I know that some people get energized from being social and having a full schedule of interesting (and sometimes mundane) things to do. My husband is often in this category. He gets home from a long day at work and wants to visit with neighbors, play with the kids, go to shows or events. He is an exuberant and enthusiastic extrovert.
I however, am an introvert (opposites attract?) and have a brain injury. Introverts re-energize by getting lost in their own thoughts, having quiet time, reading a book, mostly things that don’t require talking to someone else. This means that the alone time I need to re-energize is no longer optional, it’s mandatory. I get overstimulated with a full schedule and socializing, even with the people I love most. This overstimulation means that I shut down – I can’t hear conversations, I can’t focus, I get exhausted, and I have to say, ‘it’s time to go’ with little warning. This is exacerbated if I didn’t sleep well the night before – tiredness leads to tiredness or something like that.
Luckily, the people who know me and have been there through the last 18 months know that what I’ve described here is immensely better than it was in the early months. Then, I had to wear earplugs everywhere, visits were limited to very short periods of time, I excused myself from the room without warning, loud noise (including music, and my definition of loud was just above a whisper) was intolerable and it wasn’t unusual for me to nap twice a day. My family quickly learned the signs that I was being overstimulated and gracefully, generously helped me enter my cocoon of solitude.
For people who don’t know me or my ‘situation’, I can only imagine what they’re thinking. I don’t look like I’m sick, so when I find it difficult to have a normal conversation, I’m aloof or a bitch. When I get to the end of my tolerance for noise and stimulation and I look at my husband, giving the signal that it’s time for a speedy departure, I’m ungrateful or a bitch. When I no longer attend concerts or events with my husband, because my low tolerance would completely ruin his experience – we’re clearly drifting apart or I’m a bitch. When I need to excuse myself from the room abruptly to get a moment of quiet so I can go on, I’m just a bitch.
I have good days and bad, just like anyone else. My bad days will find me entering into my Hobbit hole for a nice long nap. I don’t want to talk to anyone. I de-prioritize everything on my to-do list. I read a book. I have another nap.
My good days – when I’ve gotten enough sleep the night before, I can spend an entire day taking kids to San Francisco. I can clean the house from top to somewhere in the middle. I can garden with focused intent on ‘growing things we can eat, dammit’. I can run errands at a super hero pace. I am overjoyed at being able to speak without hesitation, finding every word needed. I make valiant attempts to fix our dryer that won’t start. I cross things off my list at a steady pace and feel no need to add ‘shower’, ‘eat’, ‘get dressed’ to the list, just so I can cross them off. Good days rule! And then I go take a nap and have some alone time.
Post brain cancer diagnosis/treatment, I’ve had to relearn and adjust my understanding of my limitations. I understand that my body and brain can only handle so much. I sometimes feel guilt for needing to retreat into solitude, but I understand that it’s needed. I have a brain injury and a seizure disorder and the overstimulation is exhausting. I want to do it all, but I know I can’t. I want to fill each and every day with seeing friends, volunteering, writing, playing non-stop with my kids, or escaping into nature. But I can’t do it all. Perhaps its cliché, but I have to take care of myself so I can take care of others. I have to take care of myself so that I can continue the fight energetically.
I see people who are so busy that they’re taking or making calls while completing their everyday activities – dropping kids off at school, walking the dog, grocery shopping and my least favorite – while they’re on the toilet. But EVERYONE needs alone/quiet time to just breathe, appreciate what you have, smell the flowers in bloom, feel the warmth of the sun, do something for yourself. Even my very social husband needs his alone time – playing drums, exercising, or walking the dog. Maybe the amount he needs is smaller, but he still gets re-energized by doing something for himself.
I write this post more as an acknowledgement of my needs, giving myself permission to escape into solitude without guilt.
But take time for yourself every once in a while to appreciate all of the amazing things you do, enjoy something you love, and nurture your soul before you go back to the daily grind.