The Benefits of Choosing to Stay Behind
“I think I’m going to stay behind,” I say. My friends stop gathering their purses. One pauses with her shoe halfway on.
“Do you not want to bike?” she asks.
“We don’t have to go to town, we can go somewhere else,” says another.
We’re staying by the beach in Santa Barbara for Labor Day weekend. A house where I can walk barefoot out the back door straight onto sand, breathing in salt air as soon as I crack open a window. The first night was filled with laughter that made my stomach hurt, laughter like I had forgotten existed until tears were rolling down my cheeks and I forgot to worry about whether we were bothering the people around us. The kind of joy that can only come in the company of people you adore, everything else in your life sinking into peace so that you can be only right where you are, in that moment.
But as the weekend progressed, the weather hitting undocumented heights, my skin eaten alive by mosquitos, my introvert started taking over. I read on the beach while everyone swam in the ocean, ordered water on our bar crawl while the others cheersed their beers.
They’re all waiting on me, confused and concerned when I say I’d rather pass on our dinner plans. I feel my skin warm, my breath goes shaky like it does anytime I’m embarrassed.
“I want you guys to go, I’m just going to take a breather and hang out on my own for a bit,” I say. It’s the truth—when I feel myself getting into one of these moods all I want to do is be alone, not tear anyone down with me. But even in knowing that, I can’t pretend this isn’t a version of myself I don’t get along with. I spiral myself further down the rabbit hole, feeling awful for letting my friends down, berating myself for not being fun for them.
That mental storm brings me nowhere. But after a lifetime of being the quiet one, of battling against an introverted nature that I should have spent time embracing and learning to understand, I have learned a few things.
1. Negative self-talk will cause you to retreat inward.
Needing to spend time alone to recharge is not something you should feel ashamed of—and yet I know I’m not alone in feeling like something is wrong with me for needing a break from the people I love. Telling myself I should be ashamed, or trying to pep talk myself into doing something I don’t want to do, only drains me further, and keeps me trapped in my own head. The worse I feel about myself, the less likely I will want to be around others.
2. Pinpointing the source of your change in mood can save your day.
Going from feeling so blessed and joyful to be with my friends to feeling like I needed to step away didn’t happen in an instant. After I’ve taken some time for myself, it’s most productive for me to figure out if it was too much time together, if it was a bad mood brought on by exhaustion or heat or hunger, or if I was letting something from the past keep me from feeling present that had me feeling the way I did. Then I can work directly against that source to come back happier and ready to enjoy time with my loved ones again.
3. Getting out of your head can be more helpful than working out what’s in it.
This might go against every therapeutic technique I’ve heard, but when I’m taking time to recharge, sometimes the last thing I need is to journal, or meditate, or pray. Sometimes I need to just grab a book or throw on one of my most comforting Netflix shows, get lost in another world, and come back remembering that life is a whole lot bigger than me passing on dinner plans.
4. Remember that the people in your life are in it because they love you—period.
So much of my shame around introversion stems from not wanting to disappoint or be a burden on my people. For the most part, I love making plans and going on adventures and sitting around kitchen tables with my friends and their friends and their friend’s friends. But the times I have to hang back or say no to a fun Friday evening won’t make them think differently of me. So hug your people, let them know you adore them, and that you’ll see them when you’re recharged and capable of enjoying yourself.
In Santa Barbara, I watched my friends go, decided to sit on the couch for an episode of Gilmore Girls. It was the kind of sweet alone time I’d been craving, and when the others came home not an hour later, they sat on the couch with me, told me they missed me, and we lay huddled together on a couch too small for four for the rest of the night.
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