Tag Archives: Monday Blogs

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.

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The Momma Bear Protocol

Parenthood — motherhood in particular — comes loaded with a lot hidden programming. Sure, there’s a lot they don’t tell you — I did not anticipate, for example, having my moderately sized 36Bs landing in the 40F range by the time it was all over.

Poor High-School-Boyfriend. He missed out. But at least he's related to the Pumpkin King. Still has that going for him.
Pre special-order bras. Poor High-School-Boyfriend, he really missed out. But at least  he’s still related to the Pumpkin King. He’ll always have that going for him.

Besides boobs more massive than Husband or I could ever have dreamed of, there’s also the ability to diagnose minor ailments by glancing inside a poopy diaper, and the somewhat less desirable ability to hold protracted conversations about what I have found within those diapers.  But there are also things I wouldn’t have believed, things that well up from deep within.

There exists an intrinsic desire to care for every aspect of your child’s well-being, to make sure that they are safe at all costs — it is deep, lizard-brain,  instinctual caveman shit. And if you’re a mom, I speak primarily of the Momma Bear Protocol.

Yeah, I would want to tango with that gal, either.
Yeah, I would want to tango with that gal, either.

As a new mother, you may not realize that you have downloaded this critical programming until after you have given birth. Perhaps not even until long after, not until your child stumbles unwittingly into a situation of some minor threat or danger, and you quite suddenly find that the rational, pleasant, complimentary person you once were has suddenly left the room and a wild, raging animal has taken her place. The Momma Bear Protocol has been activated.

God help you, you poor, unfortunate soul.
God help you, you poor, unfortunate soul.

Perhaps the most surprising this about the Protocol is that there are no caveats or exceptions: it applies to all offspring (it can even apply to children under the care of the Momma Bear but not otherwise related, or children who are in the vicinity of the Momma Bear but not witnessed to be under the care of another Momma Bear) and the Protocol contains no fail-safes or contingencies for the other caretakers of the child or children, nor the inherent integrity of those caretakers — if they fuck up, GOD HAVE MERCY ON THEIR SOULS.

I'm comin' for ya.
I’m comin’ for ya.

Case in point: the night my husband accidentally locked me out of the house while our infant daughter slept upstairs.

He didn’t mean to do it. He works nights and he was running late, so in the rush to get in the house, change clothes, get back outside, and switch cars with me, things got a little hairy. He assumed I had my house keys. I assumed that anyone with a brain would know better than to lock the door with an infant in the house and no adults inside. Clearly, there were some failures in communication somewhere along the way. Be that as it may, none of of that really mattered once I was standing on our porch, listening to my daughter cry upstairs, with no way to get to her.

Momma Bear Activated: I broke the window next to the door, reached in and threw the lock.

Moira was fine, of course. She was already back asleep as soon as I was in the house, but that didn’t mean that I was any less hysterical. I called my husband’s cell phone and, in a voice that was two decibels higher than dog’s can hear, left a message that would have melted his ear off, had he been able to understand me. He called back to apologize, but it wasn’t until he came home the next morning to take in the broken window and my messed up arm that it really sunk in.

The moral of the story: Don’t mess with Momma Bears.

I amend my earlier statment: I wouldn't want to mess with her, unless she messed with my kid. And then I would poleax her, and grind her bones for breakfast.
I amend my earlier statement: I wouldn’t want to mess with her, unless she messed with my kid. And then I would poleax her and grind her bones for breakfast.

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.

An embrace

When I was in high school, I was not massively popular. In fact, being what I affectionately term as “prematurely middle aged”, I was often teased and mocked for my word choice (what writers and other linguaphiles would call “voice”), in addition to my overall manner. With a few notable exceptions, high school was not a happy time.

Reflecting on that now, though, it is difficult to say if the observations of my philistine classmates, cruel as they were meant to be, were entirely inaccurate. After all, I do use “big words” when more average vocabulary would suffice (see the above use of the word “philistine” in place of “childish ass-hats”). I’m not a partier, I’m not especially adventurous, and I’m typically only extroverted when I am in my element. One classmate of mine, whose face and name have faded into obscurity leaving only his words behind, said that my demeanor reminded him of an old lady sitting down for tea. He added to the overall picture of this meaning by pantomiming sipping from a teacup and holding a saucer, both pinkies out, pursing his lips prudishly.

At the time, it bothered me. He had pressed upon a long-standing insecurity of mine: I am not normal. And how I desperately longed to be normal. I wanted so badly to be accepted by my peers and by my family, I often hid or transformed my interests to be more palatable to the people I wished to impress. When it came to my peers, “fitting in” meant abandoning healthy, productive interests in favor of lukewarm baddassery: smoking, skipping school, majoring in Boyfriendology, and finally landing myself on probation. I would drive my life into the ground to prove to these people that I was as young and carefree as they were, if not more so. (Being a latch-key child sure helped, in this instance.)

But I suppose this young man wasn’t all wrong. Now as an adult, I belong to a group of women who gather regularly to sip tea from old china teacups (though few would accuse us of being prudish, as our conversations can quickly devolve from bawdy humor to downright dick jokes). Sometimes we even wear funny Sunday hats while we do it. I have found I’m happiest and most confident when I’m done up to look like I walked out of a 50’s hair salon. I’m embracing and making peace with my inner old lady, complete with a personal collection of antique teacups.

image

Rather than being normal, I’d like only to be embraced for my differences, as I will seek to embrace others. After all, who am I trying to impress anymore? And what, pray tell, is “normal”? As another brilliant and insecure woman once said, normal is a curse word. It is a social construct that we hold over our heads and those of the creative, off-beat souls who frighten us with their bravery to be different. Despite the time and energy I have spent over my lifetime hiding or obscuring it, I am different. And even though I have wasted wishes on aspirations of sameness — same as my family, same as my peers, same as my heroes — I’m coming to be quite pleased with our differences.

Legacy

I am trapped in a room with the woman who is both my tormentor and my hero. I so admire her, but am also intimidated by her. I want so badly to please her that I have fallen all over myself in successive, bumbling attempts to prove my worthiness, my aptitude. I feel now, from her sideways glances, her tacit nonchalance, that my attempts have failed — failed to such a degree that I have in fact proven myself of increasingly little merit in a cruel reversal of intent. I am trapped in a room with a woman who is aggressively, coldly assessing me, and she is finding me wanting. I cannot leave this room. I am trapped.
The room is my mind. The woman is me.

One time, my mother (over)shared with me about some of her indiscretions and mistakes. She had made some poor decisions and betrayed our family (though she didn’t frame it that way at the time), leaving quite a wake. She told me the truth and I was hurt. Defensively, she asked me if her actions had “hurt me special”. Had she done something to really harm me in particular, when it was her husband she had cuckolded? When it was him she had lied to? Call me crazy, but even then, I thought that was a mighty big question to ask of a 10-year-old.

When the actual betrayal happened, I was far too young to realize what had actually occurred. It was just another knock-down, drag-out fight. It was just another few nights of listening to my mother and father scream at each other. Just another visit to our house from the police.

Growing up in an environment where bi-yearly visits to our home from the cops were considered normal took its own toll, but the legacy of diminished self-worth is much harder to let go of. Now that I, as a grown woman, can see why my mother did the things she did, I can definitively say yes, Mom — every time you illustrated for me that a woman’s worth was intrinsically tied to a man’s desire for her, you hurt me especially, because I lived by your example.

Now, there are a lot of reasons that marriages fail, and I’m no relationship guru. However, I see these underlying machinations at work: a damaged soul, one that never considers itself whole, never considers itself enough on its own, seeks to fill the void with an attachment to another soul. And another. And another. Because that which you are unable to furnish within yourself cannot be found within the heart of another being, but that doesn’t stop you from trying.

Granted, I’ve never committed adultery — I’ve been blessed with a much better marriage than my mother had — but I see how easy it must have been, how soothing, to have slipped from one man’s arms into those of another because the second gave you the time of day. Made you feel pretty. Wanted. I can see how, while drowning in the depths of self-loathing, any positive attention must seem like a life raft. I understand it, without condoning it.

The bigger question now is how to stop the cycle. It’s too late for me, in a sense — the demons are already in my head. Every time I watched my mother grasp her thighs and sigh in disappointment, every time she called herself fat, every time she went on another binge diet — I learned from her example and expanded my mental arsenal. I have waged war on myself for years, tending (self-inflicted) wounds and wearing the battle scars like badges: if I cannot make myself good enough, then I will be my own judge and jailer. I consumed my own flesh in recompense for my multiple failures. My descent aided by the voices of criticism around me: “You need to dress better.” “You really shouldn’t eat that.” “I expected more from you.”

The apathy, the low expectations, the understanding shared by all — including myself — that I was different. Other. These are perfect conditions to create a monster of self-hatred. So how do I stop it from killing me the same way that it killed her? How do I protect my daughter from this legacy?