The pandemic eased my social anxiety. I'm scared now that the world is reopening
I want the world to open back up, but I don't know if I can cope with being around people again
This is a First Person column by Crystal MacCormac, a medical secretary in Charlottetown. For more information about CBC's First Person stories, please see the FAQ.
Before the pandemic hit, I was somewhat antisocial. I planned my shopping and chores in one day so I could avoid crowds multiple times a week. To-do lists were my life and I compiled them throughout the week so nothing would be missed on errand day. Large crowds frustrated me, so I tried to avoid them and the guaranteed annoyance that would remain with me for hours afterward.
I did not visit friends or family often. I didn't have gatherings in my home. I mostly stayed to myself.
Don't get me wrong — it's not that I don't love my family and friends or people in general. I am actually a compassionate and empathetic person who typically puts everyone else first. However my social anxiety was triggered by both large groups and in smaller groups where I felt pressure to keep conversation flowing. I also dislike the uncertainty of not knowing who might be at a certain function or what the plans might be.
So when the pandemic hit, I finally had a legitimate excuse to reduce social contact.
Running errands became easier, too. With fewer people out, the option of curbside pick-up, contactless payments and more delivery options, I was in my comfort zone — even outside the house.
There was no frustration from the crowds, no road rage while zipping around town, very little need to interact with people in general.
That old anxiety is rushing back
But now, as the P.E.I. opens up, mask mandates are ending, and tourists are returning (possibly in droves), my anxiety is reaching all new levels.
For someone like me, who had social anxiety before the pandemic, it's like I am going through it for the first time all over again. It has been such a peaceful two years anxiety-wise, and now it's washing over me again — all at once instead of it building up over time like it did before the pandemic.
I am once again struggling with going shopping, getting gas, doing laundry in a laundromat, going to sporting events — even just going for a walk around my neighbourhood has all that anxiety flooding back stronger than before. Or maybe it's just that my tolerance and coping mechanisms aren't as strong as they used to be.
Sure, some things like grocery pick-up will still be an option, but most other things are slowly shifting to what will be our new normal.
But can I handle it? Can I learn to navigate daily activities again? What can I do if I falter, or if I can't accomplish these things on my own? Will I need medication again? At what point do I seek help? Should I start the process now in case I can't get help in a timely manner?
And what about my husband who finally has a wife who he can do things with? Will he suffer? Will he be as patient with me as he was before?
I don't want to be the friend that never visits again. I don't want to be the family member who never attends functions again. I don't want to be the one that needs to shop alone so I don't yell at my husband from the frustration in crowds. But mostly, I don't want to stay home all the time anymore.
I'm ready, but I'm scared
I'm not saying I want the restrictions to continue. I trust the experts when they say we can do so safely.
That's when I remind myself of what I have.
I'm one of the lucky ones because I am not alone. I have a husband who stands by my side always. And yet it is still hard.
And as hard as the anxiety is for me, I realize the pandemic has been harder on everyone worldwide. People are feeling isolated, frustrated, pushed to their limits and beyond, stressed because of added responsibilities and pressures, and all with few to no people to support them or systems in place to help ease these burdens.
I want the world to open back up and the community I live in to become strong and united once again. I want to see people talking instead of arguing, letting go of the anger and frustration of the past two years. I want the healing to begin, families to reconnect, the economy to recover. And I want to see governments around the world return their focus to all of the issues that have been neglected or ignored because of the pandemic.
I am more than ready for restrictions to lift, but I am also nervous.
So I am going to fight my hardest — for myself and for who I want to be, to help others who might be in a similar position but don't have anyone to help them. I want to help ease the fear in others who suffer like I have. I want to, but can I?
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