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Julie Bulitt is a licensed clinical social worker. David Bulitt is a divorce lawyer. They have been married for 34 years.
Who for the last year has not been spending more than a little too much time roaming around in pajamas? We planned to get out of ours one morning, but after some thought, it just seemed like such a waste. Why should we dirty up laundry just to go from the bedroom to the kitchen to the home office and around again? Put on some pants or a dress? Shirt and tie? And what about shoes? Real shoes — not sneakers, slippers or Birkenstocks. No thanks. In our PJs we would stay. Happy, content and comfy.
If most of us knew a year ago what we know now — that we would be under some degree of house arrest for an entire year — there would have been plenty of “get out of heres” and “no ways” and “you are full of its.” Most of us would have had more than a little difficulty getting our arms around a year of “nos.” No family. No friends. No trips. No movies. No, no, no. Yet, here we are. Thankfully, not at the beginning, but closer to the end.
Both of us tell our clients, for obvious different reasons and with varying purposes, that there is an end in sight. In David’s practice as a divorce lawyer, many unhappy couples have found themselves in an unrelenting relationship purgatory — somewhere between “I am stuck” and “I need to get out.” For many of Julie’s family therapy clients, the idea of transitioning back to “normal” is particularly stressful. It’s apprehension overload.
For those who struggle with interpersonal relationships and social anxiety, in particular, the last 12 months have provided a consoling blanket of comfort. Nervous around crowds or strangers? Don’t like interacting with peers or co-workers? No problem. Stay home. Stay close. Stay in your PJs.
But what now? The weather is turning warmer. Vaccines are becoming easier to come by. Stores and restaurants are reopening, workers are heading back to their offices, and many people are looking to travel more. To just get out and do.
Many others are not all that hip to returning into a world that requires us to face people again, with masks or without. Make no mistake, social anxiety is real and has metastasized; it affects children and adults of all ages and backgrounds. It does not discriminate among gender, race or vocation. It can be depressing, oppressive and overwhelming. The anxiety is multifaceted and comes from a myriad directions. Can I shake hands? Hug someone? How close can I be when I am talking with a friend? What about crowds? Don’t even try talking about concerts and parties and sporting events. To borrow from the “Star Wars” movies, those seem to exist on some other planet that is far, far away.
Simple everyday human contact has, for all intents and purposes, been put on hold by a COVID-induced pause button. People’s social skills have gotten rusty or in some cases stalled completely. There is a very palpable trepidation over what reentry will look and feel like, and whether we will ever again be able to have normal relationships with others.
So, what are we to do? Stay in, cover up and stay planted in our self-contained cocoons? We don’t think so. Readying yourself for any new journey calls for courage. Put one foot in front of the other, breathe and take that first step. And please, put away the PJs.