An introvert’s perspective on finding ways to connect – by Deborah Conte
To connect without talking. This is the paradox.
Sadness, anger, shame, confusion, guilt, and a treasure trove of memories. All things that you’d want an outlet for, that you’d want to be able to share, right? But I hated being asked about it, or about how I was doing. I only wanted to talk about it on my terms and when I felt open to it (assuming that ever happened). Being faced with the questions without a considered and prepared response, and panic ensued. In the early days, I shied away from socialising with friends. Admittedly, not the best long-term strategy but at the time I found most social interactions too tiring.
One thing that I focussed time and energy on during this phase was trying to keep an online photo journal. I must confess that I am not a natural photographer! But it was a challenge for a while, and I also used it to share what I was feeling. It was easier to do this by writing it down than by talking. I gave the web address of my journal to my friends and told them what I would be doing and invited them to read it if they wished but with no expectations. It was surprisingly well-received. I cannot claim credit for this idea, in fact I stole it from a friend who, when she was going through a difficult medical issue, used an online blog for exactly the same reason. She too found it exhausting to be asked about her situation.
I had also sought out a Support Group because I needed… actually looking back I’m not sure I knew what I needed! I attended the Group on a fairly ad-hoc basis when every 2 or 3 months I would find myself craving the company. Yet once at the group, I sometimes found my ability to talk would dry up. Introverts don’t do well bouncing thoughts aloud ‘off the cuff’ and so I found myself listening to others, planning what I might contribute to the conversation and by the time I found a space to speak, the conversation had moved on. Listening to others’ experiences was humbling, and overwhelming. One evening I remember asking myself ‘why am I continuing to surround myself by all this pain?’.
One day at the Support Group, there was an offer of joining a social walking group organised by one of the group members. Without hesitation I signed up and always eagerly made sure I would be able to attend the twice-yearly ‘Amble/Ramble’ days. We’d meet in a small town and half the group would amble about the town while the other half went off on a short ramble. We’d all meet at the end for some refreshments. These Amble/Ramble days gave me something to look forward to. A reason to get out the house. Exercise! A way to be with others where there were no expectations around talking – you knew people would understand the paradox of needing to be in company but not feeling like talking. The intensity of conversation is automatically diffused by the shared focus being on the activity. It was here that I finally was able to enjoy the catharsis from sharing my experience and thoughts with someone and learning about theirs. It was here that I finally felt able to connect.