Wow, sorry for the long lag! It’s been two whole months, the transition to Spring is always busiest for me, probably because I just spent at least two months moving in slow-motion. Although the response to my last post was so underwhelming I admit to wondering if anyone cares anyway. Oh, well! Here we go again….
Last week I went to a wedding. It was very nice, the service was expressive and the reception was fun. But it was a six-hour drive from my house, and involved spending three days in the car with my mother and my seven-year-old. This is stressful enough, add in a couple sick family members who I must visit, forty-five additional minutes West, and you have one very full weekend.
I knew I was tired when I got home. But Monday I simply had to go back to bed and slept until I had to get him from school. I would have slept longer. Tuesday I tried moving around to wake myself up. I cleaned, I went shopping. It backfired and I ended up sleeping half of Wednesday too.
So I guess it’s time to finally look at the thing I’ve known for years but never really accepted – I am an introvert. No matter how much fun I’m having, every interaction drains me a little bit, and I only have so much energy.
Ew. I don’t want to be a navel-gazer, and I’d like to still maybe be a performer one day, even if it’s only in a choir. And I like people! Hell, I get up in the morning, go to bed at night and schedule my days largely based around what other people need from me.
But I need my alone time. Every day, at least a couple hours if I can get it. For the longest time now it’s usually been in the evening, around 9pm, by which time I’m too tired to do much except veg. At least half a dozen projects languish due to this, this blog being one of them. The last few years I’ve had a real problem with irritability, which I assumed was due to lack of control over my home environment combined with hormones. Well I’ve been queen of my own little castle for a while now, and it hasn’t changed much. This has, however, given me the clarity to see that it doesn’t follow the ebb and flow of my hormones.
It gets worse during Red Week, sure, all emotions are more intense sometimes during that time. But after this weekend all I could think about what being left alone. (And once I was alone all I could seem to do was sleep!) It reminded me of the feeling of having been underwater for too long and suddenly nothing matters but getting to the surface. I was embarrassed at how exhausted I was – I’ve taken probably 30 road trips between Indianapolis and Cleveland, no joke. It’s been fewer the last few years, money has been tighter, but I have done this many times and visiting these people is part of the larger routine of my life. I should be able to handle this.
Except, I guess years of poor self care will wear away at a person’s resources, won’t it? And if I am an introvert like the tests keep saying, then 3 1/2 years of no private space was probably not very good for me. I certainly feel depleted inside. To tell the truth it’s been a rough decade and, this might sound weird, but I’m really glad my 20s are over.
But I can’t rely on youth to carry me through anymore. It’s time to get realistic about what it means to take care of myself, not just what I’ve read about skin care and work outs. What do I need?
Two things come to mind: One, I need some time and space to myself. To do…. something. Anything that’s mine, to start with. Often I have felt that everyone else was looking a different way than I, and I either couldn’t see what they were looking at or wasn’t interested. I discovered I didn’t need their approval to pursue my own interests, which no one seemed to share much anyway.
But, and this is where Number Two comes in, I need to have good relationships with people. Fearing rejection based on my weird hobbies, instead I resorted to pursuing friendship through action – Do you need a ride? Just gimme gas money. Do you need help carrying something? Look how strong I am! Do you need an ear? I will stay up all night with you. (Okay this one is less true these days. I have shit to do in the morning!) Do you need a cigarette? Be my guest, they’ll only kill me anyway, right? I feel bad saying no to drunk panhandlers. If you ask, I’m yours. Fortunately for me, no one seems to have really cottoned onto this glitch in my personality, and people in general have the bad habit of telling rather than asking which just triggers my weird authority issues. So maybe from the outside this pattern isn’t obvious but, I assure you, it’s there. Part of it comes from my family being basically a giant attention contest, but that’s a story for another post.
The point is, these two main objectives seem to be in conflict with one another, especially with such an action-oriented, and therefor time-consuming, relationship style. But I don’t mind getting up with my son in the morning, I’m proud to be able to get him ready and to school and I would feel bad if someone else had to do it. Every one of my social interactions is like this in some way, a labor of love (some more labor than love, I admit it) that I wouldn’t feel right without. And my regular social group is not a large one, consisting of 4 family members and a couple of friends.
But close relationships require lots of consistent effort to maintain. And there are only so many hours in the day. To complicate matters, it’s not as if my family and friends are talking amongst themselves to say, wow, I bet Sarah could use a break!
Which means, at some point, I have to say no to someone. And it’s almost certainly going to be one of my closest people, because I give the most to them. (Ironically, I was just interrupted writing this because I had to give someone a ride.) When I have to say no I feel guilty, slimy and I usually have to be pretty angry to be direct about it. All too often I don’t, because I don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings, and I don’t want to miss out on things. And because if you say no, maybe next time they won’t ask you.
Nobody wants to be lonely, so it seems paradoxical to need so much solitude. My relationships are precious to me and I don’t want to neglect them, but I really think that if I can get a better handle on myself, I’ll be a nicer person and the time I do spend with others will be of higher quality. And although I suspect the ratios would change some, I might not end up spending my time much differently.
It’s the taking responsibility for how great time alone impacts my mental health and energy levels that is the main goal. It’s a shifting of priorities, walking closer to the thin line between self care and self-absorption. I try to stay far to one side of that line because self-absorbed people drive me nuts, but avoiding what makes us uncomfortable sometimes forfeits any power we might have over it.
Establishing personal boundaries is healthy. I know because all the psychology books say so. I do a lot of reading on things like that, all I really want out of life is to be a fully-functional person with fully-functioning relationships. Anyone who’s experienced depression or anxiety knows it can be hard to take care of yourself, much less your relationships. Years ago I figured it would be better to stop focusing on my depression, stop devoting energy to it, and start focusing on the world around me. Returning to focusing on myself makes me a little nervous; Getting all my projects done isn’t worth ending up alone.
The trick is to not be a jerk about it, I suspect. Don’t say no all the time, prioritize things and be kind when you do say no.
But I’m gonna screw it up. I’m not good at asserting myself unless I’m angry and I’m not accustomed to prioritizing tasks from other people.
So please forgive me if I push topics I’m interested in, or just plain don’t want to hang out with you sometimes. It’s not you, it’s me. I need to figure out who I am, and I’m not going to do that helping other people. It’s kind of urgent, too, one only lives for so long. And I do want to spend time with you, please do ask me again next time.