Time to break out of our bubbles?

hermit crab walking across boardwalk with ocean behind

I don’t know about you, but I feel like I am turning into a bit of a hermit. Yes, I might live with my husband and two kids and speak to a few people online, meet a friend for an occasional walk maybe; Apart from that not a lot else.

The rest of my social life now exists as intermittent WhatsApp messages with groups of expat and other friends around the globe or the odd personal message.

Compare that to nearly a year ago with the seemingly incessant WhatsApp messages, the panic and flurry of information. The bombardment of zoom calls, quizzes, ‘House Party’ (or whatever it was called), Skype family gatherings. These have all gone from our calendar now.
I don’t think we are alone.

But I have noticed, even as an intermittent introvert, that I am missing social contact. I might be used to it now, but I have just gone deeper and deeper into our family shell and I almost fear that I won’t come out.

This may have happened partly due to online fatigue and generally just getting caught up in our own bubbles, a little like we were before the pandemic. There obviously are the ever-changing rules, fear, bad winter weather (in the northern hemisphere at least), a general lethargy. But, for me, it is also because I am not sure I have much interesting to say! Life does not feel as full and rich as it was, or maybe I am just remembering it differently. If someone asks:

“What’s new?”

I have the tendency to say:

“Not much”.

But I wonder if it is because I have got lulled into this belief that just because were are in some form of lockdown, we are belittling the lives we do have. I do still have news – things I am working on, my new (limited) exercise routine and diet, this blog and training, the kids ups and downs, looking for a new house, etc, etc. Is it that I am conforming to this narrower perception of life just because I can’t meet up with friends, visit a nearby town/restaurant or travel further afield? Have I created a coronavirus internal lockdown to mirror the external one?

Wayne Dyer quote about mindset and change

Our lives can be as full as they were but with different experiences, walks in different nearby areas (if weather permits!), trying a new exercise, experimenting with a new activity, revisiting cooking or music, not in a perpetual tv binge watching session each night. Reading those books we said we would or learning about whatever. I have got stuck in a new normal that sometimes feels a bit ploddy, now is the time to shake it up a bit and not get caught in such a narrow mindset.

hello in neon lights expat communication

Here in the Costa del Sol, we can still meet in groups up to 4 (weirdly these can all be from different households), but many are reluctant to do so certainly there is a reticence or nervousness to organise anything. I include myself in this as I have not initiated anything of late, even online which is not easy for an organiser like me. I have got safe in the cocoon of home and those immediate close relationships and not venturing much beyond that.

Even more difficult as I feel that we have lived here for 18 months (more about our background here) but our friendships have not really had a chance to develop much yet. The challenge of an expat seeking a tribe, and not being able to. The challenges of deepening friendships, making new ones or even maintaining existing connections.

And, I think we need to find another way, to create connection with others whether near or far. This week I am actually going to go out for lunch to celebrate some friends’ birthdays, it feels quite radical after a couple of months of pretty much not socialising at all. My husband is thinking of organising something too. Maybe we have simultaneously reached a ‘lack of other human interaction’ point?

Speaking to a friend last weekend, they also felt similarly disconnected and wanted to do more, but didn’t know quite how. How to manage these times and protect those around us, but also satisfy our own need for other humans, for fun, for whatever.

quote connection and communication

Yes, those group calls sometimes did feel a bit odd and uncomfortable with us all trying to talk simultaneously or clumsily conversing. It is time to try something new instead. For me, real connection is one on one or in a small group and I think that is what I really crave and need right now.

So I am publicly holding myself to account with a new plan, that maybe we should all be thinking about:

  • To connect with at least two friends a week whether via WhatsApp or Skype, Zoom or whatever and have a real one on one conversation.
  • Send a message to a couple of people I have been thinking about with an article I have read or song that reminds me of them or a comedy clip I enjoyed.
  • Continue our monthly update to family with our news and photos each month (started this in March 2020), but also asking for their photos and stories and share those too to develop mutual and interrelated connection.
toy monkeys interconnected with blue sky
  • When I see a neighbour or am at the supermarket or restaurant (sorry they are still open here) making eye contact and being as present, friendly and connected as I can.
  • Letting people out whilst driving – showing more humanity.
  • Joining one or two online groups either for business or to meet fellow expats in the area. In Spain there is: Costa Women (obviously for women) or internationally- just search on Facebook for groups or Meet up Groups to widen your circle or develop new interests or skills. There are actually lots of groups meeting up online at the moment.
  • When I am connecting with family and friends online or during an online course/event being fully present and really engaging, not trying to multi-task.
mobile phone with video call to connect

When I look back at the best moments of each day, the happiest ones are when I am most present and connected with others – granted usually my close family or a friend. Yes, these connections can be taken for granted too and often need to be revisited (read more about this here and some tips to help here). But in what feels like quite a small bubble life right now, we can deepen what we have within the daily routine – at the shops, at school pick-up, wherever – and we can extend (safely!) beyond our current small circle. Reaching out (sometimes again) to those that it would bring a richness to both their lives and ours. Having a quick or slow, one on one (preferably face to face, even if it is on video) conversation or sending a lengthy voice message, putting a phone call in the diary for the weekend. So we can continue to enrichen our lives with all these connections and remember the humanity of those near and far. If we don’t start this more I not only fear that we could all become hermits, but we could lose all sense of interconnectedness and belonging to this world.

fear and overcoming them through connection

How are you feeling about connection at the moment with those near and far? Do you have similar thoughts or experiences or have you got some ways that you are connecting beyond your immediate circle or outside the bubble? I would love to hear from you in the comments below….

For more posts on navigating the ups and downs of expat life or living abroad visit here.

Photos credits: Hermit: Ahmed Sobah, Hello: Adam Solomon, Monkeys: Park Troopers , Phone: Ben Collins

Brene brown quote courage over fear

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