When I was younger, I didn't understand my swings between a tail-wagging extrovert and a very solitary person who wanted to flee all social interaction.
I think I thought for a long time that the person fleeing was either depressed-me or rebellious-me. Me working through something.
Then I heard this term “ambivert” – filling in the space between Jung's extrovert-introvert binary. (Apparently Jung himself believed most people were neither introvert not extrovert.) Ambiversion made so much sense to me.
Sometimes I'm really up for other people, and sometimes I inexplicably shift, and I am really not. I want to run away, call everything off. It's quite difficult to explain this to others, or for example, to brief a new love interest in my unpredictable behavior. Probably one of the top 5 criteria in a good match for me is someone who gets this. (The Yo La Tengo song “Autumn Sweater” sublimely captures the feeling of wanting to run away from people with your person.)
In my adult life, this has mostly manifested itself in what we call the “French exit” in English (which French people ironically call “the English exit”). Me running away from your party after nobly clinging to your kitchen fridge and trying my best for a while and disappearing without properly saying goodbye or even making an excuse.
When I was younger and altering my mind to relax myself or cope with people anxiety, my swings could really be dangerous. Imagine the results when drunk, up on a rooftop ridge with dozens of other people who had been drinking between me and the way back in... I decide I need out. Near fatal. Thanks friends, for catching me.
But a couple of years later, I found that my ability to be both contented to be around people and to be happily alone really helped me. In my early twenties living in East Timor, a very social place where family, friends and community are much more valued, and where being alone is most people's idea of hell... My ability to stay with others for long periods was crucial to learning and being truly present. I managed to curb the urges to flee, or when I coudn't, to make other foreigners my accomplices. But while there, I also spent a lot of time alone. Waiting. Not having any real boundaries to these alone times. Not being sure of when I would return to see friends and family. And I was really ok with that.
Ambiversion also helped me when I returned to group-house living in London in my 30s – where I suppose in some way we were all navigating the need for social time and the need for more privacy.
Now that I've been sick for over two years with a disease where social interaction physically drains me, and over-socialising can put me in bed for days, my ambiversion has become an asset again.
Long Covid forces me to stick to my energy envelope. It doesn't really care if I'm seeing a friend I haven't seen for years who lives far-away in a country most people don't know exists. After some time together, I need to be alone. I need to rest.
So while the causes of my swings between very social and very alone have changed, I'm very practiced at this. I even take comfort in this social ying and yang. (Obviously I would struggle much more with the sheer amount of alone time if not for my partner.)
But it's the rapid transition between being social and being alone that has been the hard part for many of living through restrictions with the pandemic. And that is something that has been a part of me for as long as I can remember. I suppose I'm well-adapted in that way to this illness and this limbo state.