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W is for Withdrawal

By S. Sandhu

Artwork by Shridhi Pandya

Almost two years into the Covid-19 pandemic and lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about how much my life has changed. One of the words that keeps popping into my head is ‘withdrawal’. It started out simply, there was a virus surging through the world and the best way to protect ourselves was to withdraw physically from the world. Social distancing, limiting physical interaction with household members and wearing masks became our armour to keep ourselves safe from Coronavirus. While cooped up inside our homes, we took it as an opportunity to reconnect with friends and family from all over the world. For a while, it even seemed like it was the perfect way to finally rebuild relationships that were lost simply because of the paucity of time and busy modern life. I didn’t realise fully then, how much the meaning of that word would transform for me. From being merely a physical manifestation of life during a pandemic, the word withdrawal has now become symbolic of a way of life. It has been so gradual and organic that I didn’t even see it coming, until now.

In and of itself, the word ‘withdrawal’ involves the act of stepping away or ceasing to participate in a certain activity.

The act involves a discontinuance, a disruption, a disassociation from a certain way of being. The feeling of withdrawal, often a consequence of the act itself, can involve a number of challenging physical, mental and emotional sensations. These sensations depend on the type of withdrawal a person is going through. There are several types of withdrawal. Most often, withdrawal is associated with a person who is weaning themselves off an addiction. In current times, however, a different type of withdrawal has taken hold of many; social withdrawal is a concept many have experienced firsthand without theoretically understanding what it means. Social withdrawal involves a voluntary or involuntary reduction in interactions or contact with other human beings because of a number of reasons - social anxiety, depression, fear of judgement, to name just a few. In COVID-19 times, as people remain locked down or purposefully isolated, feeling anxious around people and withdrawing has almost become the norm.

Not all of it is negative, however, as social withdrawal can have positive impacts too. According to a study by the University of Buffalo, not all social withdrawal is detrimental. In fact, one form of social withdrawal, referred to as unsociability, is linked to greater creativity and self-awareness. The important thing is to make the distinction between social withdrawal motivated by self-growth and social isolation due to fear and depression. The latter is definitely a serious mental health concern and requires professional help and treatment. want to touch upon the idea of withdrawal for growth. Here, we can explore the idea of withdrawal for growth, and how we’ve evolved throughout the last two years to be more conscious of how we give our time and energy.

Change Isn’t Always a Bad Thing

Although it started out as a forced collateral consequence of the pandemic, I have noticed recently that it’s becoming more of a choice, at least for me. After the initial weekend zoom calls with friends and family, and excessive reliance on social media for connection, the fatigue of interacting with people without physical proximity has started to set in. The impact of the pandemic has been not only physical but also mental, financial and social. Adapting to such huge changes and being in survival mode for such an extended period of time has definitely drained us and impacted our capacity to interact with others. There has been a very fast-paced evolution of all our relationships and not all of them have stood the test of ‘pandemic’ time. In the past 18 months, I have spent time (physical and virtual) with the same few people, over and over again, and even though it is always some much needed R&R, I’ve realised that we’ve all become quieter, the moments of silence when we meet have become more frequent, the updates about our lives to be shared have become lesser and being by ourselves has become the thing we all look forward to most! Even if it means just being at home reading a book or doing anything else that we find pleasure in.

We’ve all withdrawn from a lot of social relationships and engagements that would run our lives in the pre-pandemic world. Our social worlds have shrunk and become much smaller than they used to be. Maybe the pandemic and surrounding political climate has made you see the people around you in a different light. Maybe you realized that you don’t share the same values anymore, or quite simply that your priorities have changed. Maybe going through something similar has brought you closer to someone you least expected and/or going through a completely opposing experience of the pandemic has distanced you from someone. Maybe, it was even as severe as realizing you had a toxic or co-dependent relationship with someone. Maybe all you’re doing differently now is saying no to social activities that you are not up for, which was probably the hardest thing to do before the pandemic. Whatever the case may be, and whether the withdrawal had been forced or forged, voluntary or involuntary, it’s definitely become a part of our everyday lives.

Navigating Your Own Withdrawals

While Covid-19 has definitely meant the natural end of some relationships for me, it has also created the space to strengthen and develop many of them. I realised recently these consequences were not a result of the pandemic, but that the pandemic was merely a catalyst that sped up that inevitable outcome. The most important thing that I have learned though is that true connection with another human being is not based on convenience or the number of friends. Having fewer friends doesn’t mean being lonely, or having less fun. In fact, social withdrawal can also be an opportunity to focus on deep, meaningful bonds with those who bring joy and value to our lives. For me, It’s simply been a withdrawal from quantity and a move towards the quality of relationships in my life, including the one I have with myself. It’s important to remember though, that change and transition, however constant they may be, is never easy or linear. Especially when that change impacts our social environment and disrupts our comfort zones with people we already know. It can be a very confusing and challenging time, with many ups and downs and moments of self-doubt. It could even mean you noticing someone else withdrawing from you, and that can be hurtful and uncomfortable.

If you are experiencing a period of social withdrawal, there are some things you can do to make the process more positive. A good place to start is to try and accept things and people as they are and not hold on to how things were in the past or to try and change them. Things change, people change, needs, wants and priorities change, and all those things need space and patience to transform into something positive.

Something I found very helpful during this time was to acknowledge and respect that many people and relationships were exactly what I needed at a certain time. We had some great laughs and cries together and I will be forever grateful for those wonderful memories. However, if it feels like something has irrevocably changed in a relationship, I try not to force things to go back to the way they were, put blame or view the change as something negative. It just means that it is time to adapt, evolve, and redirect to make more room for things and people that can have a more valuable/positive influence in your life. Sometimes, the process can be drastic, like cutting off a toxic person from your life, and sometimes it can be a gradual growing apart, with love and respect still intact. It’s a very natural and organic part of life and even though it can be uncomfortable it is truly an opportunity to grow. It’s important to take time to recognize and strengthen the positive relationships in our lives, and considerately let go of the ones that are not.

It could also mean an opportunity to go within and work on the relationship we have with ourselves or discover a side to us that we had never considered before. It was definitely writing for me. While I always wished to be able to write about things I felt strongly about, it only ever happened once I created more time and space in my life by withdrawing from my social obligations and focusing more on the intention behind my social connections. Whatever that may mean for you, it’s ultimately a process of detoxing, and withdrawal is a very important part of that process, be it physical or emotional or social detox. So, don’t be hard on yourself if you are experiencing withdrawal, confusion, discomfort or turbulence in your social life. The pandemic has definitely magnified the impact of social change in our lives yet there is tremendous potential for it to have a positive outcome if we choose to see it that way.


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