About half the population of Australia are emerging from lockdowns and restrictions right now. While there is certainly some relief and rejoicing, let’s take a moment to acknowledge some of the other feelings going on.
- Outside home doesn’t feel safe anymore.
- I don’t remember how to engage with people.
- My relationships have changed and I don’t know how to approach old friends.
- I’m sick of talking about lockdown and COVID.
- I don’t know how to converse with friends who have demonstrated wildly differing views on vaccinations and lockdowns.
- Without my usual pastimes, my sense of identity has been affected.
- I’ve adjusted to lockdown, and opening up could throw me back into chaos.
It’s clear that most of us won’t easily be able to just ‘pick up where we left off’. Even if you’re ready to explode onto the social scene in a breathtaking display of sequins and extraversion, it’s unlikely that will be true for everyone around you, so it may be helpful to create a roadmap to reintegration.
A is for Autonomy
When we’ve had a rough time, it’s normal to turn to friends to help. What’s new though, is that pretty much everyone has had a rough time. If we catch up with friends hoping for support, emotional repair, and kindness, we might be disappointed to find we’re faced with someone who feels just as broken and depleted as we do. Or more so.
The old assumptions and expectations don’t apply.
A friend of mine described her intention to build up a strong case of ‘I’ve got me’, developing her own resources, and preparing to take care of her own needs. To ask little of anyone apart from what they are able and willing to offer, and to need nothing beyond their presence. Right now, we need to be our own shoulder, our own repairperson, and our own spaceholder, so that anything offered to us by others is a bonus.
You may also consider turning to more highly resourced friends, such as those located in areas that have largely avoided harsh lockdown restrictions, and see if it’s possible to source social and emotional support there.
B is for Boundaries
A mandatory partner for Autonomy is Boundaries. If you ask nothing of others but fail to ensure they do the same for you, you may go home feeling more depleted, perhaps a little resentful, and less inclined to push on with this social reintegration business.
When you make social plans, think carefully about what you’re able to offer or be present with. Remember that only by tending to your own needs can you care for others.
Are you more comfortable with one person at a time, or are you happier in a group where less conversation is required?
Are you able to listen to tales of hardships, or do you need to keep it positive for now?
Are there settings you feel safer in, e.g., outdoors vs. indoors?
Do you need to set a time limit on the arrangement?
Do you have new triggers that you should be aware of? e.g., if you’ve spent isolation alone, it might be challenging to catch up with a friend and their romantic partner. It doesn’t matter if your triggers aren’t ‘logical’. At this stage, honouring your feelings and creating safety for yourself is important.
By understanding and explaining your boundaries from the outset, you can avoid creating a situation of resentment and conflict. Don’t assume you know what others need, and don’t assume they will know the same of you. Communication is key.
C is for Compassion
A generous dose of compassion needs to be thrown all over everything right now.
Everyone has had a really different experience of lockdown. Some appear to be making the best of it and perhaps even growing and thriving, and others are still struggling to rebuild any sense of self and wellness. Knowing how to hold your own boundaries and honour your own needs whilst still extending compassion and kindness for your loved ones is a skill worth cultivating.
And remember, as Jack Kornfield reminds us, ‘If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete’.
If you find you’re not capable of what you thought you were, or that this period is more challenging than you thought, be gentle. It has been a long, complex, and traumatic time, and wherever you’re at right now is fine.
You have time.
Do what makes you feel safe, and allow yourself to reintegrate at a speed that works for you.
There may be any number of complex and conflicting feelings coming up for you right now, and it may even be difficult to understand exactly what you do want and need. If you’re experiencing fear, anxiety, grief, or confusion, you may find this process easier with the support of a therapist. We are available in person in Melbourne, or via telehealth from wherever you are. Contact us for a free consultation so we can help you find the perfect support person for you.