**Written July 13th, 2017**
Awhile back I came across a photo online that said, “Introverts Unite!”. Underneath that, a rising fist. And even further below, more text that read, “Separately, in your own homes”
As a self-proclaimed introvert, I have to admit I laughed and saved it, but then it hit me. This is so relatable. This is me.
I’ve found that the majority of the people in this health-conscious, pro-wellness community are very likeminded. We all loooooove kale, right? Maybe? Probably not. I’ve met plenty of people in this space who identify as introverts. More commonly, as extroverted introverts. I fall into this mouthful of a category. Alone time? I thrive on that sh*t. I need my solo time to recharge, to collect myself, to evaluate. However, I love spending time with the people I love. I find myself itching for human contact, not constantly, not always, but enough for me to realize that I could never be on my own the way I used to so confidently believe.
I’m young. I love being by myself, but there’s a time and place for that. I’m healthy, I’m capable, and I should be taking advantage of this time. I should be going out of my way to go on day trips with friends, to spontaneously make plans, to put in the effort to socialize. This is probably the last element of my eating disorder-ridden life that I’m still working towards amending. Eating disorders isolate you. I lost countless amounts of friends. I lost time I’ll never get back. Opportunities passed me by. Grade-wide trips down the shore on the last day of school. Sweet 16’s. Family vacations.
All because I thought I was “introverted”. I thought this meant my life was destined to be empty, lonely. My eating disorder thrived off of that. No socializing meant no shared meals, no body comparison, no judgement. It also meant no responsibility. To other people, to relationships, to social commitments. Socializing, at a time when standing for more than five minutes was an enormous effort (hello poor physical health!), was out of the question. It exhausted me to the point of physical fatigue. It was best for me to avoid it. I’m better off without them, without the others. Right?
At the time of my recovery, my goals looked like this: restore necessary weight, maintain that weight, establish a solid relationship with food, begin incorporating exercise again after a 6-month hiatus. After that point, I considered myself out of recovery. But there are some aspects of your eating disorder lifestyle that carry over into your post-recovery life that aren’t dire, but in time need to be alleviated.
Socializing wasn’t one of my recovery goals. Clearly, I had more urgent needs to attend to. Now that I lead a healthy and happy life, where I’m not on the verge of fatal health crises, I can dedicate more time to bettering myself as a person. As a daughter, sister, friend.
It wasn’t until I began really, thoroughly, attending to my relationships that I realized I actually loved to connect with other people. I deemed myself an introvert for so long that I was under the impression that I could never love company. To be a normal, functioning, successful person in the real world, I realized I would have to interact with others. I accepted this. But I felt as though I could never go beyond interactions in passing.
Recently I’ve been pushing myself outside my comfort zone in terms of socializing. I push myself in the gym to lift heavier weights; I push myself in the kitchen to experiment with new flavor combinations and recipes; I push myself in the academic work to learn more and understand more complex subjects. Why was this any different?
What did this look like for me? Instead of waiting for others to make plans with me (which I knew was not reliable because my friends are used to me rejecting invitations), I reached out to others. My very best friends, and then old high school friends who I wanted to catch up with. I made plans to eat out, to go to the beach, to have groups of friends over swimming. This used to be WAY beyond my comfort zone. Eating out with friends was never an option. What would I possibly eat!? Being seen in a bathing suit was totally a no-go. Spending the day at the beach with an unknown hour-by-hour plan was horrifying.
I was so fed up with these fears weighing me down. These past few months, I’ve spent time catching up with friends and strengthening my relationships. In that time, here’s what I learned:
It’s impossible to truly appreciate life in isolation. When I’m laughing with my friends, sharing my story with them, being supported by their kind words and gestures, making memories together…it’s in THESE moments that I realize how precious life is. How surreal is it that of all of the living creatures roaming the planet, humans are blessed enough to establish such empowering relationships? It’s not until you’re lying on the beach surrounded by your old friends; the very same people who worried for you when you were sick and supported you in your rise to health, that you realize how blessed you are. As your friends push you into the pool and can aggressively play around with you without worrying about breaking you, as you come up for air and hit them back, and then you both double over in laughter…THIS is when you realize that life is not worth living in the absence of connection.
There’s no replacement for support. I would never have reached this strong, stable place that I am in today had I not gathered the support and love of so many wonderful, loving people in my life. My progress, heavily based on my own thoughts and actions, was fueled by the love and care of my family, and later the addition of thousands of strangers coming together to lift me up over the INTERNET. Now that I’ve strengthened and recharged so many old relationships, I see this principle surfacing once more. When I’m with my friends, we’re constantly raising each other up. Even when we’re teasing each other and messing around, it’s all out of genuine love.
Everything in life is a team effort. Relationships are a two-way street. At first, I felt that the burden was all on me. That I was the only one reaching out, trying so hard, putting in so much effort. But then I came to my senses. For the four excessively long years I was sick, my friends tried and tried to reach out and include me. Again and again I shut them down. Ignored their calls. Rejected their invitations. Eventually, they stopped. Who could blame them? How could our relationship thrive when I wasn’t even in it? In the past three months that I’ve dedicated to rekindling relationships, I can’t help but realize how important it is to be present. To make the effort, to go the extra step. To run off to your best friend’s house at the last minute because her mom found a random box of old firecrackers and you just “have to come test them out”. To pause your Netflix marathon to pick up your friend from work whose car is in the shop. To agree to dinner with friends at a restaurant with no online menu to scope out beforehand. People never forget the sacrifices you make for them. The kindness you show them. The effort you make. If I want the love and support I cherish from these people, how in the world can I expect them to provide me with it without paying my fair share?
I’m an introvert. An extroverted introvert. But nonetheless, I’ve grown to realize that this doesn’t have to be a bad thing. There is way too much stigma out there surrounding introverts. I’m an introvert, but I still recognize and appreciate the value of interaction. Of socializing. In the beginning, it’s terrifying. There’s a fear of exhaustion, of boredom, of anxiety. But here’s the thing. Anything worth having in life won’t come easy. But it will come.
If you let it.
So pick up your phone, text your middle school best friend who you haven’t heard from in months. Ask her to go for a hike, to grab lunch, to go to the beach. Suck up your fear, get in your car, and go. Pull up next to her in the parking lot and hug her and apologize for the past. Sit at lunch and laugh over good food as you recollect how the English teacher you both had claimed she was prom queen, and how that was NOT likely. Spend hours after the check comes just lounging back and catching up on your freshmen years of college. Get in your car to head home and just sit in the parking lot and take it all in; the laughs, the love, the connection.
Then go home and take the next day to yourself. You deserve it.