“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”
Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
Dickens’ famous beginning to A Tale of Two Cities has always confused me. When I first read the book, I don’t remember how many times I reread the first paragraph, trying to understand it without any success, but I do remember clearly that I eventually skipped it without figuring out what it means. Dickens’ wisdom was too sophisticated for me to understand back then. Over the years and after different situations, his words of wisdom finally hit me. And I can actually refer to many situations where the best and the worst co-existed side by side.
I’m talking here about how the pandemic was equally good and bad. By the way, this article is not about the virus because everybody, including myself, is sick of it already. I’m just going to describe its impact on my sanity and wellbeing, and get to what it taught me about myself.
First things first, I’m an introvert. I’ve always known that about myself. I enjoy spending time alone. I can spend days on end reading, writing, and binge-watching TV series without feeling bored, and without feeling the need to communicate with people. You can say the lockdown was sort of a dream come true for me (without the fear of the virus, of course – something about that later). I started working from home. No outings were organized. There was no pressure of having to spend time with people because everyone was not supposed to be out and about. Lockdown was a great time for me to unwind and relax. It was as if the whole world embraced my introverted nature. It was a world finally designed to meet the needs of introverts. It was a vacation where I stopped running around and the world took a deep breath and stopped running as well.
Nothing lasts forever. I call the first few months the honeymoon phase of the pandemic. My happily-ever-after changed dramatically after a while. It turns out too much of my introverted life-style wasn’t good for me. I ended up feeling so lonely, isolated, and stressed. My introvert’s heaven was transformed into a nightmare.
It turns out being left to my own thoughts wreaked havoc on me. I suffer from anxiety, always has. I sometimes call anxiety my “overactive imagination.” I can’t remember exactly at which point during the pandemic my anxiety levels soared beyond control. I was annoyed and angry (still am – by the way) because at the beginning of the pandemic I was under the impression that everyone was going to be as anxious as I was, and eventually follow the rules. It’s a deadly virus. We should all be social distancing, washing our hands, and freaking out (maybe not). It was the first time for me to notice that people’s reactions to risk and danger differed tremendously. My spirits were high for a long time, but eventually despair started to creep on me. What defeated me wasn’t fear, but my feeling of being isolated (more mentally) than physically. I couldn’t really share my feelings with anyone because I was the odd one out, still following the rules. I felt that I was still imprisoned by the pandemic and everyone was already out and about. I was scared of bringing it home. I was crazy about cleaning. Deep down, I knew it was the right thing to do. I still do. But it seemed that I was on my own, and it drove me crazy. I’m not here to say who should have done what? Far from it! I’ve done my fair share of stressing, already.
Stressing about what everyone else was doing has made me realize I was a control freak. I believe my anxiety levels soared during the pandemic because I wasn’t feeling in control. I’m a person who plans everything ahead of time. I check the weather forecast to make sure my clothes are suitable. I take no chances. I like to be prepared. I was watching this TV show where there was a scientist who wouldn’t launch a rocket because of a tiny probability of weather change. His boss decided to go on with the experiment and when asked why he went on with it, he said the scientist took no chances. Without a little risk, there wouldn’t be any progress. There were some clouds and he brought an umbrella. He took no risks at all. It was crippling him. It felt like he was describing me. So, losing control was crippling and nasty. And this is what the pandemic was about. The plans of everybody on the planet crumpled. 2020 made it clear that being a control freak was neither healthy nor successful. It was simply not feasible. I can’t control what people do. I can’t control the outcome of the pandemic. No one planned this year.
I realized that introversion and being a control freak were my recipe for disaster. During the pandemic, there was a spotlight on those traits. It was like I finally figured out what triggered my stress and fears. I discovered there was such a thing as a healthy dose to introversion, and getting out of my shell sometimes can be really healthy. I realized I needed to be less of a control freak. I only needed to do what I can. Life can never be planned, and stress won’t prevent misfortunes.