I participated in an internal event at work the other day that involved talking to people as part of a demo for about eight hours straight. I had a bit of a break in there, for lunch and my usual daily walk, but I still talked more than I have in years. I’m fairly used to talking a lot for a few hours at a time, thanks to running tabletop gaming sessions (which sometimes wind up being very heavy on me talking if the players aren’t really in a chatty mood that day or we’re busy moving things along in a new environment), but yesterday was a strain on my voice in a way that nothing else has been since even before the pandemic. Even a couple days later, after taking care to stay hydrated and treat my throat with some soothing beverages, I still have a bit of an ache that comes and goes depending on how well I’m hydrated in the moment and how much I’ve been using my voice.
Now, I might be an introvert who frequently avoids busy social engagements, but I still enjoy talking to people. I enjoy socializing most of the time, it’s just the effort required to get comfortable in social situations frequently isn’t worth the effort when it sometimes takes more time for me to calm down afterwards than I spent being social (the calm down period of time is pretty static). Doing this event at work meant I was in a relatively comfortable environment, I had a pre-established relationship with everyone passing by (I was hosting a demo booth), and I had very clearly defined topics to cover. It was pretty easy since all I really had to focus on was engaging with people and I didn’t need to worry about how long it would take to calm down because I had an entire evening to unwind (and then start dozing off while having weird half-dreams of doing the demo or having people just standing around, watching me, while I did normal day-to-day stuff). All in all, it was a pretty enjoyable way to get dumped into the deep end again after all these years of relative isolation.
I’ve been alone and isolated for long enough at this point that I actually forgot that I’m pretty good at being sociable. I can be fairly charismatic when I want to be, but I haven’t really had much of an occasion to bust out those skills in a few years, thanks to both the pandemic and the stressful period of my life that immediately preceeded it. It’s definitely something I’ve missed, now that most of my social contact is either video games/tabletop roleplaying games online with friends or just my coworkers (which barely counts these days, since I’m more withdrawn than ever on account of not being out at work). As exhausting as the event was, I wouldn’t mind if that somehow become a bigger part of my day-to-day life. It would be a refreshing change of pace after all my isolation. It would also be great if anyone else, other than maybe a dozen people, was wearing a mask during this event, but that’s why I’ve swapped to N95s. I’m going to work to keep myself safe since it is abundantly clear that most other people aren’t going to do shit now.
Still, even as I’m struggling to stay awake at work due to the exhaustion stemming from two very socially active days in a row (the day after the tradeshow was also incredibly busy and social), I’m glad I did it. I’m not sure I’d choose to do it again, at least not in the way that everything played out, but I’m definitely finding myself thinking about other opportunities to be that social in the future. I’m not sure I want to go back to my days of quietly working by myself in my office and then spending the evening playing video games as I work my way through the backlog of whatever podcast I’ve gotten hooked on. It felt nice to not be isolated for a while there, even if I’m finding myself in need of some isolation so I can rest.
I used to organize fairly regarular hangout sessions and group acitivities with my collection of local friends. The past three years have seen that group of people fracture, some due to leaving the area and some due friendship-ending actions. I’ve lost pretty much all of the large groups of people that were in my life before the pandemic and while I still have the occasional D&D game that gives me a group of people to enjoy chatting with, it just isn’t the same now that none of it happens in person. I think what I really need is a new friend group. I need a new crowd of friendly folks with which to spend my time, visit, and hang out in a cluster. I miss the dynamics and the energy of larger gatherings than just me and a couple friends here or there. I miss having events to go to, people to meet, and new stuff to enjoy.
I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve let some opportunities for those things pass me by over the last three years, but I haven’t always been ready to handle large groups of people like I am now. The rise and fall of Covid case numbers, the rise and fall of my social energy (usually based on how much bad stuff is happening in my life at any given time), and the rise and fall of my financial stability have all contributed to my willingnes to go out and do things. While the rising Covid numbers now make me leery of doing anything in crowded, indoor spaces, everything else has me feeling like now would be a great time to organize a group trip somewhere. Unfortunately, I still have to find, join, or build a group like that, so it’s going to be a while before I can act on it, I suppose. Until then, though, I’m going to keep working on building up my social interaction muscles so I can enjoy myself again in the future, but with hopefully less exhaustion afterwards.