Social reintegration


Last week, I was drinking a cocktail on a terrace – something I hadn’t done in a long time. Although it’s not nearly as long ago as Rose’s “It’s been 84 years” in Titanic, it did feel a bit uneasy: being outside somewhere, without a specific purpose. Carefully observing an urban environment, looking at people, or actually, the fact that there are people outside to begin with.

Since December, I’ve only been away from my home office for one day to be precise, and I’ve kept my social circle very small. There are people I’ve been speaking with for months via a video connection, without knowing what they look like in 3D. Students who completed an entire final project under my supervision, but whom I’ve never met. There’s even a colleague who joined the group and left again whom I’ve never even talked to.

I know there’s a cliché that people at TU/e are sometimes estranged from people to begin with, but now it actually feels that way. Seeing so many of my fellow human beings walking and cycling past that terrace took some getting used to.

Inmates who are released from prison need to report to a rehabilitation officer before they can re-enter society. I need something like that, so that I won’t relapse into isolation. A coach who tells me how to interact with others. I can’t just simply get used again to having a drink with people, to social interactions during birthday celebrations or, even worse, to baby showers. Many a lifestyle coach will tell people that they need to reinvent themselves. This applies to everyone’s social boundaries now: we will have to explore how and when we want to start interacting again. That’s why it’s not such a bad thing that the GGD hired people for source and contact tracing: a lot more people will be testing for STIs during the coming months.

My social reintegration will get a boost this weekend with something familiar. Hearing the Eurovision jingle on a Saturday evening is an annual television highlight. The song contest didn’t interest me one bit when I was a teenager, but now I embrace it as something that provides recognition. Musically speaking, I couldn’t care less if an Ali Express version of Lady Gaga performs or a Billie Eilish version with a raspy singing voice, or if I suddenly see Flo Rida representing San Marino. I just feel very relieved, and a bit uneasy about seeing live images on television of large groups of people having a good time.

Last Wednesday, I stepped onto a squash court for the first time in almost seven months. Even though the pandemic is still far from over, the idea of finding a way back is slowly starting to become tangible. No RIVM roadmap can compete with that.

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