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The World Is Reopening! AAAGH! (A little story for women who’ve been home alone—and like it.)

Okay, so we've all been waiting for Covid to take its hand off the Pause button, right? We want to get back to normal, go see our friends—and not just the top third of their faces. We want to go out for lunch, hug, dance, date.

Or maybe not. If not, why not?

If you're like me, you may have discovered something in this time of isolation. Maybe after the initial shock of losing social activities, you discovered that you feel quite comfortable at home—even if you're alone. Or perhaps, especially if you're alone. Perhaps you used to see yourself as an extrovert or as someone who genuinely likes people, and now you’re beginning to wonder. What's up?

When places all over the planet went into lockdown, many women experienced a mixture of anxiety, shock, and/or depression. Across the globe, restaurants, theaters, businesses, spas, and shops closed their doors. For over a year, instead of our friends and coworkers, we may have begun having our morning chats with our animal companions (or with those few extra pounds that began to grow where our waist used to be). Maybe meetings you once attended in person began to happen on your laptop, at your kitchen table, or while sitting in your living room, in a rocking chair, perhaps with a kitten purring on your lap, or, even while lying in bed in your jammies, with your favorite pillow and a dish of chocolate. From our work, to our communities, to our bodies, many of us definitely shifted into a new abnormal.

From an opposite perspective, if, before the pandemic, your kids went to school and your partner worked outside the home, you may have had the house to yourself, and now your kid and/or partner is homeschooling/home working; and what used to be your sanctuary is now a mosh pit.

Those whom you once considered to be your favorite people you may now find yourself trying to avoid. Your head might have spun as each one of your family members made demands on your attention, and now all you want is escape. If this is your scenario, you might be thrilled that the world is reopening, but for a different reason: you might want to get these people out of the house and back in their schools/offices “where they belong.”

Also, as much as you might like some space from these people who used to be your loving family, perhaps you’ve now developed severe social anxiety, and the idea of seeing your friends seems a bit surreal.

All of this is understandable.

You are having a normal response to an abnormal situation.

After over a year with all of the comforts (and discomforts) of home, perhaps your love of being cozy (or simple inertia) is dampening your desire to go out and play.

But there may be a different reason, one that was there all along, but of which you may have been previously unaware; you may be dealing with a condition which, during the pandemic, you’ve not had to tackle, or at least, not as often. This condition affects so many women and is so much a part of “the norm” that we may take it for granted; a life-sucking social “norm” that is reliably established in a girl’s system by the time she is 11 years old.

For those of us afflicted, even after years or decades of 12-step programs, women's circles, journaling, meditation, medication, recreational drugs, thousands of dollars in professional therapy, and countless hours of friend-therapy, it may still persist. And it may be contributing to a reluctance to get back out there and play with others.

What is the condition, and how do you know if you have it? Answering the following Qs might help you find out:

When you’re with others, do you tend to focus on their needs more than your own?

How do you feel when you advocate for your needs?

Do you fear having needs at all?

Do you feel uncertain about your ability to take care of yourself?

If you answered, "Yes" to any of these Qs, you may want to read on.

I first learned of a name for this condition a few years ago, from Marshall Rosenberg, founder of Nonviolent Communication. Marshall calls this condition “femalitis,” a gender-specific tendency to deny our needs. (Yes, there is also a “malitis,” which has its own symptoms—that's another story.)

Femalitis begins when we are very young, and we can “catch” it from those who, though they may love us dearly, are still contagious: our family members. We learn from their words and role modeling that caring for others is 1) “A virtue” and 2) “Natural”while caring for ourselves first is “selfish.” We may also be taught that being selfish is morally “wrong”—for females. While both boys and girls receive these messages, we get different slants on them. As a girl I learned that I was a “good girl” if I behaved. I learned that I would receive social and spiritual rewards if I cared for others—before caring for myself. And I learned that to "be successful" did not include my "femaleness." Nowhere did I hear or see that advocating for my own needs was healthy, and certainly not admirable or a lifelong skill whose practice would lead to deep peace, wisdom and a sense of real belonging.

So, what does this have to do with the world “reopening,” and how do we rejoin the community and still care for ourselves? First, notice that rejoining Community is a choice and you get to say, "No." At any time. And for any reason.

Before refilling that calendar with every social opportunity under the Summer Sun, what would happen if you take a long pause and ask yourself whether or not you are ready? Perhaps close your eyes, place a hand on your heart, your solar plexus, or your low belly. Then, take a few breaths and simply be.

Notice the sensations that arise when you consider venturing out. Do you feel lighter or heavier in your heart? Do you delight at the thought of seeing your friends, or do you feel some self-protection, some longing for more time in this womb of quiet self? Would you like to go, and to feel fully alive and joyous, you’d like some reassurance first that you are fully welcome? Perhaps you’ve become accustomed to more authenticity during this pandemic and you are reassessing all of your relationships. Perhaps some of them no longer nourish you, or perhaps you’ve come to see that they never did. If so, what does nourish you? Would you like more time in Nature, listening to birds, to the wind in the trees, to water flowing, or to the silence of the stars?

There is no right answer. And, if you are unsure about going out into human society again, can you allow yourself, each time, to make a choice to go and then, if you feel called, to turn around on the way, or vice versa?

At the end of November, while on a camping trip, I received a text from my live-in partner that he had moved out. He said he needed “to restore integrity” with himself. I received the text on Thanksgiving and a few days later came home to an empty house. Thus began my first holiday season completely alone. It was brutal.

It was also a gift. I couldn't deny how peaceful my home felt. What had happened? With no one else in the house, I felt free to receive my own attention. Attention I’d placed on family and partners my entire life.

Then came the moment when, after not having hugged anyone for I don't know how long, I hugged someone I love and felt... well, not much. For me to hug without feeling anything is odd. Hugs with those I care about have always felt soothing, comforting and simply wonderful. Now I could take them or leave them. I began to wonder what was up.

I certainly don't love my peeps any less. I simply feel more whole in my own skin, free to admit that sometimes all I want is to hang out in my robe and play with the kitty.

I’ve heard it said that healing from trauma includes feeling comfortable in one’s own skin. While Covid brought widespread trauma, it also offered a profound opportunity for many of us to dive deep into being alone and explore what that aloneness is like, with less external distractions. If you have received this precious gift, I hope you don’t give it up too easily.

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