January and June are the months I’m usually reaching the bottom of my Xanax bottle and calling the Dr. for a refill. Mid July hits and I find it shoved in the back of the drawer with the cranberry tablets and hydrocortisone cream. I shake it to gauge how dire the need for a new prescription and the rattle startles me, its half full. I can’t remember the last time I took one.
People ask how I’m coping with the Corona virus lockdown. I’m never sure how to answer that. I miss sitting in coffee shops with friends: chatting about the latest binge worthy British procedural, what we’ve done that’ll drive our kids to therapy, or tips on how to fend off hot flashes. I miss spontaneously meeting my sisters for brunch—without having to download an app to order, put on a mask, and stay on my six feet social distancing sticker in the pick-up line while scrolling to find a decent uncrowded park nearby to eat said food in. On top of that, there is the necessity of having every form of cutlery, napkins, hand sanitizer, antibacterial wipes, and a spare picnic blanket in the car, at the ready, at all times. I miss lounging at the beach, working on my tan and the latest true crime novel sans the fear of sitting too close to a group of teens, who are definitely not siblings and quite obviously not following the protocol set out by the CDC. There are many things I miss. BUT—perfunctory plans, obligations, and appointments are definitely not on the list. If I answered their question by regaling them with my deep sense of relief, that bordered on pure joy, at being forced to stay home, it would probably go over like a K-pop band at Coachella. I am declaring myself an introvert and I’m finally ready to step out of the closet.
I’m not sure if “coming out of the closet” is the right metaphor. It’s probably not PC. I asked my very woke college age daughter and even she didn’t know. Does the term exclusively belong to the LGBTQ community? I’m sure I’ll find out soon enough. At any rate, it’s the word that comes to mind when people ask how I’m doing and I half heartedly lament the isolation and boredom that has ensnared a majority of the population. Those mild complaints sway closer to what I think I’m supposed to say rather than how I truly feel. Don’t get me wrong—I desperately miss my close friends and am very aware of how fortunate I am to have my family home and healthy. I am not experiencing the crippling loneliness some are struggling with. I’m talking about the plague of busyness that invokes anxiety in my daily life. I’m doing better without it, and I don’t think it’s just a matter of slowing down, although that has allowed me to see things more clearly. It’s more along the lines of getting in tune with who I really am, and honoring it.
I have only recently (and quite reluctantly) come to realize that, though, I’ve always thought of myself as an extrovert the needle springs decidedly in the opposite direction. I dread a weekend of back to back plans even when they are with people I genuinely want to see. More than two appointments a day can induce fitful sleep the night before. I’m easily overwhelmed at large parties and inevitably over drink to cope (with requisite guilt, and hangover, to follow) or stand there making uncomfortable small talk wondering at what point it would it be ok for me to leave. And though I dearly love my children, my delight in dropping them off on the first day of school rivals their excitement at the prospect of spending the weekend at Disneyland. Contrary to that, a majority of my friends and family are undoubtedly under the impression I am firmly in camp extrovert. They aren’t completely off base in that assessment. I’ve put the extravert mask on my entire life, and should obviously be up for a Golden Globe nomination. I am a decent host and regularly entertain. I love to feed my friends and musing over the perfect signature cocktail for a crab boil is a treasured pastime. But it’s more likely that I just relish letting my creative side run unencumbered during the planning phase and then feel obligated to bring it to fruition. Because, honestly, how could you NOT throw a Mamma Mia sing along viewing party with the requisite ABBA costumes alongside a Greek feast? I cherish my family and relationships and want to share meals, adventures and memories with my loved ones. But it’s clearly not the whole story.
I casually mentioned the “I” word to my husband recently. He was gobsmacked! The woman he’s been married to for nearly 25 years an introvert? The wife who signs all her friends up to run 5k’s in the dark under neon lights? Who plans meal prep parties for busy moms, group date nights at concerts, baby showers, coordinates weddings and seemingly thrives in chaos? The dumbfounded reaction was not an oversight on his part. I am guilt-ridden and confused over my apparent foible, well versed in hiding my exhaustion and utterly embarrassed by how drained I am. After any given well planned and executed event, I inevitably need to be alone and decompress for a few days. I have to refuel before I can function again. And if I don’t get that time? I’m a literal mess—snippy, silent, ordering dinner in, letting my daily chores (and sometimes showers) go as I disengage completely by diving into the mind numbing world of social media—the ultimate time suck—until I get what I really need—a day of complete solitude.
I never understood what it really was and thus hid it from everyone. The question is: Why do I feel so much shame about it? It may come down to my perception that society values extroverts more than their counterpart. They are the champagne of personalities with Tigger like energy and a vivacious verve for conversations, experiences and travel. It is undoubtedly the preferred way to attack life. The human embodiment of Carpe Diem. I have keenly cast Reese Witherspoon in that role. Contrast that with the Eeyore-esque picture I have concocted in my brain of the average introvert: with their propensity to live like a hermit, reticent communication skills and shy or even abrasive demeanor. Shrek will shine here! The general public begs the question “What’s wrong with them? Don’t they like people?”. The entertainment industry has beat it into our heads that it will take a complete 180 to get the love interest and live happily ever after if we continue with this ridiculous “I sometimes need to be alone” pishy caca. I imagine the reaction of saying that you’re an introvert out loud as similar to admitting you have VD. In my imagination it is akin to being a social pariah. BUT—The truth is: It is simply a personality trait. It has no bearing whatsoever on your value as a human. It is not good or bad. It just is. Period.
Lockdown has made me admit just how much I treasure my solitude, and just how out of wack I get if I don’t have enough alone time. Truth be told—quarantine has been unexpectedly pleasant for me. Yes, I absolutely wish I wasn’t forced into this discovery by a global pandemic that could kill me, the people I love or anyone else for that matter. This situation is horrifying and just typing how ok I am seems flippant and blind to the anguish, panic and terror this virus has wreaked on so many. But I am never-the-less grateful for the lesson. The mandate to Stay Home to Save Lives has proven that I’m perfectly happy buzzing around my domicile: making precise and thoughtful (read: insignificant and unnoticeable) changes to a coffee table vignette, checking on my flock of chickens and tending to the garden. It has been a satisfying respite from the usual schedule I plague myself with. My culinary conquest to perfect the art of Thai curries rounds out the time I spend on the Craft Beers of Southern California puzzle spread across the now re-purposed dining room table. I have loads of time to read and I have explored every avenue of self care with my daughters—our DIY Covid 19 skincare routine could contend with that of any Kardashian and our manicures are flawless. Bottom Line? The pandemic No Plans Rule suits me just fine for now. I’m more at peace than I have been in a long time.
So I’m coming out of the closet. My new unabridged personality status is undoubtedly going to take some getting used to—after all, it took me 50 years to come to this discovery—but I’ve decided to sit and get comfortable with it. I can have soirees under the café lights in the backyard when I feel like it. I’ll enjoy the occasional book club, wine tasting, and pool party when the world opens up again, but I won’t beat myself up when I need a day off either. I refuse to be ashamed of the rest I require and won’t deny myself the time I need to regroup for the sake of my sanity. It’s simply another facet of who I am and I accept that. So my little brown bottle of chill can rest in the back of the medicine cabinet while I get on with the business at hand: Drinking tea. In a quiet house. No plans. Content.
About the author: Jennifer Bold lives in Southern California but is a Michigan girl through and through. She has been accused of being obsessed with her chickens, serial killers, and the Romanovs. She has two strong, smart, funny daughters and a husband that makes planes fly but can’t dance. She likes to grow stuff and eat delicious things.