Not All Introverts Are OK

The memes appeared to say it all. Once shutdowns spread across the country, it was the introverts who were going to be ok. We had been training for this our whole lives. We love being at home anyway. Finally, we wouldn’t be forced to socialize with people we didn’t want to and we had a perfect excuse for shrinking back from society.

And I’ll be honest. For the first couple weeks there was a lot to appreciate about being home all of the time. Like many, I was struggling to come up with a routine for our family, but the fact that I didn’t have to be “on” for half of the day was a little refreshing. I was able to easily turn my lesson plans into online lesson plans. My kids had activities to do. And I fooled myself into believing that my house was finally going to be spotless. (Spoiler alert: It’s not.)

Then one day at the grocery store I ran into a good friend from work. We stood six feet apart and talked for at least 15 minutes, blocking up the aisle and forcing people to go around us. I realized that as much as I appreciated the quiet, I missed the impromptu conversations with my friend when we ran into each other during our prep period. I missed conversation with someone besides my family. There were just some people that I genuinely missed.

Introverts normally live in a world created for Extroverts. Our workspaces, our churches, our classrooms are designed to make life easier and more comfortable for the more extroverted amongst us. Out of necessity, those of us on the introvert spectrum have found ways to work within that space and many of us have found ways to thrive, as long as we take care of our introverted needs once we leave those spaces.

And yes, many of us were initially excited to consider what our lives would be like without those pressures coming at us during our waking hours.

But that doesn’t mean that all of us are thriving as much as we thought we would be doing.

Do we tend to be homebodies? Yes. Do we like small groups of people? Yes. Do we need time alone to decompress? Yes.

While I love being home I also need a change a scene. When I get to the end of a busy week of work I want to be home for the weekend because I’ve already expended all of my “away” energy for the week. I need some time in my safe space so that I can recharge for the coming work week. But I don’t love being home all of the time. I actually enjoy grocery shopping because it gets me away from my family and gives me the chance to plan meals for the coming week. Now grocery shopping gives me anxiety because, while our local stores are doing an excellent job of taking care of the health needs of their customers, I don’t see the same care coming from some of my fellow shoppers. I love to travel and do things with my family, but even weekend camping trips (the epitome of social distancing for our family) are out of the question until the state parks reopen. As my introverted daughter keeps saying, “I just want to do something.”

I prefer small groups and I love my family, but I also like to have conversations with other people. Introverts thrive on deep and meaningful conversation; some of us can even achieve this with perfect strangers, which I’ve experienced during a couple teaching conferences. It’s one of the many reasons I love teaching high school; teenagers are capable of incredibly deep conversation when you give them the chance. I miss sitting with coworkers and talking about life at lunch or when we pass each other in the hall. I miss sitting with friends at Bible study on Sunday morning. Easter Sunday was weird in so many ways, but after four years of hosting several friends without local family for Easter dinner, just having our family was a crushing blow to my already fragile spirit. I wanted to host and have friends over to sit and talk and reflect. Online tools are great and many of us have found a way to use them, but it just isn’t the same. While we introverts need alone time to recharge, we still deeply love the people in our lives and miss them when we can’t see them.

And then there is the reality that many of us aren’t really alone. I know introverts who are thriving in their new situation. They are working from home, creating, and keeping their own schedules. They are disproving the corporate machine that has insisted for years that the best work happens in the building. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case for everyone. The fallacy of social isolation is that those of us who are isolated with our families (and I love my family and I couldn’t pick three people I would rather be isolated with) may be isolated from other people, but that doesn’t mean that we are alone. My husband, who usually works at home, has exiled himself to the garage, a necessary change that has left me in the house with a nearly nine-year-old, eleven-year-old, and two dogs who bark at every person that walks past our house. I’m only alone when I go for morning runs three days a week or the occasional bike ride. I find myself waking up before everyone else (but still after 7 because I am enjoying “sleeping in”) just so I can answer some emails and write before the craziness of helping kids with homework and responding to students from 8 to 3. There have been nights when I’ve hidden in our bedroom after putting the kids in bed just for a couple minutes of quite and productive work. I thought that I would find a rhythm, but five weeks in and I don’t think I’m any better than when I started. Stuff is getting done, but not quite in the manner that I imagined.

Yes, social isolation, in theory, has been great for many of us introverts, but we’re not all thriving and some of us can say with all honesty that we are not ok. We’re being given too much time to think, we have too much access to news and we are processing it constantly (one of my friends sent me this fantastic YouTube video and the INFJ fits me to a T), and we are struggling to truly be alone.

But like our extroverted friends, we will make it through this. I’m just need to go somewhere when this is all done so I can miss my home once again.

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