As my kids get older, I’m basically forced to interact with more people more often: at parent-teacher conferences (and thanks to my oldest son, I get to participate in a lot of these…), parent meet-and-greets, school volunteer activities, play dates, etc. In small doses, these interactions are fine, even welcome (ish). But sometimes it gets to be too much.
Last week was one of those weeks when I had something going on every single day. For me, that’s a lot. I usually try to limit our social commitments to one or two a week–as in, one of my (three) kids gets to play with a friend, or I’ll read stories to one of my kid’s classrooms, or we participate in one extracurricular activity. I know I probably won’t be able to keep up this limited schedule as my kids get older, but so long as I’m the one who has to shuttle everyone around, I’m really trying to keep our family schedule simple.
The point is, last week I had way more than my usual level of stuff going on. I volunteered to read to both of my kids’s classrooms, I had a Mom’s Night Out event, and, most stressful of all, my husband and I went to a fancy-pants cocktail party fundraiser thing for my daughter’s preschool. (Did you know that fundraisers for preschools actually exist? Because I didn’t.) I was freaking out the whole week. I was stressed, nervous and irritable, snapping at everyone over the littlest things. And all because I was so tense about…talking to people.
Of course, when this happens, when I start panicking about having to interact so much, instead of saying soothing things to myself to stay calm, I go the opposite route and unleash the Beast of Self-Loathing. For example, I remind myself of all the shitty criticisms my stepdad used to lob at me. “You’re too quiet, Lorilin. Too judgmental, too emotional. You don’t say the right things. You ask too many questions. No wonder you don’t have any friends. You should have more friends. Nobody wants to be your friend.” And yikes, the list goes on.
Also–and please don’t judge me too harshly for this even though I know it’s pathetic–I do this super counterproductive thing where I (lightly) Facebook-stalk the people I think I might see at a future party or whatever. I look at how many friends they have compared to me (I’m sure you’ve already accurately guessed that I don’t have a ton of Facebook friends…), and then I quickly note if they are all already friends with each other. It’s my own special way of reinforcing the negative idea I have of myself in my head: that I am always an outsider, and everyone else is an easy-breezy insider. And then I really bring it all home by telling myself I should be more like them. I should have more friends. I should go out more. I should want to go out more. I should thrive in the company of others because that’s what functioning humans do. Ad nauseam, etc.
But the truth is, when I stop to think about what I actually want–and not just what I should want–I remember that I like staying home. I like being alone and reading books, feeling relaxed, and knowing I’m not weighed down by people-saturated obligations. Honestly, I’m miserable when I experience too much social interaction. I get stressed out and anxious, weepy and melancholy. It exhausts me, both the anticipation of it and the actual chit chat bullshit itself. Afterward, I feel like I’ve fought a major battle–kind of like in Diary of a Wombat, only with less satisfaction. Or cuteness:
But at the end of last week, after I finally sat down and thought about everything, I had to remind myself that there’s a whole wide range of normal behavior and personality. And even if I happen to lean (heavily…) toward one side of the spectrum, I’m still normal enough. At the end of the day, I just happen to be someone who needs a lot of human-free downtime.
I feel this strong pull sometimes to analyze my introversion, to try to think (well, criticize) my way around and past it, but the truth is that that critical voice inside my head doesn’t change or add anything. It’s just an unhelpful dick, no further analysis necessary. Ultimately, I can choose to tell myself I’m “lesser than” because I can’t walk into a room and immediately make twenty best friends. Or I can accept the fact that I am naturally an introverted person, that it takes me some time to warm up to people (and since I’m not my best, most at-ease self right out of the gate, I know it takes others some time to warm up to me, too). I can be shy and reluctant to trust people, but I do genuinely care and want to connect. I just have my own pace for doing that.
So when I feel that negative, judgmental voice getting stronger, I’m going to remember to gently command it to calm the fuck down. And I’m going to rely on a different voice instead (a voice I sure wish I had heard when I was younger). It’s a voice that says: Quiet is okay. Party for one is okay. Slow and steady is okay. You are you, and you are allowed, and that can be enough.