When an Extrovert Goes Quiet: Finding Myself after Loss
I’m a slightly shy, somewhat awkward extrovert. By shy, I mean that I really have to psyche myself up to walk into a room full of strangers or into a group of people I haven’t met before. (I’ve never been so nervous as the day I arrived at the Miami airport to meet up with the World Vision Bolivia Bloggers team!) By awkward extrovert, I mean that I gain energy from being around people but I’m not good with small talk and forget names as quickly as I hear them. I remember my mom saying once that when I was growing up, she would forget that I was shy until I was confronted with a brand new situation, and then my hesitation took her by surprise. And that’s really it – I am often shy with new people, but once I get going, I’m golden.
I love that spark of meeting someone with whom we both respond, “Oh! You too?!?!” It is such a thrill to make connections between other people and watch them experience that spark too. Laughing together, creating together, learning together, making the world better together, scheming to surprise someone with something amazing — all these things light me up.
That is who I am, down deep. But the last few years, I’ve second-guessed much of my identity, my gifts and passions, and what I’m supposed to do with my life.
I suppose it makes sense. I had a crystal-clear sense of purpose when Elli was born 13 years ago. Everything else fell to the wayside as I focused on learning how to care for a medically-fragile child. When she died, among the myriad of losses was a sense of purpose. I was left wondering, “Now what? What do I do with this experience, with Elli’s story, with all the things I’ve learned, and with the person I’ve become?” That loss was compounded by the loss of one church and by the pressure placed on me by the new church.
Extreme situations change people. The stress of the past years has diminished my short-term memory and sent my extroversion into hiding. This fed a vicious cycle of depression. I didn’t want to be around people, so I holed up at home. But choosing not to be around people led to feeling even worse which led to wanting to be around people even less, and around it went. When I succeeded in forcing myself to go out with friends anyway, I always felt better (even if it was exhausting and awkward).
I texted a friend a few weeks ago that becoming is hard. That’s what this past several years has been: one long becoming, a metamorphosis from one season or stage of life to another. It’s like adolescence when everything changes and for a few years you don’t really know which way is up and who you are and how you should relate to others. And you keep saying the wrong thing and the inner battle about being an adult but still feeling like a child leaks out in bizarre ways. (And by you, I mean me.)
My depression is mostly under control now. And over the past year, I have found myself in a new stage, doing the opposite of hiding. I’ve been outspoken and less guarded, especially online. I’ve always had a bit of a pot-stirring persona on Facebook. It was fun. I love exploring all sides of ideas, learning from people who think differently, and shaking things up. It used to thrill me no end when a Facebook post would garner 70 comments. It wasn’t ever serious and it never ruined my day, especially because I rarely had a vested interest in a particular angle on the topic.
But through this metamorphosis, I’ve begun to find myself and solidify my own positions on things. My values are clearer to me, as are my passions. Those are good things. But the process has been messy. I have allowed myself to give vent to outrage and anger online, instead of working on constructive responses. I was making noise, contributing noise, and drowning in the noise. And it all stopped being fun.
And then, I wrote a series of posts on my blog and elsewhere that triggered significant pushback. I wasn’t surprised by disagreement. I was surprised at the sources, the vehemence, and how sustained it has been.
There’s a whole movement out there in Internet land advocating something called “Men’s Rights” and fiercely attacking anything close to feminism. They simultaneously idolize female purity while also sharing ideas on how to fuck as many women as possible. And somehow, inexplicably, they use the Bible. It’s bizarre and scary, and I learned all of this because some of these wackadoos glommed onto some of my posts.
It all combined into a perfect storm of misery.
I took drastic action. I deactivated my Facebook account and gave myself an unannounced blog vacation.
It has been so good. So good. I needed to stop contributing to the noise and more important, I needed stop listening to it. Taking a break has allowed me to rest and clear my head.
One day last week, I woke up and realized it: I finally feel at home in my skin.
After years of clawing my way out of the dark, I’ve found myself again. It has been awhile since I have felt so invigorated and excited about life and family and work and friends. I am not hiding anymore. I’m learning how to channel appropriate outrage into constructive activism. I’m learning a good rhythm of rest and work, quiet and voice.
It feels good to wake up and know that I have something to offer, in spite of (or perhaps because of) all my scars and mess.