I’ve never known if I’m an introvert or extrovert, so I’ve just considered it a function of my surroundings - who I’m with and how many of them there are (and yes, probably whether or not I have had a drink or two).
I also suck at bringing people together myself, which naturally feeds my introvert. But, I really do end up enjoying when others bring people together and I am one of those people - with a little effort feeding my somewhat reluctant extrovert.
The year of Covid, however, has force-fed my introvert. There haven’t been any even reluctant options to balance him out. Initially, this felt ok, like maybe this whole work-from-home and forced isolation thing might have just put me square in my wheelhouse. This isn’t so bad - at least for the first couple of months.
And yet, time kept feeding the isolation. My introvert kept ingesting it with no other choice. A touch of indigestion perhaps setting in.
And more. The normally passive and quiet introvert starts gorging himself grossly on the all-you-can-eat bar of social isolation and disconnection. That subtly perverse drive of the over-stuffed to go back for one more taste, maybe a touch of desert.
And…still…more. The absence of hugs or hand shakes. No smiles. The lack of reason for normal dressing, or even showering at the usual cadence. The loss of my physical self at least in relation to others has brought a certain ignorance to my body. The physical vehicle once supporting and transporting the spirit - and vice versa - becomes an object, dynamic in nature, but rather dumb in practice.
My introvert has eaten its fill and now rests bloated, in pain, and putridly satisfied on this his year of Covid.
I am not an introvert.
Like a new year’s resolution, I am desperate to disrupt this gluttonous isolation. There’s still a flicker in me that remembers laughing and being stupid with friends, creating passionately with co-workers, engaging serendipitously with strangers - even enjoying isolation as a counter force to something else, not itself all things.
And, while I dream of it, this miracle land of extroversion, it also stirs some anxiety. I don’t know if I have the tools for this return any more. Will it be like riding a bike? Or, will I have to work at it, to teach myself again, to overcome an even greater reluctance?
I am not an extrovert.
My now shapeless, boundless introversion has left me unsure, unskilled - and yet desperate to know.
At some point late in 2020, I was riding in the car with my wife - an unusually painful process at the time due to a bulging disc - and after a few quiet moments in my own head, I blurted out:
“I haven’t felt this…just…ravaged since Dad committed suicide.”
I’m not one for drama or overstatement. 2020 had taken its toll. The tornado. The pandemic. The school situation. The concern for family. The loss of a dear friend. The economy and its impact on my startup. The extra hours each day of work. Mourning my children’s loss of their school and their teachers. The isolation - without the alone time. The state of politics and discourse and democracy. The state of truth and those conversations with my children. The disc situation.
I felt like absolute dog shit - physically, emotionally, spiritually, and intellectually.
Within a few weeks, we’d add a Christmas-morning car bomb that rattled my house and an insurrection against our government to the ravaging mix.
It’s been 15 years on April 27 since my Dad committed suicide. I have written extensively about it and have always focused my language around “living with suicide” because that’s what I do every day. But, that experience took a toll on me that was remarkable and long lasting - both confounding and clarifying. It forced a sort of reckoning with my understanding of my own sense of capacity and control - taking and giving me some of each.
I have the capacity to live with suicide.
I have the capacity to prioritize where and how and with whom I spend my time and energy and love.
I have the capacity to create and iterate through my life - even when that includes tragedy and trauma.
I can control where and how and that I allow myself to grieve (just not that I need to).
I can control the kind of people I surround myself and my family with.
I can control who I am as a person and how I live regardless of the circumstance.
I don’t have the capacity to ignore my emotions and just “get by”.
I don’t have the capacity to invest in shallow relationships.
I don’t have the capacity to be all things to all people or to be my best self - especially when I feel ravaged in my very being.
I can’t control that suicide and mental illness are facts of life.
I can’t control people who don’t or can’t or won’t love unconditionally.
I can’t control what life is going to throw my way.
With all of that, I don’t know if my Dad’s suicide left me a little more dead or a little more alive. At the time, it was certainly the former. But, over 15 years of processing and evaluation and prioritizing and growing in my own life and with my own family and with my own capacity and control, I am at least more fully human than I was back in 2006. And yes, sometimes that means more tired and more hurt and more ravaged and maybe feeling a little more dead inside. But, it also means I see life with a longer arc and recognize my own capacity to bend it.
So, I come back to my query as to the toll 2020 has taken on me - and surely on all of us. What capacity has it taken from me? What has it given or shown me? What control has it proven I don’t have? What control has it proven I do have?
Has 2020 left me a little more dead or a little more alive?
I guess I don’t know yet. But, at least I do know that I have the capacity to help define the answer.
See also: Trauma Without Tragedy (The work of 2020 is just beginning)