By Stella Joseph-Jarecki (Enquiries: stellamusicwriter.wordpress.com)
It’s 8.24pm on a Sunday night and I’m feeling miserable, sitting in an empty apartment. A friend has just flaked out on calling me for the third time this week. Over the past few days, I’ve been brushed off by other friends and have even attempted to find some good conversation on Tinder, before remembering the kind of conversationalists who use Tinder.
The hissy fit I am throwing is the culmination of a particularly stressful month. For obvious reasons the first half of 2020 has been unusual, tiring and stressful for everyone. I have been particularly lucky to have had stable employment throughout this pandemic, and the kind of office job which was relatively simple to convert online. The things that made it challenging were the things that would have existed for anyone sharing a flat: I have a very small bedroom and live with two housemates who are also working from home.
The main reason I’m feeling so sad and aggravated is that my handful of fabulous, amazing, independent best friends are scattered across Melbourne. As much as I passionately love these people, they are pretty flaky when it comes to returning my messages. I’m all the more conscious of this because I am currently single (have been for a while, to be honest), I don’t live with close friends, and I don’t have a family relation close to my age I can confide in.
I’ve seen some optimistic stuff on the internet that makes maintaining friendships sound so easy: “Check in with your mates and incorporate Zoom trivia into your routine!”. But the truth is, if your friend has a partner or siblings they are particularly close to, you probably haven’t heard from them lately. After all, the natural human response during times of stress is to limit extraneous effort and concentrate your energy on the day-to-day matter of survival. You maintain the relationships that are the most immediate and nourishing: those with your family members, your partner, the people you see every day. Anything beyond that is an activity.
I don’t blame anyone for that. I understand very well that not everyone is as socially motivated as I am. Introverted people actually need time alone to recharge and maintain their mental health.
By the same token, I am learning to stop feeling annoyed at myself for the way my personality functions. I hate sounding so whiny and affected by others! I hate that other people have the power to make me so sad. Or more precisely, I hate that long periods of not seeing my friends has such a massive effect on my mood and energy levels. I may be an extroverted person, but I am not particularly pushy. Calling or texting my friends more than two days in a row feels obscene.
It’s a common anecdote from research studies that seeing a loved one’s face or hearing their voice can instantly produce endorphins. Hugs are scientifically proven to lower your blood pressure and level of stress hormone norepinephrine, and encourage the production of happy hormone oxytocin.
This pandemic is a lonely time. It’s so important that we keep tabs on our loved ones right now, as the last few months have been filled with persistent, inescapable stress and existential confusion. I keep thinking of those who are trapped in difficult or abusive relationships and are unable to leave, and those who were going through a tough time mentally before all of this pandemic stuff happened.
I’ll leave you with my parting thoughts. You can have an independent personality without necessarily having an introverted one. You can look after your own health and your own problems, while still craving human contact. It’s not only normal, but something that can help you build your own happiness.
I’ve just accepted it. I’m hard-wired to be part of a pack, not a lone wolf.