To People or Not To People (the struggle of an introvert).

Michelle Cashman

I am quite a complex creature.  I thrive on a stage, in a room full of people.  I love engaging with humans, and I love being around the people I love especially when my whole extended family get together.  On the other hand, it wears me out.  It’s not sustainable and it doesn’t take long at all for me to get tired of talking, tired of humans, and run out of energy to do it well.  I need alone time.  It’s where I sort out the stuff in my head. It’s where I make sense of the world and process my experiences.  It tends to be where I take the information that the people I have spoken to  have given me, and I mull it over until I have a good sense of where they’re at, what their needs are and how I might be able to benefit them better the next time we speak.  It also helps me to understand myself.  Sometimes by listening to others I am confronted by what I disagree with, and while I can still empathise and understand, I then find myself when I go home, kind of sorting that out in a way that makes me understand why I think the way that I do.  There are good sides and bad sides to these seemingly conflicting sides of my personality.

One good side to my love of people and communication with them, is that I tend to do it well.  I have a bit of a knack of explaining things in a way that people get. Things that might not have ever crossed their minds before.  But, they cross my mind all the time because I spend a lot of time, in my mind, analysing things.  It kind of works together.  The inner stuff, where I learn, I take, and then share with my outer world.  It feels cathartic, important, and without trying to toot my own horn, a lot of the time it IS helpful for people around me.  It’s just kind of what I do and how I bring value to the world I’m in.

The downside is, if I spend too much time with humans, it can be quite destructive.  I look at it like this: when I’m with the humans, I am gathering ‘furniture’ for my attic.  The information they give me, their experiences and feelings, goes straight into my attic.  If I am well, and I am creating a good balance, the way this works then, is when I go home and when I’m alone, I take all those bits of furniture, I dust them off and turn them around and find spots for them in my house (sometimes I might write music about the way it has made me feel) OR if they’re not necessary to keep or build upon, I send them to the op shop. Ha!

What happens when this doesn’t work well, is when I spend too much time with humans, and not enough time alone, then I don’t get to clear out the attic.  I keep shoving more and more furniture in, and eventually, it comes out of the attic and gets stored right in the middle of a hallway.  Please bear with me if this metaphor is doing your head in.   What this means is my head is so full of crap, I haven’t dealt with my emotions about any of it, I get overwhelmed and then one of my kids gives me some grief and I near bite their head off.  I’m basically emotionally exhausted.  Where this becomes really dangerous for me, is that after a while, the attic is so overcrowded I start to feel overwhelmed.   I don’t want to go there and sort it out because there’s too much going on.  I don’t want to BE alone, and so I avoid it.  So I get more and more agitated and stressed and eventually it will trigger my anxiety.  I have to be very careful with this situation as I can sometimes lead myself to believe that it’s not me, it’s the demands others have placed on me (which means I don’t take the time to work on it and fix it).

The flip side for me, is if I spend too much time alone I can have a similar thing.  Too much time inside my head means I end up with an empty attic, and I am alone and miserable.  I can quickly fall into depression.  I need a social life but I also have a tendency to isolate when I’m struggling.  My friends may not see me for months, and my family that live with me might think I’m there, but I’m really inside my head, in a whole different world. Again, I get frustrated easily and can blame others.   But I know, inherently, that I am responsible for this.  I am responsible for creating balance.  It is the hardest thing I have ever had to learn and I am still learning it.  I still fall, I still fail, I still do all the things I shouldn’t but at least I understand it a bit more now.

I do things like write this blog in a café.  Where I am essentially alone, processing, and yet I’m surrounded by humans.  So I can choose to look up and people watch.  Or engage with the staff in a discussion.  Or I can call someone I love and have a chat and not feel so isolated.  It’s almost like an environment that caters to both sides of me at once.

I work alone.  I work better on my own.  I get more done.  I’ve been self employed for years.  But having no co-workers means that I don’t get that human interaction the average person gets or needs.  So I have to actively seek that out.  I have to deliberately schedule time with a friend to get out of my own head. But I am also fussy with where I spend my time and who I spend it with because I feel like lately I have so little of it.   Don’t we all?  With the demands of children, and family and work and sports, it’s all so consuming.  I have to learn to use my diary better and not only schedule my alone time, schedule my commitments better so that I can not worry so much about everything  I need to do – just follow the diary.

There is a lot to learn.  I am learning.  I hope that as I do, and as I grow and share along this winding path, that there’s something you can take from it too.

Michelle Cashman