I don’t really want to ever leave the house, but…

I’ve been semi-reclusive ever since COVID hit, even more so since I quit clinical medicine. And surprisingly to me, I’ve enjoyed it. It’s just so much more…relaxing…to not have to deal with people. By people, I mean everyone outside of my immediate, first-degree family. And it’s not that I don’t like people. It’s just that socializing with them is total torture.

Seriously, I never thought I’d be truly thrilled to hit Friday knowing that A) I have the whole weekend off, and B) I have NO weekend plans whatsoever (with people I’m not closely related to). In my young adult years, NOT having any real plans on a free weekend would have most definitely made me panic a bit. Or even catastrophize. My mind would be like: 

What is wrong with me that people aren’t clamoring to hang out? What awesome parties am I NOT invited to? Am I not cool enough? WHY DON’T PEOPLE LIKE ME? 

Of course, I know this because I found myself in that actual situation not infrequently. 

Nowadays, and perhaps for years now, my panic and dread buttons are hit when I DO have plans. I mean, it IS way more complicated now. If we want to go anywhere, we have to figure out logistics. What do we do with the kids, the dog? Where do we need to get to, and how? Is this an Uber event, or the T, or are we driving? If we’re driving, which one of us gets to drink? Where do we park? Who is going to be there? What if I forget their names? (Which of course I will.) What kind of food will they have? What am I going to wear???

In addition to the anticipatory anxiety, there’s even more stress at the actual event: 

I’m starving but I can’t touch the hummus spread nor any kind of cheese nor that dairy-laden spinach dip because if I do then within five minutes I’ll bloat up like a beached dead whale…

I don’t want to appear snooty but I need to get a good look at the wine labels because if I drink the cheap alcohol with all the additives then I won’t sleep and I’ll wake up with a migraine…

Okay, so where is the ladies’ room? No one better be in there or I won’t be able to pee, because I might fart too, and then I would have to die. 

Oh no– What is this person’s name again, this colleague who worked at the same hospital as me for like, a decade? Shit shit shit…

Since COVID, the decision to attend any external event must be preceded by a thoughtful risk/benefit analysis. And it’s not about the virus. Let’s face it, having to don any sort of Spanx, or even pants that button, is a massive discomfort and inconvenience. Plus for me, and I suspect for many of us, considerable effort is required for things like going out in public at all and for any reason, never mind also looking and smelling presentable, making small talk with someone, pretending you care what they say, and God forbid, remembering their name.

It’s gotten to the point with me that if we do have plans that then get canceled, I am SO PSYCHED. (I suspect that Hubby is too, but he won’t admit it.) 

And this is kind of bizarre because while I have always been very open about being an awkward individual– famously awkward, like foot-in-my-mouth, frequently– I’ve never thought of myself as introverted. I think a lot of people, knowing me, would take issue with that label. After all, I traveled the world solo for years and years. I willingly went to places to do things that most people in their right, safe, self-preserving minds would NEVER even consider. The Mosquito Coast of Nicaragua, the remote northern villages of Guatemala, Ecuadorian prisons, Peruvian barrios, earthquake-ravaged El Salvador, tsunami-inundated Sri Lanka, Baltimore… 

But the truth is that now, I really like being home, and I enjoy quiet. The BEST is having hours and hours ahead of me to do whatever I like, with no plans, obligations nor responsibilities. After all, I am working on a book project. Which is a great excuse for any number of things.

So given all that, the past few weeks have been quite a contradiction. 

In the past three weeks, I have:

–Embarked on a four-day work trip to a massive convention in Chicago, much of which was spent networking (Gasp!) 

–Took the train downtown, along with thousands of other rainbow-clad progressives, to spend the day at the beautifully nutso Boston Pride parade 

–Spent two afternoons running writing workshops at the medical school where I used to teach, AND even attended the year-end gala event, in a dress.

Whew! It was ALOT of logistics and people and conversations. I’m surprised I survived. Here’s the synopses: 

–ASCO, aka the American Society of Clinical Oncology, has an annual conference that is affectionately dubbed “fi-ASCO”, and for good reason. It’s not only a gathering of academics, healthcare providers/ students/ trainees and patient advocacy groups, but also every kind of “Industry, baby!” people and oodles of Wall Street analysts. 42,000 attendees, over four days. I had led our company’s team in creating and submitting an abstract about one of our drugs in development, which was accepted and granted a poster discussion, a certain level of distinction. So of course I had to go! 

It’s been a full five years since I have traveled for work by myself, and it felt weird. But it was also luxurious to be holed up in an air-conditioned, soundpoofed, essentially hermetically sealed hotel room, by myself, every evening. This appealed to my introvert side for sure. The conference itself was madhouse. The cancer cacophony was crazy enough, but Taylor Swift was also in town. I mean, holy moly, that was another 40K+ human beings each day of her three-day concert series, right smack dab in the same area. It was quite the mashup on the sidewalks: a veritable stampede of many thousands of mostly dorky professionals in suits sporting the ASCO dog tags alongside many thousands of mostly young women covered in sequins and glitter. The bonus? Hearing the concert from Soldiers Field every night for free. 

The super bonus? Our company fed and watered our little herd for the duration of the conference. And they didn’t skimp. Our CEO is a connoisseur of both fine food and liquor, so it was a healthy Mediterranean-style spread and the good stuff in real glasses the whole time. Of course, with my digestive issues I didn’t eat anything all day until dinner and then still avoided the cheese, hummus, and spinach dip. Super-duper bonus though? I lost like five pounds.

–It’s PRIDE month, and we are into it. Boston was having their first in-person Pride Parade since Covid, and we were going to be there, dammit. I made my way in by public transport, with two kids in tow, proud of that! And so proud to live in liberal Massachusetts, with Governor Maura Healy waving like a lesbian political Miss Universe from a decked-out duck boat alongside hundreds of deliriously devoted marchers. Generally, it was super-crowded, not enough food stands, ridiculous lines, overpriced souvenirs, too-loud music, fantastic people-watching, and overall a fabulous day, until the downpour. The rain wasn’t predicted so the masses made a mad dash for the subway and I was really glad our little group survived intact. Still, glad we went.

–And lastly, I was invited to lead two days of writing workshops for Harvard Medical School’s Effective Writing for Health Care certificate course. I had been teaching in the course via ZOOM since its inception, but truthfully, when I got the email invitation for a live, in-person event this time around, I hesitated. I knew I would just be returning from ASCO and I was fretting about overdoing it. I think I was worried that my sensibilities would be overly stressed and I’d have some sort of mental breakdown, I guess. Also, it’s been awhile since I truly led something. Like, been in charge, responsible, accountable, just me, only me. And what on earth would I wear?? I remember I got the email and sort of went back and forth in my mind. It’ll be a lot of work… It would be so easy to say no… But I talked to Hubby about it, and just describing it out loud was enough. Of course I’ll do it!

And it really was fun. A whole roomful of enthusiastic and engaged adult learners who, like me, feel an inexplicable compulsion to both work in healthcare and also to write. My kind of people. Maybe a touch crazy kind of people. But we ‘get’ each other, you know? So no small talk, only real big talk at the gala dinner. Which by the way was at the Harvard Club of Boston on Commonwealth Avenue, a shmancy venue if ever there was one, and also a place I had never ever before been invited to, despite the fact that I was faculty at the med school for 13 years. Of course, my brother went to Harvard undergrad and he’s never been there still, so. Overall the whole thing was worth squeezing into shapewear and steam-ironing a dress.

Maybe this cluster of positive people experiences has given me a boost in my extroversion confidence. Maybe I’m feeling a tad less agoraphobic. Maybe I’ll be more willing to get out and about. Of course, I’ll need new clothes and shoes and plenty of Simethicone…

On the other hand, here it is a three-day weekend, and guess what? I have had zero plans. 


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