I’m feeling done in. I have nothing left to give. My fuel tank is empty. Another day passes amidst the chaos that is now my “normal” and I mentally tick it off against the sentence I feel this virus is servicing us all. All I want to do is climb into my pjs and hide away (on my own) for a while, emerging refreshed and ready to take on the world again. But that’s just not possible.
PC (Pre-Corona), having a many faceted job description was very zeitgeist. But as a daughter/sister/worker/partner/mother/friend/colleague/manager/coach/mentor/carer/ school class rep/entertainment organiser/creative and soon to be escape-artist, I feel I’m wearing so many hats right now it’s a miracle I’m still functioning at the level I am. On a typical weekday as I lurch from one thing to the next, swapping hats between work meetings, partitioning numbers, muddy walks, phonics videos with Rosie, putting the washing on, facilitating virtual client sessions, making lunch, science experiments, bike rides and writing briefs, I’m conscious I’m not going to be able to keep this up for much longer. The energy to sustain myself just isn’t there. The relentless nature of wearing different hats with no off or pause button is taking its toll.
I’m also very aware I have extrovert tendencies. I crave time with people, whether that be in a work setting or more socially. I’ve always enjoyed team sports rather than individual hobbies, and know I gain high levels of energy and enrichment from relationships with others. But in lockdown so many of my avenues that I would seek out to top my energy up just aren’t available. I’m trying to build in more social interactions with my family and friends to top up my tank. But they just aren’t the same over a screen. I’m learning that I thrive on the sensory and psychological stimulation that a bustling square or busy coffee shop provides, and that I may be mourning the loss of these experiences. As an extrovert I need more stimulation overall, not necessary more social contact, and that means I need to select activities online that create this. That’s probably why I enjoy a Joe Wicks PE session over a calming yoga one!
Even though I know I crave being with others to top up my energy levels, if I’m honest, right now I could do with a break from people too. I’ve come to realise that, even as an extrovert, in these unprecedented times, I need some time just for me where I’m not accountable to anyone or anything. And in a family home with two kids and a partner that’s pretty hard to achieve. I dearly love my family but being with each other for this length of time in close quarters 24/7 isn’t healthy. After a year of varying isolation measures my tank is pretty depleted and so by the end of most days, I’m exhausted and struggle to engage with anything other than my sofa and Netflix. Some evenings I’m not good company and just want to escape, which surprises me given my extrovert preferences. And then I feel bad for my partner, who is also working from home and putting in long hours, that I just don’t feel like talking much.
I can’t be the only extrovert to feel this way can I? After researching, I discovered that apparently it’s actually a thing – aloneliness – the negative emotions one can experience as a result of insufficient time spent alone. Anthony Storr wrote in Solitude: A return to the self, “Solitude can be as therapeutic as emotional support”, and I can relate to this currently. I even wrote a message to a dear friend last week stating that I couldn’t wait for lockdown to end so I could book a week at a spa on my own! Now that’s something I would definitely not have considered previously, but I can now see how this pandemic could serve as a chance for extroverts like me to try out things or techniques that might otherwise not come automatically to us. And it might unearth more inclinations towards introversion traits in my preferences.
So, this got me thinking about good “places” for solitude, or in my case to hide, where I could lock the door and just be. And I don’t mean the bathroom, the cupboard under the stairs or the car, although I have been known to hang out in these spaces occasionally. I mean metaphorically; intentionally dedicating time during the day and week for me to pause and counterbalance this feeling of aloneliness, with activities that meet my extrovert nature.
Here are a few things I am trying out, that might speak to you too:
The power of exercise – fresh air and getting out into open spaces where I can observe other people lifts my mood and energy. A good uplifting playlist with a high-energy workout works every time. And if I feel like it, I rope in a friend too, and that tends to boost my tank two-fold! How do you take your air?
Reading – I choose to read actual physical books (not an online version) and try to choose ones that test my assumptions, challenge my opinions and make me laugh! I’m also part of a book club with three other local mummies and when we can meet, this stimulates my senses and I always come away feeling topped up and happy. How do you stimulate your mind?
The food shop (stay with me!) – I choose to do a shop every week at the local supermarket and use the time to listen to my music, an audiobook or a podcast that piques my curiosity. Whilst throwing groceries into my trolley I am transported to another place and even though I’m in a busy environment where I can see other people, I’m also in my own solitude bubble! Where do you go to time travel?
Writing for joy – Last year I was given a 5-year journal where I capture a few lines each day. I have carved dedicated time into my day to continue this practice and I enjoy the cathartic release it brings me. It serves as a reminder to appreciate and be grateful for the smaller things in life (especially at the moment) and it forces me to pause and breathe. How do you pause and reflect on the gratitude gifts you’ve been given?
Dream without limits – In the past few years I have stopped dreaming – what I’d like to do, where I’d like to visit, what I’d love to develop. I’m not sure why but I have. So, this year I’ve decided to start again, prompted by a book “The Dream Manager” by Matthew Kelly, that a colleague recommended. I have a beautiful book where I have started to capture my dreams (big and small, personal and professional). I spend time reading through my list and working on how I will achieve them, sharing them with people who can support me. Having dreams again gives me purpose and a focus for a positive future. What’s your dream?
Creating time to hide away requires a bit of planning and communicating with others in the household, but it is doable, and it makes me a better version of myself, keeping my energy levels topped up. It is actually something that is in my control! It means that I can continue to wear my various hats and rise to the challenges these bring. I might still mourn the loss of busy, bustling environments that I know I thrive on for sensory and psychological stimulation, but I’m trying to find alternative activities that work for my extroversion tendencies. And I’m also now aware that finding moments of solitude is key to my sanity and well-being – it’s okay to lock the door on the world (and the rest of your family!) to pause and just be.
I hope you can find your “places” for solitude. Maybe I’ll see you at the spa soon…
By Clare Timothy