After the morning fog dissipates, it’s a sunny, fresh day on my patch of Eden. I harvest my first pumpkin and dump out two buckets of potatoes, hidden up until now under soil and foliage, which I later steam to a creamy, delicate consistency, unrecognizable to a store-bought spud. Truly, my home garden and veggie plot sustain me in produce and delight all year round.
The backdrop of my lifestyle is far from idyllic; rather, I live, as the rest of us do, in a protracted global nightmare caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and its ever-morphing variants. In this country, we have the blessing of a vaccine that can save countless lives, but the callousness and thoughtlessness of people not getting vaccinated is undoing science and our survival.
After more than 18 months of lockdown and disruption, many are fleeing isolation, no matter what the risk, for bars, offices, stadiums, churches, restaurants and stores, where they can socialize or simply be somewhere else.
Being out in nature
But introverts like me have experienced this terrible time quite differently, and have put it to creative use, rather than falling into a debilitating emotional landscape. I’ve chosen to live my truth—that I’m an introvert and have been so all my life. I live off my patch of land, a country place near a small town, an hour’s drive away from a major city.
Growing my own fruit and veggies seems to resonate with other introverted people, who are turning their lives to a simpler way, being out in nature and in their gardens by themselves a lot more. In social media groups, we exchange practical observations, questions, successes and failures with each other, and share our passion for organic home-grown food in harmony with wildlife.
Being an introvert hasn’t made my life easy. I’ll reflect on my own personal experience about what it means to be introverted, why it’s challenging and how I’ve learned to thrive to get the most out of life, even in COVID times—not in spite of being an introvert but because of it.
Some of you may identify with my life’s journey (mine now in my seventies), and hopefully can take something from it that benefits you. Those who aren’t introverts may find my reflections to be mystifying or illogical, but at the very least, recognize these qualities in someone you know. One thing’s for sure, there are a lot of us introverts out there!
Introverts can ‘fake the life’
First, what is an introvert? Everyone seems to think they know the answer, but in reality, there’s a lot of confusion about it. The Oxford English Dictionary defines an introvert as “a quiet person who is more interested in their own thoughts and feelings, than spending time with other people. Alternatively, a shy person.” In psychology circles, introversion is “directing the mind to things within the self.”
None of those definitions are quite right for me. I met a very wise soul, a next-door neighbour who survived the trauma of the Death March and a prisoner-of-war camp in the Philippines during the Second World War. He told me that an introvert is someone who’s drained by social interaction, and who recharges when alone, with the extrovert being the opposite). I think his definition matches my experience, but I would add that it isn’t an “on-off” personality switch. Rather, most people are somewhere in between an introvert and an extrovert, leaning one way or the other.
So, what isn’t an introvert? Contrary to one of the dictionary definitions, I don’t think an introvert is necessarily shy. Shyness has more to do with social fear, which can be overcome; whereas, being an introvert is just the way you’re made, unlikely to ever change.
In my former life, I used to work for large corporates, where I had to make presentations and meet people, which I didn’t find hard (unlike a social-phobic person). However, the talking and socializing afterward, I found to be incredibly draining. Even as a child, I loved solitary pursuits, like playing classical piano, never group play or sports.
My pivotal life experience—being a lesbian, a Vietnam War-era peace activist who became a fugitive (ending all that and squaring things after 19 years)—that was all my private world, tucked away from business clients and fellow employees. I needed to protect my income from societal prejudices (as I depended solely on my salary) and maintain my privacy. So, I kept my job interactions to superficial banter and shop talk. I couldn’t wait to escape the office and be by myself. That’s the classic hallmark of an introvert.
Introverts excel at being alone
Another myth is that introverts are socially inept. It’s just not true. Introverts are great at faking the life that is presented to them as normal and desirable—which didn’t work for me or make me happy. The most important thing is finding out what does make you happy, which is likely to be different than the norm, if you are an introvert and outsider like me.
In my case, it was escaping to a country setting, becoming partly self-sufficient, growing a wide range of produce and fruit, and being my own director of daily activities, while recognizing my health challenges and age. It’s all about the life; the destination, in the end, is the same for all of us. Once I realized this, I had to get to the point when I was brave enough to make it happen.
Introverts excel at being alone, it’s where we come alive. If you’re an introvert, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. It’s that deep sigh of relief when we are alone again. An extrovert hearing this would think I was foolish or even daft, or that I had a pathological problem.
It’s just a fundamental difference, I believe. I rarely get lonely, rather comfortable with solitude. It’s a misconception that introverts don’t want select people in our lives. I certainly do, but it means that I get support from myself and nature. Introverts aren’t defective, nor do they need fixing. It’s just the way we are.
If you’re like that, too, embrace it! It’s kind of a superpower that allows you to do many things, like having a nature and garden-focused life. Many people could never do this, as they need others around them. As an introvert, I don’t depend on others for motivation, entertainment or productivity. If you know how to use it, that’s a real gift, especially in these times of human folly, pernicious disease, hate and violence.
Don’t listen to people who want to ‘fix’ you
Lastly, the hardest part of thriving is not being apologetic or ashamed of who you are—in my case, my gender identity, temperament, passions and progressive ideals. I’ve spent too many years making up excuses as to why I wouldn’t attend that party or meet up with colleagues after work. All that achieved was making people think I didn’t like them.
In reality, I just found such socializing both shallow and exhausting. I should have just said that from the start, but that’s what I do now. I’m unapologetic about being gay, a writer and an introvert with deeply held beliefs about social justice and climate change. I own who I am, more confident in being myself than in the past.
You shouldn’t listen to people who want to fix you, change you or fit you into their expectations. In the long-term, that’s a recipe for misery. This is your life. It’s the only one you get. As long as you’re not harming other occupants of this planet, it’s all about being yourself, being kind and contributing in some way, and finding as much joy as possible in following your own path.
It doesn’t happen quickly. Often, it involves years of trying different things and exploring the world to really understand who and what you are. Whatever that might be, embrace your superpowers. Tell the important people in your life your truth and own it. Don’t be ashamed or allow other people to hold you back in pursuing your version of bliss.
I have a place in my garden that I call my meditation bench. It gets early sun, and with a warm cup of fennel tea, I perch there and wait for my thoughts to clear, mulling over the portents of dreams and tasks undone, and above all, marvel in silent awe at the beauty of nature—the flaming butterfly that just landed on a cluster of tiny rose-violet flowers of the Verbena bonariensis, the iridescent throat feathers of an Anna’s hummingbird who’s testing the Chinese lantern plant for nectar. My morning starts there.
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image 1 InspiredImages from Pixabay 2 Image by Veronika Andrews from Pixabay 3 Image by Michael Kauer from Pixabay 4 Image by Ronald Carreño from Pixabay