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Running on empty

After a long day at work, where I interact with many people and juggle many responsibilities, I am usually exhausted – not so much physically (though this is certainly possible), but mentally. I run out of steam. I lose the social energy that I muster to do my job, and look forward to some peace and quiet. Recharge time. It is a must for most introverts, and lack of it can make me quite irritable and cranky. It is somewhat akin to not getting any sleep.  Our introvert brains are wired differently than those of extroverts, studies have shown, and mine often needs down time, STAT.

This need not involve sleep – for me, it rarely does, though occasional naps can be helpful. Recharging for me can involve internet-surfing, reading, writing, working a puzzle, doing something out in the yard or around the house, watching a show, listening to music. None of these activities require me to speak or expend social energy, though they do require my attention (in the case of puzzles, considerable attention). This does not weary me like having to be social does. When I am low-energy, uttering a single sentence can feel like delivering a monologue, and answering a phone call is out of the question – much less making one. Also, having to repeat myself is especially annoying at these times. I know this may not make much sense to many people, but it’s really a matter of energy overwhelm and social tolerance levels . If I’ve had to expend more social energy than usual on a particular day, or for longer periods of time, the overreaction to stimuli can be extreme.

Those who have known me for a long time have certainly seen this effect in me, and it may seem Jeckyll-and-Hydeish if I have been overtaxed on some social occasion. It doesn’t go over well with mates, and I have lost many this way. I reach a point where my social energy drains and I get very quiet and pull inward. This is my cue that it’s time to go, which I sometimes ignore either to be polite or – yes, even still – because I tell myself I should stick it out and hang in there a bit longer for the sake of those around me. This is rarely a good idea, but it is the conditioning I have come to adopt living in an extroverted world. It took me a long while to recognize this and take care of my need for being with my own thoughts after socializing, but it is vital to my peace of mind and quality of life, even if it does mean a life of relative solitude.

I do usually enjoy and value the time I spend with people, and in fact often ruminate on it fondly afterwards.  I need time to assimilate social contact into my experience and to reflect on it. It’s all part of the deal. It must have been an introvert who said “absence makes the heart grow fonder.” The Phrase Finder reports that this sentiment originates with the Roman poet Sextus Propertius, about whom little is known. However, poets are certainly good candidates for introversion, and Propertius is a man after my own heart (that phrase originates in the Bible).

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