Tag Archives: introvert

In Defense of Sadness

Recently, M and I sat down to watch Inside Out together and I live-tweeted it, which was fun.

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I was excited to see the film for the first time — the previews looked great and as I mental health advocate, I had high hopes for this film that would be all about getting to know your feelings. As I watched, however, I felt that, as a person who lives with a behavioral disorder, the film doesn’t really do anything positive for the representation of people who have mood disorders, who are introverted, or who are non-nuerotypical in any way. Given the positive reviews this film received from the mental health community when it was first released, I was surprised and disappointed to see that this film actually promotes several negative stigmas, particularly in regard to the character of Sadness.

In the beginning of the film, there exists only Joy — that is the first emotion to come into being inside the main character, Riley’s, newborn mind. Sadness joins shortly thereafter, in a serious reversal that I believe any parent would attest to: what newborn shows an actual capacity for happiness in their first few months, let alone moments, of being? Sorry, Disney, but most babies are just crying, pooping potatoes for the first few months of life, with nary a giggle to be seen.

newborn
Oh yeah, that’s the face of Joy right there.

Immediately following the arrival of Sadness, the two characters are shown to be in direct opposition to each other. While Sadness seems to be largely indifferent to Joy’s presence, Joy is persistently trying to be rid of Sadness. Joy’s constant attempts to undo the presence of Sadness are troublesome. In the beginning of them film, Joy says that she doesn’t know what Sadness does, that it seems that Sadness to serves no obvious purpose (at least, compared to the other emotions), and that Joy has checked and “there’s nowhere for her to go”. That’s a very sophomoric perspective on the role of sadness in the human experience. Sadness is a very important emotional function — just as much as joy, fear, anger, or disgust. However, Joy’s complete rejection of Sadness’ utility is continually played out as she persistently bullies Sadness for simply existing.

The other emotions, Fear, Anger, and Disgust, despite being negative emotions, seem to meet with Joy’s approval because they each serve a clear and present purpose in the life of Riley. The filmmakers and writers obviously tried to increase the utility of Fear, Anger, and Disgust by having each of them appear to be multifaceted in their expression of emotional states of being. While Joy appears to embody only that which is effervescent and positive, the other Emotions are observed to act both as their functionary titles and with correlated emotions. The character of Disgust, for instance, not only represents a biologically programmed aversion to new foodstuffs, but also cattiness, sarcasm, and social acumen.

This approach by the filmmakers allows the audience a fairly intuitive grasp of the purpose of each Emotion. The character designs were carefully planned out to reinforce the correlation of the given emotion to the personified character. Fear is thin, anxious, and prone to surprise. Anger is short, stout, and blocky. Disgust is green, for crying out loud! But then, there is Sadness. Sadness is depicted as dowdy, short, and plump. She wears glasses and she’s extremely soft-spoken. Despite appearing to be well-meaning, Sadness is revealed to be a trouble-maker in the eyes of her cohorts, if an accidental one. In every way imaginable, Sadness’ character was designed to imply that she is undesirable. Additionally, by casting Sadness as the foil to Joy’s character, the writers reinforce a harmful societal value: that sadness, introvertedness, and introspection are wrong and therefore we must all strive to be happy, one-hundred percent of the time.

It’s disingenuous to portray Sadness this way. Many people, myself included, don’t experience happiness in the over-wrought, excited way in which the character of Joy is portrayed. For us, happiness comes from time spent alone, in introspection, gaining energy from our communion with ourselves. In that way, Sadness might be in my driver’s seat — but that doesn’t make me perpetually sad, and it doesn’t make me wrong. It is simply the way I best interact with the world. But instead of making her dynamic as the human experience, Inside Out’s Sadness is written as a witless castaway, unworthy of merit.

Meanwhile, Joy is clearly made out to be Riley’s primary and most desirable emotion — of course, considering the only four other options: Fear, Sadness, Anger, and Disgust — Joy is the only character that doesn’t have a negative connotation to compete with. Of course you want Joy to be in charge! You wouldn’t want any of those other bad emotions to be responsible for your world interactions, would you?

This is heavily reminiscent to me of the way that I am often treated by well-meaning extroverts: Why would you want to stay home and be sad all weekend? Because I’ve had a busy week interacting with people, and I am out of spoons. Why do you listen to that sad music? It only makes you feel worse! No, this music jives with my soul, and it is healing me.

You see, just because I experience the world differently from you, doesn’t mean that I’m wrong. I am just different. Please, allow me to be different without fear of reprisal.


 

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“Being sad reminds us how to appreciate being happy.” Yeah, no.


By the end of the film, we begin to see that Emotions can work in tandem to create memories, which is meant by the filmmakers to be a redeeming moment for Sadness and Joy. I felt less resolved, though. The film still hasn’t given Sadness a purpose except as a foil to Joy. This is a harmful dichotomy for a lot of reasons, one of which we actually see play out in the film when Riley’s mother asks her to be happy about the move for her father’s sake. The end result being that Riley internalizes her negative emotions about her family’s move (with help from Joy) until she detaches from her family completely, almost running away from home. It isn’t until Riley is permitted to feel sadness that she is able to synthesize all of the feelings she has and move on from them. That’s an important lesson for us all, but the filmmakers failed to represent it as such. Instead, we are shown that Joy fights Sadness almost to the point of obliterating them both (certainly to the point of obliterating several of Riley’s internal mental structures, memories, and processes), only to finally acquiesce to Sadness’ presence, while still failing to validate Sadness’ reason for being.

In real life (read: in all of our lives) sadness actually serves a very important purpose. Though not highly valued in our current culture, sadness and other “feel-bad” emotions help us to slow down, confront troublesome circumstances, and come to a deeper understanding of ourselves. Sadness improves your memory, heightens your better judgment, increases your motivation to enact positive changes in your life, and can, in some cases, improve your interpersonal communication. Perhaps this is why, in the film, Riley’s mother has Sadness in the driver’s seat — Sadness isn’t just about feeling blue, it’s about feeling, period. Sadness allows us the increased capacity for compassion, discernment, and responsible decision-making that makes life fruitful.

To say that Inside Out was entirely upside-down wouldn’t be fair. It’s a cute movie, it was well-animated, and it is definitely a powerful tool to give children access to the language needed to talk candidly about their feelings. But as a representation of the depth and breadth of the emotional landscape within each of us, it falls short, particularly in the eyes of this gal living with bipolar disorder.

Someday, when she is old enough to have this conversation, I will have to sit my daughter down and explain to her that Mommy’s brain doesn’t work like everyone else’s brain. I may even need to have a conversation with her, in some distant future, about how her brain doesn’t work like everyone else’s brain. This film does not give us an appropriate schema for that conversation. After all, what good does it do to tell someone besieged by sadness to “let Joy takeover”? That would not be helpful, and it would not be fair to disrespect their experience so callously. Instead, we might say, “Sadness in taking the wheel right now, because it’s a road you need to travel.”

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Introverts At War

Perception is an odd thing. I get the feeling sometimes that even introspection is flawed. The most perceptive of individuals can be misled sometimes, and it has been my introspection (introversion) that has given some people the wrong impression of me from time to time. A few weeks ago I was team interpreting with a colleague I’ve known for sometime. When I misinterpreted something, I gladly accepted her feed, but later she commented that I had given her stink-eye the moment that she had fed me the correct English term to voice. I was stunned and ashamed. Stink-eye! Me?! I frantically sifted back through my memories to that moment — had I felt any ill-will toward my colleague that could have shown on my face? Not at all! I respect her a great deal, and if I am failing to interpret accurately, well, that’s why we work in teams! Feed me, Seymour!

What had I been feeling, then? Embarrassment, surely. It never feels good to be caught in a mistake, and my audience in this case wasn’t limited to just my colleague. My internal-editor, highly developed as it is from years of practiced self-loathing prior to my becoming a professional interpreter, had simultaneously caught the error and I was already chiding myself for having done wrong. Perhaps this is what my colleague didn’t know and therefore misunderstood about my look: I already hate myself more than I could ever hate anyone else, especially you. I was simply unaware that all of that inner monologue was playing across my face.

Living with this disease has shown me that it colors all aspects of life. The way I touch the world around me, the feel of it, and the light as it enters my eyes. The sounds that ensnare and entrap me, or comfort and soothe me. Like many people with mental illness, I have a love-hate relationship with my madness. On the one hand, the quirks of my non-neuronormative mind have made me especially empathetic, introspective, intelligent, and creative. However, these gifts are tempered by bouts of extreme sadness, mood lability, anxiety, obsessive compulsive behavior, and mania. When I’m in a depressive state, I’m extremely low-energy which makes me twice as introverted as I am on a normal day. In a manic state, however, I may be extroverted, aggressive, or combative — and I have no control how I will react to any given situation.

Being bipolar is one thing, but being an introvert? Though it’s a popular buzzword these days, it can be damned inconvenient. Introverts are highly marginalized and stigmatized in our low-context culture which places a higher value on the number of words in a communication than the content of the message expressed. Americans are also by and large individualistic, emphasizing the importance of the individual over the community. Thus, if a person does not put in the requisite facetime and pay the expected homage to the highest ranking individuals in the room, that person is perceived as haughty or rude. This is where it gets tough for your garden-variety introvert. We are much happier to be on the fringes of the gathering, having deep conversations with one or two people who we know very well than engaging in small talk with strangers. Introverts gain more from high-context interactions, but our society wasn’t designed with us in mind. As author Susan Cain explains in her book Quiet: The Power of Introverts, “In our society, the ideal self is bold, gregarious, and comfortable in the spotlight. We like to think that we value individuality, but mostly we admire the type of individual who’s comfortable “putting himself out there.” Our schools, workplaces, and religious institutions are designed for extroverts. Introverts are to extroverts what American women were to men in the 1950s — second-class citizens with gigantic amounts of untapped talent.”

But as with all things, it is rarely so simple. Often introversion or extraversion in an individual will vary with context. People are confounded by my introverted tendencies when I am often observed to be quite extroverted in certain situations. “Why can’t you be this much fun all of the time?” they wonder. I’m not a math problem — I’m just a human being trying to make it day by day with this disease, one that often alters my personality in drastic ways. I don’t always know if I’m doing it right, because I am convinced that my ego is flawed and my intuition is telling lies. There are days when I spend a great deal of time looking inward in an attempt to locate that truth. Sometimes, I get lost in there, wandering around the dusty halls of my wayward mind for days. In general, introverts are more likely to look inward than outward — I wonder, do we also tend to struggle with the same twists and turns of mind?

I am a trained apologist, conditioned through years of abuse and bad relationships to accept responsibility for everything in my environment, even above and beyond that which I am capable of having caused to happen. When confronted by a disagreeable individual or someone who has treated me poorly, I am far more likely to take their behavior and internalize it than to stand up for myself and say, “hey, I don’t deserve this” because I have been hard-wired to believe that actually, yes, I do deserve this. I am wrong and bad and wrong-bad and I deserve this. The doubt never subsides, and neither does the chattering in my mind that gives it momentum. Is this the secret kept within the heart of the introvert, the key to our powerlessness?

I don’t mean to conflate introversion and mental illness, but I do believe there is more than a casual link between the two. I, for one, am fighting an endless war with myself, attacked on all sides by inner demons that speak in the voices of those whom I love the most. These are the same poor souls that are sometimes unwittingly attacked when I am despondent and disassociative. I am practiced at the post-tantrum apology, as my husband can attest, but to apologize for being introverted? To apologize for having a low-energy, highly inward-turn day? This is something I can neither control nor would necessarily change, given the opportunity. That some circles of individuals, largely extroverts themselves, misconstrue my silence as rudeness is something I cannot contend with. I feel increasingly less willing to try, since despite my best efforts to combat my natural tendencies the criticism for coming across as “rude”, “selfish”, or “ungrateful” continues regardless. This is true also of others battling for their right to introversion. We seek comfort in ways that are sometimes contradictory to the terms of normalcy and happiness of the masses — but that doesn’t make us freakishly odd. Still, we beat ourselves up, and for whom? For them?

Yes, love yourself. Until someone tell you that you suck. Then drag yourself across hot coals, you slag.
Yes, love yourself. Until someone tells you that you suck. Then you go drag yourself across hot coals, you slag.

No, for them, we give explanations: “I am not being sick at you.” “I am introverted, but I need to be social for my mental health. I would like it if people didn’t misunderstand my social ineptitude for rudeness.” “I am both social and introverted. I would like to be welcomed into the group on my own terms.” We try our best to acclimatize to the surroundings in which we find ourselves and hide those things that make other people uncomfortable. We do our best. It’s no surprise, really, that psychologists report that introversion is fucking exhausting, just as much as any given mental illness or behavioral disorder. (Not to mention, as I said, the co-occurrence of mental illness and introversion.) But it’s also incredibly powerful. Just as bipolar disorder gives me a unique world view, introverts are seen to be more creative, innovative, and self-reliant. Some of the world’s best public speakers and leaders are introverts, Ghandi, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Rosa Parks among them. In fact, there is some research to suggest a link between a higher I.Q. and a higher level of introversion. From Carl King, filmmaker and introvert: “A world without Introverts would be a world with few scientists, musicians, artists, poets, filmmakers, doctors, mathematicians, writers, and philosophers.” So the world wasn’t made for us — big deal! I’m used to that — I’m also left-handed.

A perfect storm

Actor Robin Williams took his own life today. By all accounts an extremely funny, extremely intelligent person, he lost a battle with depression. I’m probably more upset by this than I have any right to be — Mr. Williams being an actor and a public figure whom I enjoyed does not mean that he belongs to me in any sense. It doesn’t seem right to eulogize someone I have never, and now will never, meet, despite his featuring prominently in the entertainment landscape of my childhood. Maybe it’s just that his humor resonated with me, because I see similarities to my own sense of humor… and maybe because his actions today resonate with me, also.

Seems to me that it goes something like this: A good sense of humor is an indication of intelligence. Intelligence is a predisposing factor to depression and mental illness. People who are depressed are also more likely to be humorous, probably as a result of their higher intelligence and perhaps as a result of coping mechanisms developed to mitigate their depression.

Smart people are also marginalized in our society. Those who suffer with depression and other mental illnesses are likewise stigmatized. We use humor to deflect and cover up our wounds, and then we suffer quietly. Alone. As we spend more time alone, we are observed to be introverted. People who are introverted, on the whole, seem to be less desirable companions and are therefore sought out less by their peers. In the end, you get a bunch of smart, suffering, funny people with no close friends.

And then we kill ourselves because human beings aren’t meant to be islands (Bon Jovi had that right) but what choice does a person have when their territory is being colonized by naysayers and doubters and people who, in general, just want to make you feel bad for being who you are and enjoying what you like.

Seriously. Fuck those people.

This is what being a Stigma Fighter is about. Standing up to the unenlightened masses who would prefer to see a greatly homogenized culture instead of embracing and celebrating our differences, mental illness included. I wonder if Mr. Williams, had he known about our mission, would have joined us. Something tells me he might have done just that.

Friendship

After taking a personal inventory, I have made the following observations of myself as a friend. I am:
A.) fiercely loyal,
B.) very good at social networking websites, and
C.) extremely unlikely to ever speak with you on the phone

Also, if I were to be perfectly honest with potential friends upon first meeting them, I would be absolutely friendless.

It would probably go something like this:

New Person: Hi, my name is ____.
Me: Oh, hello, _____. I’m terribly high-maintenance.
New Person: (walks away quickly from the crazy lady)

Conversely, if on occasion I managed NOT to frighten people away within the first five minutes of meeting them, it would ultimately lead to:

New Person: Hi, my name is ____. Me: Oh, hello, _____. I'm extremely high-maintenance. New Person: (walks quickly in the opposite direct of the crazy lady)
This is not conducive to long-term happiness.

Truthfully, I’m not high-maintenance in the worst sense: I don’t want to be surrounded by sycophants or anything. But I am pretty sensitive, and I have a lot of baggage and a lot of hang-ups, and, well, I can be a little crazy. Crazy = inconsistent = unpredictable, and generally speaking, people don’t find relationships with unpredictable people to be particularly effortless. And it comes down to the degree of effort involved, I think, that prevents my making significant connections with many people.

First, there is the problem of defining “effort”. I don’t need, nor do I especially want, my friends to call me on the phone for idle chit-chat. Talking on the phone makes my brain seize up and misfire. People complain that texting or writing emails leads to miscommunications because you cannot tell the affect of the person with whom you are conversing, but I beg to differ: slap some emoticons on that bitch, spice it up with affect cues in asterisks ( e.g. *sarcasm*, *rolling eyes*), whatever — it’s the talking on the phone and not being able to see your face that gets me all discombobulated. For whatever reason, in the absence of face-to-face contact, it’s easier for me to discern someone’s true voice from their writing than from their disembodied voice over the phone.  So, effort, to me, is keeping in constant contact through the avenues that cause me the least anxiety. It is no surprise then that the friends with whom I am closest are those with a 50 word-per-minute minimum texting speed.

Second, there is the issue of how we will interface and spend time together. In keeping with just how much I hate to talk on the phone, I would much rather see you in person than anything else. But there’s another wrench in the works: I’m a goddamn introvert of the highest order.

I have been known to bite.
I have been known to bite when cornered.

(This guide to interacting with introverts is essentially my Rosetta stone.)

But, I am also at the mercy of my moods, which will range from “Fuck yeah, let’s go DANCING.” to “You are welcome to sit beside me in silence while I sit in my quilted cocoon and watch a movie.” The very best friends that I’ve ever had are the ones who understand this and don’t hold it against me, while continuing to venture to bring me out of shell every now and again.

This is what a real friend looks like.
This is what a real friend looks like.

And finally, there’s the emotional crap. The Baggage. Jesus Christ, the baggage. It seems endless at times, the ways in which the emotional wounds inflicted during my youth can impact my present, and by extension, my future. It’s that ol’ ACOA thing again: We don’t know normal, we’re too hard on ourselves, we think love is a commodity that must be earned and traded, we take everything too seriously, we need constant approval and affirmation, we’re highly impulsive, and we have intimacy issues that strain the boundaries of reasonable. That is what I mean when I say that I’m high-maintenance. I don’t want to be that way — it goddamn sucks — but it’s hardwired into my brain.

It is for all of the above reasons I have come to really believe this quote from someone I really like and respect: “I have friends in spite of myself.”