Why being an Introvert is toughest in the Summer Holidays

My house, my head, my life...

My house, my head, my life…

I finally got to the bottom of my exhaustion today, after a friend on twitter suggested it might be due to my diet. I spent a lot of time musing on what is actually causing it, and whether sugar and caffeine are to blame.

It’s certainly true that there has been more coffee and cake this holiday, as survival against being home with the kids. But, if anything, my diet has been better, as I’ve had the children to feed too. Lunch is more likely to be pasta and veg than marmite toast, and there is much more fruit. I’m also drinking less tea, because I never get a chance to make and finish a cup while it’s hot.

But today I broke. We were meant to go and pick the car up from the garage and then go to the farm. Somewhere between trying to make a picnic as the kids hurled demands at me, and fighting to get two children dressed who declared they didn’t want to go out, I lost it. I walked away, climbed the stairs and crawled into bed. I couldn’t take it anymore.

Followers of this blog will know I am both an introvert and an HSP or Highly Sensitive Person. The latter is a term I hate, because it sounds like something kids would taunt in the playground, but it’s a diagnosis that applies too closely to me to be ignored. Let’s look at the two terms:

Introvert: I found this brilliant definition on the gifted kids website (not because I think I’m gifted, but because I googled it!).

Definition: Contrary to what most people think, an introvert is not simply a person who is shy. In fact, being shy has little to do with being an introvert! Shyness has an element of apprehension, nervousness and anxiety, and while an introvert may also be shy, introversion itself is not shyness. Basically, an introvert is a person who is energized by being alone and whose energy is drained by being around other people.

Introverts are more concerned with the inner world of the mind. They enjoy thinking, exploring their thoughts and feelings. They often avoid social situations because being around people drains their energy. This is true even if they have good social skills. After being with people for any length of time, such as at a party, they need time alone to “recharge.”

When introverts want to be alone, it is not, by itself, a sign of depression. It means that they either need to regain their energy from being around people or that they simply want the time to be with their own thoughts. Being with people, even people they like and are comfortable with, can prevent them from their desire to be quietly introspective.

Being introspective, though, does not mean that an introvert never has conversations. However, those conversations are generally about ideas and concepts, not about what they consider the trivial matters of social small talk.

[Emphasis mine]

Even the garden is a mess

Even the garden is a mess

Remind you of anyone? This is me. My life became a different place when I realised I was an introvert and that was okay. I am married to someone who recognises that I need plenty of alone time, and that even having him home in the garage can stop me from fully recharging. I am liberated by the knowledge, but it’s tough to handle at times, especially when most people I know are extroverts and think I’m antisocial or just plain weird.

The parents who tell me they love being home with their kids, love the constant chatter and the laughing and silliness are not introverts. And, possibly, they will never understand why, even though I love my children, it physically pains me to be around them all the time.

Highly Sensitive Person: On the HSP Website, it says this:

Is this you?

  • Are you easily overwhelmed by such things as bright lights, strong smells, coarse fabrics, or sirens nearby?
  • Do you get rattled when you have a lot to do in a short amount of time?
  • Do you make a point of avoiding violent movies and TV shows?
  • Do you need to withdraw during busy days, into bed or a darkened room or some other place where you can have privacy and relief from the situation?
  • Do you make it a high priority to arrange your life to avoid upsetting or overwhelming situations?
  • Do you notice or enjoy delicate or fine scents, tastes, sounds, or works of art?
  • Do you have a rich and complex inner life?
  • When you were a child, did your parents or teachers see you as sensitive or shy?

I read this list and ticked every single one. I tick them in relief, because so many things I thought were just me being difficult or a freak turned out to be things that other people could relate to.  The two bits I’ve emphasised are the ones that have been hardest this holiday. As above with the introvert definition, I “need time alone to ‘recharge'”. This holiday that has been “bed or a darkened room”. A lot. Not very healthy. When the children are at school I recharge by writing and walking the dog, sitting alone in cafes and getting the weekly food shop. None of those options are available to me, so I sleep.

More Playroom Mayhem

More Playroom Mayhem

Another thing that has exhausted me this holiday is the constant conflict. I hate arguments. I grew up in an argumentative household and any sort of disagreement, even without raised voices, ties my stomach in knots and makes me shake. Recently I’ve been having heart palpitations and there is a permanent knot of angst in my tummy. When I went to get my contraceptive pills this week they wouldn’t give them to me because my blood pressure was high.

Today I realised why.

My children are three and five. They argue all the time. When they’re not arguing, with each other or with me, or having screaming heebie jeebies because their socks are the wrong colour, they’re shrieking with glee, which usually ends in someone crying because they get too hyper. And, try as I might to block it out, I can’t. I’ve been living amidst constant noise and angst and conflict for fourteen hours a day for over four weeks. I have had two hours by myself to recharge. Two hours in four weeks. It’s been five years since I had a child at home full time, and back then they couldn’t talk.

I don’t know if being an introvert and being HSP are the same thing. I don’t think so. But I know that being both, and being a stay at home mum, are definitely mutually exclusive things if you want to stay happy.

My exhaustion is because I’m ‘switched on’ all day. It’s like wearing a heavy rucksack that I can’t put down. It starts off manageable but gets heavier and heavier as the journey continues. So my body copes by shutting down. If it can’t make the noise go away, it will go to sleep and escape that way. That’s my thought anyway. And it makes me sad. I had such great plans for the holiday and, in small doses, I genuinely love spending time with the children, taking them to the park, listening to their shows and reading them stories. But this summer I reached my limit.

'Painting' hmmm

‘Painting’ hmmm

I suspect it is all exacerbated by the fact that my children are likely also introverts (with two parents that are, it’s pretty inevitable), so they’re also suffering from being with each other day after day. It’s noticeable that my son, who has had no time by himself, being either at home with his sister or at nursery, has reverted to a tantrummy two-year-old. Normally he has a day or two with me just watching TV and cuddling. Time to switch off. Then he becomes my sweet little boy. At the moment he’s angry and stroppy and teary much of the time. Needless to say that isn’t helping any of our stress levels!

So I just have to hang on. In a week and a half I’ll have a few hours by myself. I think it might take more than one day to regrow the layers of skin that have been stripped away, but just knowing it’s coming is helping me cling on to sanity. It doesn’t help that hubbie is between contracts and at home, but hopefully that at least will be a short-lived situation.

And next year? Like it or not, tears and tantrums or not, even if it’s only for a day a week, they’re going to camp!

Introvert Parenting: 2013 365 Challenge #238

Definite Extrovert

Definite Extrovert

A while ago on Facebook, my husband’s cousin shared this great comic strip about How to Live with Introverts, with the joke line “this has saved my marriage.” (I haven’t posted the comic here as I don’t know about copyright, but do go and take a look or this post won’t make much sense. Come back though, please?)

For those of you who haven’t just read the cartoon, it starts with the statement, “Introverts live in a  human-sized hamster ball” of personal space. It goes on to discuss how extroverts get their energy from being with other people, while introverts give energy to others and need to be by themselves to replenish it.

It then lightheartedly explains how to interact with introverts – who do like company, but don’t want to waste their precious energy on ‘bad’ company. It ends with some top tips including, “Don’t take silence as an insult – it isn’t!” and “introverts get lonely too.”

My favourite line is the last one: “Be sure to hug your introvert today! (with permission of course)”

I loved it so much, because it explains who I am in a nice way rather than in an ‘I’m an abnormal anti-social freak’ kind of way. It also explains me and my husband: He is both an introvert and an extrovert. He feeds off company, but needs time alone to replenish. He has his own personal bubble but he thrives off continual physical contact.

Possibly both, like her Daddy

Possibly both, like her Daddy

It also explains (possibly) why I find parenting so hard. I don’t know if this applies to all introverts, because actually I would guess most of my friends are extroverts, but for me it makes sense.

Being with children continuously, fielding questions continuously, going to baby groups, play dates, soft-play centres, with chatter and noise and stimulation, continuously, uses up all the precious energy. And there is no time to replenish.

I snapped at my kids today, “No more questions, please!” It’s been relentless recently, from both of them, and husband has retreated into his bubble, which leaves me giving out all the non-existent energy. I don’t often get a chance to read and replenish (or sleep and replenish) and so am constantly frayed and exhausted.

This is particularly bad when hubbie isn’t working. Much as I love him, I need space away from everyone – him included – to truly feel refreshed. Even if he’s pottering in the garage and I only see him at lunch time, that isn’t the same as being in the house by myself. The vibe isn’t the same. The battery doesn’t charge as well.

I feel, instinctively (without a shred of evidence) that the introvert/extrovert might explain some of the difference between the parents who write on Facebook about how much they love spending every minute of every day with their children (making me feel like a bad parent) and the ones who ask if it’s bedtime yet.

Are there any other introvert Mummies out there to help me prove or disprove my theory? Answers on a post card (or in the comments will do!) please. 🙂

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Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog: 

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“Wait up, Claire.”

Claire turned, surprised to be called by name. She recognised the girl from breakfast at river valley, the one with the long black hair. Searching for a name, her brain threw up a card.

“Bethan. Hello.”

Bethan fell in alongside Claire as she walked from her room to the kitchen.

“You staying in the Windy City for the weekend, too? It’s the Queen’s birthday, so there’s bound to be loads to do. Shame about the poxy weather.”

Claire glanced over at the girl, trying to work her out. She looked to be about twenty and Claire guessed she must be from Thailand or the Philippines or somewhere in that part of the world, although she had a blended accent that was hard to pinpoint. Not having visited the East, except for beach holidays, she had a very loose understanding of the area. With a shrug she decided it didn’t matter: the girl spoke English.

Bethan gazed at her expectantly and Claire realised she hadn’t answered the question.

“Yes, I’m here for at least one more night. Why do they celebrate the Queen’s birthday here? I don’t think we even register it in the UK.”

“Oh, they’re big on the Royal Family in New Zealand. She’s still head of state, and they love all that pomp and ceremony. They laugh at them too, but they wouldn’t be Kiwis if they didn’t.”

“You sound like you know the country quite well.”

“I’ve been here for a few months; you pick up a lot travelling round.”

The girls arrived in the kitchen, and Claire searched her meagre supplies for something to eat. There never seemed to be time to buy food and the hostels didn’t always offer a cooked breakfast like they did in the UK. She watched in envy as Bethan located a frying pan and pulled out the ingredients for pancakes.

As if sensing her jealous observation, Bethan turned to Claire. “Do you want some? I got totally addicted to them while in the States and they’re dead easy to make when you’re travelling.”

Claire nodded, “Yes, please.”

Bethan turned back to the stove and Claire sought for a topic of conversation.

“How long were you in America?”

“Two years,” Bethan called over her shoulder. “I was studying for the first year, and then I stayed on to do some travelling.”

The information surprised Claire. Bethan didn’t look old enough to have been away from home that long, or to be travelling by herself. She felt a stab of emotion which, after a moment’s analysing, she realised was disappointment at herself: so many people had achieved great things before she’d even left university.

I’ve lived a safe existence. Good grades, good degree, good career, for all the good it did me. Where’s the adventure? Where’s the living life?

Bethan came to the table with a bottle of syrup and a stack of thick pancakes. She loaded several onto a plate and slid them across to Claire. The two girls sat munching in companionable silence until the plates were empty.

“What about you, Claire, how long have you been in New Zealand?”

Claire looked up from scraping the last of the syrup off her plate. “What day is it today?”

“Saturday. It’s the 1st of June.”

“What, already?” Claire’s eyes opened wide. “Then I’ve been here–” She did a mental calculation, “–nearly two weeks. Gosh, is that all? It feels much longer.” Then she realised how much further there was to travel and that she’d only planned to be away for a fortnight, and her stomach lurched.

With a sigh, she said, “I guess I probably shouldn’t stay in Wellington too long. I need to get home.”

Bethan looked sympathetic. “Have you got to get back to work? I’m so lucky I don’t have a job to go to.”

“Neither do I.” Claire didn’t feel that lucky. She wanted to ask Bethan how she afforded to travel without work, how many places she had visited, even how old she was. The young girl intrigued her. Her British reserve forced her to hold her tongue, and silence fell.

Eventually, Bethan stood up and went to wash the dishes. Claire grabbed a tea towel and while they worked, Bethan asked, “What plans do you have for today? The weather’s meant to be rubbish. I was going to go to the Botanical Gardens on the cable car, but I think I might go to the museum. Do you want to come?”

It felt strange, making her own decisions. Claire had got used to the bus driver telling her what the next activity to do or place to visit was. A museum sounded a bit boring, but at least they’d be out of the rain. And it would be nice to have some company.

“Sure, why not.”

***