Is This How You Spell Existential Crises?

Just looking at that word – crises – I’m in a panic. Not because of any event, but because it looks so very wrong.

Words. Spelling of words. Appearances. All things I’m no ducky about.  All things I need a macintosh for because they aren’t sliding off my back on their own.

To shed some light into my insight into brain gymnastics, it should be shared that I’m a trained mental health counselor. Education, experience and personal insight. Too well, I understand the acrobatics the mind can perform.

So how does this lead to my routine existential crises? (I’m going to keep writing that word until it becomes more normalized. Doesn’t it just look weird?) It goes back to the shoulds of yesterday.

What should I be doing?

I’m not saying this is the case for all introverts, only this one. Creativity, introversion, ability, guilt, insecurity and shoulds roil around in a tiny internal cauldron sending out paralyzing fumes. Fumes that twist and twine around the parts of the brain that define the self and the parts that instigate action.

There is a reason people set out with enthusiasm and hope and end up in bed under the covers. The existential crises. The inability to function in the world laid out before them.

So, the next logical step is to create their own world, one where they define their existence. Seems like a plan, doesn’t it? But existential crises constantly question – why am I here – what am I supposed to be doing – how am I supposed to do it  – and on and on.

It’s like being asked to design your own personal Eden. Seems like a dream, right? Not so much.

We all need boundaries. My object lesson in this happened when I was a teacher for an outdoor education center in my twenties. I watched the director set clear expectations for the children and saw the most rebellious child relax into the frame. Like lanes in a bowling alley, boundaries set the path. Like a warm hug from a parent, boundaries make us feel safe.

Life is better with boundaries.

That’s why jobs and school are soothing to an anxious mind. (They really are, more than it seems when you’re in it) We all need direction and boundaries.

Freedom from anyone’s control seems the pinnacle, but if you achieve it, then what? Now, you are the master of your fate, you must set the course or flounder about in a sea of overwhelming opportunities.

Which leads back to the existential questions – why am I here – what am I supposed to be doing – how am I supposed to do it…

The answers fluctuate with time of life, state of mind, availability of courage, belief in the self, level of external expectations. I’ve come to terms with knowing I will probably never be free of these crises.

After all, even Snoopy asked the questions.

Lord Love a Duck

As I said before, all introverts need a ducky or two, those wonderful people who balance our excessive need to hyper-analyze. The Yang to our Yin.  But, perhaps I shouldn’t speak so generally. For me, duckies are the ones who release me from paralysis. Without them, I stagnate in my comfortable cocoon.  They provide a judgement-free zone that frees my tormented mind.

Duckies have always taken on a bit of rock star aura in my eyes. They jump right in as if they belonged, have no doubt of their welcome and ignore nuanced reactions that would send me scuttling back to my den. They are like mythological heroes, larger than life, ten-foot tall and bulletproof.  I follow in their wake, starry eyed, close enough to their orbit to float along their gravitational pull.

But perhaps I am crossing up extroverts with those just comfortable in their own skin. A ducky can be an extrovert but just because someone’s an extrovert it doesn’t make them a ducky.

My husband’s a ducky. An introverted ducky. Very little rattles him and if it does, it’s not for long. He’s learned to waterproof his feathers so the slings and arrows of life do not penetrate.

I’ve had extroverted friends who are duckies.  I would sit back and shake my head at how unaware they were of other’s reactions. How could they not see? But, who was the happier? It certainly wasn’t me.

But, extroverts have many friends and eventually, I get pushed out of the gravitational field. Or I linger too long along the edge and fall off.  Probably more that latter. Because, and here’s the secret of the introvert, nothing feels better than canceling plans.

So how’s an introvert to maintain relationships with her duckies?

I Still Don’t Know How to Friend

I’ve had so many thoughts whirling about in my brain over the last twenty-four hours for blog posts. Now that I’m at my computer, they’ve seemed to scurry under the covers like I should be doing. An old dog barking to go out at 4 a.m. is hell on my sleep schedule.

Conversation

Do all introverts over-analyze the minutiae of every interaction with other human beings? What was said, how it was said, what wasn’t said. Was I too loud? Did I come on too strong? Did I remember to verbalize the appropriate responses? Did I keep from rolling my eyes? Was it obvious I wanted to escape? Did I cling to the one person who made me feel comfortable?

Is the angst worth it?

I was ten when a new family moved into the suburban house across the street. A good Catholic family with six kids. Three of the girls were within a year of me. The dynamic of the neighborhood changed overnight. I’d lived there all my life. I was comfortable. But now, these kids were outside, playing, laughing and suddenly I felt like the interloper. I didn’t know how to fit in, join in, to my changed landscape. I stayed in the house most of that summer because I couldn’t go across the street and ask if I could play. The stakes were too high. What if they said no? I would be extricated from my own neighborhood. It was easier to retreat than to be forced out.

Eventually, I crossed the street and made a friend. It was okay for a year, until the day the little girl across the street, my best friend, stopped speaking to me. Darkness and despair followed. As well as embarrassment and self-recrimination. It lasted for six miserable months. Six months of exile without a clue why. Then the family moved.

Are friends worth it?

I know many people who can sort through the flotsam and jetsam of relationships, picking up the good and letting the sea take the rest. Ignoring the difficult without a second thought. Like water off a duck’s back.

I have to pick up each piece, catalogue and store it all, even the tiniest shard. Later, I take out each one and turn them over in my hands, examining every detail. Lists of defects are gathered, pondered over and blame is placed, usually upon myself.

Is it because friendships are so much work for an introvert that we have so few of them? Or are our circles drawn to only allow a few?

Or maybe we just don’t know how to do the friend thing.

I remember my mother sending me off to camp with the words, if you want a friend, be a friend. So much pressure. It was all up to me. I could have friends if I acted right, but then, if I didn’t have friends it was all my fault.

And what was acting right? What were the rules, the expectations? Did the other kids know them? How did they know what eluded me? Or did they never think about these things?

I still don’t know how to friend. Yes, I made that a verb. Friend. Definition: To act in the acceptable way to be a friend.

Over my life, my friends have mostly been simple extroverts. Simple because they don’t overthink life, they live it. Duckies who let it all roll off their backs. I don’t have to worry about offending them by making a misstep. They aren’t sticklers for the rules of friending. They are the safe ones. The ones that live in the moment and give my brain a rest.

God bless the duckies. All introverts need a ducky or two.

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