How to not accidentally kill an introvert

Lately, when it comes to self-care, I’ve kind of been spinning my wheels. I’ve taken a bath for so many days in a row that I feel entitled to it. I sink into the tub after only a medium-hard day, and think "I deserve this." It's factual, not magical. Like when I go to the store, pay for something, and take it home. Snooze.

In search of the next-best thing in the self-care department, I’ve started buying plants. It’s the Pinterest thing to do, and besides: a quick Google search reveals that plants are a scientifically proven placebo. They can even help with depression, especially if your depression was the direct result of not having enough plants.

Plants always come with special operating instructions, spelled out on a deceptively small and innocent “care for me” type of card. The card is always stuck haphazardly in the soil, as if it could tumble right out and it wouldn’t be big deal. As if I could just intuit how to not kill the plant, if need be.

Sometimes, new mothers attest to having an unexpected “sixth sense” for how to take care of a newborn. Other times, they have a similarly strong sense for how to totally destroy it. To play it safe, I'd say I belong to the latter group when it comes to caring for plants. To play it even safer, I have no kids of my own.

(As an aside: My own mother disclosed that she didn’t even know if she wanted a baby until she was pregnant. That's a little too just-in-time if you ask me.)

This one was a gift from my boyfriend. I hope I don't kill it.

My point is this: caring for something is not always intuitive. Last Saturday, I bought a plant (a remarkably ugly one, in retrospect), and no sooner had I brought it in the house than I muscled it into a pot that was three sizes too small for it. I think I tore the roots.

Caring for myself as an introvert can be similarly haphazard. Last night, I made the decision to go out to dinner with some friends. This choice was perfectly aligned with my inter- and intra-personal goals, and I don’t doubt that it was the right, growth-oriented thing to do. I was glad to be asked. That being said, after three hours at the restaurant, I felt squeezed, constrained. I felt like my own pot was three sizes too small.

This morning, I woke up with an introvert hangover. My instinct was to stay at home all day, except to do self-interested stuff like go to the gym or TJ Maxx. Luckily, my higher self had already committed to a 7.30am recovery meeting today, followed by meeting with a close friend. I showed up for both and felt accomplished. Clear-headed. Although I fully expect to be selfish for the remainder of today, I’m glad that my progress-oriented self had made a few show-offy plans of her own.

If I had to write my own "caring for me" instructions, and I was limited to something roughly the size of one of those ridiculous little plant cards, I might say something like:

“Needs uninterrupted time in the morning to just sit and think. Must be allowed to retreat for further sitting and thinking throughout the day. Is particularly charmed when you don't take this personally.”

What would yours say?

When I first took the five-factor personality test in college, my score on introversion was something like the 90% percentile. Importantly, that was at a time in my life when I was quite honestly afraid of people: afraid of what they would think of me, paralyzed at the prospect of making bids for connection. At that time, many of my connections were facilitated by alcohol. These days, I'm still often scared, but my connections are facilitated by courage.

Being an introvert is not about fearing people; it's about treasuring time alone. I need this time so that I can more fully show up for the long list of people I love. On my best days, that list includes me.

You know, come to think of it, I've been remarkably generous with my plants. They are given nearly limitless time alone. I often permit them to just sit and think. I rarely make them feel guilty for it. Maybe I’ve got a maternal knack after all.