As a shy person (and particularly when I was a shy child) I spent a lot of my life trying to talk myself into being more outgoing than I naturally am. Since I worked in advertising as a project manager for years I was having to be vocal and interact with new people in new situations frequently. I eventually was able to function like a “not shy” person in most situations. I worked my way up to that because it was far from natural for me. One of the ways I did it was by smiling a lot. I would smile at friends, co-workers and family, all to project an image of comfort and confidence. It was my “fake til you make it” tactic. And to some extent it worked.
Then the severe Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) changed my personality in a way (read this blog and this one for my discussion on my personality changes after TBI). The brain injury made me less shy and more outgoing. Generally before the TBI I overthought things and lived very much in my head. Post-TBI I live less in my head and more in my actions. Now by not overthinking things it allows me to be more outgoing. This has been an enjoyable upside of the TBI. Before COVID-19 was enjoying my newfound outgoing personality and relying less on smiling to show my “fake outgoing” personality. I still relied on smiles to quickly interact with others since my significant hearing loss makes small talk and casual conversations impossible. Then COVID-19 required everyone wear masks and my smiling and lip reading were stopped. Today I just wanted to write a little ode to smiles and how important they are and how much I miss them.
When the world has been gripped by trauma and loss in the wake of the global COVID-19 pandemic, it’s harder to realize the smaller less life-threatening things that we as a society have lost. To me personally I have been more concerned with what masks are preventing me from seeing and in turn hearing that it’s taken me two years of the pandemic to realize that the masks covering mouths not only prevent me from lip reading, they also prevent me from exchanging smiles with strangers. As I mentioned, I am a formerly shy person and exchanging smiles was my small attempt at normal socializing. And even though I am more outgoing after the TBI, I relied on smiling to compensate for my hearing loss and inability to interact as I once did. Now smiles are covered or if they are left uncovered they cause you to think unpleasant and not pleasant thoughts (I say this as someone who is on the “vulnerable” list who lives with others who are also on the vulnerable list). Smiling isn’t the joy it once was and I miss it for that.
Without smiling going into a public place surrounded by people feels lonely. Especially with my hearing loss. When people talk to me with masks on I almost panic if a hearing family member/friend isn’t around. I am able to interact with people and decipher enough but I can’t do it for long and I often get stumped. I am using two Apps to help in these situations that transcribe for me: Otter (for iOS and Android) and Live Transcribe (an iOS version and an Android version). However, I miss the spontaneity of interacting with new people in public settings without masks and without hearing loss.
So in the long run I can look back on the “salad days” of pre-COVID-19 and miss the smiles and small talk. However, if recovering from my accident has taught me anything it’s that comparing things to “the way they used to be” isn’t helpful for progress and well being. Instead of comparing things to how they used to be it’s far more productive to admit you miss something, ALLOW yourself to miss it, and then move forward. So, yes, I do miss smiles but I am so happy the whole world seems to be slowly improving after the pandemic.
Monthly Feature of the Week: A Writing Update & Memoir Writing Update
Since my weekly memoir class has been meeting less frequently I am a little less driven in my memoir writing. The last few weeks also gave me a fright because I was certain digging up memories had caused some new brain injury symptoms. After I spoke through the symptoms with my doctor and then my psychologist I felt OK and now I’m cautiously moving forward with writing again in my memoir.