Have I been a closet introvert all this time?

by Carolyn Thomas     @HeartSisters

Except for those blissfully naïve months of January and February when we had no clue what was about to hit us, 2020 has seemed like a dumpster fire called All-COVID, All-The-Time. Everything we knew and loved changed in ways few of us could have ever predicted. But I’ve noticed another big change overall – and that’s been in me.

The more I hunkered down inside my little apartment this year, the more I began to like hunkering.     .           .      .

Because I had to take early retirement 12 years ago due to ongoing cardiac issues, I didn’t have to worry in 2020 about needing to go to work or about losing my job or about home-schooling my kids. My monthly (modest) pension is nicely deposited automatically into my bank account. I know and truly appreciate how fortunate I am. I have family and friends close by, lots of good food, a cozy little home, and – because I live in Canada (known also  by some Americans as “commie pinko land of socialized medicine”) – free healthcare. 🇨🇦

When COVID-19 first hit, of course, I jumped right in just as so many others did. I started a daily at-home pandemic agenda. I baked and baked (and shared all of my home baking with neighbours). I sorted cupboards and closets. I rediscovered jigsaw puzzles. I watched virtual concerts and took online tours of famous museums. I walked for one hour every morning out in the fresh air, and booked regular Zoom visits with friends and family.

Then one morning, when I was deciding what I was going to put on my pandemic agenda for Day 21, all I could think of writing down was this:

“Make a decision about washing my hair.”

NOTE:  this didn’t mean that washing my hair was on my To Do list. It just meant that I needed to decide whether or not I was actually going to wash it or not that day.

And that was the day I stopped cleaning out my kitchen drawers. I simply lost interest in being busy every minute of every day.

By the time restrictive public health precautions were in place requiring us to stay six feet apart, wash our hands, wear masks and stay home if possible, I was happy to be at home. As a heart patient at high risk for catching this virus (and worse, at a much higher risk for a poor outcome if I did catch it), I knew that I simply could not get sick. Period.

As I often told my family and friends,

I’m not STUCK at home. I’m SAFE at home!” 

The pandemic did touch my extended family (my brother, his wife, and two grown children all tested positive, but happily have now recovered).

While my girlfriends continued to meet in groups for open air coffee visits in the park over the summer and fall, I felt safer being at home.  When my son Ben generously offered to take my grocery list to the store to shop for me, I felt safer being at home. When I was invited out to birthday events, I felt far safer being at home.

I didn’t feel unhappy at all about being deprived of crowds. In fact, I felt lucky. It really seemed to help when I decided that there is nothing “out there” that I need to go to, or see, or do that’s more important than keeping myself and those close to me as safe as I know how.

After the first two months, I felt especially lucky to be able to spend in-person time again with my darling granddaughter Everly Rose, who has been in my family “bubble” ever since.

I love my home. I enjoy my own company. I am never bored, as long as I have my books, my laptop, my art, and people who care about me at the other end of a phone. And whenever I  check the kitchen calendar to see what’s on for today, I now actually feel a wee frisson of joy if I see a perfectly blank page.

But what is happening to me? Who is this homebody who has somehow moved into my body? I’ve spent my whole life as an outgoing, extroverted social animal. I’d always been a party person (both hosting and attending), a committed community volunteer, and a person with a bulging calendar who was always up for morning coffee or drinks after work invitations.

But now, the less I plan to do each day, the better.  I wondered if I was becoming more introverted because of the pandemic scare, or because of my ongoing heart condition, or because I am just getting older?

I looked up what Jenn Granneman (blogger at Introvert, Dear and author of the book, The Secret Lives of Introverts) had to say, and decided to do her Introvert or Extrovert Quiz”  to see if my disappearing extroversion had really disappeared or not.

For example, one of Jenn’s quiz questions asks about socializing with other people:

Q:  In general, after attending a large party, how do you feel?

  1. Tired and drained, even if I had fun.
  2. Energized and ready for more!

I felt tired and drained just thinking about answering this question.

I have in fact felt that way since 2008. Having to make small talk with lots of people, especially people I don’t know well, seems utterly exhausting to me now. Depending on the time of day, an extended conversation with even just one person can wipe me out for the rest of the day.

But now I can cheerfully say NO to crowds by blaming this pandemic of ours.

Susan Cain, former lawyer-turned-best-selling author of the book, Quiet, reminds us that it’s quite common to seem more introverted as we age. Psychologists call this phenomenon “intrinsic maturation,” which means our personalities become more balanced as we get older—“a kind of fine wine that mellows with age,” she adds. And there may be an evolutionary/biological reason for this shift:

“High levels of extroversion probably help with mating, which is why most of us are at our most sociable during our teenage and young adult years. If the task of the first half of life is to put yourself out there, the task of the second half is to make sense of where you’ve been.

“In fact, it might be just what we need to flourish as adults. If there’s one thing we introverts know, it’s just how satisfying a quiet, calm life can be.”

We don’t know yet if 2021 will bring us this quiet, calm life – just as we didn’t know that 2020 was about to unleash a global pandemic upon us.  Even with the new vaccines, this virus just doesn’t behave like other viruses when it comes to ensuring that antibodies will make us immune to future infections. We’ll still be following basic public health restrictions for some time yet.

The more we fight against reality, the worse we will feel. The more we protest precautions recommended to protect the common good (and especially those healthcare professionals trying to help us), the more we’ll feel like weaklings railing against fate.

Speaking of 2021, I just heard CBC broadcaster Shelagh Rogers quip on her radio show:

“I’m not buying a 2021 calendar – until I see the trailer.”

Take care, and stay safe out there. . .

Q:  Have you too been feeling more introverted lately?

NOTE FROM CAROLYN:   I wrote more about why severe fatigue is so common among heart patients in my book, A Woman’s Guide to Living with Heart Disease , published by Johns Hopkins University Press.  You can ask for it at your local library or favourite bookshop, or order it online (paperback, hardcover or e-book) at Amazon, or order it directly from my publisher (use their code HTWN to save 20% off the list price of my book)

Image: Gerd Altmann, Pixabay

See also:

My other Heart Sisters articles this year about COVID-19

25 tips to manage the crushing fatigue of heart disease

Welcome to your new country called Heart Disease

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18 thoughts on “Have I been a closet introvert all this time?

  1. Hello Carolyn,
    Once again your blog has spoken to me directly. In your post titled “Have I Been A Closet Introvert All This Time?”, you described most every emotion I have been feeling over the past several months. I also feel safe not stuck at home and thankful to be able to use this time to be still and reflective.

    Although I have had a very social life and career, I have come to cherish solitude.

    On this last day of December, I feel for those that did not get to celebrate the holidays in traditional ways. But personally it was a good month for me with no excess in festivities and social expectations. No holiday anxiety to trigger an angina episode. Maybe I have been a closet introvert all along.

    Cheers to a happy and healthy 2021.
    Jo

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for sharing that comment, Jo.

      Countless people have made so many decisions this past year that have kept them from enjoying experiences that we have taken for granted all our lives – as you mention, for example, celebrating holiday traditions exactly as we have always done. They (and we) made these decisions to help preserve the greater good – from cancelling concerts, sporting events, graduations, weddings, funerals – to not being able to visit our elders in extended care facilities or even hospitalized relatives who die alone.

      Some of these were truly unspeakable sacrifices, yet they do provide some perspective on other cancellations – like lowered stress, anxiety and expectations, as you point out. At the beginning of this pandemic, I think I felt more upset about the sudden cancellation of an annual paper craft sale my girlfriends and I attend every March than I felt now about restrictions of family holiday dinners this Christmas! Maybe that’s because I ‘get it’ by now?

      Please take care, stay safe, and all the best of health to you in 2021. . . ♥

      Like

  2. I’m definitely an introvert. While I love getting together with people, it certainly exhausts me. When I was younger and healthier I could manage much more.

    Your wise words, “I’m not stuck at home. I’m safe at home”, rang true for me. I am very lucky to be in a home I love where I’m safe and comfortable. My 95-year-old mother lives on the other side of the country (where the Covid rate is low), in a seniors home. She has one room, and at times during the pandemic she has been confined to it. Fortunately, she is on the ground floor with a window that opens, as she is a little claustrophobic.

    When I quoted your words to her (“ …not stuck…safe…”), she responded with relief and praise right away. Mum started talking about how how lucky she is to be where she is.

    Thank you for reframing the situation we find ourselves in. It feels right to me, and gave Mum a succinct, positive affirmation of her situation.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello Jenn and thanks for sharing that unique perspective – and especially that comment from your Mum. Many of us might view a senior who is isolated in one room with concern, even pity, and might be surprised by her “relief and praise” about her good luck!

      I suspect that we can feel both; as my breast cancer blogger/friend Nancy Stordahl says: “Grief and gratitude can most definitely co-exist.” We can feel upset by what we’ve lost, and two minutes later feel grateful that we have what we DO have. I’m trying to spend more time each day focused on the latter.

      I wanted also to mention your comment that when you were younger and healthier, you could do more socializing. I’ve been talking about this topic with a longtime friend this week, like me, an extrovert – and we concluded that simply growing older often means we have somehow shifted from our lifelong position as the ones in the room who drive the conversation, to now being more likely to be the ones sitting around the periphery, observing the younger people steer the conversation. It’s that “invisibility” of growing old! No wonder we feel more exhausted.

      Take care, and stay safe out there. . . ♥

      Like

  3. Well who knew I would love being an introvert?

    I feel safer at home since I too have a heart condition and am not willing to be at risk. I can’t believe the number of friends who have taken the attitude of “Well I am not going to let this control my life. I am going out to eat, shopping and going to church.”

    They are all past 60 and have health conditions. They gathered for Thanksgiving and Christmas with family. I just shake my head in disbelief they are that stupid. I don’t even try to talk them into being more careful. Why bother.

    I trust what Dr. Fauci said and I believe we here in the U.S. are going to see horrific numbers after the holidays. It makes me so angry that people have no regard for their fellow citizens.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Michelle – maybe there’s a whole bunch of us out here who didn’t know how much we’d love being introverts this year?

      Like you, I shake my head in disbelief at the ongoing social invitations I’m still receiving – as if we’re not in the middle of a pandemic! And, also like you, I don’t try to convince other folks; I can only control my own behaviour.

      But the more that others make foolhardy decisions, the more careful I need to be to avoid being inadvertently around them. It’s like “business as usual” for too many people out there! No wonder our numbers are spiking.

      And no wonder we feel nice and safe at home!

      I too trust what Dr. Fauci says and does.
      Take care, stay safe… ♥

      Like

  4. Hi Carolyn,
    I have always lived in my world of isolation as an artist and my general way of being. I’ve always been happy as an introvert and all my life been told that I should be with others.

    I learned to walk between the two worlds and have very close friends.

    I too, did my jigsaw puzzles and have them in my phone but I’m very much at peace alone.

    Take care,
    Robin

    P.S. I couldn’t be happier.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello Robin – I suspect that artists are drawn towards their art because they can work and think and create on their own and according to their own clocks.

      There is no shortage of people out there who are willing to tell us how we “should” be living our lives!

      Take care, stay safe… ♥

      Like

  5. I’m mostly an extrovert but I find I’m enjoying this quiet time with covid. I think I’m overbooked most of the time socially and this has given me a reason to pause and really put myself first, reading, cooking, doing yoga, home projects. I am never bored.

    I think I’m really half of each, I like my private time, but I also enjoy girlfriend and couple outings.

    My best to all of us, and thank you Carolyn for this column. I am grateful for all you write and print.

    Paula K

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you Paula for your kind words! I think you’re so right – finding that balance between private time AND outings with others.

      I also like that sentiment about putting yourself first during this time, and of course having the luxury to do that is the key! I have some younger friends who are nurses working 12 hour shifts (2 days, 2 nights, 4 off – a brutal schedule that has to be punishing on the human body!) AND they were also doing home-schooling when the schools were closed. Honestly, I don’t know how they managed at all.

      Take care, stay safe out there. . . ♥

      Like

  6. Loved this reflection. Just yesterday we had a video chat with a friend, who like me, is an introvert and I mentioned we were in introvert heaven.

    I do think we need balance… I wish I could see our kids and grandkids more and my friends more often, but my kids live at a distance and travel is not safe and it is too cold to socialize outside and unsafe indoors.

    I do cherish the time with my husband and time to read, reflect, do quiet things. I think time to think and reflect is extremely important and helps us and society in many ways. Too many shy away from it, though the pandemic has kind of forced this on us.

    Thanks again, great piece!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Helen – as a lifelong extrovert, I think I have a new appreciation for introverts (especially after reading books by Susan and Jenn). I used to think of introverts as just being shy, but I know now that this isn’t necessarily true.

      You’re so right – socializing in cold weather is very different than being able to socialize during the nice warm summer when we could bring our lawn chairs to the park for a physically-distanced chat!

      Meanwhile, enjoy your stay in introvert heaven!

      Take care, and stay safe. ♥

      Like

      1. Thanks, I am an introvert but closer to the middle.

        Yes, you are correct re difference between shyness and introversion. Most people are surprised when they learn I am introverted as I am very social, but I can only take so much socializing at a time and am exhausted if not enough alone time.

        Since it’s difficult to see others except while out walking, it has helped motivate me to exercise every day. Not eating out with others (which was how we had often socialized before) has helped me to drop a few pounds.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I recall hearing that distinction between extro- and intro-verts: socializing energizes extros, but exhausts intros…

          Walking IS a good safe-distance activity for visiting – if there are only two of you. We once walked behind two women who carried a tape measure between them locked at six feet; from behind, it was a compelling demonstration of how far six feet away actually is! One of you pretty well has to be off the sidewalk walking along the curb…

          We have noticed that not going out for meals this past year is also saving a lot of money. But at the same time, our family deliberately supports a few of our favourite nearby restaurants by regularly ordering take-out dinners (because we really want them to still be in business when this is all over!)

          The little sushi place down the block, for example, has been doing take-out only since the springtime (no indoor table service at all anymore) and is doing a booming business. The kitchen staff are hopping, and lineups of customers are half a block long waiting to pick up their orders every day. It’s a real success story compared to so many restaurants that have unfortunately not been able to pivot to take-out only.

          So we get an occasional treat for dinner, and they get to stay open and pay their staff full-time. Win-win… 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

  7. I’m definitely feeling much more introverted now than ever in my life. I too feel safer at home, although there’s financial strain on my kids unable to find work, I’m happier they aren’t out and about right now, potentially exposing the family to the virus.

    I’m still working, from home full time now, but appreciate my downtime. Only issue – weight gain because I’m not getting enough activity. Hope to change that with the new year.

    Like

    1. Hello Jacqueline – that’s an interesting point: the upside of having your kids not working outside the home is that they’re just not exposed to the same external risks they would be if they were in a busy public workplace every day!

      Take care, and stay safe out there! ♥

      Like

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