Months of isolation have led writer Megan Murray to reassess how she defines her identity, which had revolved around an incredibly active social life, something she’s lost over lockdown. Here, she explores how the pandemic has challenged her sense of self.
Have you ever done one of those personality tests? The kind a new workplace might encourage you to fill out; it explains what you’re motivated by, how you respond to situations, and essentially, what kind of person you are.
Within the spectrum of colours, adjectives, numbers and personality types, I’m always assigned the same characteristics: I value short term happiness (I’ll never deny myself the pleasures of life for a long-term goal) and I’m big on relationships. When you translate this into real life it means I want to have all the fun, right now, and with the people I love.
I’ve lived in London for the last 10 years, arguably the most exciting, bustling city on the planet. Throughout that time I’ve never been one for early nights. With so many amazing things to do, my schedule is typically booked three weeks in advance as I’ve tried to cram in as many pop-ups, immersive experiences and exhibitions as possible.
Over this time I’ve also studied, lived in seven homes and worked at four companies, which has meant collecting a glittering treasure chest of wonderful friends to maintain relationships with.
These things combined have made me a millennial version of Jim Carrey in Yes Man, fervently pushing myself to keep in touch with former house mates, university peers, work colleagues and school friends, while also being in the know about where to go and what to do. Even when it’s meant pushing myself a little too hard.
My job as a lifestyle writer also involves finding out about cool things to do, which further cements socialising and going out as ‘my thing’. Over time I’ve become a caricature of Little Miss Busy, with messages from my friends either reading: “Are you free in the next month?” or “So, I’m going on a date next weekend, where shall I go?”
But, I never realised just how much of my identity was wrapped up in these parts of my life, until lockdown happened and it was all taken away.
Like many people, I imagine, at first I saw isolation as a break. Now, after four months of no socialising and an empty calendar, I’ve realised how much I prided myself on always having something to do or somewhere to go. I now register that it gave me something to talk about and affirmed me as someone who had an interesting life.
I’ve also struggled not having my friendships to energise me and thrive off. I moved to Brighton to be with my boyfriend before lockdown started, which has meant that as social distancing restrictions have loosened, I’ve not had any friends close enough to go for walks or to the park with.
Not being sociable for such a long time has made me question my sense of self. I’m an extrovert so I gather my energy from other people and different friendship dynamics bring out facets of my personality. Without having the chance to bounce off my friends I feel like I’ve lost some of my sparkle and even my confidence.
Lockdown restrictions recently turned a corner when on 4 July bars, pubs and restaurants opened to the public again. This is, hopefully, a sign that restrictions will continue to loosen and I’ll begin to get some parts of my old life back. Although this is something I’m desperate for, there’s a nagging voice in my head that’s telling me now my confidence has been toppled, will I be the same around my friends as I was before? Will I be enjoyable company or have I lost my social skills?
Psychologist Dr Martina Paglia, reminds us to remember that “feelings are temporary”, though.
Speaking to Stylist.co.uk, she explains: “We have spent the past 4 months at home in our collective effort to save lives, and as a result one of the feelings most of us are experiencing during this pandemic is loneliness and isolation.
“Most of us feel lonely from time to time and this is usually ok. Remember that joining in with others usually means they dissipate and decrease in intensity and frequency.”
Paglia recommends those who are feeling affected by the months of isolation to use the tools we have at our disposal, such as social media, texts and calls, to stay in contact with those you love but also, talking about how you feel.
“A lot of the times when we feel lonely and disconnected we tend to bottle feelings up. We may worry that others have too much on their plate and therefore would rather not listen to our worries, or we may worry that we’ll feel exposed and judged by others,” she continues.
“If any of these worries feel just like you, try to select a couple of people whom you trust deeply and share with them how you are feeling right now. Most of the time having someone there sitting with our worries and loneliness is of great help because it increases intimacy with one another.”
We also spoke to life coach Leanne Evans, who explains that questioning our sense of self makes total sense at a time when our “entire external reality has shifted”. She points out that lockdown has caused us to question many things in our lives and so, “it is no surprise that we may experience some inner conflict in regards to our sense of self and identity.”
“Humans are naturally social animals, we seek comfort and safety in numbers,” she says.
“This is why our friendships mean so much to us and soothe our primal instincts of survival. Despite this, it is such a beautiful journey when we begin to place ourselves as the highest priority and take the focus off how we are perceived.”
Evans explains that the first crucial step in experiencing a loss of identity is awareness, so realising this is a positive thing. Evans also recommends the following steps to guide those who are on a journey to reclaiming a sense of self.
Make space to get to know you
“What lights you up? What would you like to spend more or less of your time doing? These are questions we do not ordinarily take time to consider. Schedule in some sacred time where you can be alone and explore these questions. List 10 things you enjoy doing, pick your favourite two activities and make a conscious effort to include these into your upcoming week.”
Stay present and grounded
“It is so important to stay within the present moment as much as possible. We cannot truly control the past and future, being rooted in the here and now is the easiest way to prevent feelings of overwhelm that can be triggered if we are losing our sense of self. Be mindful of how you’re feeling in any given moment and seek to nourish those needs. Also, be aware of how to body is feeling and reacting to your environment.”
“When we seek to quiet the mind, in whichever practice suits you and your lifestyle, you can be more aware of the internal chatter you are having with yourself. How do you speak to yourself? Do you seek external validation from others as you navigate your day? It is essential not to be judgmental as you witness any chatter but rather to be aware and compassionate as a loving friend would be. When we are mindful about the amount of energy being spent on mental chatter, we can redirect it into the things that genuinely bring us joy and excitement which will contribute to a wholesome version of self.”
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