COVID-19 restrictions have impacted lives worldwide. Notably, travel and distancing restrictions have wreaked havoc on our social interactions. I didn’t really struggle with social anxiety before the pandemic, but now, with the abrupt switch back to online, I find myself in a difficult place.
When classes first went virtual, I loved it. I know that’s an unpopular opinion, but I was able to dress comfortably and look how I wanted without feeling judged. I’ve always cared a little too much about how I look to others, and online classes eased that concern. We were all going through the same thing, united in navigating a new world.
Now, I’ve grown tired of that world. A world that was once exciting is now exhausting. What changed?
Lonely bubbles and empty shops
When the words “unprecedented times” were plastered on every news release, we helped each other. We delivered groceries to people in need. We supported small businesses. We made lots of banana bread. Now? Now we are trapped in our own bubbles.
What felt like the light at the end of the tunnel now feels like a trick. I used to wear a mask with my grandparents in mind, now I wear it to hide my acne.
In the summer of 2020, I was back to work after a three-month layoff. I was happy to see my coworkers, but from six-feet away it wasn’t the same. When holiday shopping time came around, my retail coworkers were nervous about crowds. We ‘d all forgotten what a crowded mall felt like. When I worked my five-hour Black Friday shift, I saw two customers. Not only did the lack of customers destroy our wallets but it destroyed spirits.
2021 and the panic attacks
In 2021, we saw a glimpse of normal. Restaurants, malls and airports were all busy again, and I didn’t know how to act.
My first panic attack of 2021 happened while I was getting ready to hang out with my friends from school in September. I had already seen them in the classroom, but something about being outside that safe school setting made me incredibly anxious.
I looked at myself in the mirror and all I could see was the weight I’d put on since 2020. Five pounds looks a lot heavier when you’re upset about it. I knew no one would care, or even notice, but it’s all I could think about the whole night. I could no longer hide my abdomen behind a desk.
My second panic attack of 2021 was in November on one of the first holiday shopping days. I walked down the hallway of Halifax Shopping Centre on my way to work and had to maneuver around people as they browsed store windows.
I tried to distance myself, but I couldn’t. I hadn’t seen a crowd like that indoors since 2019. I’d never been claustrophobic until that day. I felt like people were breathing down my neck as I shoved past them.
Eventually, I adapted to the change in pace, the crowds and people seeing my extra five pounds. Then, Omicron happened.
The Omicron loneliness relapse
When the Omicron wave turned things online again, I found a new concern – showing my face without a mask. Of course, I had been without a mask many times during the pandemic at restaurants, movie theatres, and the gym, but this feels different.
I fight the urge to put makeup on for my 9 a.m. classes. Sometimes I turn off my camera because I don’t want to be seen.
In-person, I don’t have that option, so I don’t think about it as much. Online, I get caught up thinking about my appearance to classmates, not from a place of vanity, but from a place of social anxiety.
My issue with adapting to new socialization isn’t talking to people, it’s being in front of people.
I worry about how I am perceived now more than ever. I feel like I’m painfully aware of my quirks, repeating to myself in my head, “Don’t be weird, look normal.”
It will get better. Soon. Omicron will subside just like the previous variants. We’ll be back to our “new normal” in no time.
I just hope I can readjust to physically existing as smoothly as I did the first time.