Yesterday I was flicking through my social media and read this article, “Dear Workplaces, Churches, and Schools, PLEASE Stop Doing Icebreakers. Signed, Introverts.” It was as if somebody was writing on my behalf, to places that I inhabit often and yet still find incredibly challenging.
So here are some of my thoughts about something that affects my family significantly.
I have always been an introvert, although I didn’t know that there was a name for how I felt. I was the ‘shy’ child who didn’t cope well with new places and people, who found even family gatherings overwhelming. I could often be found hiding in the loo, or a corner reading my book, or helping in the kitchen close to my Mum.
I also learned quickly that keeping busy, offering to do the background jobs that needed doing, avoiding the main element of the gathering helped enormously. It kept me out of the firing line of the extroverts in my life who felt I was missing out by not being the (unwanted) centre of attention or in the thick of the action.
Social gatherings continue to fill me with unease.
School was interesting and generally fine. I was fortunate that my high school was relatively small and the staff were consistent.
Sleepovers were my nemesis! My school friends used to tease me about always being the first one to sleep…the reality was (I now understand) that I had gone into shutdown and my body would just sleep. Too many variables. Too many people in close quarters.
I have always enjoyed work, mostly due to working with brilliant people. Also as part of a profession that ticked so many boxes for me: supporting others, working with individuals and families over periods of time, consistent places and people. First appointments with new children and families were always challenging, but I would hold in mind that I needed to allow myself some grace on those days. I always felt at home as an Occupational Therapist, especially once I found my niche in Children’s OT.
Church has always been a tricky one – a place and a family that I love to be with and yet I struggle to cope with when I’m having a tricky time. But I know the hard spots, I am aware of my struggles and I allow myself some wriggle room in order to cope.
Even being greeted at the door can be overwhelming, so I go in with my gaggle of girls and the anxiety lessens. The meet and greet time in the service can be stressful, so I attend to my girls or I go to the loo, or I make a beeline for a safe friend.
DAY TO DAY LIFE
I have places that I visit regularly that make me feel incredibly on edge and I am aware that I am not really my relaxed self. Church, home ed groups, a handful of other places where I cannot easily exit.
I also have a handful of places (mostly outdoor spaces, home and a few friends’ houses) where I feel completely comfortable. You are most likely to hang out with the real ‘me’ in those places.
I have also discovered that I am not only an introvert, but I am a Highly Sensitive Person. These two traits are not mutually exclusive, or consistent bedfellows. It’s just that I personally happen to fall in both camps.
Both of these traits play out loudly in my everyday life. I have learned how to manage them. I sought out help when my resulting anxiety became so overwhelming that I couldn’t manage day to day life.
Home educating can be a challenge at times, but the girls and I have worked hard to find routines and rhythms that work for us all. Quiet time after lunch is a favourite with all of us and we definitely all benefit from an hour alone doing quiet activities (reading, crafting, sleeping, listening to audio books).
Home education is also not a response to the challenges of school from an introvert standpoint. Home education for us is the best fit for our family. For a myriad of reasons other than introversion!
I am also incredibly fortunate to be married to an introvert. We thrive off time alone, or time alongside one another, without needing to be around other people to recharge. He understands me. I understand him.
We do have to push each other, as we would happily coexist for long periods of time without interaction with anyone else! But awareness and understanding is the key. Grace allows us to make allowances and to dig a little deeper when resistance to socialising is at all time highs.
I have loved the discovery of this book, The Introvert Charismatic (thanks Penny!), which has helped me to learn how to find my place in my faith community. If knowledge is power, this book has allowed me to relax and be myself, safe in the knowledge that my introvert self is a highly valuable part of God’s creation!
THINGS THAT HELP
Over the years I have taught myself a variety of coping mechanisms. Some I have discovered by accident. Some I have read about and tried. Some I had already been using for years without realising why…
I like to observe a scenario before throwing myself in to the activity.
I know that tiredness affects my ability to stay calm in an anxiety provoking situation. So I make allowances for myself. And I have plenty of early nights!
I go to the loo, or the car, or tend to one of my children to avoid scenarios that I know in that moment that I cannot cope with.
I strongly dislike being put on the spot, having to make an immediate choice, being embarrassed into participating, being told I’ll get over it, or that I’m setting a bad example.
The more I’m pushed, the more I will dig my heels in. So when I am very clear with you that I do not want to, please respect my choice.
I know to avoid visually disturbing movies, tv programmes, news pieces. I simply can’t forget them.
I drink very little caffeine. I don’t apologise for this. If my Fitbit had a heart rate tracker it would explain why this is a necessary strategy.
I actively (and appropriately) use avoidance as a strategy to help. This is completely valid. So please excuse me if I renege on a previously agreed get together. I am simply recognising that I am not able to cope at the time.
I use an app that assists me in regulating my breathing, bringing my heart rate down and beginning to feel calmer and less threatened by my surroundings.
I walk it off. Walking, cycling, swimming are all activities that I adore (and always have). The more solitary the better.
SEEING IT IN OTHERS
More than one of my children is demonstrating similar behaviours. I will not force them, coerce them, shame them in to changing. They know their limits. They are becoming very self aware and I am proud of them. I will always champion them and their choices.
Other people may look at our parenting choices at times and feel we are denying our children, when we say no to activities or gatherings. That’s ok. My shoulders are broad. And my love for my children is greater than theirs. We are supporting them to make good choices for themselves. To know when to push themselves and when to let go and breathe.
For as long as we are able, we will be the ones to say no, in order to avoid our girls being questioned as to why.
Please don’t avoid me! Please do feel free to chat about my introversion and what I enjoy/find tricky. Please understand that I am not being rude if I avoid a situation that you simply take in your stride.
And please know that we are constantly challenging ourselves to push ourselves and our girls beyond what feels comfortable. But we need to do this on our own terms. And in our own time.