Imagine a parallel universe… there’s an earth there too, and everything is pretty similar. They’re going through a C19 pandemic as well, but it’s a little different. On that parallel earth, the virus behaves quite differently. There, it’s very, very contagious. So contagious, in fact, that by the time people realized it even existed, everyone already had it. The good news is that as contagious as it was, it seemed relatively harmless. No big deal.

Except, as time went on, it was realized that the longer it lingered in your body, the worse it got. It’d mutate inside of you and, over time, make you sicker and sicker. The fact it mutated so easily made it difficult to formulate a vaccine… but, great news, there was a simple way to purge this thing; the more you associated with other people, the better the outcomes. It seemed that people breathing all over each other and sharing their exhaust would provide others with the anti-virus tools their bodies needed to heal… and, the more variety you got, the better.

The provincial health orders went out; nobody go to work; instead, congregate with as many people as you can. Big, thick crowds, ideally strangers. Pack the gyms, sweat… and breathe all over each other. Tight spaces with little ventilation are ideal. Spread the goodness around. Party on. Spend as much time with as many different people as you can. It’s for the greater good.

The government begins offering people 2 grand a month to not work, but instead… just socialize. Wealthy people rent out entire venues… clubs downtown, Rogers Arena… even BC Place. Come one, come all – free food and drinks (within reason) as long as you promise to stay at least 3 hours and mingle with as many strangers as you can. Tens of thousands of people show up every night; needless to say, this is embraced by a tremendous amount of people. This year becomes the best and most memorable time of their lives.

For others, though… it becomes a nightmare. For the introverts of the world, being forced to party and mingle – with strangers, no less – is as far out of their comfort zone as it gets. Once in a while… maybe. But every single night?

So… these people start looking for ways to duck the orders… what if we don’t go out every night? What if it’s with a few people, not just huge crowds? What if it’s in a private place, not out in public? What if it’s with some people we know, not just all strangers?

“Covidiots!!”, yell the masses, “… stop trying to bend the rules. Stop trying to think you’re special. Get the hell out there, party and mingle and meet as many strangers as you can. It’s for the greater good!”

Crowds of people go door to door, banging on doors, shaming those who’ve chosen to stay home. “Save your books and chess and Netflix for next year!!”, they scream in your face, “It’s your responsibility! It’s your duty! Get the hell out here… come on man, there’s this great Rave going on in this warehouse in Chilliwack… like 5,000 people… it’s on till 6am!! Let’s go!!”

Personally, I am an affirmed introvert. I score 90% in those personality tests where it comes to introvert/extrovert. So, while for me, the isolation part of this pandemic has been no big deal, I’m well aware the mental toll this is taking on others. How would I feel having to go out every day, partying all night with a bunch of strangers? If we flip all of these circumstances around, how would I feel? When I think about what I just described, if I had to live like that… I think I’d be losing my mind. And so, I realize… that for people for whom that’s the norm, this has all been a significantly bigger struggle.

I know people who spend 200 days a year traveling… airports, airplanes and hotels are their norm; their safe space; their comfort zone. Being forced into this present experience is just as jarring as it’d be to me to have to leave this comfort zone of mine and party all day. Actually, it’s probably far more jarring for them; if the entire world is your office, your workspace, your play-zone… having all that disappear, pretty-much overnight… it’s a huge jolt.

I say all this because while I’m firmly on the “follow the rules/get the vaccine/wear a mask in public/this will soon be over” bandwagon, I realize that for a lot of people, it’s far more easily said than done.

Later this month, January 28th, will be the tenth anniversary of the “Bell’s Let’s Talk” campaign, which aims to raise awareness around mental illness. It’s very clear what this year’s topic of discussion will be, because long after the virus is physically gone from our lives, the mental impact will linger.

For the moment, it helps us all to put ourselves in other people’s shoes… because talk is cheap, but actions speak louder than those words… and while it’s very easy for people to preach to others “Stay home!”, that’s a difficult ask for many, and we need to understand that.

“What’s the big deal – just stay home” – it works for me, but it might not work for you…and I sympathise. And hopefully one day, sooner than later, you can all be throwing your big parties. Feel free to invite me; I’ll probably show up for a bit, say hi… and then stand by the wall for a while… and sneak out when no one’s looking.

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