Thursday, September 11, 2014

Some Rambling Thouhts on The Whole Introvert/Extrovert Paradigm

This is my understanding of what it means to be an introvert or extrovert: an introvert draws her energy from within herself; an extrovert draws her energy from other people.

I have taken many different personality tests during my life, and the tests all agree: I am an Introvert.

I have prided myself on being a Lone Wolf. If stranded on a desert island, I would do fine.

Or so I thought.

Until recently, I have always been a member of a Pack. From preschool through law school, I spent my days with my classmates. Then I went to work and there were always tons of people around. Even if I spent most of my day staring at a computer screen, I still spent lots of time interacting with other people. For my entire life, I had a built-in Wolf Pack. I spent my days with the Pack.

After Pippa was born, I became a stay-at-home mom and I no longer had a Wolf Pack. Instead, I was a Wolf with a Cub - not a pack.

Still, I clung to my belief that I am a Lone Wolf. All the personality tests said I was an Introvert!

But here's the thing about personality tests: they depend entirely on my answers.  I might have thought I was answering the questions honestly, but sometimes I can be dishonest with myself.

Nathan has been very busy at work. Insanely busy.  Hellishly unreasonably busy.  He has been working 70-80 hours every week for ... well, it feels like forever. He has been going to the office every weekend for the past month and has been in Arizona for the past week. 

This has been tough for him, but it has also been tough for me. The weekends were especially tough. My parents were in New York, Nathan was at the office, and Pippa and I just had each other.
I was feeling .... ick ... urg... I did not know exactly what I was feeling, but it did not feel good.

I thought about it.  I wrote about it.  I thought about it some more, and then I realized ...

I was lonely.

Me? Lonely? How could that be? I'm an introvert! I should be relishing the Me Time. I only need a book and I'm happy. Right?  RIGHT?!

Wrong. I was lonely. L-O-N-E-L-Y.

I whined and complained to Nathan. He listened, but this did not change the fact that I was l-o-n-e-l-y.

So I made more plans. A year ago, I joined a local mom's group but never attended the big gatherings. I finally attended one. I emailed friends and set up lunch dates. I took Pippa to a free music class and signed us up for the semester. We went to a free gym class. I made more of an effort to chat with other moms at the playground and you know what? The friendlier I am, the friendlier the other moms are too.

When I was talking with other people, I found myself happy and ... energized. Energized by other people? WTF? Aren't I an introvert?

At my monthly appointment, I told my psychiatrist that Nathan was busy at work and I was feeling lonely. He told me if I feast all day and have burnt toast for dinner, that's okay. But if I only get one meal a day, and that meal is burnt toast, then I'm going to be cranky and depressed.

He's right. I have been getting out of the house every day and exploring new places with Pippa. We have taken classes and made friends, but we were not interacting with people every day. I depended on Nathan to be my breakfast, lunch and dinner; my mommy friends were just snacks. But with Nathan hellishly unreasonably busy at work, he did not have the time to be a 24 hour social buffet. 

After lots of ruminating and soul-searching, I finally accepted the fact that I am not a Lone Wolf. I am an extrovert, and I love being part of a pack.

You hear that, world? I AM AN EXTROVERT!!!

I believe I have always been an extrovert but thanks to my extreme anxiety, I convinced myself that I was an introvert. Let me try to explain...

Before I had postpartum depression, I was an anxious person, but I was able to function. After I gave birth, my hormones went bat shit crazy, and my anxiety went to a whole new level. I became depressed, had panic attacks, and could not sleep. I wanted to die.

But I did not die. Although I had thoughts about killing myself, I did not like those thoughts. So I saw my doctor and self-admitted myself to the hospital. I got help. I saw a cognitive behavioral therapist every week and he helped me defeat my postpartum depression. And then we tackled all of my other pre-existing anxieties, and we shredded my anxiety to pieces and then took those pieces and lit a bonfire and turned my anxiety to ash. Now that the ashes have blown away, I can see how deeply every part of my life was affected by anxiety.

I know now that thanks to my anxiety, I was afraid of people. I was so, so terribly afraid of REJECTION. I was afraid of talking to people and asking friends out to lunch because, horror of horrors, THEY MIGHT SAY NO AND THAT WOULD BE FUCKING TERRIBLE.

Except it wouldn't be. Rejection is not the end of the world. It's not even a broken arm. It's a paper cut. An itty bitty ouch, a little drop of blood, and that's it. Big deal.

I am starting to put myself out there. I joined a mommy play group. I joined a mommy class that starts at the end of the month. I started a play group/book club on Meetup a few days ago. I have a few other Meetups that I want to start, especially one for crafting and a big one for postpartum depression. I am looking at my calendar and making sure it is FULL.

I used to be afraid of a full dance card - that was another bullshit concern that my anxiety manufactured. I was afraid that I might have to cancel plans AND HOLY EFFING EFF THAT WOULD BE THE END OF THE WORLD.

Nope. Sometimes plans get cancelled. It's not the end of the world. It's not even a broken leg. Shit, it's not even a paper cut! It is, at best, an empty carton of milk that someone accidentally put back in the fridge. You think, "Shit howdy, this carton of milk is empty, let me throw it out and open this one instead" and then you move on with your life.

Rejection is not a big deal, and neither are cancelled plans. Two days ago, Pippa took a long nap at a weird time so we had to miss a play group. Guess what? The world is still here. No one broke a leg or even a toe. And there is still plenty of milk in the fridge.

This past week, I have embraced the fact that I am an extrovert. I need people! Nothing has changed - I am still the same Courtney - and yet everything has changed - for the first time in thirty-five years, I truly understand and accept who I am.

Nathan is finally coming home today after a week in Arizona, and I feel great. Pippa and I missed him, but we had a great week.  We saw lots of different people, and I had great conversations, every day. I fed my soul and energized myself by making sure I had a Pack.