhaustion? Is it truly necessary?

It’s very possible that you’re reading this and feel the exact opposite way. In fact, I’m going to go out on a limb and assume you think I’m a massive grinch or a party pooper or something similar. And, maybe, just maybe, I might agree with you.

So, I have to admit, the forced socially distant holiday was pretty spectacular. The beach wasn’t exactly warm, the water was straight up fucking cold, and it started getting dark around 5 p.m. instead of near 9, but I got to hang out tons with my wife and daughter and we weren’t rushing around from place to place like a trio of rabid Santa Clauses trying to deliver last-minute gifts.

I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

One of the things I managed to do during this getaway was watch Bad Religion’s third Decades show featuring a unique setlist from the aughts. (In case you missed it *cough*likely*cough* they released four unique virtual shows, one show for each of the four decades they’ve been together, the 80s, 90s, 00s, and 10s.) And a couple weeks before this show, I caught The Bouncing Souls virtual Home for the Holidays show, which was straight-up spectacular.

Watching these concerts has been refreshing in a way I didn’t expect. For example, prior to watching them, I haven’t been a fan of watching bands or musicians perform on TV. It’s never been my thing. I’d rather put an album on the stereo and listen rather than sit down and watch. (Is that a thing people still say, “the stereo”? Good lord, I’m old.)

Now, though, after having not been to a show since at least March, I’m super grateful for the escape that these virtual concerts have provided. It’s not normal, but it’s an abnormal I can embrace. At least for now. At least until my favorite bands start touring again. And maybe even longer.

Why longer? Well, this question ties back to the whole socially distanced holiday thing I brought up at the start of this blog. I want to throw something by you and get your thoughts: Remember pre-pandemic, when it was time for an evening out? I don’t know about you, but I can tell you a little thing about me, something you may have already guessed: Very often I was the guy who just did NOT want to leave the house. More often than not, my anxiety would build up and I’d just be like…ugh, I really don’t feel like having to do this tonight. I really don’t want to go. And sometimes I wouldn’t. I’d make excuses and wouldn’t go, disappointing people along the way.

At times, this tendency of mine would show up in extreme ways. The end-of-year work party? Yeah, I’m the guy who has felt so awkward that I’ve shown up to the main party, always held at a hotel ballroom, only to disappear to the hotel bar or lobby until I figured that it was time to head back before being missed. I’m the guy whose anxiety gets the best of him so badly that very often the only reason I show up for big group events is because I know I’m expected to. When this happens, I’m freaking the fuck out on the inside and wanting to be anywhere else but where I’m standing. I eventually calm down, and I’m not sure if anyone has ever picked up on the extreme level of uncomfortableness I often feel, but it’s a thing.

The worst of it, at least for me, is when I’m at a thing with lots of people and find myself by myself, because that means I need to find a group of people to insert myself into. I need to be the person who walks up to a group that’s already in mid-conversation and stand there waiting for someone to move over six inches, to invite me in, all the while hoping to be accepted.

Now, let me say this: Rational Will, the Will writing this blog entry, realizes that 99% of the time this is not a concern I should have. It just isn’t. I think it’s fair to say that people generally like me and I get along with almost everyone. I know that. That doesn’t mean, however, that in the moment before I’m about to step up to a group I’m any less anxious about the situation.

Ugh. When you’re 48, you should be better at life than this.

Now, let’s take that anxiety and add in a year or 18 months of NOT really being able to go out. A year of not forcing myself into uncomfortable social situations. A year of limited isolation.  I don’t know about you, but I can already see how I’m going to struggle when things go back to normal. I have social anxiety. I have imposter syndrome. And the past year has allowed those personal attributes to stay hidden and unchallenged.

For as much as I say I can’t wait to go out and see people again, to mingle and socialize, I’m curious what my actions will show. I rarely feel 100% comfortable socially because I always fight the feeling that I don’t quite fit in with those around me. It’s a character flaw that I’ve never gotten over, and it’s one that has also convinced me to stay at home when I know I should go out. And while I don’t know this for sure, I assume it’ll have gotten worse when it’s time to enter the world at large again.

And I know I’m not alone.

For now, it’s not something I’m overly worried about, despite the 1200 words that preceded this sentence. It’s a flaw I know I need to address, and maybe typing this out and sharing it with the world is the first step to correcting it. We’ll see. Until then, I’m going to hunker down, wait out the winter, and anticipate the arrival of spring and its blooms. In 2021, all those new blooms may contain more meaning than they have in quite a long time.

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