I just arrived home from Blogher 14. In years passed I would have needed to retreat for days after. I would have had to turn on a mind numbing marathon on Netflix, curl up in my favorite blanket, and repeated, "Sorry babies Momma is tired" too many times. I have an introvert heart.
People always scoff when I say that, but it is so SO true. Large groups drain me and I need alone time to refuel. The Monday after Blogher (or any huge social event) would have resulted in a need to activate hermit powers. Wednesday before I left for California I paid a visit to my therapist. 11 o'clock every Wednesday I sit on a couch across from her. She looks at me and she refuses to speak until I start the conversation. She has been doing this for over a year now. She started this practice with me in order to allow me to make the sessions into what I needed them to be, instead of me just answer a checklist of "emotional accomplishments". I usually start out with " I hate that you don't say something, but I probably should talk about...." She warmly smiles and we start talking. Her intervention is good for me. I hate it, but it is good: Like stretching out a too tight muscle. My Wednesday session with Dr. Clemons involved talking about the parts of me that are introverted and how to best care for myself in the context of social interaction.
One of the best things I've learned from Dr. Clemons, or maybe myself since she doesn't do a lot directive therapy, is how to create an emotional barrier between other people and myself. This barrier is meant to protect your sensitive heart- but not keep you from intimacy. We need to feel the difficulty of loving people, and to insulate ourselves from that would be a disservice to our community and to our need to connect. This emotional barrier is about hearing your own needs and attending to them without guilt or shame. It takes practice and courage, but once that barrier is built you'll find yourself less tapped out by the emotional energy of others. Here are some ways I build my core strength:
1. Practice Being Okay with the "Awkward Silence"
Making small talk is painful and taxing on my introvert heart. I've learned to be okay with not filling the silence. If you are like me, you'll worry that the person you aren't talking to next you thinks you are rude. Are you rude? Maybe... or no....or absolutely- but talking when there isn't a need can sap away valuable emotional energy that you could spend other places.
2. Take YOU time BEFORE your big event
This requires being a planner... or being okay with not being fully prepared if you don't pack/plan when you should. Before leaving for Blogher I took time to be alone. I knew I'd be surrounded by busy bloggers for several days and I wanted to be completely fueled beforehand.
3. Pay attention to your body signals.
This one is so hard. I wanted to stay and party at Queerosphere. I love that damn party. I was exhausted though, and I had to choose my well-being over late night partying when my body started to indicated fatigue. It takes more than just paying attention to what your body is saying. You must pay attention AND take action. If you are hungry find food, don't hang out and network. You don't have to do all the things and believe it or not, you won't regret taking care of yourself.
4. Adopt this belief: I can bear witness without bearing the weight.
When I am in group setting it is inevitable that EVENTUALLY someone will want to tell me their story, entrust me with a feeling or thought, or connect with me in a really heavy way. For YEARS I would bear the weight of the other's stories and experiences. I would physically feel the pain of their loss and grieve for days, sometimes weeks, after. The most important practice I've learned to strengthen my core is to bear witness to those stories without taking them on as my own. HEAR and then release the struggles of others. What you will find is this practice allows you more space to exist.
Foolproof? Nope. But it is a start, right? I've learned that my makeup is a unique blend of introvert/extrovert and I have to go the extra mile to attend to myself. Which is so HARD- because it means believing we are worth the best care. And we are.
Damn, that was hard to talk about. I am going to go take a nap.