I’m at a staff retreat on the central coast. There’s nine of us in a two storey house. It’s a great bunch of people and there has been much information imparted and many hilarious stories have been flowing…but sometimes it just gets too much for this introvert. I’ve had to retreat from the retreat a few times today and just hide away in my room. After lunch I just zonked out and fell asleep while the others went for a walk.
It’s especially hard when there are three conversations going at once, involving people with loud voices, who get louder so they can be heard over the other conversations. I feel like I used to feel as a child when we would go to eat at Chinese restaurants with large groups of people and, tired, I would put my head down on the table after the meal and just hear words smashing and swirling around me without any sense of what they meant.
The last couple of weeks I’ve been reading Quiet: the power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking by Susan Cain, a book I heartily recommend to any introverts who don’t understand why they don’t seem to fit in the world as easily as others, or extroverts who may want to understand what makes introverts tick a bit better. It’s definitely skewed towards the introvert rather than being a balanced assessment of introverts and extroverts, a bias which Cain readily admits in her closing notes. But I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing; as an introvert I’ve found it helpful to have things that I’ve long internalised articulated so clearly it’s made me go “Of course! That’s why I feel that way!”
So I don’t feel especially bad for hiding away. I’m carving myself what Cain refers to as a “restorative niche” (using a term coined by psychologist Brian Little). I’m frustrated that I’m so drained I feel like crying, and yet I don’t necessarily want to go to sleep. I just want some quiet time.
I tried to observe myself a bit today, and I understand why people who don’t know me well are surprised to learn I’m an introvert. When I participate in conversation I joke and quip, I laugh loudly, I give my opinion freely. But it’s almost like running sprints. I have bursts of being a “pseudo extrovert” and then need to recharge again before the next burst. Being a pseudo extrovert is pretty much how I operate though. Everyone laughed at dinner when I said I have no trouble getting up at church, singing in front of a crowd, warmly saying to everyone at the end of the service, “I’ll see you at supper!” silently adding, “No you won’t!” and then hiding away, packing up gear and rolling cables so I don’t have to talk to anyone.
I’ll leave you with this bit from the end of Quiet, which sums it up well:
Whoever you are, bear in mind that appearance is not reality. Some people act like extroverts, but the effort costs them in energy, authenticity and even physical health. Others seem aloof or self-contained but their inner landscapes are rich and full of drama. So the next time you see a person with a composed face and soft voice, remember that inside her mind she might be solving an equation, composing a sonnet, designing a hat. She might, that is, be deploying the powers of quiet. We know from myths and fairy tales that there are many kinds of powers in this world. One child is given a light saber, another a wizard’s education. The trick is not to amass all the different kinds of available power, but to use well the kind you’ve been granted. Introverts are offered keys to private gardens full of riches. To possess such a key is to tumble, like Alice, down her rabbit hole. She didn’t choose to go to Wonderland, but she made of it an adventure that was fresh and fantastic and very much her own. Lewis Carroll was an introvert too, by the way.
Quiet, Susan Cain, chapter 8 (transcribed from the Audible book)
You never know. I might be designing a hat.