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Covid cancelled my 21st but I’m secretly relieved

IMAGE VIA @MALI_BAKES/INSTAGRAM

WORDS BY GEORGIE KIBEL

It’s my party, and I’ll cry if I want to (I actually don’t want to though).

Today is my 21st birthday. “Oh, how tragic! Celebrating on your lonesome during Melbourne’s lockdown!” do I hear you say in commiseration? 

In many ways, yes. For us 1999 babies, there will be no opportunity to get dressed up, make the most of an open bar tab, and then hear speeches about how the party host lost their v-card while their siblings and grandparents listen on in appalled dismay. And while such traditions are sprinkled throughout our life to celebrate with friends and family, and give many of us the satisfaction that comes with reaching a milestone, I can’t help but feel a sense of relief. 

Due to the stage four lockdown that Melbourne continues to endure, I won’t have to host a party. No one told me that I must have a party and it would ultimately have been my choice, but I must confess that I, Georgie Kibel, am a phoney. 

I am an introvert who has disguised myself as an outgoing, party animal for far too long. Lockdown has given me time to consider how I once viewed social events (even the ones I chose to host).   

While sitting comfortably in my bed this morning, I scrolled through my own Instagram. Photos of a young woman in a colourful outfit, posing with a friend at pre-drinks were apparently all of me, but they were a strange, misleading portrayal of my life. My favourite things, such as books, trashy TV shows, my dogs, and the comfort of my bed were nowhere to be seen on this imposter’s account.  

It hid the truth, and that is that I thrive at home. It is the place where I recharge, whether I am simply reading a novel or drinking an instant coffee, I spend my days feeling content and satisfied. The energy that I build up by spending time on my own is gradually depleted when I head out my front door on a Saturday night and engage in the social activities that young adults are expected to do.

Due to social pressure, and the number of events that seem to pop up in your calendar when you are 21, at the start of this year all of my energy was often being used, rather than accumulated. I was tired and stressed at the thought of the year ahead. 

Being locked inside for months on end has allowed me to liberate myself from the persona I adopt when I want to appear fun-loving or ‘normal’. Waking up on a Sunday morning without anxiety, looking at a calendar full of empty white squares, and knowing that I am not expected to be bubbly and personable when I don’t particularly feel like it – these are all moments I have found myself feeling incredibly grateful for. 

This glorious feeling was most intense when I realised that I wouldn’t have to host a 21st birthday party. As an introvert parading as the life of the party, knowing that I would no longer be expected to host a Gatsby-sized event was a weight lifted off my shoulders. To me, lockdown is the gift that keeps on giving. 

I initially relished my relief, but contentment was quickly replaced by a sense of guilt. Feeling like your best self in the middle of a lethal, recession-inducing pandemic is a jarring sensation. This feeling was made worse by me celebrating avoiding events that other people in my life cherish, like birthday parties, nights out and socialising. Am I utterly cold-hearted and anti-social? 

As flowers appear on my front porch as offerings of love and generosity from those who want to try and make my day special despite the circumstances, I think about how these gifts could easily have been sent to a different house in my suburb as a token of sympathy, for someone who lost a job or a loved one due to COVID.

I reluctantly accept chocolates and cards from a delivery person who knocks on the door, knowing I am enjoying this minimal interaction far too much. I know I should be lamenting that I cannot receive them from the hands of the people I love. 

But this guilt largely stems from the empathy I feel for my friends, family and community. I feel mournful for my friends who love to dance to Dizzee Rascal and jostle among big groups of people, and I worry about how lonely they must feel by themselves in their bedrooms. I feel despair for my neighbour who was let go from his job, and the endless people on the news who tell the same, crushing tale of losing someone they love. 

I am still trying to compartmentalise how I feel for those around me, and how I feel for myself in my own mind. It is possible to be two things at once, and I think this is what can help to relieve the burden of the paradox I have constructed for myself. 

So while us introverts may be struggling with the dissonance of enjoying life in a pandemic and relishing cancelling our own birthday parties, it may be worthwhile to take a moment to be appreciative of our small, personal wins. If there were ever a year to find a silver lining, it is this one.

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