Isolation brings out something different in everyone, but how so for two writers at the opposite sides of the personality spectrum?

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THE EXTROVERT: Phoebe mcdowell

‘How’s your self-isolation going?': a question that's more a yardstick as to where you fall on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. I reside in unambiguous extrovert territory, and so, I am struggling. I know that lockdown is vital and necessary, of course, and that my millennial moans fall flat in the face of our brave and tireless NHS and other key workers. But I miss people. I miss my friends. I wish my personality type had been building up to this for my entire life, stockpiling emotional fortitude like an apocalypse hoarder does canned beans, but as an extrovert I am wailing, alone with nothing but perishables.


Even before lockdown, the government mandated distance of two metres apart was hard. I am emotionally chaotic, gushy and tactile. Where most people debate a wave or a handshake, or whether to give one kiss or two, I’m wondering at what point can I also hug? (I would have been a super-spreader, for sure).

Being sociable is a recessive family gene, yet ‘can we bring it down a notch?’ was the resounding request of my childhood, and it’s crept into my adult life, too. Turns out, there’s not much opportunity to obnoxiously bellow in a group, no bigger than two, in a flat that consists of little more rooms. My virtual social schedule is unstoppable via House Party, FaceTime, voice notes and Zoom – social connection is a precious commodity right now – and it’s brilliant we have such outlets, yet I crave tender emotion, and the kind of infectious laughter that’s only possible in person.

Ordinarily (though these are no ordinary times) I might find lockdown exciting, but that’s probably because it endorses the sense of community on which I thrive. My small wins are those laced with camaraderie: Tuning in for BoJo’s addresses to the nation; exchanging knowing nods on my morning run; clapping for our carers; overcompensatory gratitude at Sainsbury's. But it’s not ideating in a buzzy office; oversharing at the hairdressers or singing with strangers at the pub. It’s not a boisterous, wine-sloshing, cutlery-clanking dinner party, where everyone passes on pudding (too pissed), for a game of running charades.

In a world that’s seemingly rigged for extroverts, wallflowers were due their time. For their calendars and contributions to be as considered as they are. For their solitude to be celebrated, not stigmatised. Unlike me, they don’t need others to galvanise their sense of self, and from that, I can learn. When this is all over, we'll perhaps appreciate or even adopt a little of the other half. And I'm sure, no matter what our personality type, that we'll reunite and rejoice, and gossip and yell. I’ll kiss twice, and hug, but until then, I’ll pause for thought and shhh.

THE INTROVERT: heather gwyther

Sometimes I am loath to leave the house. Leaving the house for me means stepping into a panoramic view of London, which sounds very cinematic until you realise it’s a film in which I am a - badly acted and ultimately irrelevant - supporting character begrudgingly embarking on a magical quest to ‘hang out’ at the petition of the group chat. Yes, given the option to Choose My Own Adventure, I am often drawn towards having no adventure at all and, mostly, it’s because I’m one of the least sexy things you can possibly be: an introvert.

Even to me, my introversion is somewhat of a mystery. As a friend I am all cackles and cuddling in person and an onslaught of kisses and exclamation marks online. Insert me into a dense social situation, however, and I am a useless burner phone without a SIM card, desperate to go home alone to recharge and use the wifi. So, on day whatever of social isolation, I feel relatively normal. Who knew my lifestyle (consisting of barely leaving the house, thinking in silence, screenshotting for posterity and an excess of ‘self-love’) would be so fantastically novel to some people? Indeed, some people have even gone so far as to call it ‘depressing’! I don’t resent that - since it is - but try living it whilst everyone else prances around in the sunshine and flirts in the pub - that’s true misery.

Before social isolation was actually enforced, COVID-19 enabled me to bolster my lacklustre excuses for not going out with something more substantial. What was once “sorry I can’t because I have just taken all my clothes off [at 8pm on a Friday night] and got into bed to read Susan Cain’s Quiet” became “I would love to except my mum is a frontline NHS worker and I can’t risk getting her ill” - she is, but I did wonder if it would be presumed she was working in the ICU rather than on labour ward.

Then again, as this rolls on, restlessness and boredom are beginning to overcome even me. I can spend a lot of time alone, but how would I fare in these circumstances if I didn’t have one mum, one dog and three brothers for entertainment? Not well, probably. Remove all that and I may become Joe Castle Baker’s Gordon: ready to go back to the club now - and I will, as a special treat for my friends once this is all over.

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