…and how we can survive when the world feels loud.
I took my (slow-to-warm-up, introverted) child to camp this week. You know how you can get a feel for something as you are approaching it? We could feel this camp from as far away as the parking lot. The music, the activities, the EXUBERANT counselors. I could feel my introverted little one holding my hand tighter and tighter as we approached. We cringed along together as the extroverts welcomed us.
How introverts experience extroverts:
Thankfully, I know that they break the camp into smaller, quieter groups after the morning welcome. My little one and I also did some preparation: putting his pokémon cards in his backpack so he could trade 1-on-1 during choice time with his friend, adding a (quiet) cheerleading note to his snack, arriving early so we could find a counselor and 1-on-1 connections together to help him feel grounded.
Introverts actually enjoy social interactions as much as extroverts. It’s more a sensitivity to prolonged social interaction and stimulation that introverts experience.* Prolonged social interaction and/or sensory stimulation (noises, smells, textures) are what drain an introvert. Introverts need “down time” to recover from this kind of activity/stimulation. A grad school professor of mine used to reserve 5 minutes of meditation time for the whole class before starting a new class (we had back-to-back interactive weekend classes) for “introversion recovery time.”
What Can Be Helpful With Kids:
After a day of camp, school, or other prolonged time of stimulation, I try to take off my Super Inquiring Mama Hat (“How was your day? Tell me everything!”) and instead take a Sit-Down-At-The-Quiet-Pond-To-Go-Fishing approach. I let my little one be quiet, gaze out the window, have a snack in quiet-ness. Instead of prodding, I wait. I take his lead on what we should do for special time before dinner. I sit at the pond and I wait for him to offer the fishes from his day. Often, they don’t emerge until right before bedtime, when we are snuggling:
“Mama, my friend said this to me today”
“This happened on the playground…”
“I made this thing with magnets and it’s really cool. want to hear about it?”
It’s hard not to deluge him with questions, but as a fellow introvert, I know this just contributes to more overwhelm. So here’s to quiet, pond sitting.
I’d like to make a special (quiet) shout out to Susan Cain and her work on de-stigmatizing introversion! Her two books are: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in A World That Can’t Stop Talking (Random House: 2012) and Quiet Power: A Guide for Kids and Teens (Penguin Random House: 2016).
*Thanks to Quiet Ambassador Adam Grant and his article “5 Myths about Introverts and Extroverts”
Here’s a beautiful/funny/true way that you can explain introversion to a non-introvert: 9 Ways to Explain Your Introversion
And here is a beautiful article on How to Help Your Introverted Child Practice Self-Advocacy
Do you ever wonder if change is possible for you? If you’re just going to have to be stuck in despair, your eating disorder, depression, alcoholism, or feeling not-good-enough forever?
I have this posted on my office door:
Butterflies have long been a metaphor for recovery for me. Butterflies (the eggs they start as, the caterpillars they become, the cocoons they build, and the butterflies they emerge into) embody the miracle of transformation that happens in recovery.
In recovery, one model for change, called the Stages of Change,* divides the gap between thinking-about-change and implementing it into 5 Stages. This model was developed from addiction recovery, but can be used for eating disorder or postpartum depression recovery, or another vision you thought was not possible for your life. As an example (because it clearly embodies tangible hope, which can be hard to do in eating disorder or postpartum depression recovery), I’ll take you through my butterfly garden stages of change. As you are reading, you can fill in whatever vision of yours that you think is not-yet-possible.
- Stage 1: Precontemplation or The Hopeless-Caterpillar Stage (Not thinking about changing, Do not want to change, or Feel change is hopeless/not possible. This is the stage in which disordered eating, drinking, or depression feels “normal” and/or there is a feeling of resigned this-is-the-way-it-is-and-will-always-be.)
So with my butterfly garden vision, there were years of thinking about this. (“Oh! I should do this! Oooh what a great way to practice ecological conservation in my own backyard! I love butterflies! I used to study butterflies! What a great idea! Butterflies are deeply symbolic of the transformation that happens in recovery and motherhood!!”etc, etc.)
Clearly, as evidenced by the exclamation points, they were excited, visionary thoughts. They were so excited that they tired me out even thinking them. I went back to changing diapers, trying to survive early motherhood, engaging with my professional work, and maintaining my own recovery self-care.
- Stage 2: Contemplation or The Asking-Friends-About-Their-Cocoon-Experience Stage (Considering there is a problem, Still ambivalent about changing but willing to become educated about alcoholism/eating disorders)
When I was in the contemplation stage, I would pay attention when my little one and I visited butterfly exhibits in museums or the insect house at the zoo. I would talk to the butterfly curators. I would get inspired by people planting gardens. I read one blog about a guy who re-introduced an endangered butterfly species just by creating a native garden for their caterpillars. I read educational signs at the museum and zoo and thought “Oh! They’re endangered! I could plant a butterfly garden to help! I could do that thing I’ve been thinking about!” Then I went back to my life and didn’t take any action about it.
- Stage 3: Determination or The I’m-Not-Always-Going-To-Stay-A-Caterpillar-Because-I-Know-There’s-Something-More Stage (Deciding to stop the behavior such as drinking or disordered eating, deciding to seek postpartum depression support. Beginning to make a plan.)
So in this stage, I was thinking “Well, even though I’m not much of a gardener, I could do this. I could get a book. I could go to the local garden store and talk to the people there. I could start a list of native plants that attract and feed larva, caterpillars and butterflies…” I was deciding that I was going to take action. I was envisioning how I was going to take action. I was less tired about the ideas, more determined, and getting ready to take action. I saved money to buy plants for my future butterfly garden.
- Stage 4: Action or The Building-Your-Cocoon-Of-TransFormation Stage (Beginning to take actions such as announcing to loved ones they are going to change, seeking support of a therapist or treatment program, beginning to attend eating disorder or postpartum depression recovery support groups or 12 step program)
So at this point, I told my family I would like a butterfly garden book for Christmas. I started actually writing (instead of thinking about) a list of plants. I bought a guide to local butterflies. I made a place on a shelf for my butterfly-garden materials. I posed on a neighborhood list serve about local butterfly plants. I made a special pile of materials that was designated butterfly-garden research. I looked into local gardening stores.
- Stage 5: Maintenance or The I-Now-Know-It-Is-Possible Stage (An alcohol, disordered-eating, or depression-free life is becoming “normal,” and the threat of old patterns becomes less intense/frequent. Relapse prevention skills and support systems are established.)
This is the stage that my garden is in now. Though this may sound like an end-point, (Ta Da! We’re Done! Now everyone lives Happily-Ever-After, The End), it’s actually a beginning. Now I have to water the plants. My husband (who is more of a seasoned gardener) helped to replant some of the plants in wire baskets under the soil so they would be protected from gophers, and in full sun (important for butterflies).
People in this stage of recovery CAN have the luxury of resting somewhat, having done some tough work digging in the soil (therapy, treatment, etc) of planting their garden of transformation. However, the work of continued action is crucial in maintenance. If I don’t water my plants, they might not survive. If you don’t go to your recovery support meetings, or practice the self-care skills you cultivated in your recovery from PPD or an ED, you are at risk of relapse. One of the best ways to prevent relapse/stay in the butterfly stage is to connect with a caterpillar. That is why I work in recovery. So I can remember the darkness of the cocoon AND stay in the sunlight of the spirit.
Here’s to your garden, your butterfly-ness, your recovery. Whatever stage it (You) are in.
*Researchers, Carlo C. DiClemente and J. O. Prochaska, introduced a five-stage model of change to help professionals understand their clients with addiction problems and motivate them to change. Here is one summary article that I referenced in this blog: “Stages of Change” by Mark S, Gold, MD