A Year Like No Other: Lessons for the New Year
I’ve always considered myself to be both a very independent person and a very introverted one.
When I was in my early-mid 20s I was especially entrenched in this view of myself, feeling like I needed to prove that I could handle everything on my own and that showing vulnerability to others was a weakness or at least something to be avoided if possible. I stayed reserved even with close friends and family and I viewed that as a strength. But it was lonely and as I entered my late 20s (which quickly turned into my 30s), I realized I needed to loosen up my view of myself and of how I interacted with people. I had learned early on in adulthood that life doesn’t always go the way you think it’s going to go, but it still took me a number of years to learn that putting rigid boundaries around identity and experience is usually more about control than about the truth. Becoming an adult was scary and feeling like I knew exactly who I was and how I should be interacting with the world gave me a way to deal with that fear and discomfort. But as I grew older, I started to be able to see that such rigid boundaries are more harmful than helpful, and that community and connection are both important and accessible to me.
I’m now 33 and, like all of us, coming up on the end of a very strange and difficult year. I have been working remotely since March and, while I spent the first half of quarantine living with a good friend, I moved to my own place in July and now live alone. I’m very lucky to still be able to see a couple of close friends who are in my quarantine pod, but I’m still struggling greatly with the isolation and I have to admit, it surprised me. Despite my lessons learned about identity and about myself, I still went into quarantine thinking things like “this won’t be that hard, I’m so introverted” and “well, it’s not like I had much of a social life to begin with.” I also intellectually know that being introverted doesn’t mean you don’t like people, it has to do with what draws on your energy versus what replenishes it (I highly recommend the book Quiet by Susan Cain for anyone interested in reading more about this). But I was still surprised by how difficult the past 9 months have been and how much I miss certain things and people.
The beginning of quarantine felt a bit novel and of course we had no idea at that point how long it would last, but as the weeks and then months dragged on, the novelty wore off and my mental health kept getting worse. I have been struggling with mental illness for many years so this was not a super surprising development, especially given the circumstances. But it still took me months to fully accept and acknowledge how difficult things were for me. I kept going back to the fact that I was lucky to still have a job, and I was lucky to not have the stress of childcare, and I was already super introverted and anti-social before COVID, so how bad could it really be for me? But as I grew more and more unhappy, I finally took stock of all the things I was now missing in my life and the connections were what stood out the most. I’m not able to see numerous friends, I’m not able to visit family members in other states, I’m not able to go on dates and meet new people, I even miss going into the office and seeing my coworkers every day. And even with the few people I am able to see, I’m constantly worried about not being careful enough and infecting someone I love with a deadly virus. Just writing those words out here makes me feel ridiculous for not allowing myself to admit how hard it has been. And once I allowed myself to fully acknowledge this fact, I was again forced to reevaluate my identity and the role connection and community play in my life. I knew that my close friends and family were an important part of my life, but I’ve been struck by the fact that I also clearly need new experiences and new connections, and that I greatly value connections with people outside of my close inner circle like my coworkers and neighbors. One of the biggest lessons I will take away from this experience is how much the threads of community and connection are woven into our society and our every day lives, even when we don’t realize it. Even when we consider ourselves introverts who don’t need lots of connections or social engagements or community ties.
Of course, even though 2020 is coming to an end, the pandemic is not and we’re facing a tough winter in so many different ways. Despite my struggles this year, I am immensely grateful for all the ways I am privileged, especially having a steady income, a safe place to live, and the ability to still connect with my loved ones, even if often it’s on a screen instead of in person. The upside of having our in-person social connections temporarily severed or limited is we get to be creative about how we create new and different kinds of community and connection. Getting to plan an all virtual Skill Set retreat has been a sometimes tough but also very exciting challenge. And knowing that I am working to keep that kind of community in my life is a huge comfort in this time of separation and loneliness.
Whether in person or online, Rowe has always been a place where I feel deeply connected to both myself and to others. And with an all virtual retreat, we’re excited to have an even more varied and diverse group of participants and facilitators. So, whether you consider yourself an introvert, extrovert, or somewhere in between, come join us in January to connect across screens and build a new community together!
India Adams lives in Boston and works at Oxfam America, a global non-profit fighting poverty and inequality. She is passionate about human rights, gender justice, and creating social and political change alongside many other incredible activists. India graduated from Boston University in 2010 with a degree in International Relations and received her Master's Degree in International Peace and Conflict Resolution from American University in 2015. She is excited to bring her experiences to co-directing Skill Set and continue the work to empower youth and create change through the magic of Rowe.