Thursday, July 6, 2017

The Care and Feeding of an Introvert

I had a fairly epic meltdown yesterday.

Not only was it epic, but it was entirely unexpected.  I mean, the usual triggers were all there: too much socializing, too little sleep, too many commitments.  I'd been on the go on Friday non-stop from 6am til after 11pm.  It was a long weekend with Kaylee, who likes waking up around 6 am. We stayed out late Monday at a movie.  I battled Walmart on the day before a holiday and baked 4 desserts in the span from Monday evening til Tuesday morning.

But I didn't feel stressed out.  I didn't feel like crying.  I just felt, well, exhausted.  And the exhaustion covered almost every other sign that I was on the verge of losing my Vulcan-like cool.

So, when Mark asked me what I wanted for dinner (how dare he, am I right?), I may have exploded.

Okay.  I did.  I exploded.  I lost my cool.  I completely melted down and sobbed for about five minutes.  It was embarrassing and frustrating and I hated every damn second of it.

And now all I can do is think about the many and various ways that scenario could have easily been avoided.

You see, in my exhaustion and determination to Do All the Things and Bake All the Things, I forgot something very important.

I'm an introvert.

Quite simply, I can't do all the things.  Not all the time.  (I can still try to bake all the things, though.  Try and stop me.)

I know I talk about being an introvert a lot.  I admit it.  But it's important to me and how I function.

Being an introvert isn't just an reason to stay home or leave early.  It's not a convenient or handy excuse.   In fact, most of the time it makes me feel guilty.  I don't always want to stay home.  I don't always want to relax.  Sometimes I do want to do all the things and go to all the places and see all my friends.

But I can't.

Being an introvert is who I am.  And, if I ignore who I am for too long, if I keep pretending to be someone else (someone who can be blithely be a social butterfly), and if I don't remember the proper care and feeding of an introvert, there are consequences.

What is the proper care and feeing of an introvert?

Well.  I'm glad you asked, since I clearly need my own reminder.

Before we begin, please remember this: being an introvert does not make me anti-social.  I love my friends and my family and enjoy spending time with them.  To an extent.  And then I need a break.

What To Do With Your Introvert: A Manual

1. Give her space.  Introverts, more than extroverts, have a precious personal bubble that only certain people are allowed inside. (Note: Most pets are welcome inside the bubble at all times.)  Space is not just physical.  Space is needed in conversations, in emotions, and in new experiences.  All these things take careful consideration for an introvert, and answers to serious (or not-so-serious) questions often need to be worded just right in an introvert's head before being spoken aloud.  New situations need easing into.  Don't rush an introvert if at all possible.

2. Give her alone time.  If you see your introvert curled up with a book, or eating by herself, don't worry.  She's not bored.  She's not upset.  She's recharging.  This is very important for an introvert, especially after a long period of socializing.  (Most introverts bring a book along with them to help maintain proper battery strength throughout the day.)  She'd probably like some coffee, if you do feel the need to contribute.

3. Give her a book.  Suggest a movie.  Start a Netflix marathon.  Basically, give her an escape and a mental break.  A lot goes on inside an introvert's head.  All the time.  Constantly.  The average introvert is almost always playing and replaying past situations, present dilemmas, and future scenarios.  She is remembering song lyrics and movie quotes.  She's making up stories.  She's agonizing over a mistake she made ten years ago.  She's analyzing the next day's schedule.  She's worried someone's mad at her.  Books are a refuge, a focusing point.  They shut out the excess noise.  So do movies and TV shows.  If you're lucky, your introvert will snuggle on the couch with you, or at least share her popcorn.  (Bonus points if you suggest she goes to a bookstore, takes a bath, or both.)

4. Make her food.  Bring her a snack.  Order a pizza.  Pour her a glass of wine, or beer, or drink of choice.  Or just let her loose in the kitchen, since cooking is one of the best therapeutic activities there is. (Maybe offer to help clean up, if the coast seems clear).  Really, just do this for anyone.  Everyone likes food.  Food is awesome.

5. Don't issue last-minute invites.  While this is not a hard and fast rule (see #6), as even introverts can behave spontaneously, it is a very handy guideline.  You are more likely to lure your introvert from the safety of her den if you plan ahead and give her time to mentally prepare for leaving said den.  Introverts, in general, like to know what to expect from day to day.  Last-minute invites tend to trigger the warning bells.  Note: planning ahead doesn't guarantee the presence of your introvert.  Sometimes, it's best to stay home in spite of the best-laid plans.  It happens.

6. Don't stop inviting her to things (even if it is last-minute).  Introverts want to know that they're welcome to join in an activity, even if they decide not to.  Introverts know that they live in an extroverted world and often feel guilty for not attending parties/group events, or for leaving said events early.  Continued invites keep introverts from feeling unwanted and encourage your introvert to step outside her bubble (just a bit), but don't be discouraged if she stays home instead.  Remember: your introvert still loves you, even if she didn't go to a concert with you, of if she only stayed for an hour at your party.

7. Text her.  Introverts have an innate dislike for phone calls (and are often known for not answering).  Most introverts prefer texting for day-to-day casual conversation, as it allows for fully-formulated thoughts at convenient intervals.  Through reading what an introvert has to say (be it text, e-mails, Facebook comments, or blogs), you may come to realize that introverts are actually as funny, sarcastic, and ridiculous as any extrovert.  They simply need the correct medium and comfort level to communicate effectively.

8. Accept her.  Note: more important than any other step.  Introverts need to be accepted.  They have grown up in an extroverted world and have often tried to "pass" for extroverts in order to succeed at school, in business, or in relationships.  There is no greater relief for an introvert than to be loved (like Bridget Jones) just as she is.  Putting up a false front is far more exhausting than any crowded party or loud concert, and most introverts are willing to risk a little emotional exhaustion for those people who truly accept who she is.

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