Ever thought about downing tools, walking out of work and going away for a week, on your own? No? Me either, until the last few years when getting away from people, even my friends and family, has become less of a thing to do and more of a mental imperative.
Social introverts don't mind (and often even love) a shindig or two. A party with a happy atmosphere. A carousel of new, exciting people or familiar old friends. What's probably a bit different about us, and what is often hard to explain, is that while we find people absolutely fascinating, we also find them utterly exhausting. And after social interaction, there's a definite need to recharge (get away from everyone, and yes, I have locked myself in the loo at parties). I find as I get older, the recovery period is escalating in its elaborateness, from an hour walk at lunch to a month away from home (that's the most extreme, and I've only done it once).
I'm sociable, I really am. Everyone I meet pegs me as an extrovert, the proverbial life and soul (burning bright but fast). I feed off interesting people like some kind of creature of the night, but afterwards I definitely need to recharge, assuming I haven't run out of battery mid-way through a party and am left standing paralysed in the full beam of small talk (or hiding in the loo, as above).
Some people love the constant social effort required for work, friends and family, and I'm sure most people who know me think I do, after all, why does my social media feed look like the diary pages of a magazine (clever editing and who posts pictures of themselves sat in a dark room with just the eerie glow of a Kindle)?
On low social energy days, I feel like Buckaroo,* where overload of social stimulus will result in me kicking everything off and HEE HAWING away to a quiet place.
Some days I can do social, and some days I just can't. Big events are problematic, but strangely this only applies when I know people. Work events filled with strangers seem to be fine, but give me a wedding, a christening or a 40th Birthday Party on the other hand...and don't even talk about funerals, Jesus. I mean, no one LIKES a funeral, but I find this type of small talk particularly excruciating.
Devastatingly, my brother killed himself last October (more blogs on that to come, it has taken me until now to even write it down). This was a funeral I HAD to go to. I managed to read his eulogy, which I'd written and I coped ok at the crematorium. But come the wake, people were swimming in front of my eyes and I was physically sick. Unable to cope with anyone around me it was impossible for me to catch my breath, let alone a coherent sentence.
Obviously that's an extreme example, as my brother had died, and there was a 'party' at a place we used to go to and he wasn't with me, but my inability to cope, and the need to get away is often there. Sometimes just an hour on my own will do it, but more often as time goes on, I need days and weeks to recover/recharge.
I know it's not groundbreaking. I'm not the first person to need time to myself, but for me as a social introvert (or a rude cow), I seek out places where I can usually avoid social contact. Or more accurately, contact with people I know.
One of my very sociable friends recently waved goodbye to her loved ones and went to the Pyrenees for a week, ON HER OWN IN A TENT! Four of those days with no food (oh actually, she did say she had an apple a day, but by the fourth day she only needed half?!?). Now I am in awe of that kind of dedication, but where was the booze (I'd like to say that on my recharge retreats I abstain from alcohol as well as people. I don't)? My kind of 'getting away from it all' usually includes a roof made of more than stars (just), and a steady supply of cheese and wine.
I'm writing this in Devon in a stranger's house, 200 miles away from home. I only see other people (who I don't know, but will do by the end) at mealtimes, and the rest of the time is mine to write, read, walk and be alone. The year before last, I took a month out to go to Lanzarote. I guess you could call it a sabbatical, although I thought sabbaticals were for other people - posh people - certainly not working women like me who have kids (did I mention I have kids?). Luckily for me I had a friend who let me stay in a yurt (a sturdy tent), just a few hundred metres from the sea, and a very understanding partner, who thankfully fed and clothed the children.
We all dream of stepping off the hamster wheel, sticking two finger up to the man and smashing the Groundhog Day. And I know there will be people reading this thinking 'it's alright for some...' but that's the point, it's not alright for some.
Walking away is not easy, and it's nerve wracking every single time, but I don't know if i'd survive in one piece without it. So I would urge anyone out there who feels similar; do everything you can to get what you need.
It doesn't have to be a whole month away, or a Vision Quest in the Pyrenees, sometimes it can just be booking yourself into a B&B for an evening or going for a long walk on your own, with no one to listen to, no one to talk to, and especially no one to please.
I wish my brother had.
In my dreams we talk about the paths he would have walked, the trips he would have taken...
A few months after he died, I was struggling more and more in social situations, even with my closest friends. I went to a psychiatrist to see whether I should be referred for some therapy. After the session he said I was coping exactly as I should, but because of the type of person I am, I was suffering from quite severe, social fatigue.
So when people continue to be incredulous with exclamations of 'Huh? You're leaving your partner to look after the house and the kids, but what about... *insert endless reasons here*
I reply and say, I can and I am. And it helps save us all.
* The classic balancing game of suspense and surprise. Load up the moody mule as much as you can, but be careful he might 'Buckaroo'! For 2-4 players. 4 Years +Suggest a correction