I’m not being moody! I don’t even know who I’m protesting to because no one has accused me of this (recently…) but then I know they have thought it, in the near distant past. My husband, thankfully, knows that when he finds me in the kitchen preparing my breakfast with my noise cancelling headphones wedged in, not so much avoiding eye-contact as not actively seeking it, that I need to be alone.
In fact, I need to be alone so much its akin to the need to breathe, such that not being alone at this moment could leave me gasping, depleted, eyes a little wild as I try to make sense of too much information coming at me from outside my bubble. My bubble, at those times, feels precarious, like I am carrying it on one of those “wands” you dip into the bubble-making solution and it might detach or burst at any moment. Any merest draught of air could do it, so I have to carry it, deftly, efficiently, to my brown chair by the window in “the sunny room”.
Not always sunny, this room of course, but when it is I go there, with relief. When it isn’t, its dreariness oppresses more than any other room in the house since it overlooks the road, with its traffic, its people dashing about…sunshine somehow keeps those at bay. If I slant the shutters, open wide the one with the long view along the road, once a lane, past the old white farmhouse with its white blossom tree and a fringe of trees, I can filter out most of the early morning mayhem of commuter-belt village life. Without sunshine, those things seems to dominate and pour into the room and I retreat to another place.
This sunny day, as ever, I have one of three very long playlists of self-selected classical music. I have my books, my pens, my journal, my dairy, my breakfast, my tea, my water. Now, for a few precious hours, I can be alone to makes sense of my inner domain, the sanctum that never stops talking, wondering, processing, questioning, connecting, hypothesising, creating, feeling, marvelling and noticing. How on earth could I cope with all that if I had to make small-talk? All my nighttime gems and dawn revelations would be lost. Even if I so much as had to sit in a room with another person, not talking, my energy would default to theirs, my mirror sensors unfurling out of me to report back what kind of mood they are in, how much is on their mind. Pregnant silences would speak volumes, the din of another consciousness at close proximity, vying for attention with mine. That will happen soon enough, but at least if I an delay it for these first precious hours.
Sometimes I don’t even know what I’ve got to say to myself until I put a pen in my hand. Then, like magic, the words come tumbling out and I see myself, peering deep into the corners of my psyche, noticing things I never glimpsed before. Others are like old friends, only, each time they visit they are different, matured by the rigours of life ever-changing; entire reconfigurations, like the image in a kaleidoscope after its been shaken or turned. Suddenly, those same jewel colours I thought I knew in a certain arrangement are reformatted in magnificent juxtaposition with each other. Life is like that, when we pull back far enough to take in the whole picture of it…constantly beguiling, always shifting, always much more to see than people could possibly notice when they are running around being so busy or sociable.
This isn’t a world full of “things” so much as abstractions that flash tantalising glimpses of their quantum potentials…so, this is the place where, once in a while, complete newness appears, like a seed spawned in another galaxy. If all they want is for us to keep on shifting the same old furniture of life around into different yet, ultimately, finite arrangements in an ever-repeating cycle then keeping us so busy, time-poor and obsessively preoccupied by each other is the way to go about it. But, if we want anything truly new to occur to us, the kind of breakthrough that shifts a paradigm, we need those who do far better left alone to be allowed to spend more time doing what they do, the way they do it, untampered with. Perhaps too late for me but not for the countless others like me. Yet, where (still) is the room at the table for the introvert that processes life in this alternate way? When will they be valued and made space for, exactly as they are, not corrected and coached into “the norm” of a broken construct?
For 16 days ahead it won’t be like this for me since my husband has “leave”. We will be together, solidly, for half a month with our routines snapped together where, normally, they diverge. I’m so used to spending most of the daylight hours alone, at least five days a week, that this comes as a shock to my system, every time. This always used to panic me so desperately inside, though I never allowed the thought to surface, ashamed of it. Now, I find I must and so I share it with him. I know, without a shadow of a doubt these days (now that the social guilt is shrugged off from me), that I really need to carve for myself some alone time every day, even when the excuses are gone. The need to be alone is its own excuse; I claim that for myself, just as important as any other activity. A “negative space” that is just as real as any object in the room. I shrug from me, also, this idea that being alone is not to be “doing” anything that is worthwhile, a cultural mime that slips into everything. In relationship, this translates as “prefering to be alone means you don’t want to be with me”; when, really, it has nothing to do with relationship at all…and my husband knows this, I sincerely hope. I think he does.
It’s not him but me, as the saying goes. I feel so blessed in the relationship dynamic we have; no other would, or ever could, have ever worked. If I had known about myself, years ago, the true and many diversities and solitary urges that I have latterly discovered in myself, I would have feared I would never, ever, find a life partner but I would have been wrong. Through the orchestrations of an intelligent universe, I found my one true match, and he allows me to be “me”. That said, I do, still, sometimes have to remind him, because who could relate, that wasn’t exactly the same? When you are diverse in any way, it’s down to you to advocate for yourself, and as often as is necessary!
There is no one that I love enough to give away all of my solitude because (need I remind you) its like breath to me. Without it, I fade, I crumple, I wilt like a flower left in stale water on a hot shelf. The lights go out of me. My windows are boarded up. Just a little time alone, time when “we” can soften (never gone, since I feel it like like a warmth wrapped around me) into something less demanding; when it asks nothing of me and I am left to the neutrality of my own unique interface with the universe…this is all I need. Then, and only then, can I remember pieces of who I am, gain flashes of why that even matters, like glimpsing bright coloured fish beneath the current in the water. Perhaps that’s the thing, the base difference about the introvert, as in to measure or know oneself intrinsically, not in relationship (or comparison) with other. This kind of knowing rises up in you, since it is inherent, not externally applied, and it takes time and intimacy spent with self to even gain the first foothold of it, like the beginnings of an endless voyage into the universe within.
For a (very) long time, I felt so guilty, apologetic, that I have these pressing needs to be alone such a lot of the time. As a parent, I was consumed with guilt when I asserted this need even a little, like another parent right guiltily say “not now, I’m working”. This was different, not being the culturally valued construct of “work”, so it felt extravagant, but I was wrong…it was always necessary (yet our culture says different). I would “cave-in” all too often, giving in, giving up what I needed, apologising for even having that thought of slipping away, like a parent with a secret drink problem. Yet, all I needed were times to recharge…easy when school was on; a nightmare at weekends or in the holidays!
Ironic since, with my quota of solitary times, I’m far more stable, reasonable, relaxed, clear-thinking, a generally “better” person; and my husband has come to see that. Being the introvert himself, though far closer to ambivert, he understands the need to recharge alone…though not so much my need to deep dive into a pool of myself, to get to the pen even before I’ve said good morning or made eye-contact that day, lest I lose something precious caught like a glimpse through a crack in a door that might slam shut at any moment. Too many door slams and I might “lose it”, lose myself, as I’ve done at other times in my life, when the pressing need to go out to work and fulfil social obligations has sent me into an asylum inside my own head; trapped, ravaged, prodded and poked by cultural “necessities” that, to me, often seem superfluous.
Our world is not built for introverts or the neurodiverse (some say introversion is its own version of neurodiversity), for outliers and non-conformers. Yet, lately, lockdowns have given some of us our own way, a taste of what it could and should be more like…inclusiveness for those who perform better left alone, to work in their own chosen space, to their own patterns and timings, without the overseer peering over their shoulder or the tyranny of “teamwork” bearing down on us. Its also time to fix what our culture thinks an introvert is (if you want some idea, search google or any photo asset website for a picture of an introvert…prepared to be shocked by images of people with tape across their mouths, boxes on their heads or sitting stooped-backed and alone in dreary hotel rooms looking like they are about to self-harm). Its time schools and businesses stopped mandating against introverted preferences (here’s an example). Like every other minority group or flavour of diversity, its time to self-advocate and claim space for ourselves; to stop taking any nonsense about what we need or our style of expressing, working or anything else, and its time we protected our rights to be the very way we inherently are.
I’m almost jealous of this generation as they begin to play with new possibilities for introverts, to take part in their own way and on their own terms, honing their own skills instead of retraining or masking them into conformity with the “typical”. Perhaps I could have thrived in such a time, I will never know how things could have been different for me, but I sincerely hope, for the introverts of this and future generations, that they grab the ripe fruit of opportunity and claim their seat at the table of a world that needs them so.