Crave solitude?

13 Sep

Most people who know me would not believe that I am an introvert. Of the 23 signs on the Are you an Introvert list, I have 20.

How is that possible, I know you’re saying.

“You’re so outgoing.”

“You’re the mayor of Montclair. You know everybody in town.”

Even my kids can get confused. When we go out, whether it’s a stop at CVS or a bite an a local restaurant, before we leave home they say, “and don’t talk to anybody.”

As a child, I was super shy. Or I thought I was, but there’s a difference between being shy and being an introvert. Generally speaking, shy is a psychological condition that can come with anxiety and fear of social interactions. According to American Heritage dictionary, shy means being easily startled, timid; drawing back from contact or familiarity with others; retiring or reserved; distrustful; wary.

One of the things that separates the shy from the introverted, according to Sophia Dembling, author of The Introverts Way (Perigee), introverts simply need, crave solitude.

The article www.huffingtonpost.com 23 Signs You’re Secretly An Introvert, is based on her book.

Here’s just a few of the signs that screamed my name:

1. I hate small talk; chatter about milk prices, weather, the neighbor’s grass, makes me want to claw the skin on my face. You want to talk about the neighbors’ divorce–you got my attention–and not for the gossip aspect. I enjoy the dissection of human interaction. What went wrong and why.

2. I go to parties to see people I know, not necessarily to make new friends. I will have a deep conversation with a stranger or enjoy one with someone I don’t know well–but it’s someone on the same vibe, probably another introvert who also hates small talk.

3. I sometimes feel alone in a crowd, feeling like the odd person out. I hate crowds, although that’s not quite the same thing as feeling alone in them. I sometimes feel that way too, but I’ve come to feel pretty good about being odd.

4. Although I can do it, networking makes me feel like a phony or some kind of person I don’t know. When I have to go on the road to promote my work, I shift into the outgoing one that I learned to be in college, but when I am performing this act, I can’t easily shift back into my writer self.

5. & 18. I’ve been called too intense & an old soul

6. I’m easily overwhelmed in environments with excess stimulation. I’m easily overwhelmed, period. It should be on my tomestone: She was often overwhelmed

7. Downtime can feel unproductive to extroverts, for me this is as necessary as oxygen

8. Speaking to 500 people is easier than mingling with 10 afterward. Lady Gaga says she’s an introvert. Introverts can want to be on stage, but after the performance there’s no going to an after party. It’s right to the hotel, home, the closet wherever, to get that delicious alone time.

11. Introverts are usually in a relationship with an extrovert. My husband is the poster child for extroverts.

22. You’re a writer

JK Rowling, author of the Harry Potter books, said she is creatively charged when she’s alone with her thoughts.

This is why when I got married and was working as the entertainment editor at Essence, I thought something was very wrong with me. I would talk all day, in meetings, on the phone with writers, publicists pitching stories; then have to go out at night to see what was newsworthy in the theater, movies, dance, art. I would come home too tired to talk to my husband. On Saturdays I didn’t want to get out of bed, which was fine when I was single, but as a newly married couple, Cliff wanted to go and do things on the weekends. I wanted to sit home with a book. Obviously in 21 years, we’ve worked out our differences (you can read all about how when Welcome to My Breakdown, the book, comes out in May), but it was a challenge.

When my kids were little, the hard part for me wasn’t just the no sleep, it was also that I was never alone. I don’t know if introvert-ness is inherited, but one of my children is just like me. The other one is mixed.

Understanding oneself is a good, necessary thing, at least from where I sit. I believe we are all better when we know who we are. I want to understand my nature and human nature. I am highly sensitive and I’m sure for some, I can be difficult to figure out.
I’m on a quest to show up as the most honest and true me that I can. I believe it’s something we should all try to do. My friend Carmen calls it, Standing in your Truth.
After many years of struggling because I didn’t understand my introvert-ness, of being exhausted or unhappy running here and there, I have decided to stop.
I know that I have to have solitude. If I do too much socializing (as much as I like a good cocktail party) I will become irritated and depressed and then I have to take to my bed.
I’ve finally figured out what works for me. I simply can’t go all the time and sometimes I have to say no and sometimes I have to say no to things that I want to do. I know that it’s hard to understand because we’re living in extrovert land. Sometimes I may hurt the feelings of people I care about because they just don’t understand how delicate balance of being an introvert in an extroverts land is–how being thrown off by doing too much, isn’t as simple as climbing back on a bike after a fall.
I have to protect me, even though in the past I’ve disregarded that part of me and probably even hidden that part from you.
So, do you think you could be one of us?
I’d love to hear from you.
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15 Responses to “Crave solitude?”

  1. Anita S September 13, 2013 at 10:59 pm #

    I am so much of an introvert that for several years now I have taken what I term “Silence and Solitude Weekends.” I check into a local residence hotel, complete with kitchen and I spend 2-3 days completely alone. I read. I meditate. I sit in the hotel jacuzz and thinki. I cook and eat what I want when I want. I don’t turn on a tv, radio or any of the other distracting noises that make up my household on a daily basis. It is a personal retreat. I am refreshed and come back a MUCH better wife, mother and friend. My life is crazy and I live with two extroverts, so these weekends away a few times a year are necessary for my ongoing mental well-being.

    • Benilde Little September 16, 2013 at 6:59 pm #

      I’ve done this only once and afterward, when I felt fantastic, I’d promised myself that I would do it quarterly. Guess what? I haven’t. Thanks Anita for reminding me of the importance silence and solitude…thanks!

  2. C Jackson September 13, 2013 at 11:19 pm #

    I’m loving how you are “deepening your understanding of self” and “standing in your truth”… #awesome

  3. Diane J. Harris September 14, 2013 at 3:27 pm #

    For my sixtieth birthday I grabbed a beach on the west coast of Florida. For four days I laid up at the beach or at the pool and hot tub I walked, collected shells, just breathed in the sea air. After the beautiful sunsets, I showered and dressed up to take myself to dinner at a fine restaurant in the area I read decadent books, watched TV and movies, prayed, reflected, and slept. I just thoroughly enjoyed myself enjoying myself. Nothng wrong with me spending time with me, ’cause I like her!

    • Benilde Little September 16, 2013 at 7:00 pm #

      Wow, Diane, that sounds fantastic–congratulations…

  4. Tracy September 16, 2013 at 6:37 pm #

    I too am an introvert who is often misunderstood, misinterpreted, and perceived as mysterious. Most of my extroverted friends don’t understand the tight rope I walk as I balance my desire and need for their friendship with the requirement I have for my alone time. Not knowing when to back away or say no can cause feelings of resentment and anxiety for me, and I’ve hurt other’s feelings by either not showing up for events or showing up and not being present because I was miserable. At 46, I’m finally learning to embrace the label of loner, and I wear it proudly. Thanks for sharing your story.

    • Benilde Little September 16, 2013 at 7:02 pm #

      Yes, we have to share our stories, so that we can share our true selves. I hope our extroverted friends will someday embrace all of us (as we embrace them).

  5. Paris Coleman February 11, 2014 at 4:40 pm #

    Benilde,

    I want to THANK YOU for this post. I’m approaching 28 years- single, no children, and I feel like I’m entering another dimension of me! I’ve always been what some people call the life of the party, but I also have a more quiet, observant side. When I fall into that reserved side, people think something’s wrong. I enjoy friendships and interacting and crave it…but often thrown people off when I say I need to be alone- for a while. I’m not quite sure if I fit the introvert mold, but you brought up a few valid points that have me thinking. Especially the small talk and “networking” thing…I find myself engaging in these activities because I’m expected to, but honestly would rather not lol. Perhaps the most surprising thing was for my birthday last year I had planned a weekend of solitude for myself at the beach- but that was high-jacked when I came home to my sister and 3 of my best girlfriends from college ready to hang out and celebrate. I was most grateful for the surprise, but deep down I felt a little overwhelmed and almost disappointed because I was looking forward to being alone and knew no-one would understand. You’re words perfectly encapsulate a lot of my feelings; now I know I’m not the only one!!! Maybe it’s the Gemini in me, maybe it’s just me maturing, but either way, I’m finding comfort in your message. Keep up the great work and I look forward to reading your book! Take care! 🙂

    -Paris

    P.S.- This year, I WILL achieve my birthday solitude at the beach! hahah!

  6. Susan Newman August 26, 2017 at 7:14 pm #

    On a weekend when I literally felt like I was gasping for oxygen from a lack of alone time, your article is precisely what I crave. Permission to continue hiding in my cave and not to go (feel forced to go) join the rest of my family at the cottage.

    My husband is an extrovert, as are most of my friends and my stepchildren. Although my mother professes to be an introvert, she leans on me emotionally (like a ton of bricks) as well. I am frequently (too often) tapped out. Honestly, paradise to me will always be a desert island filled with nature (and without cell phones) where I could live for at least a month with just my dog, and a Kindle filled with great books. OK, maybe also a big screen TV, Netflix, and delicious snacks. Hey, it’s my island.

    It’s not like I don’t love everyone around me, it’s that I never get enough alone time. Which sounds selfish from someone who works from home, and spends at least 5 hours a day alone, every day. And yet, it’s never enough.

    It is so difficult for me to carve out enough alone time. And the more people I see (or interact with) during the week, the more I crave days – and nights – of solitude. Although people around me profess to understand, none of them truly do, least of all my husband. He has a standing poker game at our home, every Friday, and all his friends loudly pile into our basement to play. My husband feels that I am getting alone time on those nights, because I’m alone upstairs while he and all his buddies are downstairs. What he doesn’t realize, will never comprehend, is that I can *feel* the energy of all the people in my house. And even if his friends don’t interact with me, their energy, their voices, their very “theirness”, drains me. How do you explain something so intangible to a logical, rational extrovert? The short answer is: you can’t.

    I’ve never figured out how to accurately explain how human beings’ energy drains me, while the energy of animals and plants restores me. When I was young, people would describe me as shy. The truth is, I’m not shy at all. I can actually be very outgoing, when I so choose. Put me in a group of people I’m comfortable with, and like, and I can be the life of the party. On the other hand, I can know you for over twenty years and still behave like an aloof stranger around you. A friend once described me as an aloof cat in a social setting, which is quite true. Under the right circumstances I can purr up to people. Whereas other times I just want to hide under the sofa and claw at everyone invading my space.

    During the holidays I stay at my mother’s condo in the south with my husband and my mother for a month at a time. It’s also a social time where we interact almost constantly with friends and family who are also visiting there. After a few weeks (one week? 10 days?) I become desperate for solitude. I become cranky and snappy, can’t sleep, am constipated, and my stomach is perpetually upset. I feel like I am in a constant state of low level panic. I have difficulty smiling. My face hurts. My cheeks feel stiff. I was once in a crowded street fair and became so burnt out from the nonstop buzz-buzz-buzzing energy of all the family and friends and the crowd thronging around me that I literally started running and couldn’t stop for blocks. Needless to say, it was an awkward regrouping at supper a few hours later, and I surely gave my relentlessly extroverted (so loud!) mother-in-law fodder for gossip for days.

    My absolute ideal is to have an entire week – day and night – to myself. When I am peopled out, I can find myself so drained that I studiously avoid the eyes of everyone around me, strangers and family alike. That’s because even the meeting of eyes saps my energy when I’m in that state. When you meet my eyes you are asking something from me: recognition, a smile, some form of my energy that I can no longer give. Other telltale signs of my emotional power bars flashing on empty are feeling anger and resentment at everyone and everything around me. If I’m having mental fights with people in my head, that’s a good sign I’m emotionally tapped out. When I’m in that state I don’t even want my cats sitting on my lap. I just want – need – HAVE to be alonealonealone. I feel physically sick. I’m headachy. My chest hurts. My stomach is twisting. It feels hard to catch my breath. The panic is palpable.

    After a day or two of complete solitude (texts and phone calls count – they tire me too!) I gradually, slowly, inch by inch, hour by hour, begin to calm down. The panic starts to subside. I walk with my dog in a nearby grassy path. I spend lots (tons) (all) my time inside, or in my garden, or reading the paper, or watching TV. Sometimes I shop, where I know no one and no one knows me. And I can gradually feel my mood shift. I’m able to stop and chat with a neighbour again. Briefly. Then I need to quickly move on. I clean up my home. I feel better within it. I feel better within myself. My shoulders begin to relax. My stomach starts to unclench. Sometimes (ok, often) I pig out in front of the TV. I forgive myself, and allow myself. If that’s what it takes. Whatever it takes. My mind begins to clear. The anger disappates. I have room to think again. I find myself taking deep breaths. It feels easier to breath. I realize I had been holding my breath and didn’t even realize it.

    After a week or so, I welcome my husband’s return and even look forward to it. I enjoy his company and chatter at the breakfast table. Even the music he plays during breakfast – is there really an introvert out there who enjoys nonstop music AND conversation while they eat? – is acceptable. I can cope with stimuli again. For a time. For a while. The machine is reset. But with every interaction, the power bar goes down again. As I get older, I see that there is less power for me to cope in my machine. My energy goes down faster. I need to replenish sooner. And before I know it, too soon, I’m dreaming of my desert island again.

    • Benilde Little October 25, 2017 at 2:07 pm #

      Wow, Susan! First forgive me for not responding sooner. Honest answer I saw all the text and felt overwhelmed by it. I think you can understand that. You’ve hit how I feel so on the mark and helped me even helped me to remember what I used to do to take care of me and what I need to start doing again Thank you for that. Here’s to getting our solitude in order to recharge. (Totally get feeling the energy from poker night and the guilt of having the 5 hours of working at home alone. I’m also married to an extrovert–although as he gets older he has become less so. Thank you!

  7. Janice Crose October 22, 2017 at 12:06 am #

    I also crave solitude with a little nice Silence at times in our extroverted world! I absolutely Love life, and was blessed with a fantastic autistic son. As you are probably already aware, autistic people can get very overwhelmed with too much stimulation and noise. It was very amazing and uncanny how my son (he was unable to say one word) and I could just look at each other, and know what the other was thinking or even wanted. We use to even look at each other, and laugh at happenings around us.

    My angel passed away just recently at the age of only 45. I will Always be extremely grateful to God for having such a SPECIAL person as part of my life, and who taught me so very much.

    I remember a doctor once told me that autistic people, very often at times, like to retreat in their own little world.The doctor called it their “autistic room”.😊
    Well I like to go visit him in my own little solitude world!

    • Benilde Little October 25, 2017 at 2:28 pm #

      Oh Janice I’m sorry for your loss. I love that you were able to connect your need with your Autistic son.

  8. Janice Crose October 25, 2017 at 1:46 pm #

    STILL?

    • Benilde Little October 25, 2017 at 1:57 pm #

      Yes, still. I don’t think it goes away. It’s just part of who I am. Thanks for reading!

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