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Why are some people handling the pandemic better than others?

We’re a year into the pandemic and I have officially fallen from my pedestal of hermit-in-quarantine bliss. This tumble was both figurative and literal: Last weekend, midnight snack in hand — a sandwich, two cans of Dr. Pepper, and a bowl of ice cream — I tripped and fell in my kitchen. It was the kind of fall so chaotic that you no longer know what direction you’re falling in and so you just have to shrug on the way down and hope for the best.

I was okay, but there was something about seeing bread, muenster, and turkey slices on the floor like a spilled deck of cards that got to me. And so I wept. Here, I thought I was doing the pandemic “well,” so to speak, but there I was, a grown man, alone on the floor, sobbing over a snack.

This quarantine is supposed to be an introvert’s dream come true, right? So why had I just cracked and some people seem to still be doing really well?

“There is a thing called ‘the hardy personality’ which some people are born with — they seem to have an extra dollop of resiliency," says Nancy Irwin, a Los Angeles-based psychologist. “Extroverts are having a harder time with this unduly long period of isolation, to varying degrees. They get energized by connections with others, so this year and some change of essentially being starved of their ideal nutrient is challenging.”

She’s right — about six months ago, my dear friend and extroverted ball of joy Felicia was already planning a group trip, on an airplane, to go across the country. Before the vaccine. I can’t wait to hug her again, but again, as someone far more introverted (and more scared of coronavirus, apparently), I can wait.

When it comes to handling this pandemic well, I'm learning that self-awareness can serve as fuel. “I work on small acts of love — folding laundry, arranging flowers, making a meal for a neighbor whose partner died of COVID,” says Beatrice Fairfield, who lives in Virginia. While she appears to be in the wonderful place I was before I took that ill-fated tumble, Beatrice acknowledges that a pandemic moment of un-enlightenment will come. “The pandemic has helped me to spend my time doing more of what I like. But I'm sure I will falter. I will steady myself, though. The pandemic has been a brutal teacher.”

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“People like you and Beatrice — introverts — get recharged by private, down time. They are quite content alone, and use this time to read, to create new projects, and the like,” Irwin says. “For many of you, socializing is extremely stressful, so you and others are capitalizing on the silver lining, if you will, of this long stretch of time in quarantine.”

Interestingly enough, there are extroverts who are actually enjoying this time as well, but for different reasons than Beatrice and I. “Psychologically, the pandemic has helped me learn to slow down,” says Ysa Fairland, a sophomore at NYU, originally from Sacramento. “Before the pandemic hit, I would consider myself a social butterfly, and I was always doing something and would usually run myself into the ground with school, sports, sorority stuff, and friendships.”

Ysa tells me that the slower pace helped her reevaluate her priorities. “I was able to lay out the things I wanted to do and hopefully achieve. I’m 20, so things feel like they are always moving so fast around me,” she says. “This gave me a chance to breathe and realize I’m doing just fine, no need to rush. I started doing pilates recently, I learned to bake a mean batch of brownies, and I moved from California to New York.”

We’re all finding out more about ourselves during this time, for better or worse. But for some, the isolation and loss has taken a tragic toll. “There already has been an increase in suicides, sadly, as well as anxiety and depression,” Irwin says. “Addictions are on the rise as well. Some folks certainly are traumatized by this disease, whether financially, emotionally, or through grief.”

When you’re thinking about people who seem to be coasting comfortably, though, know that t’s definitely not just about their personality or ability to make hard lemonade out of lemons. There is a such thing as pandemic privilege, Beatrice reminds me, and it plays an important role in how we react to strife. She tells me that her family has access to nature (woods and creeks and hills to sled on) the ability to easily homeschool and work from home, financial security, internet access, and farm stand at the end of the road.

All of that has been a welcome respite after a challenging phase in her life. “As a family, we are quietly celebrating a year of recovery: from chronic pain, a mental health crisis, and addiction. My husband left a treatment center two weeks before lockdown. The pandemic has been a gift of concentrated togetherness to make up for years of lost time.”

So truly, there’s a lot that lies below the surface when we judge how well we or anyone else is handling coronavirus purgatory. We all react to trauma differently. “It is possible to resolve trauma, and this is what we mental health experts are dealing with right now. Most of us have full schedules with new patients at this time — and waiting lists,” Irwin says, not seeing that I have raised my hand. “People are reaching out for help, but will they all? No, but healing and management of trauma is possible. No natural disaster breaks down 100% of all its victims — life continued after the 1918 pandemic, as well as the polio outbreak in the 50s. The human race is overall quite resilient.”

Beatrice tells me she did have a hard go of it when she actually contracted COVID-19 (“I watched Schitt's Creek all the way through 3 times”). “I just recently received my first round of the Moderna vaccine last week and it really helped take a load of fear off my shoulders — I work part-time at a restaurant so I just qualified. It’s a great feeling to know that there is an end in sight, which is helping me stay on track. “

Staying on track, I realized, has been challenging for me partially because — regardless of how introverted I am — I have deep, meaningful connections with people. And the pandemic has stopped me from being able to foster or build those. Beatrice or Ysa, who were strangers before they spoke to me for this story, were so fun to chat with that it made me think of the people I’ve met in bars, and how socializing is still necessary even for the most sheltered of introverts. I decided that I’m going hiking with Beatrice and her kids after the pandemic is over. Hopefully, by then, I’ll be done with my new propensity to fall down and then sob.