A friend very kindly messaged me the other day out of the blue to ‘see how I was’. She had heard I wasn’t in ‘great form’. I looked at the message for a while not knowing quite how to reply. I hadn’t seen or spoken to this person since last July.
Who has she been talking to about me, I wondered. I mentally went through a list of our mutual acquaintances, ticking off each one in turn – I didn’t recall having spoken to any of them, never mind revealing anything about the state of my life or my mind – which, by the way, are both in reasonable shape given the state of things.
In any event I messaged her back and reassured her that despite various recent minor incidents – car trouble, hospital appointments, traumatic tree-felling – that all was well. But what the interaction, albeit by text message, did reveal to me was that (a) how my contact with the outside world has shrunk, and (b) how my interaction with people seems to have changed.
People don’t drop in as often as casually as they used to. Many of my own age – including myself - are still very mindful of the need to cut down on our social contacts and for some this has almost meant cutting them out completely. Many of my friends who are younger have children and, conscious of passing on colds and sniffles, keep their distance too.
I don’t think I’m the only one who feels that something has shifted. Out of the blue one of my old art class buddies phoned up. He too expressed feelings of not quite loneliness, but of isolation. That hesitancy that wasn’t there before about meeting up with people. That questioning about whether you really ‘need’ to go to that coffee shop, art gallery, gig, museum.
Whereas before the question wouldn’t have even entered your head about going – now, your internal worry-wart sits on your shoulder like some kind of merchant of doom shouting ‘there be dragons’ every time you think about setting foot in the outside world! I’m exaggerating slightly for effect – but you get the idea.
I have to admit I did give that side of me some encouragement these last months. It is a relief not to have to keep the house in some sort of order in case an unexpected visitor might arrive and disturb the dust-balls in the corner.
I’ve enjoyed many quiet and solitary afternoons with my needlework – tapestry, knitting and the new addiction in my world, cross stitch. Hours can go by without lifting my head or noticing the world around me. Which is a lovely way to spend enforced solitary confinement – but I don’t think it’s a way to spend the rest of my life.
I know that with Covid numbers going the way they are right now, that this is not the time to suddenly spring back into the social whirl. But hopefully some day the hermit and the party animal will coalesce once more and I’ll be back to something resembling myself.