Now that we’re starting to emerge from the dark hole of quarantine like naked mole rats blinking in the bright sun, I became painfully aware of something. After fourteen plus months, I became very aware that my brain had done a massive data dump of things I did prior to the pandemic. And I’m talking about things that I’d done almost on autopilot. Things like going to a restaurant, or grocery shopping, or even hanging out with friends. I mean literally, I felt like I’d forgotten how to do these things! I can’t believe I forgot how to friend, but here we are. And these pre-pandemic things I’d normally done with relative ease, became a bit of a challenge to start doing again!
Challenge Number One: The Restaurant Reclamation
So my mom, my husband and I decided the FIRST thing we were going to do after achieving peak immunity from our vaccinations, was go out and eat at our very favorite restaurant in town, El Sombrero. It’s an easy place to get to, the food is out of this world, I know where the bathrooms are, and it’s a fairly casual place that I don’t get terribly anxious going to. After all, I’d been going there for over twenty five years! Easy breezy, right? No problem!
Except that we hadn’t been there in almost a year and a half.
And I can’t even lie; on the way over, I was shaking like a leaf! Why? Well, partly from the excitement of actually getting to go out to dinner after being stuck in the house for what seemed like forever. But also partly from extreme anxiety. HOLY SHIT, thought I to myself, I forgot how to restaurant! What if I trip & fall on the way to our table? Or what if they changed the menu? HOLY COW WHAT IF THEY MOVED THE BATHROOM?
Luckily for me and my anxiety monster, everything was EXACTLY THE SAME. Including the location of the bathroom. Just for context, I’m so directionally challenged, I’m always needing to know exactly where the bathroom is so I can find my way back to my table easily. Also I have a bladder the size of a thimble. Anyway, WHEW. From the moment we walked in, even though I was still a wreck, everything was fine. Just like it used to be, including the delicious food and potent margarita! Matter of fact, the food and experience was SO good I almost started to cry. Frankly, it was a very surreal moment. And in that moment, I realized I’d survived my first post pandemic challenge.
Challenge Number Two: The Grocery Store Gauntlet
Okay first of all, as much as I like being alone, I EXTREMELY dislike going places alone. I would also rather be driven than drive. All this said, driving with someone else in the passenger seat almost feels like going someplace alone since I’m the one making the decisions. With me so far? Great.
So now onto the Grocery Store Gauntlet. A challenge because I’d forgotten how to grocery store! The first trip back to the grocery store, we went as a family. My husband drove, and Ma & I were passengers along for the ride. I’ll admit I experienced mild anxiety that first time back. What if the grocery store had changed? Or God forbid, what if someone tried to grab for my mask? Or coughed on me? Though fully vaxxed, that thought still perturbed me. I mean, after hearing about all this awful stuff on social media like masks being grabbed for and folks having to throw hands, I don’t think I was out of line to be little wary, right?
Luckily the family trip to the grocery store turned out fine. Here’s where it gets hairy. Husband was busy one day, so my mom and I went to the grocery store by ourselves. It was just going to be a small trip for something we forgot on the big trip. On the way, I could feel my anxiety rising. What if I forget how to park my car? Or I forget how to use the payment card reader? What do I do if I can’t find the thing I’m in there for because they moved everything around?
Of course, it was all fine. I found a parking space, we went in, got what we needed and moseyed on out. Nobody tried to grab at my mask or coughed on us. In fact, everyone was as friendly as could be. As I breathed a great sigh of relief on the way home, my brain went, PING! CONGRATULATIONS! YOU HAVE PASSED YOUR SECOND POST PANDEMIC CHALLENGE, THE GROCERY STORE GAUNTLET.
The Final Challenge: Remembering How To Friend
And now, Citizens of the Interwebs, we come to Meredith’s final and MOST daunting post pandemic challenge, lunch with friends. Now, being autistic AND an introvert, making/keeping/hanging out with friends is difficult for me to begin with. I’ll sometimes miss social cues and sometimes stick my foot in my mouth. However, believe it or not I’ve studied how to behave myself in social situations and in the past I felt reasonably confident I could conduct myself with few to no issues. Of course, after basically not seeing another soul outside of my family for fourteen months, the thought of seeing friends was quite intimidating. Especially since we’d made plans to see some of Matthew’s work friends that I hadn’t met yet.
So needless to say I was DOUBLE intimidated. It also didn’t help my intimidation factor that Matthew spoke so highly of this couple and how cool they are. Of course I was afraid that I’d either a. drink too much, b. not have anything to talk about with them, or c. stick my foot in my mouth and/or overshare. Plus I’d seriously forgotten how to socialize or as I put it, I forgot how to friend. Luckily Matthew assured me that these folks were as kind and down to earth as could be, and that they were eager to meet me.
Well even though I was nervous as all hell, as it turned out, the lunch we had at a local brewery was SO much fun. Matthew’s friends were so warm and accepting that I felt at ease pretty much immediately, and the food, drinks, and flowing conversation made for a truly fun afternoon. And I was so encouraged, that the following weekend I felt brave enough to meet another few friends of Matthew’s that I hadn’t met before and THAT was a smashing success! I still haven’t gotten the whole “oh do we text/not text/can we hang out again thing” down yet, but I’m working on that. I’m hoping it happens pretty much organically. Because even pre-pandemic, I was never really good at that. And you know what? I completed my final challenge! I WIN!
So What Did We Learn?
Having these new/old experiences taught me that it’s okay to be nervous when we consider we might be rusty at doing certain things, or having to relearn how to do certain things. Personally, I’ve learned to give myself (and others) some slack. After all, we’ve been busy surviving a WORLD PANDEMIC and locked down under quarantine for almost a year and a half. It’s pretty ridiculous, when we think about it, to think that we’re just going to pick up where we left off and it won’t be at least a little bit weird! So if you’re feeling guilty or strange for being anxious about, say, going to the grocery store, don’t. Baby steps, we eat the elephant one bite at a time and all that. You’ll get there. Hell, I did. I can go to the store like a mf’ing champion now!
Listen, it’s not a bad thing to give ourselves a little bit of a break these days what with surviving a pandemic and all. I mean, think about it. Prior to a month ago (and peak vaccination), lot of folks including myself and my family had been in a quasi-hibernation mode. I didn’t go anyplace. Most everyone I know was working at home. The most I did was go with my husband to the dry cleaners and maybe run my mom to the doctor. Even then, I’d wait in the car. However, I knew I couldn’t stay hidden forever. I also knew that going back out there was gonna be scary as hell. But you know what? I did it. And once I faced my fears about getting back into the world, that particular anxiety monster was vanquished. What’s next? I’m not sure, but I will say this…
Thanks for reading,