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An Introvert in Need Is Still an Introvert

Don't allow the caring concern of others to overwhelm you.

Twinsfisch /Unsplash
Source: Twinsfisch /Unsplash

Who needs people?

We all do, to some extent—some times more than others.

Staking out solitude is certainly among introverts’ most important self-care jobs. With self-reflection and trial and error, we all figure out how much social life is too much, how much is just enough, and how much is not enough—only the misanthropes among us will insist that no social life is just right.

But that’s in the good times when life is swimming along predictably, and our needs are run-of-the-mill.

But life doesn’t always go swimmingly. Sometimes we get caught in crosscurrents. And when that happens, you might find your introverted nature tested.

This is the situation I find myself in, facing a daunting health challenge that both isolates me, as I find myself temporarily unable to participate in activities I once enjoyed, while at the same time requiring me to navigate an abundance of loving concern from other people. A loving concern I very much need, but that can overwhelm me.

In other words, not enough and also too much. Simultaneously.

In an emotional moment early on in what I refuse to call my journey, I wrote about my situation on my personal Facebook page. I regret exposing myself that way, but I also was (and remain) touched, and frankly surprised, by the number of people who responded with care and concern. I’m pretty sure people like me more now that I’m sick than they did when I was healthy.

And as I navigate these waters, I absolutely do need people to lean on, sympathetic ears to vent to, shoulders to cry on (though I am highly discriminating about who gets to see me cry), and even concrete help sometimes—a meal when I’m too wrung out to cook, a ride when I’m not feeling well enough to drive. This stuff is difficult to ask for, and so I am nothing but grateful to people who make it easier to do.

Even so, it wasn’t long into this whole business before I started getting overwhelmed by my sudden immersion into not only my emotions but also other people’s. Keeping up with the concern and interest of others started to feel like an obligation. And I realized that even though a scary diagnosis can, at first, make you feel like you have become an entirely different person, beyond that diagnosis, you are still the person you’ve always been.

I’m still an introvert. A sick introvert, but introverted as ever.

And so I got introvert-thinky and started sorting through how I could take in and appreciate other people’s concern while not depleting myself. Self-care in stressful times involves both reaching out and withdrawing as necessary.

And I realized...

...that it’s OK to ask for the support I need when I need it. Introverts’ proud self-sufficiency is fine until it interferes with our own well-being. In my book Introverts in Love, I wrote about introverts’ tendency to let relationships pursue them rather than pursuing the ones they want. It’s the same with support.

Rather than just waiting for people to step up and offer—sometimes making lovely gestures that miss the mark—I am learning (slowly and painfully) to reach out and say, “Hey, I would love your company today,” or "Can you help me with something?"

Believe it or not, people actually like that kind of thing. They are often flattered. So I get to be nice to them, and I get my needs met. Win-win.

…that I can control the conversation. Answering every phone call and message right away is not necessary. Now more than ever, I especially resist getting dragged into phone calls when I’m not in the mood. If other people are offended by this, then I’m sorry, but so be it.

I remind myself that if they want to support me, they need to do it in ways that feel right to me. People who truly love me understand this.

…that it’s OK to whine and gripe. I try to do it sparingly, to only select people, and to temper it with humor, but I can’t be stoic all the time. That’s exhausting, and it feels false. (My husband is now scratching his head and wondering when, exactly, I am stoic.)

…that support isn’t always deep and profound. Sometimes it’s just hanging out with nice people who may or may not be close friends. Sometimes I just want to be regular and not worry about the things that are worrying me. Sometimes I just want to do lunch. When life feels big and scary, a light lunch with a few laughs can be very refreshing.

…that not everybody is going to know what to say and how to say it, and sometimes people say really dumb or hurtful things. I keep my protective introvert force field up in these cases. I don’t have to let dumb stuff in.

Although, actually, these things are often funny in their cluelessness, so a sense of humor can definitely ease the sting. My husband and I have added a few running jokes to our repertoire this way.

…that while I am grateful for any attention that comes my way, I am not obligated to allow everyone in. I can accept kindness while maintaining boundaries. I write a private blog to keep people updated on my progress, which allows me to control the information that gets out and the tone in which it does. It’s only as revealing as I let it be. I feel no great obligation to tell most people any more than that.

…that the best way to show appreciation to the people who really show up for me is to do my very best to continue showing up for them despite my own worries. I try to listen to them, pay attention to what’s going on in their lives, explicitly express my appreciation, make sure not to keep taking without giving back. Besides, it feels good to take the focus off me these days.

…that spending a day in bed and not talking to anyone is always an option.

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