Sunday, November 20, 2011

Tomorrow will be my 21st day as a retired person.  In the first week, I left my property just once and that was only because I had a dentist appointment.  I ran a couple errands then returned home to continue my hermitting for as long as possible.  As of today, I've made 4 more excursions into the "world", which seemed quite adequate.  After the first week, I no longer felt like I was "hiding out" but for a little bit, it was enjoyable to not have to deal with people except by choice. After 29 years as a social worker, being a recluse for a while is actually pretty intriguing.

Odd as it seems, given my profession, I am an introvert. The past three weeks I have nurtured my introvert nature, enjoying being alone except for the dogs. I would say I was working on things I enjoy but interestingly, I have been cleaning house, not something that typically amuses me. Despite that, I have found considerable enjoyment in dusting, waxing, washing, sorting, rearranging and even discarding the accumulated goods of over half a lifetime.

People don't "become" introverts, they either are or they aren't. Knowing and understanding this to be a part of one's personality is, however, not inherent. When I was young, I was called shy because that is probably what my behavior looked like when I met new people, especially in groups. As a teen and young adult, I thought of myself as "shy" because I had heard it and because it seemed to explain why I was rarely at ease in a group of people and why my idea of a college "party" was sitting around with a few friends, drinking wine and philosophising about the state of the world. It was, after all, social work school. In those years, I sometimes told people I was shy only to be met with laughter and skepticism. Did this mean I wasn't shy?

Introvert, a new word for shy? When I first heard the term used, it was not in a very positive light. It seemed to refer to someone not only shy but rather "backward" and withdrawn, unable to function well in public. While I did not really consider this an accurate description of me, I certainly didn't fit the definition of an extrovert. It seemed to merit some research, so I gave it some. Then it all made sense. What I learned is that "introverts are drained by social encounters and energized by solitary, often creative pursuits. Their disposition is frequently misconstrued as shyness, social phobia or even avoidant personality disorder, but many introverts socialize easily; they just strongly prefer not to. In fact, the self-styled introvert can be more empathic and interpersonally connected than his or her outgoing counterparts." So, perhaps this explains why I could spend 29 years as a social worker yet revel in my days as a hermit.

A common preception, no doubt of extroverts, is that being alone is the same thing as being lonely.  As I searched for some art or photos to go with this blog, I searched "solitary people" "people alone" and other criteria I considered to mean "unaccompanied by another person".  Repeatedly, the pictures I found were titled "lonely" man, women or such.  These were sometimes pictures of people who appeared sad or distressed but just as often they appeared introspective, curious, peaceful or just deep in thought.  Other than the fact the pictures showed only one person, there was no clue to suggest the person was lonely.  I don't understand the assumption that these two words mean the same thing. I can always go visit someone but I rarely find myself feeling lonely although I am currently spending more than 90% of my waking hours in the company of only myself and my dogs.  Perhaps introverts deserve more respect, after all, not everyone can find pleasure in one's own company.

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