Saturday, January 16, 2016

How Being an Introvert Benefits My RA

Growing up, I didn't understand that there were different types of personalities or that as a society we tend to cater to extroverts while introverts are left to feel like odd beings. Well, that is always how I felt anyhow. I dreaded new conversations with people of all ages because I knew that I made them uncomfortable with my inability to make small talk and/or with how comfortable I have always been with quiet. While I have always had friends, I've also always avoided multiple nights out and especially sleep overs preferring instead quiet nights at home talking with my dad, hanging out in my bedroom reading, learning new recipes, or trying to figure out how to sew. It wasn't until I had two kids of my own and saw the huge difference in their personalities (one strong introvert and the other an extrovert with some introvert tendencies) that I began to learn about and appreciate my own personality. I finally stopped feeling like a freak and started realizing these characteristics are who I am and are the exact reason I attract the friends I do.When rheumatoid arthritis became a part of the mix, my personality seemed like a good match because I was already learning how to honor my introvert personality which in turn honored my rheumatoid arthritis.

As an introvert, I gain energy from down time. When I know an event is coming up that will zap a lot of my energy, it is as if I have to save up as much energy as I can beforehand. I do this by spending a few days at home doing absolutely nothing. A cashier at Trader Joe's once asked what my plans for the weekend were and when I said, "Absolutely nothing," she replied back, "That's a surprise. Most people pack every minute of their weekend with something." When I am flaring or feel a flare coming on, I don't hesitate opening up my schedule as much as possible with nothingness. For some people this is really hard, for me, it comes with ease.

During Christmas season, a rheumatoid arthritis Facebook page asked something along the lines of  "What do you do during the holidays when you don't feel well enough to go to parties/get togethers?"  This made me chuckle. My introvert personality has prepared me well for this part of rheumatoid arthritis also. I've been avoiding parties my entire life. I always have fun when I go (I do like people and I am often attracted to extroverts!), but I am also always trying to figure a way out of going because I know how much energy it will require to talk to a variety of people when I know I would be quite content spending the evening at home.

There have been times over the last few years where I have over-committed myself and I am sure it will happen again, but for the most part, I keep commitments to a minimum. This is something important I have learned about my personality. When I over-commit, I shut down and don't accomplish anything. This is important as someone who deals with the ups and downs of RA. When you over-commit and then have a flare, it is hard to back out of those commitments so the stress builds up as the flare intensifies. I have found that for my type of personality and because of the unpredictability of RA, keeping commitments to a minimum is the best thing I can do for myself and the most respectful thing I can do for others.    

Conserving energy, backing out of social events, and not over committing are all things that benefit our bodies when we are flaring. For me, these are all second nature for me. My personality doesn't really allow for anything different. I do often wonder though what it must be like to be an extrovert with rheumatoid arthritis. How do you slow down?      

To learn more about introverts, watch Susan Cain's TED video or join Quiet Revolution on Facebook or Twitter.