Exiting “Quarantine”

I have been incredibly fortunate throughout this pandemic. I have had a job that was more than willing to let me work from home, the transition to working from home was pretty simple – I had already been working remotely two days a week prior to Covid. And, on top of that, I have been incredibly fortunate that my company continued to have business success during the pandemic, this wasn’t true for all workers who were able to shift to remote.

But, now, a year and a half later, with vaccines rolling out and the reduced spread, it is becoming quite apparent that we are now going to be expected to “return to normal”. Whatever that is.

Outside of traffic hours, I live 25 minutes from my office. During traffic hours.. I live between an hour to an hour and a half away (and have had times where that commute took 2 hours thanks to accidents). I find it odd that people would even remotely be willing to put up with these kinds of commutes again as we return to “normalcy”.

Personally, I have thrived with working from home. Even when I am struggling to exist because I’m getting burnouts (commonish for me, unfortunately, I’m someone that is kind of a workaholic and really good at not listening to my own self telling me that I’ve pushed myself too far) I can still do some work at home. In the office I’d also have to deal with those social shenanigans and I would typically just call in sick for my own sanity.

I’m dealing with a pretty pervasively awful burnout at the moment, it comes from doing honestly insane amounts of work with no time off since October (other than company holidays, and again, my own choices there). I know that if I take time off I’m just offloading my work onto my small team and/or I’ll have a ton of work when I come back, so it usually seems far less stressful to just overwork myself than to try and take time off.

And now, I’m trying to imagine a world in which I go back into an office.

There are benefits, for sure. It’s nice to be able to overhear conversations and learn thing that I wouldn’t otherwise learn just by hearing people talk about interesting problems or predicaments. It’s nice to occasionally get invited out for a drink after work, you know, the typical things that happen.

But generally I’m just thinking about how I don’t get to wear my comfy clothes, I put up with horrific traffic, have to deal with the constant buzz of conversation and keyboards as people get their work done, fluorescent lights, random noises, people bringing in their “emotional support” animals, and just so many conflicting sensory activities and I already don’t want to deal with it.

I enjoy being able to shut my door to my home office and just focus on the work I need to get done until it’s done. Not getting people making dumb jokes about how I was lost to the world because I didn’t hear them call my name because I was in my work. Not having people make fun of one of my most common self-stimming behaviors (running my hair across my lips) because let me tell you about how funny the joke/question/statement of “are you eating your hair?!” is after the 300th time.

After a year and a half of not dealing with a surplus of stimuli, it seems overwhelming to even think about going back. This whole rush to return to “the before times” seems like some people are caught up in a nostalgia trip instead of realizing what we gained from the pandemic. And, a quick rush to go back to ableism and exclusionary behaviors.

Alexithymia Club

There’d be a description, except it turns out that no one could figure out how to describe the club.

Humor aside, alexithymia is a fun little condition wherein an individual has difficulty identifying their own emotional state. There’s no diagnostic criteria within the DSM V as there are honestly quite limited studies done on it. It was coined in the 70s by a psychiatrist to try and explain why some patients basically have no story to tell for why they do things like self harm or who have severe struggles putting their feelings into words.

Despite there being no diagnostic criteria within the DSM-V, there are, some screeners that you can do to see if you might potentially have alexithymia. Feel free to hit it up here.

Autistic individuals may find this particularly interesting as while alexithymia may only be present in up to 8% of males and 2% of females, it looks like the percentages go way up with ASD. Various studies have found different numbers, but it looks like it about half of us have alexithymia.

It does kind of make some sense, no? Difficulty recognizing our own emotions at any given point in time might just make it more difficult to recognize emotions in others which can definitely impact social skills and so on, just kind of piling on to the lovely pile of things that comes with the whole package.

For me, on pretty much any given day, at any particular moment. If you ask me how I’m feeling, even if I’m really, really thinking about it and trying. I’m just going to be feeling “meh”. It’s just flat. There’s nothing really going on.

I get heart palpitations that I presume are anxiety related because they only come on during times that are logically high stress, but when the palpitations occur, I am not even aware that I feel any different than any other time.

I usually won’t even realize I’m stressed until I’m way passed the point of no return, so to speak. Easily irritated and wanting to rip my hair out and hide and cry? Yep, obviously I’m stressed. If only I had realized this earlier and could have taken a break.

As I have gotten older, I have gotten better at identifying some emotions. Mostly negative emotions. Have you ever noticed that there are only really focal classes and seminars and such on negative emotions? How to identify negative emotions and manage negative emotions? It’s recently been bugging me that there aren’t really similar things for telling the difference between joy and happiness and elation. What is the difference between these things?

Just like frustration and anger and rage are not all the same negative emotion, even though they are all on the “anger” spectrum, but I honestly have no idea what the difference between the scale of “happy” spectrum is.

There are a few ways to help improve the recognition of your own emotions, even for those of us who struggle: regular journaling, reading, therapy, etc.

Journaling out your thoughts and emotions each day is a great way, albeit it will feel really silly and actually be challenging when you start. Once you start trying to name out what you feel, it’ll help you learn to start identifying them more and more frequently.

Reading, well, of course. I’ve always been an avid reader. Doesn’t even need to be novels or anything, just other people’s stories, manga, or whatever else you can find. You will find that in pretty much all versions of a story out there, emotions are well documented and explained. The more versions you read and explanations behind them, the easier it will get to identify it within yourself.

Therapy is pretty much always a good one, a trained specialist working with you is an unbiased source who has all of the expertise and experience to make sure you don’t get led astray while working on it. They can also help you work through other problems at the same time. I’m super pro-therapy, provided that you can find a therapist that you mesh well with.

For me, personally, it’s been a mixture of a lot of self-reflection and reading to get a better idea of what makes me tick. Reading other people’s experiences. Reading fiction. Reading non-fiction. Reading a ton of stuff on reddit. Reading pretty much anything I can get my hands on pretty much anywhere. Thinking about how I reacted in various situations. Near-constant self-reflection (which is what journaling also touches on).

I’m still not fantastic at it, by any means. But, I will say that I am getting better.