”It's like I've forgotten how to be a human.
I used to be proficient at socially-acceptable small talk and elegant conversations. I excelled at connecting with others with grandiose insights and small clever quips. Not even three months ago, I could float into the room and direct a fun, engaging conversation. I could make people laugh.
Now, I’m struggling to put a sentence together. And if you know me, you know that words are my love language and this new reality is humbling.
I’ve succumbed to consistently uttering the wrong response in inappropriate times. You know, the one where you’re paying for your groceries and, as you leave, the clerk says “enjoy your hummus” and you respond with “you too!” Brad at Whole Foods didn’t just purchase hummus. Who was the “you too!” meant for, Amy? Certainly not Brad.
When those arguably minor slip-ups happen, I spiral as I start to think about all of the other interactions I’ve flubbed up, from a simple “hello” to a neighbor down the street to my best friend on Facetime as I somehow forgot her parents’ names and somehow replaced them with Pam and Bob – or any other generic name, for that matter.
It’s like I forgot how to relate to people because I don’t see them every day.
In one way, I believe that quarantine, all things COVID-19 and the rocky testing ground of 2020 will shift how we communicate and relate to others. It was the record scratch in a year that is jarring our nation and the greater world out of complacency. It’s showing our fault lines and cracks. It’s exposing how we need to change, from small ways about how we might cook more meals than order takeout to asking the big questions that center on our life’s purpose and direction. I’m in the same boat, rowing into the morning fog of whatever is next in a post-COVID world.
What is fascinating is that all of the emotional work I’ve done in therapy over the past year has led me to this moment of processing awkwardness and judgement in a new way. My therapist and I keep sharing this consistent refrain in each session: notice the thoughts and the meaning you’re attaching to them, acknowledge that you said something you didn’t mean, and let it divert your attention back to what you were doing. So, when my brain goes down the rabbit hole of “Amy, you’re an idiot for telling Brad to love his hummus,” I get to respond differently. I get to see the thoughts for what they are. I acknowledge that I might have said something innocuous that made me cringe. I choose to let it go and chock it up to the fact that I’m quirky.
For this recovering self-saboteur, this is gold. It is freedom and a life of greater mental and emotional ease. It allows me to find the laughter in the situation, just like finding Mater floating in my coffee because of a certain three year-old.
Our shifting realities will present challenges as we reenter the world (with a mask, of course. COVID-19 is still a reality, y’all). I’m hoping this shift will point us in the direction of more honest, authentic dialogues; conversations where we build trust and feel safe to be our true selves. Interactions where don’t feel the need to perform, but just be. Moments where we give ourselves some grace as we wish our favorite grocery store person a chance to love the hummus and laugh because it just sounded silly. Chances to be human and embrace our humanity and vulnerability as a way to move forward into a world that is kinder to all.
In the meantime, if you find it difficult to re-enter civilization as we now know it, know you’re not alone. I’m right here with you, verbal slip-ups and cringeworthy moments included.