Because Covid Social Paralysis is real AF…
Have you been spending the pandemic meditating, mastering yoga, eating right, exercising regularly, swearing off alcohol, losing weight, improving your mind and methodically ticking tasks off your decades-long To Do list?
Yeah, neither have I.
The media—including the hallowed New York Times itself—tells us that the pandemic is “winding down.” I don’t even really know what that means. That's because I can no longer remember what my life was like before the pandemic so I damn sure can’t visualize what it is going to look like after it. Like all of you, I have been forever changed by the last 21 months. And one of the things that has changed the most is the way I interact with other people. But it is only in the last few months that I have been able to successfully diagnose myself—I suffer from Covid Social Paralysis. You may, too. Here are the symptoms:
You’re sick of watching TV—don’t tell me how good the series is, because it doesn’t matter—and really need to do something different. But when a friend emails or texts you suggesting you actually do something different, you become highly annoyed at the intrusion and resent the need to answer them back.
The list of emails and texts that need answering sit in your in-boxes accumulating for days or more. And by the time you do answer, you feel so guilty at the late reply you answer too enthusiastically and in too much detail. This creates a communication chain that feeds and grows on itself like some sort of insatiable monster until you may ask yourself, “My God, what have I done?!” This, in turn, leads you to play David Byrne songs over and over until the neighbors intervene.
Even when you have the rare urge to reach out and contact someone, you become irrationally afraid that it might lead to regular contact and that just seems way beyond your capabilities by now. So you do nothing.
People you once saw weekly have now faded so thoroughly into the past you can barely remember their name, much less what they look like. You begin to wonder if you, too, are that forgettable.
You randomly hold not getting in touch with you against people you really didn't want to hear from all that much anyway—and you do this even though you’ve failed to contact them for the last year and a half.
You look at anyone who dares to suggest they might come visit you as a marauding invader who will most likely leave you exhausted and limp. This applies whether they want to come for a couple of hours or an entire week.
You find yourself looking forward to family activities that once drove you crazy because this is a group you can sit among without participating or contributing yet it still counts as interaction, which you cling to as evidence that you are not entirely antisocial. Yet.
When you finally do invite friends over, and they ask you what you’d like to do, the thought of sitting around and actually conversing never occurs to you. Instead, to your intense embarrassment, you suggest that you all watch TV together.
You become a vicious critic of books, TV shows and movies that fail to meet the impossibly high standards you have developed during the last year and a half. This judgmental attitude also extends to meals, television commercials, and small children.
You miss going out to your favorite bar but the thought of having to put on a bra and actually brush your hair is just too much to consider, never mind putting on makeup.
Even when you finally do go out to your favorite bar and end up having a great time, you arrive home exhausted from all of the people and noise and lights that surrounded you. You feel as if you’ve just spent three hours trapped in a pinball machine and start wondering what the cost of attending a silent retreat might be.
In short, you have become a grumpy old fart who vaguely resents the fact that other people have lives and, worse, that they have lives that aren’t exactly like yours.
Like I said: Covid Social Paralysis is real.
So what is the cure here?
Well, don’t look at me. Hell if I know. But I do have a few suggestions—and maybe you have some ideas to share as well? Here’s what I think and intend to do:
There should be a moratorium on any hurt feelings for not staying in touch during the pandemic. Like those glorious library forgiveness days—when you can return books you’ve had checked out since fourth grade without fear of fines—we should all look at the holiday season ahead as our chance to reach out to friends and family we have lost touch with over the pandemic. Also, no gifts, please! I think it's safe to say that we've all gone over our online buying budget for the year already.
I will accuse no one of disrespecting me, ignoring me or jilting me, nor will I accuse anyone of suffering from depression if they have not kept in touch with me. Seriously. Being human is probably the cause for their silence. None of us need an armchair diagnosis at this point.
Baby steps are good. I will judge no one who can only manage monosyllabic text replies. We are all doing the best we can. However, if I see one more smiley face emojii, please know that I will hunt you down.
I intend to sincerely make an effort to get back in touch with at least one good friend every week—wait, make that every month—from here on out. I will skip the abject apologies and instead dive right into finding out how they are doing and what their plans are once the effing pandemic is over.
I will quadruple the usual expected window for replying to my texts, emails or phone calls to ten days. By then, I will have forgotten why I contacted someone in the first place, which should take care of any lingering bad feelings on my part.
I will ask no one, “What have you been up to lately?” The answer would no doubt be embarrassing to us both. Instead I will ask, “What have you missed doing the most during the pandemic?” I will try not to sound as if this question is an invitation to jump my bones when I ask it. I will then seriously consider joining them in whatever activity they name. There are times when enabling someone is a good thing.
I will pledge not to try to organize any group get-togethers. I've pissed off people enough as it is. Getting together with one person will be considered an achievement, getting together with two people will be considered a great victory, and getting together with three or more people will absolve me from the need to engage in any other social interactions for at least the next month.
That’s all I’ve got. If you have any more symptoms to point out or suggested solutions about Covid Social Paralysis, please share them below. The struggle is real. Just remind me who you are, if you do. I can barely remember who I am. It’ll be a miracle if I remember you.