The bars are open, and I’m so hungover: the emotional fallout of post-lockdown socialising

Recently, after one day of post-April 12th socially distanced socialising, I found myself KO’d for over 24 hours.

A really good roast dinner and new TV series brought some respite to my freshly plummeting disposition – but overall, I felt sad, tired, deflated, and listless. This went on for a while. It took bribing myself – in the form of post-work reading in the sunshine and copious quantities of chocolate – to keep me from flailing wildly headfirst back into a pit of self-pity and melancholia (both of which have been almost a default setting these past months).

It wasn’t until a few days into this funk that I did the maths and realised where this low mood had come from.

This was a hangover.

But not the alcohol-induced kind. I’m talking about the kind you get after socialising with gusto. The hangover that leaves you emotionally and physically drained, without the need for one too many daiquiris the night before (though the two do often come in hand in hand).

With months of low levels of both alcohol consumption and human contact under my belt, my tolerance for both has, of course, dropped considerably. Now, not only am I unlikely to be able to handle more than two glasses of wine in a row, but I’m also probably not going to be able to handle two days in a row of being with others, out and about, switched on and entertaining.

(Perhaps this is where I add that I’m not big on booze anyway – the focus on alcohol here is mostly illustrative, though I do admit, I enjoy a glass of something every so often.)

The morning after the day before, once the glowing memories had settled around me on my pillow, there was that hazily familiar ill-feeling. The lethargy, the over analysing and the nausea mixing with guilt in the gut after bingeing hard on something that feels good and tastes sweet.

I was unwittingly acting like a child who has to be told that, no, Christmas doesn’t happen every day; now you have to deal with the boring monotony and reality of everyday life, until that day in the calendar eventually rolls around once more.

The Big Day was over. The bite of semi-normality, the half echo of what days should be like, the relief from Groundhog Day, had passed, and it was back to missing the people I’d seen, and getting on with this weird in-between lifestyle.

Of course, I knew that once I returned to the sticky tables and unsteady stools of bars and restaurants (inside and out), it would take a little while to re-adjust (again). But knowing something isn’t the same as actively preparing yourself for it. I suppose all you can do, sometimes, is spiritually adopt the brace position to minimise the impact as much as possible…and wait, patiently, for the inevitable emotional blow, however hard it comes.

After posting about my despondency online, I received a handful of replies from others saying they’d been feeling the same in recent weeks.

Of course, we’re all suddenly feeling such a dramatic regression into the pits of pandemic despair. We’ve tasted the outskirts of freedom; we’ve glimpsed possibilities. There are bound to be mixed feelings, of both elation and dread.

There are still days when we’re mostly staying at home and watching briefings from the PM’s swanky new podium, but now there are also days when we’re swapping sweatpants for spangled accessories and sipping cocktails like it’s 2019. The contrast between these moments is even more extreme now. Not to mention the last time we were handed this hope, it was redacted before you could say Lockdown Two. We’re not the same people we were when we last socialised like this.

The drinks are stronger, and our social skills are weaker. Light conversation is a weightier thing, and the virus hangs over us – lingering in corners in the form of anti-bac dispensers, distance measurers and QR codes – as a gentle reminder that this normality isn’t quite all it seems.

For every evening with others, we may need three to recover and recharge before we can do it all again; a far cry from the back-to-back diary entries we once pencilled in.

No wonder we’re all feeling so exhausted, drained, unsettled…and emotionally hungover.

Me? I’ll be re-acclimatising slowly; inching my body back step by step, brunch by brunch, picnic by picnic, coffee by al fresco coffee, into the sea of my social life so as not to shock the system.

By the time I’m fully immersed, it’ll (hopefully) feel like the most natural place to be in the world.

If not, then I’d better source some effective home remedies.

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