Introverts Unite

DISCLAIMER: This was written Fall 2016. Nothing has really changed except my workspace (big shift). I now work partially from home (ie alone and quiet, have more jobs w social media and am in a fairly quiet slow paced physical therapy setting / self employed).

On this and subsequent trips, I have spent quite a bit of time listening to autobiographies written and narrated by female comedians and I always learn something.

In “Why Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me” Mindy Kahling taught me that she is my spirit animal. She also taught me that being a normal body size is, indeed, normal, while reminding me that being from Boston is the coolest thing ever. In her book, “Yes Please”, Amy Pohler taught me that it’s ok to say, in a polite non-snarky tone, “Good for you, but not for me” when people try to impose their belief system on you. Recently, Amy Schumer taught me what it means to be an introvert, a concept I thought I had completely figured out until Amy, smart and clever Amy, showed me the error of my ways. It was during a listen to her book, “The Girl With The Lower Back Tattoo”, that I had a rather large revelation about myself: I’m an introvert…I think. The reason I say “I think” is because I always thought of myself as an extrovert, but perhaps I’ve just been confused on definitions for the past 39 years. Or, have I shifted?

Previously my understanding of the terms introvert and extrovert came from annual work meetings lead by the Human Resources Department. Over the course of my 10+ years a physical therapist I have done a few of those personality exercises and I always come up as extrovert. Made sense to me. I like people and I can be outgoing. I wear my heart on my sleeve and I’ll freely tell my story to anyone who is asking or listening. But hang on, recently I’m realized that I think I’m an extrovert in the healthcare/work setting but an introvert in real life. Or, perhaps, I used to be an extrovert but working in healthcare has caused a cosmic shift towards introversion. Is that possible? Recently on a visit to Connecticut I asked one of my closest friends if you could shift from one to the other. She very clearly stated that she was sure you’re just born one or the other and you don’t shift. Hmmm… interesting concept.

I’ve decided to do absolutely zero formal research on this topic. This is a blog. It’s my blog. It’s my stream of consciousness. It’s my journey. It’s not meant as a formal reference. So here’s why I think that I’m either living a double life or having a shift. I’m most curious what other people who know me think. Admittedly I’m not working in a clinical setting right now, but I am working a social media platform. I think perhaps it’s the stepping outside of the clinic that has allowed me to reflect on the non-PT aspect of my personality.

In my professional life I have to be “on”. Like super freaking “on” all the time. My job is complete and total customer service from greeting patients & families, to asking questions and listening to the patient’s story, to communicating with other healthcare providers and staff. Oh yea and I really have to know what I’m saying and asking in order to be an effective physical therapist. I often spend much of my “down” time at work chatting with my colleagues about difficult cases (ok fine and also tons of non-work related topics), research, treatment measures, etc. All of this stuff is what I adore about being in healthcare. It’s what I want to do during my professional days (i.e. when I’m not living in a van, riding my bike, running or going to barre). And when I take those personality quizzes at work I’m all about the big group collaborative, don’t sweat the small stuff, happy to chat with anyone in broad strokes to get a positive outcome that makes people happy. Blah blah blah. Actually, as I type this, I have no idea if that describes an intro or extrovert, they are simply the messages I remember receiving during those quizzes.

However, when I’m not at work and I’m just at home, I’m fairly quiet. I no longer seek a lot of weekday social plans. I often times don’t do a daily download (a term Jon and I coined for the time after work when you get to unload for a few minutes and then put it to rest) because I can’t imagine talking any more. I am an open book and my emotions are fairly apparent all the time, so I don’t wear any amount of introversion as a shield. However, small talk sucks the life out of me, seriously. I have lost my hang factor with age and I think I can attribute the shift to such a public facing career choice. When Amy described the level of sheer exhaustion, sometimes nearly evoking tears, from attending a party with casual acquaintances or strangers, I felt like she was inside my brain, but I wasn’t always like this. I’m not complaining, I’m just noting it, as I get older. For me, age brings a level of confidence in my own skin. It started in my thirties, as everyone says it does, and my comfort game has been going strong now as I round out this awesome decade. We have done a lot of visiting on this trip and I’m grateful for the gift of time to do so, as I have said repeatedly. But truthfully, sometimes I just have to go to the bathroom and take a deep, non-talking, non-engaging breath, all by myself. I was definitely not always like this. Perhaps it comes from the lack of opportunity to use the bathroom when I’m working in a busy clinic that makes bathroom breaks so heavenly. Who knows? I simply can’t hang out the way I used to. Maybe I used up all my social energy when I was first out of college and partying 9 days a week after work?

Prior to this trip I worked a funky schedule. It meant that I had a weekday off while the rest of the world was working. Jon would often ask me to stop by his office to say hi to so and so. I remember not wanting to spend my precious quiet day, away from humanity, actively seeking out small talk. Don’t get me wrong. I used to love going in to see Jon or go for a ride with him, but I so rarely wanted to engage in the niceties of his office people. I also adored his work friends, but standing at someone’s place of work making small talk while they were trying to work is my idea of hell. I would try hard to reject Jon’s offers to stop by, but I know it was important to him. So many of those weekdays off would be spent not talking. Sometimes I’d go so far as to get annoyed at the friendly check out person at Whole Foods asking me about my day. All I want to do was dial up the East Coaster in me, put my head down and not use my talker. I like being quiet. This may also be related to my hearing and all the ear/balance/nervous system issues to which I consistently refer.   Eleven years ago I lost hearing in my left ear and, while some of it has returned, my ability to hang with humans in a loud space took a serious hit simply because I can’t hear them. Not being able to hear yet trying to engage in small talk is the definition of exhausting. So maybe people do shift if there’s a reason, like a physiological reason. Thoughts?

Please don’t misunderstand me, I do like people. I love group trips, girls weekends, working the occasional outdoor industry trade show. Those things are fine to me and I truly enjoy them, but it’s the aftermath that leaves me gutted. As Amy discusses this topic in her book she highlights her deep love of social media, a concept in which you can be as social as you want without verbally engaging with another living soul. It’s brilliant, really, and us quiet types are really in to it. Again, I love my people, my family and my friends. I simply need to taper my duration of hang with some down time quiet space. Jon has come to recognize this fact about me on this trip or rather he has tolerated my recognition of this fact. It’s new to me that I need quiet time, but he seems to acknowledge my enlightenment on this topic with a somewhat “no kidding” approach. A few times, while gearing up for a visit, or back-to-back visits (the less ideal of the scenarios), I would put up a couple hundred reasons of maybe why we had to shorten our trip or delay our arrival. Finally I’ve learned to just say, out loud, that I need to dig deep and I’m tired and I really need him to get me through this. He knows and he does because he has a gift of being social. As a result we probably linger too long at times as my body is half turned towards the exit and his is firmly facing our subject. Ah, the balance. Regardless, the thing we both love is the Irish good-bye and there’s no stopping us when we both agree that it’s time to jet. We promise that if we are in a large group setting we will not make the rounds and we promise that you won’t see us leave. Peace out.

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