I always thought that there was something different about me. I enjoy people, but being around large groups exhausts me. I prefer having a few friends rather than many connections.
Early in my medical career, I was certain that something was wrong with me. Many of my colleagues used friendships to make work connections and to build their practices. They would form relationships with referring docs and therapists to ensure a steady stream of patients to their office door.
I would observe their business acumen. However, the thought of doing something similar was impossible for me. Pretending to like someone was not in my emotional playbill. I remember when the medical director of my clinic asked me to invite a new doctor over for dinner, as he seemed to be uncomfortable and unhappy in his new job. Apparently, I was supposed to make him feel more at ease. I did what I was told and invited him over. The new doc seemed significantly more uncomfortable than I was, and any questions that I asked were met, at best, with a one-word answer. Eventually, that doctor not only left our practice but also the state. I think he was packing his bags well before I served him our wild rice casserole, but the memory of that dinner still gives me a shutter.
Over time I understood that I wasn’t defective, I was an introvert. I form very strong relationships with a few people and I’m a loyal and true friend. My close circle doesn’t exhaust me in the least and I miss those connections when I don’t see them. However, I’m also very comfortable being alone and I can’t remember the last time that I was truly bored when I was by myself. I always can find something to do.
Like many introverts, I can be a functional extrovert. Put me in a social situation or ask me to give a lecture and I don my extrovert cape and perform. That last word was chosen deliberately, as my actions are an act. I know how extroverts behave and I do likewise. In many instances, I’ll enjoy these situations, but after a few hours I’ll need to have alone time to regroup and recharge.
I discovered that I was an introvert many years ago. However, I continue to learn about my personality and my personal needs. Over the last few years, I have traveled solo in Violet, my campervan. I have enjoyed these trips, but I have often wished that I had someone with me to share the adventure. When I say “someone” I mean someone in my close circle of connections. Being an introvert doesn’t mean that I always want to be by myself.
Although I accepted the fact that I was an introvert, It always seemed that I was shortchanged. My extroverted doctor colleagues had the sales advantage. They could use their personal traits to attract business, I had to rely on the quality of my work and word of mouth to do the same.
My extroverted neighbors easily intermingled with each other, partied together, and even traveled together. I would wave to them from the driveway and quickly return to the comfort of my house.
My extroverted friends always seemed to have a hundred people to see and a million places to go. This was never the case for me.
My friend Tom is an extrovert and has the ability to connect with just about anyone. It seems that anywhere I go with him he runs into someone he knows who automatically wants to stop what they are doing and have a conversation with him. It is interesting to me that a super extrovert and a quiet introvert would become best friends.
Over time I have not only accepted being an introvert, but I have also come to value it. I may form fewer relationships, but they are deeper and more meaningful. I may spend more time alone, but I always find something to do. I am a continual learner and explorer, and I like the fact that I have the time to study new things and skills.
When COVID-19 resulted in shelter-in-place rules I thought would be fine. What would be better for an introvert than being locked up in their house! However, my assessment wasn’t accurate.
During the first few weeks of being sheltered-in-place, I found that I was feeling irritable and down. I initially attributed these feelings to the obvious. The stock market, which was the source of my income, was dropping. In addition, basic supplies that ranged from toilet paper to flour were impossible to buy. I was feeling afraid and insecure. However, after a week I accepted the situation and let go of the anxiety around it. However, I was still feeling unsettled. I didn’t feel like learning new things, or writing, or taking photos, or doing just about anything. It was a difficult time, but also a time for introspection.
Julie was home as were three of my kids, and that was good. We did do things together, but they were also involved in their own activities. I reflected on what was missing and it was clear that I was concerned about and missing other people in my life. I decided to come up with a plan. I’m close to my two sisters and during this time I would call them every day. I would also have more regular contact with my oldest daughter, Anne. She has a busy life so daily contact would be a burden to her, but we could certainly talk once or twice a week. I increased my calls to my childhood friend, John. We have always been close as brothers, but like many brothers, the time that we spent together has shrunk through the years. I decided that I would call John at least once a week. I also reached out to my friend Ralph. Ralph is still in the workforce and busy seeing patients, but I wanted him to know that he was important to me.
My friend Tom presented as a special case. Prior to the pandemic, I saw Tom almost every day. During the first week we were still in regular electronic contact, but I was still missing him. Tom just bought a townhome that is in need of total rehab. In efforts to reduce his cost, he is doing a lot of the initial work by himself. I’m certainly not a construction guy but I have been hanging around Tom for many years and I have observed a thing or two. I also knew that demolishing the interior of his townhome would require that I wear PPE which would also provide virus protection. I could help my friend and have a little social interaction all at the same time! I like win/win scenarios.
Lastly, I kept up other social connections with friends and family via Zoom, Facetime, and emails.
I believe that being an introvert has made it easier for me to shelter-in-place. However, life is not about absolutes. I do need social contacts and I do value those people that I am close to. My efforts to connect with those people who are important to me have been met positively by the recipients. I’m happy that I am as important to my connections as they are to me.
During these difficult times, it is important to recognize who we are and what we need. We need to look at what has made us happy in our normal lives and we need to replicate those things to the best of our ability during these difficult times. When I say replicate I don’t mean duplicate. Shelter-in-place orders are there for a reason. Be creative and explore ways to “normalize” your life.