Now that covid-19 lockdown measures have been lifted in Canada, we’re lucky to enjoy the summer and even meet up with friends and family. But for many people, self-isolation was no piece of cake. Personally, I went through an emotional rollercoaster - and in the process, learned some important lessons about valuing other people’s and my own company. 

Introverts get lonely too

Looking back on the beginning of the lockdown, I remember that the first weeks were a dream come true. I was used to being in the lab and university for over twelve hours a day, I barely spent time in my apartment… and even when I was sleeping, research was on my head.  I needed to rest and to disconnect from the world. 

But as soon as I recovered my energy, I started to miss social interactions. This was a surprise to me, since I’ve always identified as an introvert. Suddenly I missed the cute guy from my gym who always said hello with a smile, the “good mornings” to my lab mates, my mentoring group of female scientists at McGill, and even the not-so-funny jokes of my advisor.

I started to miss social interactions.

My new routine was lonely. As an international student, I spent the quarantine without my family, and without roommates. The sporadic “how are you?” texts felt empty to me. I wondered more than once if the questions were genuine, and what would happen if I replied to those messages with something other than the casual and socially acceptable “I’m fine”. There were even days when I wondered who would notice first if something happened to me. 

In the midst of global uncertainty, my main worry was my lack of human connection - not the disease itself, and not even my PhD. It looked like everybody around me had a system to avoid loneliness. Many students went back to their homes, while others went to their best friend, girlfriend, or boyfriend’s house to spend the lockdown. And then there was me: alone.

Freedom from judgement

Days after days went by, and I got accustomed to my new abundance of free time, spent without any external distractions or judgement. Slowly, I noticed some changes in my mood. 

I became more enthusiastic and energetic. I started paying attention to the little things: something as small as the pleasant flavor of avocado could make me happy for the whole day. I not only kept, but actually improved my exercising routine. I started to play with my style, outfits, makeup, and hair. I dyed my hair different colors and had fun with removable tattoos. 

Suddenly, I reconnected with the things that made me happy - that made me feel like myself.  I felt free to explore myself. I started to dance again and even got my own pole. I challenged my fitness level. Somehow, I was more confident than ever before.

What had changed? In short, nobody else was around; therefore, the only opinion that mattered at the time was mine. I noticed that while seeking connection and a sense of belonging, I’d gotten used to hiding my “childish” and bubbling personality. Similarly, I was afraid of speaking my mind, because I didn’t always have the most popular opinions. 

I’m sure I’m not the only one to experience this. More than once, people have complimented my hair before saying something like, “I really want to dye my hair purple, but I’m afraid people will judge me”. Hair color or the way you dress may look like an irrelevant choice, but this fear also extends to more important life choices, such as the person you date, what you do for a living, or where you live. 

Connection and authenticity 

During the lockdown, I was reminded of the importance of friendships, and human connection in general. From an evolutionary point of view, we need other people to survive. On the other hand, I also remembered that the longest relationship we are destined to have is with ourselves. 

It’s normal to be scared of getting judged: judgement is part of human nature. However, it’s important to keep in mind that we don’t have to be liked by everyone or connect with everyone. For someone, we always will be too “something”: too childish, too boring, too immature, too lazy, too prude, too skinny, too fat, and so on. Those opinions should not prevent us from being vulnerable and expressing ourselves freely.

While being alone might be stressful, it gives us an opportunity to rediscover ourselves and value our own company. At the same time, it’s also ok to accept that we crave company, even as introverts. Now that the lockdown is over, I’m glad to be able to hang out with my friends again - without compromising my values or my true self.

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