The Irony of Introversion in a Time of Pandemic

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Photo by Engin Akyurt on Pexels.com

Saturday night, after taking our kids to church and nearly exploding with rage at their sullen attitudes, my husband and I decided we needed to get away from the kids for a couple hours, so we went on a date to Menard’s.

(Sidebar 1: this is a sign of the times: you need a date night, so you shop for home improvements. Date Night in a time of pandemic.)

(Sidebar 2: Why home improvements? Because at 3 a.m. a couple weeks ago, we were awakened by a terrifying crash. After fifteen minutes’ searching, we discovered that the upper closet rack and shelf had broken off the wall, disgorging all my husband’s suits, half my hanging clothes, and all the suitcases into a big pile on the closet floor.)

As we were venting about everything that had us hacked off at our kids, I had this moment where the irony of it all made me chuckle.

Because at the start of the stay-at-home orders last spring, all the jokes were about how we were entering a nirvana for introverts, and oh, those poor extroverts! And yet I know extroverts who are staying home quite comfortably, while I, a confirmed introvert–so confirmed, I go find the most remote spot on the trail to ride, because a truly successful trail ride is one in which I never see another human being for three hours–am really suffering. As in, I feel suffocated in my own house.

Because you see, I’m surrounded by people. All.The.Time. There’s always someone coming outside while I’m pulling crabgrass–bypassing Dad, who’s sitting at the kitchen table working Sudoku, mind you–to say, “Mom, where is the __?”

The 11-year-old is teasing the 13-year-old; he giggles, she yells, “You stop it!” But he doesn’t, because he’s getting a reaction.

The 15-year-old is annoyed by the 11-year-old practicing the clarinet.

The 8-year-old is making sound effects at all times, except when he’s playing One Direction at top volume.

And the chargers walking off, and the devices disappearing.

And the mess. Oh my word, the mess. And the whining about having to clean the mess.

And the following up with kids who didn’t do what they were told to do, or did half of it and quit (twice), or did a shoddy job.

This introvert has to leave home to get introvert time! (To say nothing of time to write!)

I know there are lots of you out there who are feeling the same way. Give me a “solidarity, sistah!”

Introverts Unite!

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Photo by digitalART2, via Flickr

I suppose I’ve always known I was an “introvert.” I just didn’t realize that identity had its thumbprint on every aspect of life. I thought being an introvert just meant I have incredible anxiety about making cold phone calls and meeting new people.

So reading the book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, has been a bit of a self-revelation—and affirmation

“Many introverts are also ‘highly sensitive,’ which sounds poetic, but is actually a technical term in psychology. If you are a sensitive sort, then you’re more apt than the average person to feel pleasantly overwhelmed by Beethoven’s ‘Moonlight Sonata’ or a well-turned phrase or an act of extraordinary kindness. You may be quicker than others to feel sickened by violence and ugliness, and you likely have a very strong conscience.” (p. 14).

Check. At the dress rehearsal for our Stravinsky-Prokofiev concert in April, I started crying when the choir sang their excerpt of Rachmaninov Vespers. And check, for how I watch the news. And check, for the conscience.

“Introverts are more likely to function well without sleep and learn from our mistakes, delay gratification, and ask ‘what if’.” (p. 3)

Um….check, check, check, and check. It’s like she interviewed me to write that sentence.

(Description of a Tony Robinson seminar, where everyone’s dancing. “I stand somewhat peevishly with arms crossed until I decide that there’s nothing to be done but join in and hop up and down along with my seatmates.” (36)

Check. This makes so many things crystal clear–my problems with the “ice breakers” and emotional manipulation that so many religious retreats undertake is just like this: participate or be looked down upon, even if it’s not just outside your comfort zone, it stands at complete odds to the way you express yourself as a human being.

“I realize it’s not true that I’m no longer shy; I’ve just learned to talk myself from the ledge (thank you, prefrontal cortex!). By now I do it so automatically that I’m hardly aware it’s happening. When I talk with a stranger or a group of people, my smile is bright and my manner direct, but there’s a split second that feels like I’m stepping onto a high wire.” (119)

Um….YES.

“…most of us…(believe) that venting anger lets off steam. The ‘cartharsis hypothesis’—that aggression builds up inside us until it’s healthily released—dates back to the Greeks. …But…scores of studies have shown that venting doesn’t soothe anger; it fuels it. We’re best off when when we don’t allow ourselves to go to our angry place. Amazingly, neuroscientists have even found that people who use Botox, which prevents them from making angry faces, seem to be less anger-prone than those who don’t, because the very act of frowning triggers the amygdala to process negative emotions.” (233)

Check. This one really hit home, because in recent history, expressing my negative emotions has only led to drama and added stress. It occurs to me that maybe my go-to way of dealing with conflict, which is to avoid screaming matches and look for solutions rather than fling angst into the world, is actually a better way to go, even if human nature just wants to lash out and assert my own right to be seen, my feelings considered. This has large implications for conflict resolution, both with my children and within my larger circles, that will have to be explored in much greater depth over time.

In the end, reading this book made me realize it’s okay to prefer a one on one, or two at most, structure for social gatherings; it’s okay not to like clubbing, to find booze-fests unappealing. It’s okay to prefer to hunker down at home. It made me understand that my aversion to loud music you have to scream to talk over top of is actually a part of my nature, not an acquired taste I can and should overcome. It made me understand that being exceptionally sensitive to what others think of me is part of what makes me strong–not some psychological hangup I need to get over.

It made me realize, too, that although I’ve learned to act like an extrovert in order to cope in a world catered toward extroverts, there’s good, solid rationale behind suggesting that extroverts could benefit from acting more like me, too.

On Being Vulnerable. Very vulnerable.

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Photo by damselfly58, via Flickr

“I don’t know how you blog,” a friend of mine said not long ago. “I worry so much about what other people think. I don’t know how you do it. I mean, you actually have to deal with ‘trolls.'”

I had to be honest and say that my reach is really too small to attract much in the way of trolls. Still, I, too, take disagreements and criticism very much to heart. It’s why I try so hard to think through different points of view before I ever write, and why I consider so hard the topics I cover, and am willing to engage and admit when I’m off base. It’s also why I so often remind people to respond with thought and care–because reasoned, calm, thoughtful debate hurts much less than thoughtless comments, which can cut very, very deep indeed.

I began blogging because that’s what authors are supposed to do. It’s called “platform”–you’re supposed to build up a following of people who will become your book audience. But it’s never worked out that way for me. The only niche I’ve ever found, the one that always sends the hits skyward, is Down syndrome, and I don’t believe that would remain true if I blogged about it all the time. I’ve made this a place where I look at the world and myself in a thoughtful way, mostly replacing the Journals I wrote starting at the age of eleven or twelve. I’ve tried to address the struggles I face and the blemishes I see in myself with honesty. I’ve always been pretty open about my world–not because I think I’m so all-fire unique, but because I’m not. I think a lot of people feel what I feel, but not everyone is as analytical. If putting my spiritual and emotional wrestling matches out there can help others put words on something they too have faced, and help them find their own way, then I’ve done a good thing for the world.

The risk, though, is that I lay myself open to judgment from those whose opinions really do matter. I am always, always aware that those I love know more about my deepest feelings than I do about theirs–and that more often than not, they don’t engage in conversation about it. There’s a vulnerability to that situation that goes unrecognized. For a person like me, whose soul recoils from chastisement and positively shrivels at derision and sarcasm, it is a huge act of, well…vulnerability. When I feel criticism and judgment from someone who matters, it cripples me. It upsets my digestive system. My fingers shake for hours. And of course, I can’t sleep.

I’ve never addressed this before, because I’ve always felt if I did, people would feel they can’t engage in discussion (especially disagreement) at all–and what is the point of putting your thoughts out in a public forum if you’re not open to discussion? Open to personal growth? I don’t need a bunch of mirrors reflecting my own idols back at me.

But I hope this little digression will illuminate how important it is for all of us to think before we speak, and to weigh words carefully instead of saying every blessed thing that comes to mind without thought of how it might impact others. And yes, I am including myself in that “all.”