It’s a strange time to be an introvert. When staying at home became a mandate instead of a questionable choice on a Friday night, it looked like our time had come. To flex our ability to not just tolerate, but actually enjoy, being alone. Yet, a study in October suggested that introverts were actually faring worse than extroverts both “emotionally and psychologically” during the pandemic. I don’t really think comparison is productive — I’m not interested in who has it worse. This blog post will simply discuss my experience with introversion during the coronavirus pandemic, and reflect on what we can learn about human diversity and the limitations of binaries.
In many ways it’s true — introversion has been a blessing. It can take some time for us to get bored of our own company, especially in comparison with our extroverted friends, making long periods of seclusion more bearable. But staying at home didn’t necessarily mean solitude or tranquility. Many introverts found themselves feeling a little suffocated in full households. Rather than withdrawing from social interaction, we were thrown into it 24/7.
Then there was the virtual socialising. The pressure to fill every silence; the insecurity that came with being able to see yourself on the screen the whole time. Ordinarily drained by social encounters, we had to navigate the unnatural dynamic of Zoom calls where only one person could speak at a time. We struggled to reach for excuses when we were ready to pack it in and hang up early in favour of Netflix.
And, naturally, more time alone meant more time on social media. But if it’s peace that introverts are after, often this really isn’t the place. Take Twitter, for example. An arena so crowded, so charged, and so full of noise. It’s dominated by users who are so sure of their views, so convinced they are right, and so keen to vilify the other side. As someone who can usually respect both camps in a debate, suddenly the world (already so distant in lockdown) felt increasingly hostile and unwilling to accommodate quietness or indecision.
This was something I struggled with; when you can’t leave the house, social media—with all its ugliness and distortion—becomes the world. Of course, this doesn’t change the fact that it was also a valuable lifeline. Like anybody else with a smartphone I was dependent on it for connectivity and community, while also striving to maintain a healthy detachment and recognition that it is not a true reflection of reality.
"A physical journey on the U1 marked a mental transition."
Next, we had to wrestle with online learning. Obviously, like everything else I’ve mentioned, this isn’t exclusively an introvert problem. But as someone who has never liked seminars, the ‘leave’ button is dangerous. It makes it all too easy to escape when the tutor, in an unduly chirpy voice, says “breakout rooms!” Online learning has also meant the entangling and obscuring of work and play. My bedroom is no longer a sanctuary from the stresses of university, but the epicentre.
The pandemic has made me realise just how much I relied on that gap between uni and home; the engagement and the withdrawal. A physical journey on the U1 marked a mental transition. My slippered shuffle from bed to desk, in a matter of seconds, can’t really compete. A friend suggested pulling up a blurry picture of the A46 on my laptop, rotating my desk chair 90 degrees, and plugging in earphones at the start of every morning. Perhaps somewhere between the twenty minute and two hour marks I could deliberately knock my head on the ceiling, frantically juggle a bag and travel cup, and mumble “cheers” to an imaginary surly driver.
Truthfully, I’ve found no solution. This is just how it is at the moment. But the coronavirus pandemic is exactly that — a historical moment. Temporary, but notable. It should trigger reflection and change on a number of levels, and the way we work in ordinary times has been pulled into the spotlight. My experience at university maps onto the workplace. Some people crave a return to office life with all its bustle and purpose. Others have relished a release from the stressful commute, which in turn has meant more sleep, heightened productivity, and time to actually eat breakfast.
"Whatever the appeal of the Myers-Briggs test, none of us can be pigeonholed into reductive categories."
Perhaps it’s a utopian fantasy that each individual should be in total control of their own reality. But what the pandemic has revealed, I think, is that there are some small steps that can be taken to make our everyday lives more customisable in the post-pandemic world, to suit differing needs and dispositions.
In May, Twitter announced that their employees would be able to work from home permanently — depending on their choice. It’s this emphasis on preference that I find so appealing. To give people more control wherever possible. To recognise that there is no one-size-fits-all. Not all introverts thrive in isolation, and not all extroverts would choose a chaotic office environment after trialling an alternative. Binaries like these and the stereotypes they breed risk missing the nuance that is there in reality.
Everybody is different. This is a cliché which we all know fundamentally. Still, there is very much a universal model of success. High-flying career, packed social calendar, long-term relationship, endless hobbies, and side projects. It seems to be expected that we all pack as much hustle and as many people as we can into any one day. The lockdowns have alleviated this pressure somewhat. We have all been able to reflect on what’s important to us, what’s authentic and what’s not, and what we each want to prioritise.
For me as an introvert, lockdown has proven disorientating and confusing; I grew to resent what I had always thought I craved. But this has prompted consideration of the complexity and flexibility of individual needs. Whatever the appeal of the Myers-Briggs test, none of us can be pigeonholed into reductive categories. It is time we stop trying.
Written by Rebecca Norris. Edited by Aada Orava and Robert Fletcher.
The views and opinions presented in this article belong to Rebecca Norris — not TEDxWarwick.
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