Confessions of an HSP: Hermit Mode
How Sudden Ruptures Trigger Extreme Reactions
Sometimes life hands us lemons. As an introvert, you may want to make lemonade — but you want to make it alone. And you also don’t feel like sharing it. I am here to say: That’s fine. Let us keep our lemonades. Because they are just what we need to properly refuel.
My former student life yielded many an abrupt and consequential change. Every three months, semesters were cut off by semester breaks, which were again cut off by new semesters. Never were the three months long enough to develop a routine. Once I was used to the new semester plan, the semester was over. Once I had gotten a grip of myself and resorted to self-disciplined paper writing on my breaks, the break had already flown by and a new chapter had begun — with yet an entirely different rhythm to it. As someone who identifies with the term Highly Sensitive Person (HSP), these continuous changes — though entirely foreseeable — were nerve-wrecking. Ditto, anyone?
Then there was everything disruptive apart from my education: the work schedule of my part-time job was never reliable and changed from week to week. Whenever my boss was ill, it was up to me to keep the institution running spontaneously, dropping all of my other duties right away. Whenever she wanted to go on vacation, that was me, too. In my position, there was no Easter, no national day, and often either very little Christmas or no New Years. In addition, we had and have visitors over at least monthly — and if they are not visiting, we are trying to see our families. Yet both my husband and I have to fly to different countries in order to be reunited with loved ones.
These changes have a particularly devastating effect on me. Every time my life used to switch from semester to break, for instance, I would undergo a little multiple-week crisis involving obsessive planning, calculating, and panicking about the phase that had just begun. I switched jobs and cities a couple of times, and those moments were accompanied by a couple of months of severe anxiety attacks. By now, I can at least tell when I am slipping into that abyss of worry and fear, but I have not yet found a way to put an end to it other than crawling up into my little beautiful shell of a comfort zone and retire entirely to myself. And so I watch myself undergoing lengthy periods of almost exclusive introversion accompanied by energy levels that do not allow for me to experience the wish to see or inspire others. All the strength I have is automatically directed inwards; socializing becomes a chore.
I keep mainly to myself in those kinds of weeks. There is nothing wrong with that; we all have protective mechanisms, and this is mine. I am an introvert by nature; I draw energy from quality solitude, so it is my way of keeping myself as emotionally relaxed and stable as possible. If life is especially demanding, my introvert needs sky-rocket.
Don’t get me wrong; I am usually having a blast! I spend oodles of time in my kitchen, making delicious things, mostly. My apartment is my sanctuary. If I absolutely must see people, I invite them over for dinner. I read books, I have creamy coffees in my favorite cafes around the corner. The worrying of these phases persists, but my introvert coping strategies keep the pain at a bearable minimum.
I started this blog in September 2014 with the wish in mind to portray life and its marvels as an HSP in her twenties — hoping to encourage others to be kind to themselves, to see beauty in their everyday lives, to advocate self-knowledge and understanding. My first post, On Seeing, was a door to the amazing difference perception can make. There is so much to admire in the world, and it isn’t farther away from you than the way dust particles dance in the space of your living room when the sun hits that one gloriously luminous angle. I don’t need much to be quite happy, and that is a gift worth sharing.
It has soon been a year, and this blog has been a truly enriching experience to me all the way through. I have been fortunate enough to get in touch with precious souls out there who are abundantly encouraging, kind, intelligent, beautiful. This has been a very special privilege.
But for the past few months, I have not been so present in sharing the marvels of this world. This is because I have experienced a series of ruptures that have kept me in my life-sustaining introvert mode for pretty much all of the time.*
You can only imagine the number of what must add up to entire weeks I have spent in our kitchen.
May I just say that I have recently dedicated myself with much passion to the art of making cheese. Does that say enough? I think it does.
Then, a few weeks ago, the miracle happened: a large chunk of my worry was lifted (I was offered a position starting September 1). And that is how, with one big swoosh, the cloudy haze overshadowing my mind was blown away.
The impact of knowing that a fundamentally existential question has been solved is instantaneous and miraculous. I am still spending most of my time in my kitchen, because in general I love being on my own and making things from scratch in complete silence. This is who I am. This is how I work. But because my poor, overburdened HSP-brain can now finally relax, my energy levels are gradually rising to the degree that it becomes imaginable to not just experience joy, but to also share it in this blog. Perhaps one day I will venture to leave the kitchen, too.
I have had many special moments in the past few months that I have not been able to pass on.
Once again, it was the comfort of books and the toasty solitude of my steamy kitchen that have effectively saved me. It has pained me to know that my blog is lying there, mostly untouched. But the obvious incapability of sharing the joy I experienced on a daily basis helped me to understand an important part of myself as an HSP — and as a human in general. As this post said already: We do not have endless amounts of energy to give. Sometimes, it is our time to take. This is especially true in times when life is asking a lot.
HSPs see and feel and process deeply. Therefore, we often need more time than others to replenish our energy stores.
And that is simply a fact. You can either expect too much of yourself and push yourself beyond your limits — say by meeting friends even though you don’t feel joy at the prospect. Or you can give yourself what you need so that one day soon you are ready to go back out there and give to others.
The kitchen is where I get to take. For you, it might be scrap-booking, running, or fishing. It may not be understandable to others, but when you find something that makes you feel safe in times of upset, hold on to it. If you are an extrovert, it might be team sports, board games, karaoke with friends (I’m sorry, I obviously have no idea what extroverts do with their time).
Resorting to your energy-saving mode does not have to be seen an ‘escape strategy.’ Some people have been accusing me of ‘hermitting’ in a sense that I ‘retract’ from friends and family. But I personally do not perceive these phases as unproductive moments of paralyzed nothingness. On the contrary, these valuable past-times may be the very key to remaining as calm as to NOT escape. The kitchen gives me enough energy to face what I want to face with the amount of strength I need. It is a vital mechanism to help me get through times that simply have to be gotten through. I’d like for people to give me the necessary energy but alas, they don’t. They are wonderful and exhausting. So. The kitchen it is.
Thank you so much for sticking with me in times of my hermit-mode. I wish you the courage value yours. In the meantime, I will put together a few posts to update you on the many marvels I did experience — even though I was entirely, wonderfully, happily alone.
*For those interested, here is why:
- For those of you who have been following my journey for a while, you may know that there were irreconcilable complications with my boss around the beginning of this year. I decided that the job had become too toxic and set my quitting date to March, as I had originally promised — hoping that I would be able to take it until then.
- In March 2015, I was diagnosed with insulin resistance, or pre-diabetes. This, although technically a downer, was simultaneously a step forward in many, many ways. For once, I was finally sure that all those years I had not been imagining things. And secondly, I finally knew how to help myself. But my low-carb regimen became even more drastic, which has been a special struggle up especially with regards to traveling or social situations.
- March and April passed — and although at least my upsetting job situation was finally a thing of the past, I now had to summon all of my energy to write an MA thesis while applying for jobs following the delivery of said thesis. The thesis was a challenging project on its own, of course — but what was much harder on me was the threatening unemployment looming darkly ahead of me.
- Towards the end of April it looked like I was about to sign a contract. This eventually did not happen, and the disappointment ran deep. I experienced panic attacks that catapulted me into the office of a doctor.
- Berlin is a tough market, and it is particularly tough in the creative section. Time progressed towards May, then June. I handed in my thesis on June 12 but was still without a prospect for employment.
- In addition, I was now quite traumatized by the careless and disrespectful way job interviewers had been treating me and many of my friends, most of whom are in similar situations.
And thus my worst HSP nightmare had become true. Sadly, the handing in of that neat stack of paper meant that I was out there without a place to go, vulnerable, and subject to perhaps the most abrupt change I could imagine: going from an 8-year stretch of being extremely busy with a full-time student program, a part-time job, multiple visitors all of the time, and my own little projects running alongside everything — to nothing. Nothing. Except a lot of question marks.