I know more people, including myself, who have had one of the covid variants, or currently have it, than at any other time during the two-year pandemic. This is coinciding with the end of mask mandates, the opening of all social and event venues with no capacity restrictions, and encouragement from our business leaders and politicians to go forth and live normally. For encouragement, if you’re over 65 or compromised there will be a second booster available soon. The conspiracy theorist within me is certain the short-lived nature of immunity is a ploy by the drug manufacturers. They learned it from the planned obsolescence strategy of our tech companies.

I still feel naked and vulnerable without a mask. I’m gradually abandoning my defensive posturing on the street as I wrestle with the unconscious tendency to turn away from people and hold my breath. I’m noticing smiles, bleached white teeth and at times the puffy lips of emergent women. I’m back to the cosmetic counter to refresh my own makeup stash, after having combed magazines and fashion blogs to ensure that I am up to date in my selections. The freedom of fresh air and full faces is comforting.

The most significant challenge for me in this emancipation is accessing my social energy and willingness to engage. After months of time alone with intermittent intimate gatherings, I am conscious of the mental and emotional potency required in group settings.

As regulators and scientists insisted upon various forms of withdrawal and isolation, I tucked comfortably into my natural power grid. Extroverts generate energy by being with people – feeling the surge in large groups. Alone time for them leads to depletion. Introverts expend their voltage in social situations. The larger the forum, the greater the output. Solitude is essential for a recharge.

Only through deep self reflection, guided by recovery and maturity, do I realize that I tend towards introversion. Through my teens and much of my adult life, my gas was alcohol. Along with the false sense that I was the life of the party and an adept mingler, it fueled my perception that being alone was scary and unnatural. Constant motion, constant people, constant grasping – the foundations of my mantra.

Years later a wise and trusted friend accused me of being an introvert with “well developed” social skills. Looking and acting the part far beyond my own experience of exhaustion. My father’s voice – “we have to get the show on the road” along with my mother’s full speed ahead (all day) and dead stop (scotch glass in hand) in the evening required a full rewire of my brain and self image. I needed to find the sweet spot between my being and my doing.

Spending time in the forced confines of the past 25 months has given me the opportunity to examine my communal preferences. I now accept that my social capital is a finite asset. I now accept that I am a connector with individuals – that it is futile to expect or attempt a fusion in groups. Learning to go with the flow of the collective is challenging for me. My fragile ego fears the invisibility cloak.

My genuine desire to share a kinship and linkage with my clan is teaching me when and how to show up. And when it’s ok not to.

At least, that is my experience.