I am the archetypal introvert. In terms of my physical make-up, this means that my Ascending Reticular Activating System (which connects brainstem to cortex) is chronically over-stimulated. In terms of everyday life, it simply means that while I love people, I re-charge my batteries by being alone. My weekends tend to be solitary affairs, usually out on a hill somewhere. A shopping centre is my idea of hell.
So one could be forgiven to think that social distancing would be easy for me. After all, I do a pretty good job of that anyway. Picture me isolated in my own home, with the occasional wave to my neighbour across the drive, being allowed one form of exercise a day (where you might meet the odd fellow-cyclist or runner, as I did today), navigating around my husband who also lives here. One would think that would be plenty of stimuli to keep my Ascending Reticular Activating System happy.
I thought so too, until the moment came that I found myself standing in my teaching room one final time, last week. The room was empty. No students. A pack of worksheets lay idle on the front table. They would not be used this year, as face-to-face teaching was suspended and we were asked to start working from home. I stood there, bewildered, and a great sadness filled my lungs as I breathed in. With a heavy heart I left, not being able to say goodbye to colleagues.
As the days went on, after having ‘set up office’ in our bedroom overlooking the garden, I began to think about other people more and more. Thoughts I normally don’t have, thoughts about people I don’t even know. I started to feel an odd kind of connection with the world, and I found myself feeling unusually emotional about it. When “You’ll never walk alone” played at 7.45am across Europe, that really opened the floodgates.
I am somebody who often tries to be ‘different’ from others (there are runners, but I’m an ultrarunner, there are cyclists, but I’ve got a trike, Dutch people are tall but I’m a small version - you get the idea!). However now, I realised to my astonishment that what I wanted more than anything was to be similar. Share in this common bewilderment that has overcome us all.
I also noticed that I value (and need) contact with my colleagues more than I had previously realized. Our School started to have Virtual Coffee Mornings and they quickly became something I looked forward to. Seeing the faces and hearing the voices of ‘my tribe’ feels like a vital part of what will help me stay sane. Watch this space.
Dr Mirjam Brady Van Den Bos is a Lecturer for The School of Psychology and Course Coordinator for our Level 1 methods courses.