When the Instagram notification came that I’d been tagged in a story – an image of me with several other friends, all intoxicated to varying degrees – I hesitated on whether to repost it.
I settled on liking without resharing it, as it felt socially safer to do this and avoid the judgement of friends who aren’t yet ready to go out.
Since things have reopened, we’ve been in a conundrum: some of us don’t feel safe or ready to go back to clubs, big gatherings and the like, while others are simply gagging for it.
There’s a level of judgement and moral ambiguity which comes with that.
‘Inject it into my veins,’ a friend joked while discussing the idea of a house party.
After being fun-starved for so long, can you really blame people for wanting to get back out there, especially given the uncertainty that hangs in the air around whether more restrictions will be introduced as we edge towards winter?
We’ve all heard the rumours and quietly squashed them beneath another drink, spontaneous social invite, or ‘responsible’ gathering.
Though that is not to say that everyone who is going clubbing feels good about it – things rarely are cut and dry.
Many of us are getting back out there with a certain level of guilt or fear that the less socially active people in our lives will scold our decisions – and thanks to the government’s insistence on ‘individual’ responsibility, what’s right and wrong is blurry.
Caroline Plumer, a therapist at CPPC London, tells us it’s a bit of a dichotomy. ‘While facing a big crowd might be anxiety inducing for some, it might be just what someone else needs to feel connected to others and boost their mental wellbeing,’ she explains.
‘What the pandemic has helped encourage is doing things for the greater good and our communities rather than just for ourselves. We are told to wear a mask and get the vaccine to protect those around us.
‘Whilst we are keen to get out and start enjoying a more normal social and working life, for many of us we will still have the impact our actions have on others at the forefront of our minds,’ she adds.
Parts of our society are clinically vulnerable or are living with people that are, and there has been concern expressed around covid restrictions lifting within these groups.
Naturally, there’s going to be a greater desire to avoid large scale social situations and stay in the home.
But mentally, as Caroline points out, going out has its benefits given how lockdown was a breeding ground for feelings of loneliness and isolation – Freedom Day will have been met with feelings of both fear and relief.
Celeste*, from London, tells Metro.co.uk she’s struggling with navigating the different opinions of my friends at the moment.
She says: ‘There is a part of me that is so desperate for some fun. I feel starved of it. I want to go out and do things and see people.
‘Also, the rules say that it is allowed. I’m vaccinated, and I’ve been so sensible this whole time.
‘And yet now I feel like I would be judged if I went out to somewhere crowded – as though I’m being completely irresponsible.
‘It makes me nervous to talk to certain friends, or feel like I have to hide the truth and keep outings secret.
‘It’s a really hard thing to navigate because I don’t want my more cautious friends to think I’m being a bad person, and I also worry my more relaxed friends think I’m being super boring. I feel completely caught in the middle.’
While viral images might give the impression those that want to go out and have ‘fun’ are rule-deviant and are the type to ditch masks, the reality is most are, like Celeste, somewhere in the middle.
For Jade*, things have swung the other way. Due to being half vaccinated while different variants emerge, she’s ‘just being careful’.
She says: ‘I plan to go out again on an evening to the club and bar scene in the next couple of weeks as I wanted to see how it played out before going out on the first weekend’ – an attitude many who feel cautious have taken.
Holding back on resuming her usual social life is down to being ‘unsure about how others behave’, citing the recent Euros as an example of behaviour she deems ‘irresponsible’. Matches were linked to a rise in covid cases across the country.
Jade also believes there’s been a change in attitude, with friends now favouring day drinking, which is about as summer and covid-friendly as activities get when done in a park.
Given how divided we are, Caroline says a level of compassion is needed as we navigate this limbo state.
‘Empathy is such a key skill for life and most of us could do with at least a bit of work on our empathy “muscle”.
‘As with most things, there’s our truth, their truth and the actual truth (which usually sits somewhere in the middle) and it’s helpful to acknowledge someone else’s circumstances may be very different to ours.
‘We do not have to do anything we are uncomfortable with, but nor do we have to force anyone else to do things our way.
‘It’s been an exceptionally hard time for everyone and it’s impacted people in many different ways – take time to recognise that whilst we are navigating the same waters, we are not all in the same boat,’ she explains.
If you’re being judged, she says first question if your behaviour is harming anyone, and if it isn’t to go back to that place of empathy.
She says: ‘Try to acknowledge that the judgement might well be a result of something such as fear, anxiety or envy.
‘This doesn’t mean we have to accept the judgment or explain ourselves, but reframing it can often help take the sting out of it.’
Dr Elena Touroni, a consultant psychologist and co-founder of My Online Therapy, says we should also keep in mind that we could be fearing judgement that isn’t there.
‘When we’re anxious, we can easily fall into “unhelpful thinking styles” or “thinking traps”. This means that we can have thoughts that are inaccurate, unrealistic or distorted.
‘One thinking trap is “jumping to conclusions” – which can include making assumptions about what other people are thinking – sometimes called mind reading.
‘It’s important to be mindful of other people and what they may be feeling, show compassion and respect their boundaries,’ she says.
Caroline advises when trying to balance anxiety about coronavirus with wanting to go out to think about your own values and needs.
If wearing a mask in places that it isn’t required helps your peace of mind, then do so regardless of others in the room.
The conflicted feelings we have as a nation are likely to linger until we’re out of the pandemic.
*Names have been changed.
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