The other morning, I curled up on the couch in my pajamas and watched the first season’s final episode of “Outlander.” Confession: I was not sick. The weather was not particularly bad. It was the middle of a weekday morning and yes, I had actual tasks at hand.
My cat, who seemed to be busy elsewhere, did not even join me.
Sometimes, the world is just too much with me, to paraphrase Wordsworth, and I need a break. I have to withdraw from people for a while. Typically, I hang out at the house, miss group workouts, binge on a TV show, or submerge deeply in a book. Emails go unreturned; appointments are cancelled. My sweet husband knows to leave me alone.
I call it hiding in the open.
I’m not sure if friends or extended family are aware when this happens. Perhaps they are, but no one has ever talked about it with me. I’ve certainly never brought my retreats up…until a conversation triggered some reflection.
A friend and I were talking about a mutual acquaintance and I said, “I quite like so-and-so but she can run a little, well, hot and cold. I don’t always know where I stand with her.”
My friend replied, “I’ve heard she deals with depression issues. Sometimes, she just retreats.”
I’ve been told that everything I’m thinking shows across my face, so I’m guessing my friend read this in those fleeting nanoseconds while I absorbed our comments:
Wow. Is that what people say about me?
I Am An Extroverted Introvert
Reading Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain (you can download Quiet here) supplied a positive label for my behavior. Until I saw Cain’s descriptions in print, I’d just figured I was “moody” or, to use the less clinical term, nuts.
When I was working in an office, I’d worried that I was lazy, easily overwhelmed, a slacker. Nobody else, it seemed, felt run down after meet-and-greets, exhausted at the end of a production cycle, and full of dread over meetings (OK, I take that back; EVERYBODY dreaded the meetings — they were HELL). Who else needs to escape the constant churn as I often do?
It seems a lot of people do.
According to Cain, “one out of every two or three people you know” in the United States is an introvert (which she defines, to paraphrase, as one who prefers a quiet, minimally stimulating environment).
That dichotomy within me wasn’t moodiness, and I wasn’t nuts. It’s okay for me to love being around people until I can’t take it anymore. What’s important is recognizing how I work and what I need. Finding a label and a community helped me to see that these weren’t random failings on my part or character flaws.
It’s just me.
And that conversation with my friend revealed that perhaps I should quit being so secretive about my need for quiet. Perhaps my personal relationships will be better for sharing that, sometimes, I’ve got to hide out in the open.
6 Ways I Soothe My Introverted Side
I’ve developed a few strategies that help extend those periods when I enjoy being part of the busy, stimulating world. The big battle, however, is protecting these activities by assigning their appropriate worth and not replacing them with “more important” tasks or events.
Monthly Facials. At the end of each production cycle at the magazine, I was completely drained, every last nerve brittle. I desperately needed something to replenish zest that had been extracted, and one month, I chanced to schedule a facial on the evening the print went off. There’s surely something symbolic about “putting my best face forward,” as an hour of soothing music, gentle touch, and restorative scents gave me respite and new energy. It’s been a staple on my calendar ever since.
Time Outside. Breathing fresh air, no matter the weather, wraps me in a sense of calm. Even a short midday walk around the block settles and refreshes me. This is especially important on days with a full schedule of meetings and work. When I have extended periods without this outside time, I frazzle quickly and feel tired. (Is it any surprise I wound up running ultramarathons?)
One-on-Ones. I can become overwhelmed at big events full of superficial acquaintances and small talk. Interestingly, I’ve found a good antidote is regular one-on-one meetings with a friend. Somehow, scheduling that quality time enables me to face all the riff-raff without feeling leeched afterward.
Reading. Fully diving into a book takes me to another world, one that asks for nothing but my attention. About once a month, I embed, spending hours fully submerged, and that extended time in a fantasy place resets all my gauges. Closing the cover when finished is like coming out of a deep and restful sleep.
Class Workouts. While I love meeting friends for runs or scheduling an outing with the hubby, I crave a certain amount of impersonal, anonymous group exercise. Yes, I’m that person who shows up at yoga or Jazzercise and doesn’t talk to anyone. Why? I find comfort in being part of the class without having to worry about any social responsibilities. Doing so satisfies my desire for people and solitude at the same time.
Tidying Up. Housework — straightening, cleaning, organizing — often acts as a balm to my overstimulated mind. All’s right with my world when I’ve engaged in some simple, homey task (just take a look at “Sweeping, My Optimistic Workout” if you don’t believe me).
I’d love to hear what others do to find quiet restoration in this busy world. How do you recharge?