I am probably not alone in feeling this, in fact, I am certain I am not alone. But since the rules for mixing in England were relaxed in March, I have found myself treading ever so cautiously into the wider world. Not just caution, actually, reluctance. After my first trip to the office for four months I was exhausted. It felt like my senses had been overloaded. I didn’t drink enough water, eat properly and got very little of my actual work done. Instead, I was overwhelmed with conversation and face to face contact. Don’t get me wrong, it was great to be back seeing people and having those conversations that often seem pointless but can lead to creative moments and significant decisions. But I was knackered.
As I made my return journey, it felt incredibly busy, with those familiar rush hour looks of impatience racing by. The truth is that had this been 14 months ago I would have been wondering where everyone was. I got a seat on the train without an issue and had no one sat near me for the whole journey. As my slow suburban service trundled into the Home Counties I even started to relax a little, remembering this regular journey with some fondness, when books could be read and playlists listened to.
However, I was incredibly glad to be home. Safe in my nest. A nest I have lived for 24 hours a day, seven days a week for large parts of the last four months and the last year. Never during that time did I feel trapped. A bit bored from time to time – but work has kept that boredom to a minimum. Stepping out of that haven has been much harder than I might have expected. Tolerance has never been a trait for which I am gifted – but people seem even more annoying than ever. On my first trip ‘out’, adults spoke loudly and kids ran amok, seemingly forgetting all normal social behaviours. I felt irritated and on edge until there was enough space between me and the ‘crowds’.
My first meal out was a delicate dipping of toes into society’s refashioned waters. I stood in an orderly socially distanced queue with masks adorned, waiting for an outside brunch at a farm shop. No stress here normally. But there they were again. Loud parents with energetic kids. Those alpha dads that seem to walk like they have a medicine ball between their legs and make men like me feel inadequate. Chatty mums that want everyone to know their child is called Pontius or Savannah, the couples that lean back in their chairs, body language sweating with the need to talk to you.
The night before I had collected someone from a station where there was a bar nearby, heaving with people; loud laughter and chatter. It unsettled me. Then as I walked past, there was the cliché man urinating against a wall; “sorry mate you caught me at a bad time”. I hated that sort of thing before but now my anxiety rockets. Everything is magnified in its effect. Right now I feel nervous and anxious when I hear loud conversations and laughter at bars, instead of greeting it with the joy many have.
Have people always been this annoying? Probably. But it is probably much more about me and my re-socialisation. Spending a year of your life being insular must have an impact on the psyche. Being comfortable when ‘out and about’ is going to take time.
In terms of mentoring there is a lesson here too. Networking is vital in media and the events that were once bustling with eager to learn graduates and pleased-with-themselves journalists will soon start again and getting back into that mix is going to be hard for some of us. If you feel like I do, perhaps take some gentle steps back into that world. Think about that reintegration and how to manage it. Too much time has been lost for graduates and students already and getting into those circles again is key. I hope that those that have moved seamlessly back into the world (or those that have not really changed their activities much in the last year – for there are some) allow us a bit of room. Physically and emotionally. While human interaction should be natural, much of it right now feels the opposite. It will take a bit of adjusting. Getting back into this ‘normal’ life is not going to be easy and to be honest, some of it I am quite happy to wait for. Maybe for some time.