I am a self-proclaimed introvert. I enjoy quiet evenings with a book and a cup of coffee and am content eating alone in a restaurant. With large groups of people, I tend to hesitate before I mingle, focused on observation rather than talking. Solitude provides a nourishment that I tend to depend on: it is good for my writing and offers a focused chance to infuse calm into my restlessness. The days when this quiet time is absent, my irritation rises, as if I am not walking on solid ground, but stepping into quicksand. For so long, I could not identify why this uneasy feeling occurred. I pointed to external factors, blaming lack of sleep or a growling stomach as a reason for my disdain.
A few years ago I encountered Susan Cain’s book, Quiet, I read and relished every word. Her study on introversion rang like an epiphany. Finally, I thought, someone understands me. In particular this paragraph, resonated with me:
“The highly sensitive [introverted] tend to be philosophical or spiritual in their orientation, rather than materialistic or hedonistic. They dislike small talk. They often describe themselves as creative or intuitive. They dream vividly, and can often recall their dreams the next day. They love music, nature, art, physical beauty. They feel exceptionally strong emotions–sometimes acute bouts of joy, but also sorrow, melancholy, and fear. Highly sensitive people also process information about their environments–both physical and emotional–unusually deeply. They tend to notice subtleties that others miss–another person’s shift in mood, say, or a lightbulb burning a touch too brightly.”
I spent years asking, “What is wrong with me? Why can’t I fit in? What is causing my melancholy? The answers to these questions always ended in the same place. With really no answers. Once I read Cain’s words, I identified a facet of my personality that I need to protect, the absolute need to stand alone sometimes. I’ve incorporated this practice in my daily routine, knowing the days I miss out on this quiet, I tend to feel pensive.
As much as I long for solitude, it is not quite enough to speak completely to me. I feel the texture of this contradiction and the words of Walt Whitman strum in the background, “Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.” I love my quiet time, but also seek the company of others. Over the years, I’ve recognized that various people form different tribes in my life. I enjoy the company of my book buddies, writer friends and those gal pals that know how to laugh and cry with me. The blogging and virtual community carry a place of refuge. I am continually impressed by the dialogue I share with people I’ve never met, but know me intimately through my writing. Each set of these people, of course, offer sustenance just like the traditional food pyramid lends nourishment for our physical selves.
I may stand alone, but underneath, the web catches my fall.
This piece originally appeared on The First Day.
Image: “De la solitude ordinaire…” by Michel Schmid via Flickr.