Friday, 23 October 2015

Being an introvert, and how I cope with it

Some time ago, a close friend of many years mentioned that his clearest memory of our teenage years was how I would walk into a room full of people, choose a corner, and stand there looking like I wanted to be anywhere else.

I thought about this recently, when I joined a dance class.  This is added to a counselling skills course I'm doing, and a martial arts class I've been attending for over five years now.  I'll tell you a secret: these places are full of people, and I'm still absolutely terrified when I walk into them.  I'm not sure I've become any better at hiding it.

A low point was the death of a close relative a few years ago.  I did my usual thing of appearing to calmly carry the weight of my grief but, when I arrived at the leisure centre for a martial arts class, I looked through the window in the door to the room, saw all the people in there, turned around and walked back to my car.  The massive courage it took for me to walk into that room had gone, replaced by one clear thought: "I can't do this."  I'm just thankful that I made it back to my car before the grief hit fully.

You might see me walk into a room full of people, or exit that room and, if you're particularly observant, notice that I appear to feel a little uneasy.  Wrong.  I'm absolutely terrified.  You might notice that, for a while, I'm unusually quiet.  I'm still listening to you.  Believe me, I'm listening to you.  Every one of my senses is heightened because, as silly as it may seem to you, the situation feels threatening to me.  I'm just one man.  The numbers are not in my favour.  I'm not going to tell you why that's important.  Let's just say that experiences from our early lives affect us, and leave it at that.

Again, if you're observant, you'll see the point where I visibly relax, where I might even smile and share a joke with you, and you'll notice, when I'm leaving, that I'm scared once again.  So, what's happening during the point in the middle?  What's happening is something that it took me many years to figure out.

For the time that I'm talking with you, practising kung fu with you, dancing with you, or practising counselling skills with you, you're the only person in that room with me.  If someone else grabs my attention, they temporarily become the only person in that room, and then my focus shifts back to you.  It's a trick, I guess, but it's one I've been using successfully for a while now.

I still haven't found a way of coping with entering, or exiting, a room full of people.  Anything more than three, and it's a problem.  You'll probably notice that I'm more of a listener than a talker, but I hope you don't mistake it for a lack of intelligence.  If you ever see me after I've had a few pints of beer, you might think I've had a personality transplant, if such a thing were possible.  I just want you to know that it takes a great deal of courage for me to be there with you, that you have my full attention and, if you're one of the people on the periphery, I'm not being ignorant or rude.  I'm just coping with a difficult situation in the best way I know.

Sunday, 11 October 2015

I don't have a heart of stone

My sister is going home.  She lives at the other end of the country, so we don't see her very often.  This time, there are reasons to feel conflicted about her leaving, though it is probably better not to go into them here.

I was fine until I had to say goodbye to her.  What changed things is that she decided, this time, to give me a hug, and I could see that she was trying to hold back some tears.  I maintained the composure that my family have come to expect from me, got into my car, drove, and lost that composure.

I have a number of things on my mind right now.  I must deal with them alone.  My fiancĂ©e, who I love dearly, is on the other side of the world.  In itself, that is a difficult thing for me to deal with.

I can think of one time in particular, when I was supporting someone who was dealing with difficult feelings, that it affected me.  I won't say anything more about the person or what they were going through, because I am duty bound to protect their right to confidentiality, but it was a heavy burden to carry.  That time, I drove home, looked around my flat, felt the loneliness more than ever, and my own feelings made themselves known as I sat down.  The time difference meant that the woman I love would have been asleep, and I didn't want to wake her, but what I needed was to hear was her voice, just to hear that she was okay.  Again, the person's right to expect confidentiality meant that I couldn't tell her about the burden I was carrying, but hearing her voice would have made me feel a little less alone.

Like many men of my generation, I was taught that a real man is solid, dependable, not given to displaying emotion: being tough, being able to shrug off whatever life throws at us, is what makes us men.  We've been conditioned to maintain the appearance of someone who is in control, with only a vague notion of how that looks.  Unfortunately, many of my generation saw their parents go their separate ways, often being left with little or no contact with their fathers, so the idea of how a man should conduct himself became blurred to the point of becoming indistinct and confusing.

I remember the first time I watched the Rocky films.  My brother was a big fan of these films, and is still, as far as I know, a fan of these films.  Sylvester Stallone portrays a boxer - a man who would, for a lot of men, be the pinnacle of manliness.  You would expect him to be tough, able to take on life's challenges and carry the whole world on his shoulders, so to speak.  The important thing about the Rocky films is that we see this paragon of manliness feel emotion, break down, and become otherwise weighed down by life's challenges.

Realistically, I don't have to justify how I feel.  Maybe letting it out would not have been the best thing for my sister, who seemed to be quite emotional anyway, or anyone else who is affected by what is going on.  I'm conditioned to deal with these things, present the appearance of being unaffected, and deal with my feelings in private.  That's the part that no one sees, with just one person being a notable exception.