Isolation Disorder

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:

2017: 31
2018: 19
2019: 17
2020: 11
2021: 4

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.

7 comments on “Isolation Disorder

  1. cathytea says:

    In some ways, I’m thriving. I’m an undiagnosed (or self-diagnosed) autistic, so the changes I’ve been forced to make and have chosen to make over the past few years have allowed me to create a life that supports me better and is less taxing. And yet, I can relate to much of what you describe. My neighbors, even when sharing different views, feel safe, except for any viruses they might be shedding. I’m sorry to hear how much the cultural divisions have disrupted your sense of social safety. I’m not sure what a solution is, but writing might help, especially publication?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Christopher Holm says:

    Hi Themon,

    I feel your pain.

    I can relate to much of what you share here. I too am an introvert. I like people well enough. I just can not be steamrolled by their energy. When I have led groups. I delegate. A lot. Time spent with others is like a double whammy. It is as if my cpu isn’t fast enough. I don’t have enough blocking filters. Each howl of laughter feels like a knife in the gut. I forget to breathe. Adrenaline floods my system as the overwhelming desire to take flight overtakes my consciousness. Then, because I have been overstimulated, I can’t even sleep. My brain is working overtime to try to make sense of what occurred.

    Just the thought that Trump could win/steal another term as president makes me want to flee.

    The old axiom, “If a lie is told often enough it becomes the truth,” sadly seems to be the stimulant of the masses. It makes neighbors show up at things like January 6th at the Capital with a gun in their pocket.

    People are mad and the Earth is Hell. The only problem is: people are also wonderful and the natural world is a paradise.

    So, someone thoughtful puts pen to paper to help explain what is really going on. With freedom of speech on their side, and the ability to offer clear critical analysis, their words should be a rallying cry for positive change. Or, at the very least they should help. The trouble is, people would seemingly rather die than alter their beliefs.

    Only the very powerful get to make the decisions that the rest of us have to live by. Unless you happen to live in a democracy.

    The United States, as of 2022, is ranked 27th among the world’s democracies. We are considered to be a flawed democracy. The main reasons given for that are based on two factors, both of which are tied to polarization: functioning of government and political culture.

    Seemingly, people on the extreme right get this. They appear ready to welcome an authoritarian, autocratic dictator back into the White House.

    The people on the left get this. They generally want to protect the democracy of the United States.

    Yet, the democracy is flawed. Another axiom: “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

    And then there is Putin. Putin, the result of an unchecked ego on display for all the world to see.

    I won’t sugar coat this: These indeed are desperate times. C

    But then there is Poland. A country with a history of being pushed and shoved, here and there, on the world map, seemingly always someone’s vassal state and serving as a convenient buffer state between East and West. On today’s world stage it is the intense, giving, welcoming light of Poland and her people that shines a beacon of hope for all to see. And Poland is not alone in offering aide and welcome.

    The bad is horrendously unspeakable. The good is the only real choice that ever makes even a shred of sense.

    Christopher Holm

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Stephen says:

    I think I see this a little differently. We all collectively minimized our social interactions for a pretty extreme duration. Many of us in the laptopping class were crippled by a lack of necessity for interactions so we were harder hit. We’re simply out of practice with social graces. That said, I’ve definitely been in uncomfortable and self critical situations myself. Traveling for work got me out of that rut.

    The social divisions are just a narrative mechanism to draw as many social boundaries between people as possible to prevent change, accountability, and to reserve power for institutions. It’s our inability to act and advocate collectively that has caused the unraveling of social bonds and the lack of safety- which Trump is just a proximal representation of. You’d have to be insane to feel safe in the world as it exists today, but I don’t know if I agree that its because of propagandized neighbors so much as the interests rewriting the narratives to prevent change.

    I don’t care if I’m sitting in a foxhole with someone if they think democrats are lizard people, vaccinations are filled with mind worms, or whatever else. I’m more annoyed that poor decision making by narcissists in leadership has gotten me sitting in a fox hole.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Themon the Bard says:

      I certainly agree that these social divisions have been engineered. And I also agree that under extreme situations, like a shooting-war, any emotional-safety issues I had with a neighbor would be very far down the list of concerns.

      Like

  4. jbrown53 says:

    Dang it! You are living in my head.
    Yes, I am introvert. And happy with it, though many are surprised by this. I am outgoing. I love public speaking. (Once i did a eulogy and someone asked if I did TED talks). But, as Jung would have predicted, there came a time when I started wanting to socialize. It was tiresome and I was learning to balance it all out, Church, (awesome church, not the “hatin’ kind, and I loved going mainly for friends) and writers group and shape note singing. Plus what ever else cam along. It was a bit much. Then Trump and the stupidity and the meanness and my depression started coming back. Then covid which at first I thought really did not affect me but I have come the realize that I, again, feel disconnected. I have so often felt in social situations that I somehow missed the joke or something. I can make marvelous small talk and all that but it is just too tiresome.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Pat Cain says:

    I feel safe when I’m showing my neutral self in public.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Themon the Bard says:

    This weekend, my wife and I took up an invitation to go out with strangers (now, new friends) to Second Saturday in Hopland to taste wines, listen to a guy with a guitar. We spent the whole afternoon, and it was lovely.

    It reminded me that there are good people in the world. And there are.

    Like

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