By nature, I am an introvert.
A lot of people who know me casually might not believe this — I can be pretty outgoing and sociable. But it is true: I am an introvert.
The most intuitive and useful description of the terms “introvert” and “extrovert” I’ve heard are in terms of “energy,” meaning whether you “recharge your batteries” when you are alone, or when you are with other people. An introvert recharges by being alone. An extrovert recharges by being with other people. Introverts can party, and extroverts can sit and read a book in a quiet room, but in either case, it drains their energy, and they have to return to an environment where they can recharge. It’s like sleep: chronic lack of sleep makes people cranky and eventually psychotic.
Sometime in my late 30’s or early 40’s, I discovered how to reverse that flow of energy, entirely by accident. I was out, by myself, on a cold evening at a pub in Fort Collins, I think at an annual tapping of their Christmas Ale, and the bar got — well, “happy.” All of you fellow-introverts out there will understand perfectly when I say that my normal response to this would be to leave. It’s too much to handle, and processing all that “energy” — or information, or noise, or whatever it might be — is totally exhausting. But that night, for the first time, I just went with the flow. I found myself actually drawing from the energy of the crowd, rather than fighting to stay afloat. I damn near got high from the experience. And I wondered: is this what an extrovert feels in a crowd? Wow. Nice!
In the years since, I’ve found that I remain an introvert at core in the sense that I really need the alone-time to continue to function. But I’ve also been able to get into the extroverted mode of recharging from the group energy. I loved being in group environments.
The last five years have taken a brutal toll on me, primarily the Trump phenomenon, followed by COVID, and I’m finding that I’m not really enjoying my interactions with people any more.
My social life came to a stop with COVID, of course, for two long years. But it runs deeper than that. COVID restrictions are mostly over — in our area, for now — and I have the opportunity to get back out there.
I don’t want to.
I took a look at my blog, for instance. In 2010 through 2015, I was averaging around 40 posts a year. Since then, it’s looked like this:
2020, the year of the pandemic, when I was stuck in the house with lots of free time to spend on blogging, I posted only 11 entries, and in 2021, I managed only four. This is my second post this year, and God alone knows whether I will manage a third before 2023 rolls around.
When I do go out and interact with people, as I must in order to buy groceries, I feel awkward and uncomfortable. My “energy” drains out rapidly, and I walk away from every human exchange feeling badly, like I’ve made some kind of faux pas. Like I’ve just told an offensive joke, though all I’ve said, literally, is “Good morning.”
I’m choosing to call this “isolation disorder.” It doesn’t feel good, and it doesn’t feel right.
I’m writing about this because I strongly suspect I’m not alone in this. I suspect a lot of people are feeling this way, and I’m even guessing that some of the discomfort I feel in interactions with other people is an empathetic reaction to their discomfort at being with people.
So to talk about this, I want to take a closer look at that moment, years ago, when I “turned on” my extroversion. What I think lay at the core of that experience was trust.
I had a rather nasty childhood, which was typical for the time, but particularly rough for any bright kid in a small town in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. A single phrase from a story I once read sums it up: “Different is dead.” And I was different. As a result, I learned quickly to not trust the other kids. The adults of that time weren’t especially trustworthy, either. We were still in the tail end of the “children should be seen and not heard” model of childrearing and school-teaching, and Doctor Benjamin Spock’s “Baby Book,” published in 1957, in which he recommended being affectionate and flexible with your children, was considered scandalous: common wisdom demanded that caregivers be stern and provide rigid, inflexible boundaries. “Spare the rod and spoil the child,” as the Good Book says. It was quoted often, and believed widely.
What I think happened as I approached the age of forty, in that first-time moment of extroversion, was an unexpected sense of trust in the midst of all these loud, rowdy, happy strangers. I didn’t have to protect myself from them, and their noise, and their good cheer. I was one of them, an adult among adults. I felt safe.
I don’t feel very safe these days, largely due to the Trump phenomenon.
It isn’t about Trump, as such. Yes, he’s a sociopath, and a compulsive liar, and a textbook narcissist, entirely self-centered and “what’s in it for me?” His business dealings are crooked, his presidency was corrupt, and then there’s that little attempted coup he fomented a year ago when he lost the election. He was a terrible president: he reduced the office to a reality television show about the office, but without script-writers. History will not treat him kindly.
The Trump phenomenon is something different, that involves the people in what many are calling the Trump Cult. These are the people who continue to blindly support Trump and believe his lies, but also all the hangers-on who see something in that movement to profit from.
This latter is a very large group. It includes much of the media, which continues to report on Trump and the increasingly demented drivel that comes out of his mouth. It certainly includes the Fox Network. It includes most of the Republican political class, and has iron control of the Republican Party across the nation. Many of the state governors dance wildly to Trump’s mad fiddle. It also includes a lot of rank-and-file Republicans who are party-loyal to a fault, even a fault as calamitous as Trump.
This last includes some of my neighbors. It includes people I know. It includes family members. It includes people in every group I might choose to mix with.
There is someone in the next block who flies an American Flag on his property, with a “Fuck Biden: Not My President” flag on the same pole. One of the landmark buildings in town has an attorney’s office on the top floor, and in his window is a 2020 Trump campaign sign, and a Betsy Ross American Flag, now a symbol of white supremacist movements.
This Cult has roped in most of the Christian Right and many of the American churches, white supremacists, American Nazis, and pretty much anyone who is willing to get angry (at something) and start shooting people, or driving cars into crowds, or marching on the Capitol in Washington and hanging people Trump has claimed are “corrupt.”
You can’t really have a conversation with members of the Trump Cult. I’ve had better — and more honest — conversations with Jehovah’s Witnesses at my door.
At a personal level, I’m back to my childhood rules. Different is dead. People cannot be trusted.
I don’t like living that way. So I’m taking little steps back into the world.
If any of my readers sees this, and feels the same way, let’s talk about how you are moving back into the world, post-insurrection and post-COVID.
Perhaps we can help one another.