Saying Yes When the Heart Says No
December 1, 2022 § 31 Comments
By Heidi Croot
The boisterous host running a women’s networking event in downtown Toronto smiled as she waved her index finger about the room. “And don’t think we don’t know,” she said, “that some of you are already scheming how to duck out early.”
Was she prescient? That’s exactly what I was doing.
Knowing laughter rippled through the crowd.
My fellow “introverts” I would later realize.
It was a label I would eventually claim with everything in me. But not before a good friend ghosted me for my solitude-loving ways.
I last saw Carol more than 30 years ago. We were hanging out in my back yard on a sunny summer day. It had been my turn to host, and I’d dragged my feet in bringing it about. Carol was full of energy and chatter that Saturday afternoon. While happy to be with her, waves of fatigue were preventing me from keeping up.
I was “scheming how to duck out early.”
At the time, I’d just started a new job as corporate communication manager for big tech, and life was intense, a daily performance. The constant intersection with people—in meetings, in the hall, in my office as I waited on high alert for the inevitable knock or ring—separated me from myself. I typically left work empty and overstimulated. Most evenings and weekends, I wanted only to duck my circle of family and friends and drift. Read. Write in my journal. Exchange the occasional stray word with my fellow-introvert husband.
When many years later I resigned from corporate life and went freelance, clearing space for me to swim in the creative writers’ pond, I finally found my clan. On my first writers’ retreat in Ontario’s Hockley Valley near Orangeville, our instructor laid out the rules: no talking before noon. We were to conserve our energy for our writing.
No talking! Permission for interiority! Reprieve from small talk!
Early morning light found me in my plain, small room, bent over the keyboard as I tapped into the writer’s zone, a creative energy humming through the walls as my fellow writers up and down the hall tapped into theirs.
It was as if I’d been away, and now I’d come home.
More recently, along came the pandemic offering a retreat of a different order. This time, government laid out the rules. Yes, I said, of course I would do all I could to protect myself and my family. Yes, by all means I would maintain a safe distance. Yes, you bet I would stay home.
Survivors’ guilt aside, I was suddenly sleeping better. Waking up happy, calm, expansive. Measuring time with words on the page.
Brain science explains the dopamine effect, “the ‘feel-good’ chemical that affects the brain’s pleasure center,” says reporter Roxanne Roberts in her Washington Post article, “Meet the introverts who are dreading a return to normal.” Extroverts need more of it to be happy and energized, she says, whereas for introverts, “a little dopamine goes a long way, and too much of anything can be exhausting.”
Introverts, she adds in my favourite line, savour their ability to go “for hours or even days without speaking to another person.”
It’s not that as an introvert I can’t socialize. Oh, on good days I can hold my own and with aplomb—especially if the talk dips below small to deep. It’s that with every passing hour, a little more of my energy slides down the drain like flat champagne.
Which is what was happening on that long ago summer afternoon with Carol.
She resisted when I hinted it was time to bring our visit to a close and scolded me for not making myself more available. I saw myself in her rebuke but lacked the insight to explain, either to her or myself, why my desire to be alone wasn’t personal. So, there we were, two friends on opposite sides of the introvert-extrovert continuum. Me, unable to mirror her effervescence. She, unable to mirror my reclusiveness. Neither of us having the words to bridge our divide.
She left and never came back. When it dawned on me why, I grieved her absence (still do) and blamed myself for being a bad friend.
Now I know I wasn’t so much a bad friend as someone who just didn’t know who I was. Who had more to learn about my obligation as a card-carrying introvert to stop saying yes when my heart said no.
I may have found an enduring way to meet that obligation. I discovered it in a dictum most writers with writing goals know well: butt in chair. For some, a cracking of the whip. For me, a permission slip to stay home with my keyboard.
I wear the three words on my T-shirt like a talisman. Like a shield.
No, wait—more like a self-embrace.
I miss the face-to-face visits with friends. My people-pleaser self still pressures me to say yes to every invitation. Life is short, this side of me says sternly.
Meanwhile, my writer self, the engine of my beating heart, gently hooks my chin with her finger, turns my face to hers.
Your butt in the chair, if you please, she says. The one friend you need to please is me. And life is short.
Heidi Croot is an award-winning corporate writer and a Brevity Blog editor. Her creative work has appeared in the Los Angeles Review of Books, Brevity Blog, Mud Season Review, and elsewhere. She lives in Ontario’s Northumberland County and is gathering courage to query her memoir. You can reach her on Twitter.