It’s all fun and games until the tank runs dry. Then things can get messy.
It was a busy weekend: Graduation, graduation party, a church fundraiser luncheon. None of these events taxed my social interaction tolerance to its limit, but added together in a single weekend they spelled trouble. The problem was, I was too busy to notice. I motored through the weekend, squeezing a few chores into the spare moments. Then came Sunday afternoon and the final event, a church picnic where a nephew was being baptized. Although this group was not our home church, I knew at least a dozen families. Normally I would have been happy to wander around chatting with friends, but that afternoon I realized that I did not have the energy to talk to anybody. My emotional energy tank was depleted.
At first I just felt numb, but for an introvert, being surrounded by people saps energy—energy I didn’t have. The tank was dry, the shields were down, and there was nothing to protect me from the constant bombardment of people vibes. By the time the program started, I felt like I might break into sobs at any moment. This is not normal for me. At all.
I made small fidgety movements in an effort to hold myself together.
I will not fall to pieces. I will not fall to pieces.
With the tiny part of my brain not affected by the onslaught of emotions, I realized this must be how small children feel when they get tired and cranky. I could imagine how easy it would be to throw a tantrum with such unwanted emotions surging through me.
I will not fall to pieces.
For a while I regained control and followed the program with something akin to attention, but then another wave of weepiness swept over me. I promised myself we would leave the moment the program was over. This became my new mantra.
At some point my husband must have sensed my discomfort, because he whispered a question about leaving and I assured him we could wait until it was over—because I couldn’t bear the thought of everyone staring at me if we left in the middle of things. The program dragged on and my hold over my emotions grew more tenuous by the moment. I was quite sure I would burst into tears if I had to say anything to anyone, even a close family member.
Finally, the program ended.
I folded up my chair and fled to the car.
We won’t get far when we run on empty.
Because I wasn’t monitoring my emotional expenditures, I ended up millimeters from a meltdown. In public. At an event that should have been uplifting and celebratory.
Fortunately for me, my husband understood that something was wrong, took me home, wrapped me in a big hug and then left me alone so I could recharge.
Unfotunately, we don’t always have such wise people around to bail us out when we’ve overdone it.
To my fellow introverts: Pay attention to your gas gauge! Pace yourself, because if you run dry, you will regret it—and so will your loved ones.
To our more extroverted friends and family: You may notice us withdrawing in the midst of company. When that happens, do not be upset if we rebuff your efforts to cheer us up or re-engage us. We may be shutting down to protect ourselves from meltdown. No amount of encouragement, no matter how loving, will fill our empty tank. Only space and solitude can do that.