(There’s a big blog post coming up at some point with all the main catch up stuff, but just now I need to write about what’s on my mind).
What people don’t understand about me, ever, is that I’m an introvert. I’m happiest in very small groups, one-on-one or solo situations, and I have pretty low social limits.
The most accurate way to describe it is this: it’s like I have a social meter, and once it’s full, I need to be on my own. I’m fairly sure this is true for everyone to some degree, but for me it’s very pronounced. For the vast majority of the time, I’m a talkative, interested, socially relaxed kind of person. I’m the person making funny comments and asking completely inappropriate questions, usually because I’m bored or because I find people fascinating. I require constant entertainment, and if there’s none available, I will be it. That’s all genuine. But when it gets too much – and it may be in minutes if I’m finding the situation stressful, or months if things are relatively peaceful – I want to escape.
A few months ago I moved from being within a busy (but fairly quiet) team to being more on my own. I was also more physically on my own because of not being part of a team or having people sitting near me. For about thirty seconds it was pure bliss. Then the interruptions started happening. ‘Oh, are you okay on your own?’ ‘How come you’re sitting here now?’ and so on and so forth. In some ways it was really nice; I didn’t get people stopping by my desk very often before. But then it got to the stage where I was getting interrupted by people coming to chat to me nearly constantly. My interruptions would get interrupted, and this was just real life, never mind the Facebook messages, the Skype messages, the Google+ messages, the tweets to two accounts, the Facebook comments and posts and emails and everything else, both from coworkers (friends) and customers. So I started working later hours in an attempt to get stuff done.
After the company handyman started a conversation with me about the electrics across the three buildings at 8pm one night, a twenty minute monologue which concluded with him saying, ‘Why are you working late? I like working late though, because there are no interruptions’, I just gave up. Politely telling people I just needed to get on with some stuff got me nowhere, because they still needed to tell me about their latest game, or their haircut, or their argument with their boyfriend, or their awesome bit of code, or what’s for lunch, or find out what I’ve been up to. I tried being polite. And then I tried putting earphones in. And then I tried actively glaring at people (they cheerfully replied, ‘I’ll come and harrass you in a few minutes, then!’).
And I’m not going to lie, I swung between feeling horrendously guilty, slightly stressed, and totally joyful for a while, depending on what else was happening in my world. (In fact, the head developer got a LOT of me raging about all my problems, and to give him credit, he took it well and came back for more several times).
I love feeling wanted, and I love people feeling the needs to come and tell me stuff, but at the same time, there’s a limit. I can count on one hand the number of people here who have a good work-life balance, and my specific ‘balance’ is made even more challenging by the fact that a lot of my personal stuff and work stuff crossover and have minimal boundaries. Sometimes there’s just too much noise, and it’s nearly impossible for me to explain that yes, I know you need me to give feedback on the work you’ve just done, but try telling that to the other six people who all insist on communicating with me omgrightthissecond in addition to me trying to do about three written tasks simultaneously…
…aaand deep breath.
Even after five years of this, in my head I’m still ‘geek who likes to sit in front of a computer or behind a camera’, but that clashes with how other people see me. Being social is always a conscious effort. I’m always confused when people expect me to be mean or an airhead because they assume I was the ‘popular’ girl at school. It couldn’t be further from the truth. I have just the same geekiness, insecurities and worries that they do – if not more – just in a different chassis If I have a talent for anything, it’s appreciating people exactly how they are, and naturally discovering something to like in everyone.
For the large part, things have calmed down a bit now. This is partly due to the fact that I now have a desk buddy, which generally stops people physically coming to talk to me; as I sit in the corner, he’s effectively a barrier I’ve also stepped back from social media quite a bit, mostly due to the fact that I’m currently obsessed with
I’m also conscious that it’s rapidly becoming winter, which is the worst and most dangerous time of year for me. I’m less fragile than I usually am at this time of year, but I’m also potentially more unpredictable than usual (more on that later), and it doesn’t help that someone can say one thing to me and it can flip a switch in my brain. I’m a messy introverted time-bomb, and I’m used to the idea that anyone can trigger me at any time. I’m even progressing really far with recovering from all these little metaphorical stab wounds really quickly. I seem to have developed a sense where I can step back and look at things objectively(ish) and analyse other people’s actions, my reactions, and which bits are reasonable in a constructive way. In a calm state that miraculously co-exists with my extremely emotional state.
Focusing on myself isn’t something I’m used to (although this blog would have you think otherwise). I get extremely stressed out if I have the impression that the people I’m with aren’t happy. I have a completely unrealistic expectation that everything should be perfect all the time. And a lot of the lengths I go to in order to satisfy both those things is, quite frankly, ridiculous. I am the girl who has put your socks in the airing cupboard so they’ll be warm when you put them on. I’m the girl who listened to you complain that you felt trapped & wanted to change your life and then bought you a travel book to bring your dream a bit closer. I am the girl who buys you doughnuts when you’re sad, who drinks the alcohol she doesn’t like because she knows you went to the effort to buy it, who covers for you when you make a mistake even if it adds an hour to her day, who has already done a million little things for you that you haven’t even realised. But that’s okay; she doesn’t expect anything back.
Sometimes I’d just love for someone to give me a little more credit for the things I deal with in the position I’m in, but then I think, I don’t need that recognition from other people. I can be proud of myself, because I’m the person who understands exactly how far I’ve come and what I’ve been dealing with. I have finally got to the part where I accept that I feel things more extremely than other people, that my brain is wired a different way, and I don’t often act as people expect. Or even as I expect. I think acceptance and management are the most important aspects of that, and as I’m learning to manage situations better, I’m also being less hard on myself. It’s made an unbelievable difference. In stressful situations where I could easily break down and cry, I’m surrounded by people who are there for me and help me see the funny side, and that’s more important than anything.