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The Inward Gaze: The Beauty of Introversion

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At Christmas and Easter my dad would bring my sisters and I to at least two large family gatherings. And I mean large. My parents both come from French Catholic backgrounds, and birth control was not looked favourably on. So during the holiday celebrations, my grandmothers’ houses would be crammed with people. There would be chairs lining the walls, tv trays pulled out, kids scattered on the carpet. And there would be me, trying my best to be inconspicuous.

I always felt so awkward and overwhelmed in a crowd. My cousins would be running around, shrieking and laughing while I would be doing my best to get up the courage to join them. Because that’s what kids were supposed to do, even though I would rather do a puzzle quietly or just sit on my dad’s lap while he chatted with my uncles. The chasm that separated me from others in that type of situation just seemed too wide to cross.

I had a philisophical mind from early on. I remember pondering deep subjects like what  “the spark” is that causes something to be alive, why I was me and not someone else, and if I died then what happened to this me? It seemed unthinkable that I could just cease to be, when I was so solidly connected with what I now feel is my soul. Even as a young child, I believe I had an awareness of God and my connection to Him.

Of course, the inward bend of my thoughts made it hard for me to fit in with others. Other kids didn’t seem to enjoy the things that I did, or have the patience to do them with me. I became shunned as the smart nerdy kid at school, and was also bullied because my family was poor. Hand-me downs were the majority of my wardrobe and I never had the name-brand shoes the other kids had. My dad couldn’t afford to put me in sports, which in a way felt like a blessing because I felt so intimidated by the idea of playing on teams. I was the kid who was picked last for each group project or team in gym class.

I learned to insulate myself in books, in traveling on great adventures in my mind. It helped me to hide from the true and imagined rejection I felt from my classmates and the larger world in general. A few close family members were very important to me, however, especially my grandmother who never made me feel like I was weird for the way I was. We would make puzzles together for hours, talking about her childhood while I rested in the comfort of her words. She never stopped encouraging me, and always told me that there was something special in me, and that she knew I would make her proud.

As I got older I learned to accept my introversion more and more, although this remains an ongoing process. I stopped beating myself up about not having a lot of friends, and put my focus on those that I did. I allowed myself ample time to have “me” time and didn’t feel guilty about it. Nature became a haven to me, and I took to exploring it passionately. I explored new creative outlets like painting and playing the guitar, ways that I could express myself without having to follow the ideals of this world. And I anticipate that this blog will be another way to do the same.

The unfortunate part of being an introvert is that our culture is not designed to accept or support it. Even though research shows that introverts make up anywhere from 16-50 percent of the population,  introverts are often seen as weird, strange, boring, or disinterested. The truth is that introverts just are fed or energized by different things than extroverts. Extroverts are energized by groups of people and a fast pace of life, while those things tend to drain introverts. Introverts fill their inner batteries with thought, quiet activities, long deep conversations with those that they trust. Small talk is painful and difficult; introverts want to delve far into the complex issues of life.

I have been told by my friends that they did not expect the funny, eccentric side of me that they have learned lives in me. When people first spend time with me, I seem quiet and reserved, but once I get comfortable with them a whole new person emerges. They appreciate how I can truly listen not only to their words but to the underlying message. My deep knowledge of my own self helps me have insight into how others think and feel. This is one of the reasons I became a nurse, as I thrive from the one-on-one nature of my interactions with my patients, and the opportunity to support them in a time of great vulnerability. I have had the privelege of witnessing the most special moments of life as well as the most painful: the birth of new life, slipping away in death, being told of a cancer diagnosis, learning to speak again after a stroke. There are roles like this for myself and others like me in the world; if you are an introvert, do not lose heart. You are not strange or unworthy; rather your attributes make you infinitely special and valuable. Learn how you can give of yourself to the world, and in turn you will be challenged and fulfilled.

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Nothing to Prove

How a Mexican adventure taught me self compassion and acceptance

The dreaded waterslide….

My husband was pretty happy to see he was heavier than the weight restriction for the “Outdoor Adventure” in the pamphlet the hotel had given us. This adventure included a mule ride up a mountain, an obstacle course with ziplines and waterfalls, and the third highest waterslide in the world. It sounded terrifying on one hand and exhilarating on the other. All my life I had pushed myself to pursue feats with an element of mystery or danger, to “conquer my fears”. I would take long walks alone at night in seedy neighbourhoods, go on bladder-testing rides on amusement parks, and go hiking in the mountains by myself without much preparation. I recognized that I had a naturally cautious and hesitant personality, and was determined to show myself and the world that I was more. That I was brave. That I was independent. That I was unwaveringly determined.

My husband, knowing this penchant of mine for the daring, encouraged me to join the group and go without him. He would be perfectly happy having cold drinks by the pool while I threw myself over waterfalls, he said. “Go have fun! I never was much of one for that kind of thing anyways. I would just be hot and grumpy and I would kill my mule with my fatness”, he joked self-deprecatingly.

Armed with my trusty hiking shoes and my valiant bravado, I joined the tour group in the lobby bright and early the next morning. We boarded a bus and made our way to a beautiful mountainous area. Starting at the stables, we were given a short riding lesson and then each matched with a tired-looking mule. I had this. I had owned a horse on the farm; how could this possibly be any different?

That was the first mistake I made. My mule was having a bad hair day and kept on veering off course, throwing its head up and down and stamping its hooves in irritation. Never mind the tour guides who would ride up behind us, and urge our mules along with a smack of their whips when they started to slack off. By the time we made it to the top I was a little flustered and annoyed; I would have been happy with an easygoing and slower ride, but after all this was meant to be an adrenaline-pumped adventure.

I managed the obstacle courses fairly well, but never really enjoyed them. We were pushed to complete them very quickly, while I wanted to stop and take the landscape in. Fear filled me, but it was never replaced by the thrill of adrenaline that I was searching for. I found myself yearning to be beside my husband at the pool, immersed in one of our many deep conversations. But I rallied and continued on.

The final challenge was the waterslide. I use that term loosely as I looked down upon it, as it seemed more like an evil, yellow, neverending torture device that snaked down the high mountainside. It was not a closed tube except for several tight loops halfway down, and the top part was a long, near vertical drop above those loops. I was even more aghast when they brought out the thin foam mats that we had to ride down on, and the hockey helmets complete with faceguards to wear. “You have to lay down on the mat feet first and face up, and whatever you do don’t sit up!”. I asked why, and why we had to wear a mask with a faceguard, and was simply told “for safety”. My mind created all kinds of horrifying injuries that may have been sustained in order to necessitate these “safety measures”.

I had a profound moment of clarity on that mountaintop. Examining the situation I had willingly put myself into, I realized that I was not getting any joy or satisfaction from pushing myself past my comfort zone. I realized that I liked my cautious, intellectual and contemplative self. I was no daredevil, and that was ok. I had nothing to prove to anyone, myself included. There and then, I promised myself I would never force myself to do something again just to show that I was a strong and independent woman.

I ended up going down that waterslide. The alternative was a 3 hour hike down to the bus, and I told myself that I would get the slide over with then never do something like this again. The slide, of course, was just as bad as I thought. My heart stayed jammed in my throat the entire way down, and I was convinced that my hurtling body would be launched over the edge of the slide and crash into the dense forest far below. My group would witness the scene and tell stories about my garish death on Trip advisor. When I made it to the bottom, I pried myself off of that aquatic flying carpet from hell and thanked God for the wisdom he had given me that day.

My husband was pleased to hear about my epiphany. We spent the rest of that trip doing things that we truly enjoyed doing- eating good food, strolling and people watching, having long talks. We went on another tour, but it was mainly sightseeing and learning about local culture. One of my favorite memories from that trip was trying queso fresco-fresh cheese- that had been made by a very sweet couple we met on this trip. It made our foodie hearts happy.

Life has been a lot more fulfilling since I stopped expecting myself to be someone that I am not. I had bought into the lie that our society pushes on us- that we have to conquer our fears, chase excitement, mould ourselves into someone better. I decided that I would be content to live in my quiet way, and thrive in it. And I have never regretted that decision.

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An unsung hero

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One of my earliest memories was riding in the back of a car, looking through the rear window as the city lights receded behind me. I was glad they were gone because now my 10 month old sister had stopped screaming. She must not have been outside at night before, because for some reason she had started screaming as soon as we were brought out of my mom’s apartment building. My young mind thought that was the explanation for the way she was acting, but I know now that it was probably the fear of separation from my mom, the only parent she knew that far.

My sisters and I had been living with her for a while after she and my dad broke up; my memories are few and spotty of the time we lived with her. I was about 4 years old and the most vivid recollection I have is my sister crying incessantly in her crib one night and my mom not waking up to go to her. Instead of waking my mom, I had gone to the fridge to get a bottle of cold milk and put it in her mouth. She closed her eyes and went to sleep and so did I. My next memory is that car ride.

My dad and my grandmother had come to pick us up and we were excited, as we had been away from dad for a while. My youngest sister never knew him much and was pretty scared though. My grandma sat in the back with us and held her (carseats weren’t really a thing then) and off we went back to his home. We lived with dad for a while and then he and mom got back together. They built a house on a small farm together before things fell apart again.

I remember standing around the corner listening to my parents arguing about us. Mom wanted to leave but didn’t think she could take care of us, but she didn’t think dad would be able to take care of 3 young girls either. She was pushing to have us turned over for adoption, and when I heard that I was terrified that we would never see our parents again and that I would be split up from my sisters. But my dad would have none of that. He insisted on keeping us and taking care of us; our grandma would be able to help when he was out in the fields. Mom was gone a few days after that and somehow dad was able to keep going. We were not very well off for money and I remember how diligent he was with washing Jen’s cloth diapers. He was a terrible cook but always made sure we had balanced meals followed by the inevitable bowl of ice cream for dessert. He loved to give us little treats like chocolate bars from the grocery store just to hear us squeal with happiness.

Dad was from an old school generation and wasn’t the greatest at talking about feelings or communicating in general. Sometimes I would wonder if he really loved us because he couldn’t come out and say it. But he spoke through his actions. He always wanted us to come hunting with him, to check the cows with him, to spend time with us in general. I recall the look of terror in his eyes after I got hit in the face with a Jack-all handle, getting thrown off my feet, and checking to see if my face was broken or if my teeth were all still there.

I think his greatest struggle was when we left home. I wanted to go to post-secondary but he was from a generation when women were housewives. He wanted me to stay on the farm, and refused to even come out to say goodbye when I moved out. I felt heartbroken by his perceived lack of support, but I think he was just struggling with loss and didn’t know how to cope. Men in that generation were not allowed to show feelings and he had very few tools in his toolbox. I know now that he was proud of me because his friends would always tell me about how he would brag about what I was doing with my life to them.

He got angry a lot but I realize now how much he had on his plate. He grieved his marriage for a long time. My entire childhood he refused to sleep in the bed he had shared with my mom; he slept on the couch downstairs “so he could watch the woodstove”. I doubt that was the real reason. Only recently, in his sixties, has he felt comfortable looking for someone new to love. Even though that relationship is a little rocky at times, he has been committed to making it work.

As I get older and my own children have become teenagers, I realize more and more what dad went though to raise us. We often had a chip on our shoulder and could be difficult to manage but he loved us anyways.

So thank you dad, for not giving up on us. thank you that we didn’t have to be raised by strangers. Thank you for teaching me about the value of hard work. Thank you for dealing with out ingratitude as children. Thank you for what you have taught me about parenthood and unconditional love.

Baby Steps

Lately I have felt a yearning within myself that is hard to define or describe, a wanting to reach outwards rather than focus solely on the small sphere around me. Writing a blog seems like the perfect medium for an introvert that also values deep connection. Small talk has always felt intolerable to me; in a blog I can skip all that and get to the meat of an issue or thought. I can use my own experiences, whether painful, embarrassing, or enlightening, to help others that are going through something similar. Most of all, I hope that sharing my experiences will in some small way improve the life of you, my dear readers, and give you a safe place to share what is on your heart as well. I welcome all your comments and questions and look forward to communicating more with you.

Some topics that I hope to explore include marriage/divorce/remarriage, sexuality, relationship issues, depression, eating disorders, motherhood, spirituality, health, and of course the adventures of working as a nurse in a rural hospital. My husband always tells me that I should never regret any of the decisions I have made or things that have happened, as each one has taught me something. Therefore, I will be sharing some of my most joyful as well as my most traumatic experiences. If you find my posts valuable, please let me know if there is a particular area that you would like me to write about.