It’s not surprising that the rules of social distancing and lockdown in force since March should sound like a death knell for Mohitey. It has been no cakewalk for those inclined to give boisterous parties a wide berth either. Ask Natasha Wilson. A lawyer heading the legal team at a startup, she describes herself as someone born to live in a lockdown. “I cook all my meals, I like staying at home and I used to work from home for a week or so before all this,” says the 31-year-old, who describes herself as someone who likes being by herself. Spending entire weekends at home was not unusual. Yet when the lockdown kicked in, it started getting to her. “There are days when I am just straight up upset and wonder how much longer I can do this,” says Wilson, who lives alone in her apartment in Bengaluru, which completed another lockdown last week.
As the memes of March would have told you, the pandemic-induced curbs were supposed to have ushered in the age of the introvert. Avoid socialising and stay at home? That’s a skill introverts will tell you they have perfected to a fine art. After all, they cherish their downtime and prefer minimally stimulating environments, while extroverts thrive on energy from spending time with other people. But like so much else, the pandemic has upended some of these notions.
Pre-Lockdown: Enjoyed spending time alone
Now: Misses meeting other people
If Wilson is missing hosting people at her flat and the physical presence of others, for Mohitey, it has been a chance to spend time with herself, something she had not really tried before. “I became calmer, mentally. I realised that I needed that time to myself,” she says. In all seriousness, she adds: “I realised that introverts also have a good life.” While the lockdown has been tough across the board, the challenges might differ somewhat for extroverts and introverts and those in between. “Introverts might prefer being indoors and socialising less, but they too miss their routines and going out. On top of that is the idea that they should not be affected by social distancing because they are introverts. They ask, ‘Shouldn’t I like being at home?’” says clinical psychologist Abisha Fernandes. The difference, she tells them, is that this not a situation they were choosing to be in or they had control over. We might call this the “new normal” but all of this is still something we are getting used to, says Fernandes.
For extroverts and those in between, it has also been a question of finding their rhythm online through virtual events, while combating Zoom fatigue. Apart from back-to-back video calls for work, there are Zoom parties, virtual concerts and quizzes.
Pre-Lockdown: Had hectic weekends of quizzing, meeting friends
Now: Feels Zoom calls are taking a toll
Sai Ganesh, a marketing executive and dedicated quizzer, has been organising an online quiz called “India Wants to Know” every fortnight with his friends, instead of the pub quizzes he used to host. While he counts himself lucky that quizzing has taken an online route, it’s still not quite the same. “I miss the high-fiving, the applause, the banter — quizzing is not just about answering questions,” he says. The numerous Zoom calls are also beginning to take a toll as they don’t completely satisfy his social cravings. “I think virtual socialising is an empty promise. I don’t think the platforms are designed for socialising. You miss out on reactions, the non-verbal cues,” says the 35-year-old.
In fact, dodging the barrage of invites for video calls and virtual events has become the pandemic version of real-life no-shows for those who need their downtime. “Instead of regular calls or texts, everyone wants to do video calls. I’m not a big fan,” says Wilson. Pooja Sahani, a diversity and inclusion consultant, agrees. “I choose to do very little socialising online. I prefer one-on-one calls,” she says. But in the coaching sessions she conducts for executives, a shared concern she has heard voiced across personality types is the need for physical touch in some form. “Someone who’s an introvert told me that while they feel as if they have been preparing for this their entire life, it has been quite disorienting to not be able to hug or shake hands with anyone,” says Sahani. Sneha Arora, a fashion designer in Kolkata, who identifies as an introvert and was quite comfortable not socialising for three months, says this has gone on for too long. “I really want to meet my friends and hug them,” says the 35-year-old.
The absence of physical events, though, has meant less FOMO (fear of missing out) all around. “There are no real parties, so there is nothing to miss out on!” says Mohitey, who admits to being a lot less stressed now. Much of this, she says, is temporary since there is nothing quite like the adrenaline rush of physical parties and face-to-face encounters. As soon as lockdown rules were eased in Mumbai, Mohitey shot off to Pune to meet a new friend whom she had met at a virtual event. But she says she plans to lead a more balanced life whenever the world returns to normal.
Fernandes, the psychologist, says people have been finding ways to cope and have shown a kind of resilience. This ties in with two recent studies by psychologists conducted among university students in the US, which analysed whether social connections declined in the pandemic. The authors were surprised by the resilience of both groups and the high feelings of social connections which remained, according to a report in The Washington Post. Wilson says having a busy work schedule and incorporating a structure to her day have helped her cope with the extended isolation. So has getting a tattoo (while being careful about taking precautions) of her favourite phrase from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, “Don’t Panic.” It was, she says, one of her only two outings of the last four months. “I think the pandemic made me do it! I felt as if it was now or never,” she adds, breaking into laughter.