Like Bernie Sanders’ mittens, pandemic fatigue has now become a stale meme that needs to be retired. Every day brings new complaints in the media about the emotional stress of the never-ending lockdowns. There is always grumbling about the perceived irrationality of public-health regulations. Then there are the testy rants about politicians who beg us to carry on with our reluctant self-denial while more than a few of them do otherwise. From those who are fortunate enough to be able to work from home or study online, there is incessant grouching about living on Zoom. Pandemic fatigue.
Remember this catchy tweet from the early days of the pandemic? “Your grandparents were asked to fight World War II. You are being asked to stay home, sit on your couch and watch NetFlix”. Unfair? Of course. There is much more to surviving this pandemic than sitting at home and watching movies. Many have lost jobs. Savings are being drained. Household debt is climbing. Businesses have folded. Many will not re-open. There are undeniable hardships. Food banks are being emptied. Households that were getting by on multiple incomes are now having to limp by on one income -- if they are lucky. The pain is real. But for introverts like me, there is also private jubilation. We can now mutter, “At last, everyone else has to live like us.”
We introverts are not naturally gregarious and socially skilled like those loud, domineering extroverts we can never be. For me, this predisposition led to a lifetime of faking it. Daydreaming. Making it up. In elementary school, I would retreat into a fantasy world by telling myself stories rather than work on math assignments. These stories were often elaborate adventures in which I always played a heroic role, defying all odds and vanquishing wicked enemies in mortal combat. Whenever repetitive work or mathematical concentration was required, my imagination would kick into high gear. Time would disappear. I could withdraw for hours at a time. These ruminations served me well as a young reader. They also helped me avoid math homework.
In university, I longed for 24-hour libraries, where I could hide from my loneliness in an imagined aura of academic companionship. In a library, we introverts could be alone with others. I went to the libraries for as long as they were open. Not so much to study. Just so I could not be alone. The fog of intense introversion began to lift in my 20’s thanks to summer jobs and wilderness travel. I gradually discovered I did not always have to live in my imagination.
Not that being a career introvert means enduring a life sentence of solitary suffering; many of us have partners and families. Many introverts have very active imaginations that lead to compatible careers based on individual creativity. Being an introvert means that whenever daily work becomes dull or unbearable, there is always somewhere else to go.
This pandemic has compelled everyone to live like an introvert. ‘Alone time’ has become our new social norm. As a student, I was racked by feelings of loneliness. Now it no longer matters that I am on no one’s “A” list. Everyone stays at home every night of the week. The pandemic has become a magnifying mirror that reflects all our flaws. For extroverts, the pandemic exposes their dependence on others and their need for the applause that comes with living life at centre-stage. For us introverts, the distress of these extroverts is a source of smug satisfaction; our resentment of these drama stars has now become a source of delicious schadenfreude* (the joy evoked by the pain of other’s suffering). This pandemic is the moment for us introverts to stand tall. For once we are the envied role models. Now is the time to strut our stuff. Hear us (oh, so discretely) roar!
Bill Templeman is a writer, podcaster and consultant in Peterborough, Ontario.