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Guest Posts, Mental Health, pandemic

Confessions of a Failed Introvert

April 26, 2021
introvert

by Kristine Lloyd

In spite of knowing I was happiest in the company of others, I moved from a three-story apartment building to a cabin in the urban woods a few years ago, across town from most of my friends. The small A-frame, tucked behind my landlord’s house, charmed me with its tiny backyard bridge to nowhere, serene Japanese maples, and ancient wind chimes whispering outside the kitchen window. Socializing became a chore that required triangulating various routes to avoid traffic, then I had surgery and was laid up for months, so I holed up more and more: eating, shopping online and watching movies on my laptop. This was a choice, and I could make a different one whenever I felt like it, like moving to Uruguay, or joining a flash mob – until Covid hit.

I am not someone who enjoys a lot of “me” time, long baths, or elaborate self-care rituals, and yet, by virtue of living alone in an introvert’s haven like Seattle, I came to convince myself that I was, in fact, this kind of person. I even purchased an expensive evergreen-scented candle I almost never lit. I bought it at the sad, little holiday fair at work. Milling around the four or five cafeteria tables, trying not to make eye contact with co-workers whose hand-crafted goods I would never buy. I aspired to be a candle person, and though I didn’t even know the woman selling them, who must have worked floors apart from mine, I spent $30, because holiday cheer and a co-worker had made it, so practically a friend, which was cooler than buying it from Pier 1. I didn’t light it until three months later when quarantine started, and I searched frantically for something to lift my spirits.

I cried when I saw videos of Italians rigging up champagne glasses on long poles and clinking a cheers from their separate balconies, singing in unison. It made me long for my old apartment, sandwiched between the first and third floors, where at least I could hear yelling, moaning, singing, terrible techno-pop that synced with the throb of that vein in my temple, the scraping of chairs, the dropping of things, and the walking around in heels on hardwoods that sounded like dragging cast iron pans across the floor. Now quiet hours ticked by without so much as the sound of a plane, which before had signaled the continuous movement of people going places and doing things.

My alone-ness stung. I had willingly retreated to the woods, when I am a people person, someone who needs interaction like air. Each day lived entirely alone wore on me, drained me of finite stores of energy. I was a 47-year-old extrovert living like a hermit. It did not suit me. The constancy of quiet gnawed at my mind. I had allowed my circumstances, long before Covid, to shape me into something I wasn’t, rather than changing them – it had seemed far more exhausting to change course than to blend into the environment.

Every day was the same. The alarm sounded. I hit snooze. At 8:55 a.m., I staggered out of bed, turned on my computer, answered emails and attended virtual meetings, never fully awake, living in a radius of about five feet. I started to feel far from okay, staring out the window into the indistinguishable mass of leaves blocking out everything beyond the yard. I waited for a creature – a bird, a cat, anything – to come by and alter the landscape. Twice I saw a little brown bunny hopping by, but by the time I got up from my desk to get a closer look, it had vanished. I stared at the trees until I saw nothing: just a great, green mass. The stillness settled into me until I felt immovable. Each day I looked out, and the trees appeared closer than the day before. I longed to take a weedwhacker and slash through branches, open up a window to life, but there was a fence behind the trees. Another barrier to the world. I lit the candle, hoping to at least imbue the indoor space with coziness, but it was like trying to warm myself with a matchstick. It didn’t even make the house smell like evergreens.

I cried three times on the phone with my boss.

“How are you?” he asked. But that was all it took to unleash the tears.

“Kristine . . . you there?”

“Yeah . . . I . . . I’m ok.” This was not a sophisticated, tissue-dabbing cry. This was the kind of unintelligible, guttural sobbing that makes other people uncomfortable and fidgety. To his credit, he waited patiently while I collected myself, instead of hanging up and pretending we got disconnected.

The crying wasn’t limited to phone calls with my boss. I cried when I knocked over a bottle of cooking sherry precariously situated on the kitchen counter with all the other newly purchased groceries, and had to clean up the sprawling, sticky mess when all I wanted to do was lie down and flatten my body against the cold linoleum. I cried every time I heard my father’s voice on the phone. It had begun to develop the timbre of my grandmother’s and his older siblings in the last years of life, a weak, croaking sound that trailed off into a mumble. What if he died of Covid and I never saw him again?

I started buying Oreos, Nutty Buddy’s, things I had not eaten since childhood – the Nutty Buddy being the saddest kind of substitute for a Buddy, save for a brief moment of soothing nostalgia for summers spent dissecting the layered wafer into its disparate parts to make it seem like you were getting more. I made brownies. Perfecting their under-baked, gooeyness. I ate brownies for breakfast and brownies for dinner, until they became cloying and tired, as familiar and unappealing as isolation itself. Brownies do not make a meal, and isolation isn’t a way to live. By the end of April I knew I had to get out.

One of my closest friends, Scott, who still lived in my hometown in Alabama, called me one day to catch up. After hearing my voice and the cracking sadness in it, that same weakness in my father’s voice, like someone falling into a well, he suggested I come back home. “I think you’d be happier in Birmingham, near your friends and family.” I knew he was right and asked him if he would be willing to fly out to Seattle and drive home with me. If he said yes, that would be the deciding factor. He did not hesitate.

Scott walked into my cabin and hugged me, let me lean against him. He had risked his life, breathing in the stale, germy air of a packed airplane and a chatty flight attendant whose mask dangled from her ear, to rescue me. He’d visited before and seen my cabin and understood, that even though it was in a prime location, I was not meant to live alone in the woods. He helped me finish packing, and we headed out by late afternoon. A quiet cabin hemmed in by trees was not going to lead me to my truest self, any more than that bridge would lead to a pot of gold.

We drove 2700 miles in four and a half days. Through the lush green hills of Oregon and Northern Idaho, into the endless hypnotic flat of Southern Idaho, on to Utah’s cracked earth and towering red rocks, through the dry, bleak landscape of Navajo country. Flying past long stretches of strip mall in Albuquerque and into the indistinguishable flatlands of North Texas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas, before the final leg home.

When I pulled into my parents’ driveway in the giant yellow moving truck, they came rushing out. My mother gave me the tightest, longest hug, and we just held on and swayed like that for a while. I breathed in her life, and the warmth revived me. I was home and with a little care and feeding would come back to myself. I felt such relief, relaxing into my mother, knowing she could hold me up. Like I had survived more than Seattle, more than Covid. I had survived a starvation of connection, of feeling like I was in the world, because I had been so isolated from it, walled off in a fortress of trees.

The next morning I tried out several nooks for my new, temporary home office. I finally settled into a creaky, old desk that’s more display than functional. Within days, a tiny mess of papers and mail sprouted by my computer. It didn’t take long to make it my own. I looked out the bay window and actually saw people walking by. Young and old. Some with dogs. Others on bikes. One young man walked by barefoot four or five times that morning. I wondered if the pavement hurt his feet, and that small thing felt like connection, an imagining of someone else’s experience of the world. Beautiful, glorious people. I didn’t know who they were, and it didn’t matter. I felt a lightness. This was life. All around me. I thought to myself, the world exists, people exist, and we are all here, in this together.

Kristine Lloyd is a part-time writer, full-time librarian, and has previously been published in The New York Times, The Washington Post and Salon.com, as well as other online outlets.

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sentilles book stranger care

Sarah Sentilles is a writer, teacher, critical theorist, scholar of religion, and author of many books, including Draw Your Weapons, which won the 2018 PEN Award for Creative Nonfiction.  Her most recent book, Stranger Care: A Memoir of Loving What Isn’t Ours, is the moving story of what one woman learned from fostering a newborn—about injustice, about making mistakes, about how to better love and protect people beyond our immediate kin. Sarah’s writing is lyrical and powerful and she ventures into spaces that make us uncomfortable as she speaks for the most vulnerable among us. This is a book not to be missed.

Pre-order a copy of Stranger Care to get exclusive free access to a one-hour generative writing workshop with Sarah, via Zoom on May 25th at 7pm Eastern time. If you register for the workshop and can’t attend, a recording of the event will be available. More details here.

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Anti-racist resources, because silence is not an option

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Click here for all things Jen

Guest Posts, Marriage, pandemic

Husband Fatigue — Oh, It’s Real

April 21, 2021
husband

by Debra Ryll 

I get it: if you’re white and you are not living under a bridge, you’re not allowed to complain about anything. But as I look at my spouse of thirty plus years, my sole dinner companion for lo, the last two hundred nights, I wonder: can I bring a paperback to the table, like those people you see on vacation?

I take a bite of the mushy broccoli he prepared. “Oh, bummer, it’s overcooked.”

“I don’t want to start a fight with you over this!” he says.

“I’m not starting a fight! I just made a comment!” And then we start fighting about the fact that we aren’t fighting.

Husband Fatigue. It’s real, people.

I know, I’m lucky to have a companion. How dare I complain when so many single people are plumbing the depths of loneliness? My issues are irrelevant, as trivial as the BAND-AID wrappers he leaves on the counter, just inches from the trash can.

This far into confinement-while-married, every irritant is magnified, and all the old adages are suddenly relevant. Like, “familiarity breeds contempt,” and “absence makes the heart grow fonder.” Or would.

I remember laughing hysterically at a video I saw at the beginning of the pandemic, where a woman hides in the closet so her husband can’t find her. That was back in March. In April, when the daffodils were blooming defiantly, we were all, “We’ve got this!” And in May—though we joked that our theme song was “How Can I Miss You When You Won’t Go Away?”—Fred and I were still playing ping pong and drinking margaritas on Friday nights.

And then came the horror of George Floyd’s televised murder. The riots, the fires, the smoke, the unbreathable air. Vladimir Putin being nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, after his chief critic was poisoned with a toxic nerve agent. The passing of RBG, along with a peek into the Grifter-in-Chief’s tax returns, which included a $70,000 expense for hair care. Can I get a deduction, for overworked adrenals?

Mama said there’d be days like this. But weeks, months? Years?

In the middle of it all, we sold our house and moved into a rental with only one TV hookup. “That’s okay,” I said, “we mostly watch the same shows.” I must have been brain dead, because I completely forgot about the return of Monday Night Football. And Sunday Night Football. And Thursday Night Football.

As happy as I am that my husband has sports back in his life, when he asks, “Who’s winning?” on his way back from the kitchen I can’t resist saying, “The Denver Foresters” or “the L.A. Fire Chiefs.” He rarely laughs at my jokes, and I don’t really care. I just want him to fix that loose towel rack in the bathroom. And quit leaving his shoes in the middle of the floor. And stop taking the unused dog waste baggies out of his pockets and leaving them… everywhere.

Does Michelle Obama have to deal with this after Barack walks Sunny and Bo?

I want my husband to quit stealing my handicap placard. To please stop throwing away the newspaper before I read it. And why, dear God, can’t he put his pocket change in one place instead of making little currency deposits on every surface in the house? No wonder there’s a coin shortage.

I’m rinsing out the unwashed jar of spaghetti sauce he “mistakenly” slipped into the recycle bin (The Artic isn’t going to save itself, Buddy) when Fred interrupts. It must be halftime. What an odd nomenclature for a sport with a half-life similar to uranium.

“Can you teach me how to Zoom?” he asks. “I have an appointment with my doctor on Thursday.”

I can’t punt this to Siri, so I wash my hands for the hundredth time, set up a meeting for the next morning, and send him an email invite. He takes it in the bedroom, and I connect on the other side of the wall, in the living room.

Funny, he looks different on screen. I’m livestreaming my husband! He could be a thousand miles away… instead of ten feet. And we always get along better when we’re apart.

I tell him to “unmute” himself, the opposite of what I normally try to do. He smiles and says, “You look so pretty today,” and I blush. Because he’s the only one who sees me without a mask, and let’s face it, masks hide a multitude of sins. Once you forgo lipstick, it’s a very small step to skip concealer… foundation… eye shadow… mascara. Ponytails have long since replaced blow drying, and I’ve been somewhat remiss in plucking my chin hairs of late.

I complement him on his haircut in return. We’d been arguing over his quest for “the Jeff Bridges look” for years. “Jeff Bridges has a stylist,” I’d repeated, ad infinitum. “Jeff Bridges doesn’t go to Supercuts.” When the salons re-opened he finally agreed to make an appointment at mine, and at last, the blowzy grey “wings” that usually frame his ears like Bozo the Clown are gone.

Slipping into pretend Doctor mode, I ask how he’s doing and he responds with the same litany of complaints I’ve heard a thousand times. But this time I actually listen. Whoever said “variety is the spice of life” wasn’t kidding. It’s like we’re on TV doing Improv or starring in our own reality show. Who knew that the separation provided by 2×4 studs and a few sheets of drywall could have such a profound effect?

Because on the other side of the wall, this is the same guy who bitches about the San Diego Chargers moving to L.A. and how the Raiders got their own four billion dollar stadium in Las Vegas that that big shot Sheldon put up and you can see the Mandalay Bay Resort from every seat and why do the Chargers have to share a stadium with the Rams just because that cheap shit guy Spanos who owns the Chargers wants the people of San Diego to pay for it?

It’s the same guy who over-steams veggies, but barbecues like Guy Fieri. The one who feeds the hummingbirds and pumps up the air in my bike tires and puts windshield wiper fluid in some mysterious tank under the hood of my Honda so I can see clearly. The one I fell in love with when he bought me a chocolate malt for breakfast after our first all night “date.” The same man who accidentally taped the Marvin Hagler fight over our wedding vows 36 years ago. But we got over that, and if I can just ignore that pile of pocket change glinting in the background, we’ll get over this. Because he’s the one I pledged to stick with—through better or… wait a minute, I just realized: our anniversary is right around the corner.

I should send him a Zoom invite. And find those tweezers. debra

Debra Ryll is freelance writer, a TEDx Monterey speaker, a children’s book author… and a reformed smuggler, working on a memoir.

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Blow Your House Down is a powerful testimony about the ways our culture seeks to cage women in traditional narratives of self-sacrifice and erasure. Frangello uses her personal story to examine the place of women in contemporary society: the violence they experience, the rage they suppress, the ways their bodies often reveal what they cannot say aloud, and finally, what it means to transgress “being good” in order to reclaim your own life.

Pick up a copy at Bookshop.org or Amazon.

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Anti-racist resources, because silence is not an option

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Click here for all things Jen