Monday, April 05, 2010

This Shell Is Bigger Than I (and I haven't finished mapping it)

Every time anyone asked me what I was planning to do over the four-day weekend, I exuberantly replied, "SLEEP!"

Most people were not impressed with this. Fair enough, it's not the most interesting activity out there. The lack of empathy surprised me a bit though. Is everyone else in the world getting a good amount of sleep? Are all the people around me not weary?

This is hard to believe. Perhaps they're just better at faking it than I am.

No plans were made, in fact I made anti-plans and said no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, long after people stopped asking. No one will invite me out again, and oh please let that be the case. 'Sleep' is one way of saying 'rest', and 'rest' can mean many things.

I pulled myself in, an operation that started some time in the week before, when I found myself compulsively checking my phone and email accounts for any sort of contact that meant someone out there was thinking of me, which would validate my existence for maybe the next minute, if I was lucky, this validation seldom lasted long enough to see me through to the next such instance of contact, and so I'd find myself wondering what I could do to increase the regularity of these instances, and acting before thinking and with the most pathetic motivations.

Interestingly, the source of this behaviour doesn't lie in depression and insecurity as it usually does.

The 34 days I spent in Patagonia I was constantly surrounded by people. There was not a moment I had to myself, no quiet time, and these weren't quiet people. They were boisterous and rowdy and hilarious. They didn't stop. Pretty early on they twigged that I wasn't quite fitting the mold, and to fend off any future troubles I told them I wasn't a people person and in a couple of weeks would probably over-saturate from social exposure, cease all communication and disappear off on my own for great tracts of time.

This failed to happen, which they called me on, and fuck me if I wasn't the most surprised of everyone. It wasn't just that I coped the shit out it, I wasn't actually 'coping' at all, it was no trial, I did not have to be careful with myself, I was having a freaking awesome time and it never occurred to me that I needed to fall apart at any point in time.

Do you know how that feels? To find the boundaries of your introversion do not lie where you assumed they did?

To feel like maybe you're a normal person?

That feels amazing.


I came back, and carried on with this new assumption that I could be a normal person with a fun and happening social life. I've done so much stuff in the last couple of months it's ridiculous, from concerts to cocktails, phone calls to rampant text messages. I'm not ruled by introversion! I can be normal! I can take it!

And, yes, well, no, actually, I can't.

For a moment there I was closer, much closer, to being a person I've wanted to be for my whole life. But I'm not her. Or rather, I can't always be her. She's unsustainable, and not good for me.

In withdrawing (yet again), breaking myself of this validation-chasing habit (yet again), I've given myself a different sort of validation, more unwanted but not unexpected confirmation than validation I suppose. Not saying anything is good for me. Not waiting for something to be said to me is even better.

I've been over-indulging in the wrong sorts of words. Too much discourse, too much effort spent trying to predict or bait the response I wanted. Too many words spent communicating.

It seems a sad thing to live in a world in which there is no shortage of fascinating people with interesting things to say, and yet I must spend time talking and listening only to myself.

It doesn't matter that right now there is no great turbulence in my life. There need be no howling and the volume need not be on full for me to spend time listening to the tides in my thoughts. What goes on in me now is quiet and soft, which makes it no less important to listen to, only that I must listen harder.

Every time I do this I despise myself a little more. Inconsistent and unreliable. I am sorry.

It was fun, and now it's not.

Operation: Shut The Fuck Up gogogo

[ETA: On considering, this has probably been further exacerbated by my means of communication, being little snippets here and there as I'm still wary of my hands. Twitter and Facebook are fun, but lacking substance. Like eating fast food, it's fine for a bit but doesn't take long before you want something real.]


  1. Beautiful post.

    I think I recognise that feeling, and how addictive it can feel to connect with people and be out and about.

    But if as an introvert you gain strength from solitude then, sometimes, no matter how much fun you're having, it can't help but rot from inside, leaving the outside hollow and crumbly. At least that's how it is for me.

    That's not to say you can't push yourself and explore the boundaries and learn to be more extroverted. But I understand the need to retreat and find your own "centre" again.

    Don't think of it as a failure. I think it's a way of strengthening the core to ensure that the expanding boundaries are built on more than just pavlova-shell.

  2. I always enjoy your posts, Tessa. People do not always understand this need for solitude but at the same time my doc was right about the need for social contact that I experienced on returning to uni in 2008. And you can be sure that your friends around the place are thinking of you.

    Hope the hands are still coming good.

  3. "I told them I wasn't a people person and in a couple of weeks would probably over-saturate from social exposure, cease all communication and disappear off on my own for great tracts of time.

    This failed to happen,"

    While I've never done this for 34 days straight, I've been similarly surprised. The first time I hied off on my own, to meet a bunch of people from an atheism forum in Las Vegas when I was 22 or so, I think I lasted one, maybe two days before I had to disappear - as in I got up in the middle of a gathering and walked out the door for about three hours. They were worried they had upset or offended me somehow, and I had to explain to them that I had reached total people-saturation. I went to a wedding for a few days and had to go hide in a back room with a book for a few hours. Over the next several excursions, I expected I would have the same reaction. But given regular exposure to large groups of people for 4-5 days at a time, I found my tolerance to be significantly increased - but I still need time in the rabbit hole afterwards.

    Being introverted doesn't make you not-normal. You just need friends who understand the difference between when you legitimately need to hide (and leave you alone) and when somebody needs to take you by the ears and encourage you to face the world again.

  4. "It seems a sad thing to live in a world in which there is no shortage of fascinating people with interesting things to say, and yet I must spend time talking and listening only to myself."

    Sounds perfectly reasonable to me. There are fascinating things outside and fascinating things within. I was reading about this recently, and apparently it's pretty common for people to have mixed introverted and extraverted traits.

  5. Heh. Pavlova.

    I'm actually extremely lucky with my friends, in that they all have the same basic need to be alone to recuperate, and so we're quite forgiving of each other and our tendency to pike on outings.

    Despite this, and despite having acknowledged this for years, it still feels like a failing on my part when I get to the point at which I must be alone, even if I don't actually want to be.

    I'm curious about the idea of mixed introverted/extroverted traits though.

  6. Interesting you should comment on the mixed introvert/extrovert traits. Before my health fell apart, I was considered a full-on extrovert at work but nobody believed my management training personality profile stuff that showed me also having a quite high rating on the introvert side. I have always said that I am shy but do a good job of hiding it.