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I Know Myself

FEBRUARy 26, 2020

I’m an introvert. I recharge when alone with my thoughts and my pen. And I honestly don’t think I could have made it this far on my recovery journey if I had others around me. I have chosen to be physically alone for the bulk of the past six months out of necessity — and believe it has served me well. Few times have I felt acutely alone since my accident.

Healing has required more energy and strength of self than I knew one could possess. I rightfully summon and put every last drop I possibly can must toward that non-stop effort. While I enjoy social engagement and clearly love my friends, interactions with others deplete my energy supply, rather than refill it. I have always recharged in solitude, needing space and prioritizing alone time, never more than throughout this prolonged medical mayhem — actual physical inabilities to speak or emote aside.

When forced to make countless serious complex decisions, process massive unknown shifts in my life and sense of self, and come to terms with the nightmares, the nuanced, the new normal — I need to give myself space. I do my best writing, thinking, sorting, focusing, recuperating alone — and have for years. That is not to say I don’t highly value, benefit from, wholeheartedly invite, celebrate the wisdom of and dialogue with others, but rather that I need time to consider, weigh and think through things myself so that I know why I’m making any given choice, why I do what I do, why I am who I am. Only when I carve out and take that deliberate solo time to ruminate, create, articulate and refine can I go forth as the best me for myself and for others, with both abstract and tangible ideas in which I have pride and confidence.

My thoughts are infinitely more clear when written, before spoken. I need to write. I need to reflect. I require, crave, emphasize and treasure time for self, for writing, for reading, for absorbing, for processing, for being. The sole way I balance social activities and professional commitments is with dedicated solitude, as to not overexert myself. A break does not have to be lengthy, but must occur, otherwise, I can neither craft anything original, nor sort through my feelings, sustain myself or properly progress.

I’ve been this way for my entire life. I remember when mom first commented on this tendency at the start of high school, when I regularly opted to stay in to think and to write and to be, rather than join friends for a party or night in the city; that was how I naturally preferred to unwind and recharge after a long week of packed academic and extracurricular activities, preparing for the next. After my first major break-up, I hit the road for not one but two solo trips; during the first I drove a car around an entire country alone, while in the second I barely left a hut, except to wander to the beach for sunset. And throughout both, I wrote and thought and felt and wrote some more, altogether liberating experiences that allowed me to work through the difficulty of the moment and to grow immeasurably. When contemplating a run for office, in the days leading up to the filing deadline, I spent day after day, all-nighter after all-nighter drafting, dreaming and designing, reading, researching and reflecting, considering, concentrating and constructing. I absolutely had to do that for myself before I could ever present to anyone else. When I have returned to a home-base through the years — whether Marin County, Puerto Rico, New York City or elsewhere — I often don’t reach out to others right away, because I need to first reset and refuel solo. Even during extended stays or on trips with dear friends and family, I ask for and purposefully seize snippets with me, myself and I. And then can return vibrant and ready to mingle, share, bond.

Being home (not leaving, just being within the confines of a certain space) for more than a fleeting moment or day has always been a point of great enjoyment and deep comfort for me, a rarity amid my busy schedule, yet a blessed gift. Since my earliest of memories, solitude has been critical for my strength, power and health of body and mind. The only way I can continue to do the work I do, show up where and when I feel I can be of service, answer calls to support causes, organizations and people in which I believe is BECAUSE I take that time.

So I come back to this moment, the past near six months since my accident, my present reality — and the conscious choice I have made to elect to heal largely at a distance from the friends, community and world I cherish. It makes sense to me in the context of my constitution, and to many of the psychological, psychiatric and mental health experts with whom I have worked. I feel deeply, am keenly aware and respond to many stimuli in a normal existence, which my analytical mind then attempts to organize or channel, though have been on sensory overload with spiking, wide-ranging, erratic emotions, news and actions. Allowing myself the freedom to be alone is not only the way I am able to cope amid intense pain, vulnerability and trauma, but actually the way I derive any consolation, perspective or loose meaning whatsoever from the trials and tribulations of recovery.

I know myself, listen to that inner voice, am attuned to my body and brain, trust this core and ever endeavor to make the very best decisions I can — with whatever wisdom I posses given the circumstances in the moment. And to make it through post-accident horrors, various surgeries, arduous decisions, multiple procedures, ongoing treatments, intense panic attacks, crippling anxiety, precarious darkness, endless tumult, that which I have shared and that which I have not, I’ve needed to stay true to, accept, respect and lean into who I am and how my psyche operates — to give myself a fighting chance when little else has offered hope, relief or value.

High quality relationships with my friends, colleagues and community have long been my everything — and none of that has changed. I adore and miss them dearly. My choosing to navigate this journey in physical isolation is not the result of anything that anyone else has done, nor a reflection on the magnificence, capability, presence or generosity of the souls I am blessed to have around me. Please don’t take it personally, guilt or castigate me for finding mechanisms to manage, to handle, to persevere. I sincerely hope to soon be welcomed back into their lives, into your lives, into our lives — and am opening to those interactions slowly, sporadically and surprisingly, not steadily, systemically or surely. I will only continue to make progress toward that light and love by doing the high quality work with and for myself in my own space at my own pace.

The fact that I, Erin, am an introvert may sound shocking to you, but such is my operating system as I view, understand and define it. Call me an extroverted introvert or add any qualifiers you’d like, though this I have learned about myself — after existing with me for 28 years. Yes, I live for human connection. Yes, I adore making memories with phenomenal humans. Yes, I love nothing more than engaging with students and the public at large. Yes, I’m a doer committed to service in our world. I’m neither quiet, nor reserved, not shy, not passive, but my body and brain regain energy in solitude — and I have never needed that life-force more than amid harrowing recovery.

Read more of my journey here
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