Say it Loud: I am an Introvert!

This is a bit of a follow on to the post where I talked about how I discovered I was a Highly Sensitive Person. I now have a new label that I will happily apply to myself: introvert.

I’ve been reading Quiet: the Power of Introverts by Susan Cain and it is just incredible how much this label applies to me. I first learned about the extroversion/introversion trait in A Level Psychology and it has been a revelation to rediscover these ideas. First bombshell: introversion is NOT shyness, it is about reaction to stimulation, introverts react more to stimulation (of all kinds, social, loud noises, music, conflict etc..) than extroverts and so will withdraw earlier so as not to become overstimulated. Second bombshell: introverts are NOT antisocial, they are just social differently. Introverts are more likely to want to engage in meaningful conversations, not small talk.

Reading the book was just like ticking off my own personality traits: disliking crowds, school, group work, small talk, loving in depth study, possessing intense powers of concentration and a few deep passionate interests. A couple of things didn’t: I am not a self-monitor, I never change my behaviour to suit other people (beyond basic politeness) and I quite like confrontation, I find it cathartic. I’m an introvert with a temper.

I love reading books like this, everyone loves to be validated! One fantastic thing I’ve noticed since I recovered (mostly) from depression is that a lot of the traits I possess which people were very keen to point out were contributing to my depression have actually been praised. My determination to forge a painting career my own way has resulted in me producing a hell of a lot of paintings, to the praise of a lot of people. Others have said I was “difficult” and “obsessed” with painting my own way, with choosing a subject and a style and sticking with it until people take notice. My “over-sensitiveness” has lead me to be a good friend who can support people going through difficult times, after all I can understand even better now.

Knowing my strengths and my fears and owning them, without letting them own me will be vital for me in my growing life. I am quiet but I know what I want and I know what’s bad for me. I may not speak if I have nothing to say but I will watch and I will learn and understand. I will put my head down and get on with what I want to and if you are making too much noise or a scene, I will be in the corner, watching, with a smirk.

Blog post to come: does self-enquiry come easier to introverts, and if so should I be so proud of myself?

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Fear

I’ve had a lot of fear recently. I’m thinking of applying for a residency at a gallery (yes the one that’s caused me no end of grief lately) and it’s brought up all the old anxieties about my teeny tiny CV. I’m going to say something now that may shock you…

I have not been in any kind of employment for over 3 years.

Now after you’ve picked your jaws up off the floor I’ll explain. I had a job at a bookshop in the year after school and before university. It was pleasant enough, a bit boring and lonely. I went to university and came back depressed but still felt pressure to get a job so I got a temporary job at the same bookshop. I soon realised that this was not the right thing for me when I started daydreaming about running out and going up to the nearby hills. There I thought I’d be left alone, it’d be peaceful. I knew I was “losing it” and left the job fast. It was clear that I was not in any fit state to have any kind of job.

The years that followed have brought verrrrry gradual recovery. I still felt pressure to get a job and worry about how difficult it would be to get a job after being unemployed for so long but strangely the longer I was unemployed the less I worried about it. Everyone who knew my situation (my boyfriend, sister, parents, counsellor) agreed that not having a job and concentrating on recovery was the best thing for me.

Over this time I have thought a lot, done lots about of self-enquiry about how I want to live my life and what is the best thing for me. Money hasn’t been an issue because I live with my parents, my boyfriend has a full time job and I, crucially, don’t spend much. I still have savings from my job and every so often I get some money from selling paintings. I decided that it’s definitely the right thing for me to give making paintings for a living a go. If not now, when?

This has been the best thing for me, and if I had to live it all over again (and thank god I don’t) I would make the same decisions. But it’s so hard to go against the grain of full-time employment even when it’s unnecessary and actually detrimental to your well-being. I worry about how it looks to other people, worry about having to justify the way I live my life. Sometimes I feel worthless, like I’m not a real person because I don’t have a job.

How ridiculous. I know how boring jobs can be, how soul sucking, and how easy it is to get up and go to a building every weekday to do the perceived “right thing”. This is hard. Living not the “right way” but the way that’s right for me and it takes a lot of courage to do this. I hope that some day I can look back at this point, at my self now with pride for my choices and my courage and tenacity.

This is what’s getting me through this fear. I hope to see through it to the other side.

Embracing my outsiderness

I meant to post this last week after last Wednesday’s yoga class but then I woke up the next day and it didn’t seem so important anymore. But then Wednesday’s class happened again and I felt the same again. Now it seems important again.

I have never felt like I belonged to any particular group of people. As a child I would often wander around on my own with no one to play with. Friends have come and gone in my life, sometimes I have a few and sometimes I have little to none. Which is strange because I like people and I like having friendships. A lot of my childhood was taken up by me feeling somewhat ‘out of it’, I had no friends at the orchestra (but I felt I had to go because I was told I was a good violinist), I had no friends at my dance class (ditto dancer) and I was such a nice little girl that I was frequently taken up as a best friend only to be later dumped by less kind hearted, more manipulative little girls.

But in some ways I accepted this feeling of outsiderness, I understood that not everyone could have friends all the time. I did things because I was interested in them, people I could take or leave. I have never been one for small talk. Strangely enough despite all this I am actually a really good friend and I have had a lot of close friendships. I’m always the confidant, the agony aunt, the shoulder to cry on as well as the one to mess around with.

This feeling has carried into my adult life, I felt it at university and I feel it very much in my yoga classes. The first class I went to was full of 30-40 something year old women complaining about how terrible they were at yoga and how glad they were to be away from the kids. As a depressed 23 year old with no kids who had an earnest desire to do yoga I could not relate. I just smiled and did my yoga. And stopped going.

Now in my new class I’m amongst mostly 30-40 something year old women who complain they’re not better at yoga, that they can’t do handstands or they can’t balance in this or that pose. The air of competition and performance is overwhelming. It’s one of those non-stop flow classes which I enjoy and I do practice at home but then at some point in the class it’s time to get the big guns out. It’s time for handstands, or arm balances, or big showy backbends (which we haven’t prepared for). Inevitably everyone watches everyone else at this point and if they “achieve” said pose they get clapped. I do yoga as a form of mindfulness meditation, they seem to be treating it as some kind of gymnastics competition.

I hate it and I feel uncomfortable knowing I am being judged. But I love learning new things in yoga and I think it’s good to at least try to be part of a community. Long ago I adopted the attitude “get what you can out of a situation because nothing is going to be perfect for you” and I live by that. But by god it’s lonely. I do not want to be a part of that group but I do not want to be so outside it that I get upset. Within my body when I am doing yoga I am home and I am whole. In a yoga class I am an outsider. I will have to learn to accept that.

All I can take from it for now is when I teach yoga I will try hard to make sure that everyone is welcome, that no one feels they are not ‘good enough’ or they are not able to be a part of the group. That is my promise.

Having my say

I used to like arguments and confrontation. I used to pride myself in saying I was argumentative and I wasn’t afraid of confrontation. I would laugh off arguments and say I was enjoying it, I was enjoying winding people up and hearing their comebacks and dismissing them. Now I realise that I wasn’t enjoying them, I was actually disturbed by arguing but hey, I was young.

Now I’m depressed and older I don’t like arguments. I don’t get riled up and excited or think of pithy replies. I usually just cry. This isn’t the best comeback. My arguing days are over and I’m glad of it.

I’ve noticed that for a path that’s meant to help us all achieve unity, or the inner realisation of our deepest selves, yoga creates a lot of friction. I’ve watched from afar at the various infights and taken mild interest at the debates about “what is yoga”. In the past I might have taken part, or if the old me had not got depressed and carried on being an argumentative asshole I might have taken part. Now I just read and think. I don’t say. Because I’m scared that people will say something to hurt me and I’m too vulnerable to deal with that.

I never intended this blog to be a general critique of the world, because I don’t think I’d be very good at writing about that. But then I read an article in the Guardian on Tuesday. Here it is. At first I just rolled my eyes and carried on with my headstand attempts (yes I’m still going!) It’s a typical Guardianista article, dismissing and sneering at anything that’s slightly different. There’s also the healthy dose of self-loathing in there because they know that being a left-leaning paper there will be a fair few yoga practitioners reading it and loving having the shit ripped out of them. It’s the same way they ridicule ‘ethical’ issues, exercising, cooking and many other things that Guardian readers taken an interest in too. God forbid that we embrace these things we choose to do.

The article itself pissed me off a bit and I decided that I would look at the comments to see if there was any healthy words of dissent. I was disappointed. Comment after comment after sneering comment ridiculing this practice which has helped me recover from depression. It was depressing.

Mainly I was hurt that my fellow human beings can be so callous and close minded as to criticise and pigeon-hole something they obviously know nothing about. I don’t know why I have this attitude, I (hopefully) don’t know any of these people and they’re not going to stop me practicing yoga and I certainly don’t think they have any responsibility towards me. Still, it hurts.

I grew up with this paper and I grew up with this attitude. Anything “new-age” was observed at from a safe, sarcastic distance. I was never so insulting as those commenters but growing up with the attitude does affect your own attitudes. It’s very much “us and them”.

Us= realists, intellectual, intelligent, sense of humour, understanding and appreciation of sarcasm, understanding of the vastness of the world and our insignificance in it

Them= vain, vacuous, airy-fairy, po-faced, stupid, gullible, too earnest, inflated sense of own importance

Et cetera.

It took a complete melt-down of my sense of self and a healthy dose of misery to knock this attitude out of me. Viva la depression! I just thought: I’m not coping with my current way of thinking, how about I try something new? And lo and behold yoga came into my life. So in a sense I do feel some understanding for these people who didn’t go through what I did, they never saw the light. It’s not their fault.

But then again, why do they have to be so unbelievably close minded about it? Why bother dismissing something you know nothing about?

In the end it is their loss and they can’t stop me doing something that is so beneficial for me. Something that is helping me recover from depression. No job, no pill, no doctor, no counsellor, no well meaning friend could do that. Yoga does.

 

Jealousy and competition

This is where I wished my knowledge of yogic philosophy was greater because I could quote a passage or two from the yoga sutras or the bhagavad gita and show how it’s relevant to my everyday life. Alas this post is more of a question asked to the internet ether than any kind of philosophical revelation. I’m young, forgive me! I’ll learn.

I’m not usually a jealous person. Growing up I was very rarely envious of other kid’s possessions or friends or clothes or anything like that. I was brought up comfortable enough and my parents are kind and supportive. Still these things don’t always guard against envy. It seems to be in human nature to think the grass is greener, to always want more. I was much more accepting of what I had. I discovered that if you accepted what you had you were much happier. Oh wise child, I have so much to learn.

Also, and I think this is crucial, I was not competitive at all. I hated competition. Competitive sports I was terrible at anyway so I just accepted that. It was ok, because I was clever. In academic subjects I was always at the top of the class. I was curious and a quick learner, so I did well academically at school. But it’s lonely being “at the top” in your class. I was labelled the “clever one” and I wasn’t treated the same as the other kids. One teacher actually would goad me whenever I couldn’t answer a question or got something wrong. “I thought you were meant to be clever” he’d sneer. (postscript: he was fired some years later for hitting a child)

So all this meant that since I was so far ahead (or far behind in terms of sports) I had no one to ‘compete’ with. So I learnt my own rules to beat. I became a very good critic of my work, ultimately not really caring what my friends or teachers or even parents thought. I’m a sort of lazy perfectionist. It’s good and bad, good for bloody-minded motivation but bad for days when I can’t do anything ‘right’.

So I’m not competitive. A benefit in yoga, I couldn’t care less how far that person to the left of me is stretching. I rarely get jealous. But yesterday: I got jealous.

A painter has appeared on the scene who does very realistic oil portraits. She does idealised versions of women and politicians. Undoubtedly they take a lot of work and I admire her for that, even if the paintings are not my style. She’s had a lot of success and recognition and I was fine with that until I learned one thing: she’s my age. And she has a child.

The jealous monster reared its head. How can she have the time? Why is she so successful? Will anyone ever take me as seriously as her? Her paintings are so polished and mine are so scruffy. How can she earn so much money from ONE painting?? On and on my mind went. So how do I deal with this jealousy? How can I stop it eroding my sense of confidence in my painting and my life?

In the past the way I dealt with jealousy was, if for example someone of my age was better at playing the violin than I was I would think: that’s ok, because I’m better at writing poetry than they are. And vice versa. So by that pattern I could think: Ok this woman is more successful than me but I’m thinner.

That’s not very enlightened.

Ultimately I think I have to accept that we can live side by side. That she’s not done anything to hurt me. I have to have the strength to live my life and let her live hers. May she be safe, may she be happy, may she be healthy, may she live with ease.

Same to me too for suffering so! Jealousy is exhausting.

 

 

Blog like No One’s reading

This isn’t meant to be a whiny or self-indulgent post so I apologise if it comes out that way.

Ever since I’ve started this blog I’ve been questioning why I started it but over the past few days those voices have been getting louder and more insistent: why aren’t you writing better? why aren’t you making your posts prettier? why are you still not trying to get more readers? why did you even bother in the first place?

So I think it’s time to step back and detach myself from that critical voice (Julia Cameron calls it “the Censor” in her book the Artist’s Way) and address why I wanted to blog in the first place.

As I’ve mentioned before on my very first post, I had a blog when I was 14 and Blogger was just starting up (I’m not joking) But I had nothing to talk about because I was so terrified of being found out at school. Also I have a problem with self-promotion due to extreme embarrassment and modesty and I was unwilling to do the advertising trawl through everyone elses blogs. Back in those days it was more about the coding anyway, you designed a site and it had literally nothing on it except the music and films you liked. Me and my little crowd thought that those who just had blogs were cheating. Where was the fun in that?

So fast forward 10 or so years and I had something to say. I’ve been suffering from depression but I’ve been recovering. I’ve been recovering using these tools I’ve found, using the yoga and the meditation and the running and the reading of books and blogs. I wanted to talk about it, I had something to give, I wanted to give it. I knew that the blog world hadn’t changed from my teenaged blogging years but I wanted in.

It’s hard to put yourself out there, to indifference and to criticism but I know that’s what I want to do. I’m reminded of a man who was on my degree course whose blog I used to follow. He didn’t fit into any particular blogging niche, he just wrote what he felt like. He wanted to be a writer and it was good practice. Month after month he wrote, not getting much feedback, perhaps with only me has his regular reader. He wrote about his social fears, reviews of books, fears of the future, philosophy with never a comment to encourage him to keep going. But he kept going. For years.

That’s the important thing to remember both in this blog and in my painting: no one cares if I do it or not. Once you’ve realised that, do you still want to do it? What do you do it for? Acceptance? Because a teacher once said you were a talented writer/painter and you’ll be disappointing them if you don’t try? These things will only take you so far. You have to do things because you love them and you have to carry on in spite of the deafening silence or the hurtful comments you receive in return.

So I’ve decided: I’ll carry on. Because I’m stubborn and because I want to. I won’t feel inadequate about it anymore. Because really, who is it hurting?

That critical voice is yelling at me about other things too. I had my first commission recently and I painted, painted, painted all through last week completely disregarding my total and utter sadness the whole week. I did it but now I don’t even want to look at paint. The voice is yelling: call yourself a painter? why aren’t you doing more? why aren’t you trying to push your paintings? Until I took a step back and thought, hang on, someone sought me out to paint a picture for their husband’s birthday. She didn’t want anyone else to do it, she wanted me because of the work I did. The work that I didn’t get much acknowledgement and encouragement for but I did anyway.

So the lesson here is: Blog like No One’s reading.

By the way that boy whose blog I used to read? I checked it recently, he now writes about his career on his blog and it is in a thriving blogger community. I’m glad.

How I became depressed: Part 3

Here we are at part 3 of my depression retrospective. Here’s the prelude, part 1 and part 2. Right now my depression is very much at the forefront of my mind, I’m at day 3 of a low period. It’s unusual for me to feel like this in the middle of summer, I’m more of a winter depressive gal. It’s one of those things, the worse you feel the harder it is to get out of it.

So far I’ve talked about the feelings of isolation at university and of losing a friend and gaining a boyfriend. It’s spectacularly hard to try to sum up all the different pieces that got to together to conspire and cause my depression, the whole does seem to be greater than the sum of its parts. In the end I just have to conclude that I’m a sensitive person and these situations were enough to cause my mind significant, lasting trauma. There’s no shame in that, I just want to get better.

There’s two other major factors: the house and the university course itself. The house was a shithole. It was damp, the kitchen hadn’t been refitted or decorated for at least 20 years and the bathroom was much the same. The toilet broke, the fridge broke, the microwave didn’t break although it looked like one of the first microwaves ever to have been built so we pretended it broke in order to get a new one in fear of the radiation it might emit, my radiator broke, my boyfriend’s radiator broke, there was slugs in the kitchen (in the drawers and on the cutlery) the damp caused mould to grow on my clothes, it was freezing constantly and it STANK. My boyfriend (or friend as he was for most of the first year) C was, like I’ve said before, a very responsible young man and a pleasure to live with. He shouldered pretty much all of the responsibility of looking after the house when things went wrong and I did most of the cleaning, until I got so down I could barely look after myself. We had a couple of terrible landlords, they were Thatcher’s children, seeing their student houses as a nice little earner so they could jet off on regular holidays, completely lacking in any kind of responsibility towards actually maintaining this house. I have to say that I despise them, the landlady especially was a really nasty piece of work, I don’t think I’ll ever trust a Wendy again. At one point in my last year we had a screaming row, afterwards I cried tears of joy because I hadn’t felt so alive for months. Of course a lot of my self-compassion work is trying to deal with these people. It takes time.

So there we are, a nice dose of resentment that we were struggling in this horrible house with no help from our housemates or the landlords. I began to despise people in general, not trust anyone. Other people became strange creatures, I was not one of them, they only were nice to you when they wanted something. They’d hurt you and ignore you and make you feel alone and insignificant and stupid for caring. The only person I trusted was my boyfriend, everyone else was out to get me. It became us against the world. This was terrible for my thought patterns, especially because my boyfriend is a bit of moaner and a ranter. We’d spend hours ranting about our former friend, the other people we lived with, the landlords, the students, the lecturers, the people in the world in general. I knew it was bad but I couldn’t stop, I just sank further and further into this belief that the world was a terrible place, inhabited by terrible people. I didn’t belong in it.

I think I’ll have to leave the second factor until next week. If you’re reading this and suffering, or even if you’re not, just do something nice for yourself today. Or if you know someone who needs a bit of kindness, reach out to them. Everyone deserves kindness so be kind to yourself and to others.

On being an Outsider

Just a quick one today, it’s a gorgeous day and I want to go sit out and eat hummous on bread and drink green tea whilst reading my new Yoga Journal.

Building on what I was talking about yesterday: the book The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion. In it Christopher K. Germer talks about ‘personality types’. In his thinking it is useful to know what patterns are predominant in your personality if you want to cultivate self-compassion. Self-compassion comes easier to some personalities than others, for example it is difficult for ‘caregiver’ types to be self-compassionate because they are much more comfortable with the idea that others deserve care, not themselves.

Now I was a bit sceptical when I read this part of the book. By and large I don’t like the idea of dividing people into ‘personality types’ whether it’s astrology or ayurveda. I find that people will force themselves into the moulds of these labels, whether they apply to them or not. Plus most of the time they’re so broad as to be completely redundant (for instance in western astrology if a horoscope trait doesn’t apply to you it may be that another planet was in another house… hmm) So I read through the types: butterfly, floater, perfectionist, workhorse… with nothing applying to me. Then I got to outsider. Wow it was me!

I’ve talked a little bit about considering myself as a bit different. Nothing I can really put my finger on, just a general unwillingness to do what everyone else does ‘just because’. I’ve always been curious, always questioned why people do things and whether they’re the right things for me to do. Even that small trait has always marked me out. Of course this makes me create a gulf between me and ‘them’ as if everyone else is one entity and I’m separate. I’m always wondering why people act the way they do: why are people so inconsiderate when driving? why do people drink until they damage themselves? why do people care so little for others’ feelings? why why why all the time until I can’t help but come to the conclusion: I am DIFFERENT!

Back to the book. At first I thought that it didn’t apply to me because Germer only talks about people who are marginalised, for instance because of their sexuality or race. As a straight white woman this doesn’t apply. But then he goes on to say:

Even exceptional personal strengths like artistic ability and spiritual sensitivity can be invalidated by the dominant culture and make us feel like outsiders.

He goes on to use this fantastic metaphor which I’ve often thought of since reading.

Consider the metaphor of a fish swimming in water: as the fish lives and breathes, it draws water through its own body. We’re like fish in the water of our culture, and when the water is polluted with racism, sexism and ageism, we draw those prejudices inside.

It makes so much sense! My thoughts and views are different to a lot of mainstream society, what I value is not valued by what I perceive to be most people. Because I go against the prevailing view my thoughts are devalued and so I feel devalued. Reading these insights has given me security. Someone knows! It’s a fantastic feeling as an outsider to find someone who knows.

I’ll leave you with another quote, by Ecuadorian essayist (how exotic!) Juan Montalvo. This one sums up my descent into depression in one line.

There is nothing harder then the softness of indifference.