Life has been a bit crazy as of late. I’d even go as far as to say there has been a fair amount of drama. Not an abundance of the kind caused by people who want attention and act out until they get it (though there has been a bit of that), but mostly the drama caused by the realities of life. Sick friends and family, death and dying, people I love who are unhappy in their lives, work that seems to test me and confound me, relationship issues, time shared with good friends and family, crazy personal challenges, great adventures, and opportunities to support people and causes I believe in. A lot of bad, tempered by a lot of real good. Overall it has reminded me that I have an excellent life, a rich life, a life based in reality and not in fantasy, but also there just aren’t enough hours in the day to do all that I want to do. It’s like the never-ending feast…..but as with most feasts, you have to watch out for the signs of over-indulgence.
I’ve found myself exhausted at times. Exhausted to the core of my marrow. Feeling like I can’t do the things that must be done, the things that I believe are uniquely prepared by God for me to do. That I can’t fully give all that I need to give. Not just the negative situations, but the positive ones, too. Committed to doing something that you know you will enjoy, or that you know will be fulfilling, but not knowing whether you have another ounce of energy to give to it.
I am an introvert who has often been called to be an extrovert. The definitions of introvert and extrovert seem to get confused by many people. It’s not about how much time you spend around people, it’s not about how much you like people, it’s not about whether you are quiet or loud, whether you are shy or outgoing, or whether you are the center of attention or the person in the corner – it’s about where you get your energy. What refreshes you and brings you life. Some people are refreshed from other people – they feed on their energy and it invigorates them. They need constant feedings of people time, and this fuels them. They are an extrovert. They say that this accounts for about 60% of people.
Others get exhausted by people time. They need to retreat into themselves – they need time to breathe and think and gain strength from within. They don’t necessarily need to be physically alone…..they may drift away in the recesses of their mind even if people are around. They can be in the midst of a crowd, but even then may have to take time to shut out the noise and regroup internally. I’m one of these people. I am an introvert.
I remember growing up and having to escape. I was one of five children, in a house that was very loud and active, and there were always people around. Those who know me know that even then I was one of the loudest in the household, so the noise level was no indication of my introvert status. My need for personal refreshment was. I was a big reader, so that was often my mode of relaxation and recuperation. It still is. We had a living room that was seldom used and a chair in there that was pushed up to align with the couch, so there was a little cubbyhole behind. That was my place, along with our powder room where you could go undetected for long periods of time (especially if you pretended to clean it.) Anywhere that I would not have to engage with others. I would take a book and read for hours on end. Sometimes hiding from my parents, who thought I needed to be outside playing more than I was. They were probably right. But then again, even then I knew I needed “me” time.
When I tell people I am an introvert, they never seem to believe me, until they spend long periods of time with me or have known me for a lot of years. I have had houseguests stay for long periods of time and not understand how I can sit in front of my computer for hours and seemingly do nothing “productive.” Especially since I work in front of a computer much of the day! But for me it is very productive…..it’s a way I can be alone and process and think…..and still keep my fingers busy. The multi-tasking side of me. I google much more than the average person. A stream of consciousness is going through my head at all times, through most of my waking hours. Having people around doesn’t usually bother me….unless they prove to be particularly annoying…and though I live alone now, between family and roommates and friends, for most of my life lots of people have been around. But regardless of who is around, I need that time to process (or maybe over-process) things in my brain.
I am very bad at small talk. That’s another sign of an introvert. Oh yes, I have developed some social skills over the years, and can hide that side of me for short periods of time, but I quickly tire of it. It exhausts me. I can’t cope for long. I need a topic…..I need ideas. I need to think. I need things to go deeper. I’m better when thought and talk are combined, though I also recognize that sometimes it is more appropriate and comfortable for people to keep things light and on the surface. It’s also why I have a cache of questions in my mind that I pull out when I need to try to get people onto a topic, and avoid the silence that sets in me if it doesn’t happen. (Silence that happens because I just can’t think of anything else to say about the weather!) I try to find questions that are still somewhat lightweight, but tell me more about the other people in the conversation.
It’s helpful to know what side of the spectrum we fall on….and also recognize it for the other people in our lives. While someone who cares for me needs to understand I refresh internally, I need to know and respect what does it for them. I didn’t always understand and respect that in others, because my internal voice was always saying “Just leave me alone and let me think!” But we all need our refreshment time, in the fashion that works best for us. We need that oasis. If we care about people we need to recognize the source of their oasis, and make sure that they can find refreshment. All people are not strong introverts and extroverts, though you usually topple in one direction or the other. I’ve usually tested strongly on the introvert side, but even that can change somewhat as time goes on. I suspect I could be a bit less so these days, though maybe that is just that I understand it more…..and understand it isn’t all about me!
“Experts” are always quick to tell people they need alone time, but not everyone does. (My guess is that those “experts” are introverts who want people to just leave them alone for a while!) For some people, for most people if that statistic is correct, it isn’t what brings refreshment. They need “people time” to bring things into focus for them, to relax them, to bring them peace. We introverts may sometimes feel that the extroverts in our life are relentless and needy (as they think we are standoffish and self-centered), but the truth is that they are just feeding to gain their strength, as we introverts feed and gain our strength from our own center. There’s a natural conflict there. But when we recognize and understand it, it’s actually interesting to observe and a very cool part of who we all are. Knowing what makes us continue to “tick” can show us how to find peace, whatever our circumstances. Knowing what makes others continue to “tick” can help us help them find their peace. And we all need peace and refreshment to keep us doing what we need, and want, to do…and to keep us engaged in life and relationships.