DR MAX PEMBERTON: I can't be the only one who's dreading socialising

DR MAX PEMBERTON: I can’t be the only one who’s dreading socialising

  • Dr Max Pemberton admitted feeling dread about socialising again
  • He explained he has become used to the new way of life we’ve adopted
  • He likes being able to rest in the evenings and not feel guilty if he does nothing

Hurrah! The end is in sight. We now have a roadmap out of lockdown and of course I, along with everyone else, am sighing with relief.

Summer might just be saved. The old normal — or at least a version of it — is on the horizon. But after all the celebration and jubilation at the announcement last week, I confess I now feel a teeny-weeny bit reticent.

While I have loathed the past year, with the limitations to our freedom and the profound impact it has had on our economy, not to mention the health and wellbeing of so many, I’d be lying if I said there hadn’t been some positives.

It took the prospect of this all ending for me to realise I’d actually become quite used to the new way of life we’ve had to adopt over the past year. Before Covid hit, I would be out most nights, often with several plans on the go at the same time.

Drinks here, dinner there, I’d charge about, cramming people in. My life was hectic. Weeks sped past in a haze of meetings and dinners and outings. It was tons of fun, but it was also exhausting.

Dr Max Pemberton has admitted feeling dread about socialising again and said: ‘I like being able to rest in the evenings and not feel guilty if I do nothing’

And when it came to weekends? They’d be booked up months in advance.

It took me a while to adjust to this new, slower way of life but, now I have, there’s part of me that doesn’t want to go back to how it was. I like being able to rest in the evenings and not feel guilty if I do nothing.

I’ve got used to spending time on my own, enjoying my own company. I’ve realised I enjoy reading as much (perhaps more?) as raucous nights out.

I’ve started appreciating homely things. I’ve saved money by not eating out and don’t really miss it any more — something I never thought I’d say.

Of course, when things do start to open up, I could just stay home. I could simply adopt this slower life permanently and refuse to socialise at all. At the moment, that feels tempting.

And I’m not the only one. Several friends and even patients have confided in me that while, on one level, they can’t wait for lockdown to end, there’s part of them that will be a little sad.

They’ve got used to having minimal commitments, to having no plans and their time being entirely their own. There’s something calming about having vistas of empty time stretching out ahead of you and not feeling the need to cram your time with things that you are often doing more out of obligation than genuine desire.

While the pandemic has been so tough on so many people’s mental health, some of my patients — especially those with social anxiety — have admitted that the past year has been a blessing.

While they’ve struggled with reductions to mental health services or things such as therapy being put on hold, the silver lining to this all is that they haven’t felt the constant dread of having to socialise.

Even those of us who don’t have full-blown social anxiety feel apprehensive about suddenly being plunged into company after such a long time without mixing. It’s normal to feel a bit self-conscious and shy after being isolated for so long and it’s probably not helped by the fact no one looks their best at the moment.

Dr Max (pictured) said: ‘While the pandemic has been so tough on so many people’s mental health, some of my patients — especially those with social anxiety — have admitted that the past year has been a blessing’ 

Many people haven’t seen friends since the beginning of the pandemic and perhaps they haven’t really missed them.

Have friendships lasted? Has the isolation shown how superficial and flimsy so many of our relationships are? And, when it comes to larger groups, have we all actually forgotten how to make small talk?

The only way to deal with this is to confront it head on. Of course, I’m not really going to put a stop to my social life and stay in lockdown mode for ever — and nor should you.

When the restrictions lift, get out there and force yourself to make the effort to see friends.

But, for now, remember it’s perfectly normal to feel a bit daunted by the prospect. After all, things seemed much easier when we were all just stuck indoors watching Netflix and eating toast.

I’m determined to take some positives from the pandemic, to focus on what I have learned. I have valued having to tolerate things being a little bit boring. It’s shown me how much time I spend doing things I feel I should be doing, rather than things I actually want to.

This year has shown me that perhaps I don’t need to feel obliged to do absolutely everything. I’m trying to feel bold enough to more carefully edit how I spend my time — and who I spend it with.

And I’ve decided I’m going to limit myself to only going out on Thursdays and weekends. The rest of the week I’m going to give myself permission to do nothing.

I’m going to practise saying no to things I don’t really want to do. And I’m not going to allow myself to think I might be missing out.

The pandemic has taught us many things — the value of true friendship and the importance of our health. It’s reaffirmed an appreciation of the NHS and demonstrated the importance of science and research.

But maybe one of the enduring legacies on a personal level — at least for me — is the realisation that it’s OK to admit staying in can be as much fun as going out. 

MASKS IN CLASS IS MADNESS

The cruel irony of this pandemic is that while children are the least at risk of the virus, they have been among those most affected by our attempts to limit its spread. Lockdown has disrupted a year of schooling and experts predict some may never recover from the loss in their education. 

I’m pleased the Government appears to have realised this and is pushing for extra classes. But we must resist the guidelines calling for children to wear masks in class. It’s absolute madness. There’s scant evidence for this, with the benefits negligible if any at all. But it would have very clear harms. 

Not only would it impact on discipline, but it would worsen the damage already done to children’s development. It is vital for youngsters to develop skills in non-verbal communication and part of that is about facial cues — they are fundamental to social interaction. We cannot allow children’s development to be affected in this way.

Dr Max said that children wearing masks in class would not only ‘impact on discipline’ but would also ‘worsen the damage already done to children’s development’

Over the years, I’ve discussed statins with many patients and encouraged them to take them to reduce their risk of strokes and heart attacks. It’s common for patients to say they are worried about side-effects, most often muscle aches. In fact, I’ve heard this so many times, I never thought even to question if this was a genuine side-effect. Yet, last week, a study from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine found statins had no real side-effects. It claimed they have been wrongly blamed for what, in truth, are aches and pains of old age. What’s more, doctors fear tens of thousands die every year from shunning the pills because they worry about the supposed side-effects. It goes to show how incredibly powerful the mind can be, but also how it can’t always be trusted. 

DR MAX PRESCRIBES… SHARE A MEAL 

I love the concept behind brilliant website shareameal.co.uk, which encourages people to cook meals for neighbours who live on their own. There are celebrity recipes on the website if you need inspiration, or just cook an extra portion of whatever you’re making and drop it off on your neighbour’s doorstep. What a great way to let someone know others are thinking of them. 

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