Reflecting on loneliness one year into the pandemic

As the somber one-year anniversary of lockdowns related to COVID-19 rolled around this week, I couldn’t help but reflect on this crazy year…and I started to feel down on myself. Really, I should just be grateful to have survived the year. But of course, I couldn’t help but dwell on the fact that I didn’t handle the pandemic as well as I felt I should have.

Despite all the advice that has been shared about how important it is to connect with friends and family virtually during times of social distancing, I let my social anxiety get the best of me. I rarely turned down an invitation to attend a Zoom happy hour or to chat with a family member, but I rarely initiated them.

I had started a new job shortly before the pandemic and had already been struggling to connect with my coworkers. When the pandemic hit, I retreated farther into my shell at work and didn’t make much of an effort to get to know anyone.

I attended a few virtual meet-ups here and there, but I often made the excuse that I was too Zoom-fatigued or too anxious to attend. When I did go to one and it was super awkward, I would avoid them for weeks after. I also don’t have social media (and didn’t have a blog until this year), so connecting with people online is a pretty foreign concept to me…

It doesn’t help to dwell on the past. Instead, I am trying to see it as a learning experience. I need to accept that we were all going through a massive trauma this past year, and my reaction to that was to retreat into my own head. It took a year, but I am finally popping out.

I can do something different going forward. I still live far away from home in a new city with no friends. Even though I still face anxiety at the thought of reaching out to old friends and about making new friends, I am determined to take baby steps. These feelings have been brewing lately and are why I chose March as my month to focus on building up more of a community. It is scary, but I know it is something I need to do.

So far, my month of building community has been slow going. Unfortunately, I have had a bit of an exhausting month at work. I am also interviewing for a new job, which includes hours of prepping and being “on” for video interviews.  This hasn’t left me much energy to get out there and socialize.

So far, I have started by following other people’s blogs and commenting on them. It has been really cool to find likeminded people writing about similar topics. I also reactivated my Facebook, removed my last name, and joined a few private groups. For years, I have been loyally following a few podcasts, and they always talk about how they have great communities in private groups on Facebook, where people give each other advice. I finally decided I need to bite the bullet and reactivate my account.

In terms of the community I am looking for, I want to meet more people who are living unconventionally, who don’t just want to climb the corporate ladder. I have found a lot of this in the intentional living and frugality spaces. The “slow FI” community also appeals to me. Additionally, anyone who is vulnerable and writes about mental health is very inspirational to me.

I have no idea if any of these online efforts will yield real connection for me… honestly, I am a bit skeptical. But this year is an experiment after all, and I won’t know until I try!

Source: https://themighty.com/2017/10/memes-social-anxiety/

I have continued to attend a book club meet-up, and am looking for more meet-ups with like-minded people. During the beginning of the pandemic, I thought I would just wait until it was over to try to make friends in my new city. But as it has gone on and on and my loneliness has grown, I realized I can’t keep putting it off.

Lastly, I want to make more of an effort to reach out to old friends to initiate video or phone calls. I don’t know why I have anxiety around this. These are people I feel so comfortable seeing in person. I haven’t set any up yet, but I started today with a baby step of sending a group text to some old high school friends letting them know I miss them and hope they are doing well.

Taking these small steps has been good for me. I am excited to see what will come of my efforts to connect with new people online, to meet new friends in my area, and to reconnect with old friends.

Have you struggled with loneliness or social anxiety during the pandemic? How are you feeling about the one-year anniversary of social distancing? I hope everyone is doing well out there!

-M

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