Sounds of Silence

The heads of two giraffes standing close together but looking away from each other against a leafy background of treesThe irony of this warning against the perils of earbuds was too perfect to keep to myself. Certainly pouring sound in to excess has its risks. But for some of us, ear buds are the bulwark that shuts sound out. I live in my ear buds, waking, and often sleeping – on the street, in the store, on the bus, and even in my own living room. Every day, I am profoundly grateful for the refuge they provide me from a cacophonous world.

I still use the same pair of Panasonic ear buds I reviewed last fall. It’s been almost a year since I bought them, and they are going strong, despite heavy use every day, and many nights. I use them to listen to what I want to hear, but even more as armor against marauding noise that raids my private brain to obliterate my concentration. Why isn’t that a crime??

I have discovered a silent etiquette of ear buds. Putting them in can cause fellow bus riders sitting nearby to tone things down a notch, without my ever having to look their way or say a word. It’s funny how this works with people who probably would not respond well to a frown or a verbal complaint. Are they even conscious of their adjustment, or do they just react automatically because they know what it means when they put in their ear buds?

My perception of walking around in ear buds has changed radically since it first became common. I used to think people who did that were rudely disassociated from the common experience. Examining that viewpoint with more consciousness, I see it’s based on a rather extrovert-centric assumption that all people should always be ready for engagement with others at all times and in all places. Did I ever believe that? Well, if I did, I’m over it now!

 Silence is the sleep that nourishes wisdom.
Francis Bacon

Hear No Evil

Learning that I wasn’t the only noise sensitive person in the world inspired me to be a lot more proactive about avoiding stressful noise. I decided it was time for ear muffs.

Black furry ear muffs with caption - No, silly, not these. If you’re in a place with cold winters, that may conjure up fluffy images, but it turns out there is another kind. Sound reducing ear muffs are made for people who work with loud equipment, or shoot guns for fun, which explains why I never heard of them until I started reading survival tips from introverts and HSPs.
Continue reading

The Other Half

My preschool induction into non-introverted chattiness has had its costs. For instance, I’m in my 50s and still figuring out who I am (see Once upon a time, I thought I knew who I was).

But I’ve mostly been spared the experiences that make so many other introverts seriously pissed off at extroverts. One thing introverts say over and over in blogs and videos is that you simply can’t make extroverts understand introversion. I haven’t yet had to try, so I can’t speak to that. But I had an experience recently that made me wonder whether that doesn’t cut both ways. Continue reading

Networking for the Highly Sensitive Introvert

I went to a holiday party last night. I’m not a party person, but I’m looking for part-time work, and every recruiter and guidance counselor I’ve ever met was jumping up and down in my head, urging me not to miss this opportunity to “network.” I carefully chose my outfit (festive but classy), and created a conversation-starter name tag.

In my imagination, I saw myself chatting and joking with each stranger standing near me, circulating through the room until every person there knew how witty and sharp I was. If they had an opening, they would immediately want to hire me. If not, they’d want to create one just to get me on their staff.

Where do I get these ideas? Continue reading

Once upon a time, I thought I knew who I was

This blog really started two years ago. I’d been having trouble finding the right job. A LOT of trouble. Something was obviously up, and I honestly didn’t know what. So I sat down in the middle of my life and refused to budge until I figured it out.

I didn’t make much headway for the first 18 months. Well, that’s not entirely true. My bruised ego slowly recovered from the last Job From Hell. I started a blog on one of my quirkier interests. I found my high school friends on FaceBook. I took a summer job. I studied a foreign language. I explored a new career. All good.

But my wallet was getting slimmer and slimmer, with no better understanding of what was broken, and what to do to fix it.

Silence is Golden

I love silence with a passion. To me, it’s not an absence of something, but an iridescent, sublime presence, that can move me to acute and transcendent bliss. It’s better than really great chocolate; it’s better than sex. I live in the cultural void of a suburb because it’s relatively quiet for an urban environment.

But not really. Dogs bark. And bark. And bark. Yard services descend, sensurrounding my hapless home like invading hordes brandishing motorized clubs and maces. Compulsive remodelers practice their filthy habits right out in the open for everyone to hear. I’ve been trying to figure out how to escape to the country and still have an income for years.

Enter Susan Cain. One day when I was listening to the radio to avoid overhearing my neighbor’s 8th phone conversation in two hours, I came across a radio interview about her new book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.

The subtitle seemed to set introversion and talking in opposition. I’m a talker. So I couldn’t be an introvert, right? But luckily, any book called Quiet was too intriguing to pass up.

Susan Cain described some introverts. They sounded an awful lot like me. Could I be an introvert after all?

I thought being shy about talking was pretty much the definition of introvert. And I’m not. Really, really not. I initiate conversations with strangers at the bus stop. I speak first (and second, and third) in meetings. I’m the person whose hand the teacher has to ignore so others can have a chance.

But as it turns out, the defining characteristic of introverts is not their level of sociability, but whether contact with others energizes or tires them. Hmm.

I Vant to be Alone

I love being alone as much as I love silence. I have a great time playing by myself, and never feel like it would be more fun with company. When I start a new relationship, I go through the 5 stages of grieving for my lost alone time. And when I end one, getting it back is a substantial consolation.

But what do you call that? I’ve been struggling for years with the title, “loner.” Isn’t that some creepy guy with bad hygiene and massacre fantasies?

I feel like I have to make the effort to prove I’m not the female version of that guy (aging cat lady), but I start to feel overwhelmingly busy if I go out more than twice a month. And that’s when I’m not working full time. If I am, once a month, tops.

flowering lilypads float on a serene pond

Visual Intermission

Not a New Story

Me and my brain, we’ve been through tough times before. Like 38 years of undiagnosed depression. That was bad.

Then there was menopause with its total collapse of memory and focus. But I’m back to normal now. Well, I think I am. My memory of what I was like before is a little hazy. And also… in addition… one other thing… damn, what was I talking about?

Realizing that I was clinically depressed transformed my life. Once I understood what that meant, it reframed everything. And for awhile, treating depression was the answer to every problem.

When that didn’t work for my job issues and solitary tendencies (which I regarded as something to be solved), I thought it meant I hadn’t fully resolved my depression. Even though I felt pretty good.


And then I heard Susan Cain on the radio. I immediately bought her book (which I never do). I worked my way down the list. Check, check, check. Wait, needs to think things over? I’ll get back to you on that.

I dug out the Myers-Briggs test I took 20 years ago. I loathed every minute of that test. Choosing between pairs with no option for “both” or “neither” was torture. I refused to answer 40% of the questions. The counselor said the outcome would be accurate anyway. Seriously?? If it’s valid with only 60% of the questions, why was it so damn long??

But right there in my resulting type, the very first letter, the I…  that stood for Introvert. Omigod, thought I, I’ve been a certified introvert for 20 years, and never knew.

But what about my verbalness? Was I an ambivert? I’m ambi-a lot of things, so it wouldn’t surprise me, but I get a little tired of seeing all sides. Introvert was such a good fit otherwise. It explained so much.

Susan Cain writes about introverts pretending to be extroverts. I had never asked myself whether I was really comfortable with my verbal assertiveness. One-on-one, yes, comfortable and natural. In other contexts… maybe not. It’s more like I feel compelled to do it.

Where did that come from? Maybe from the way my father trained me to use multisyllabic sentences to entertain his friends when I was still a toddler? When the average 2 year old was pointing and grunting, I was answering the question, “would you like some more?” with “I’ve had a sufficiency. Any more would be a superfluity.”

I was so young, I barely remember doing this, and I certainly don’t recall how I felt about it. But the part about engaging adult attention with verbal skills, that stuck. Adult attention is equivalent to survival for children.

I started giving myself permission to sit on the sidelines, being present in a conversation, but not participating as actively. Surprise! That was actually pretty comfortable. More comfortable than being the center of attention in some situations.

What a shock to realize I’ve been operating under a sense of pressure to perform my whole life without ever being conscious of it.

Sensitive Type

Susan Cain’s Quiet describes a conference for Highly Sensitive People. I’d heard of that in passing, but didn’t know what it was. My immediate reaction to the label was negative. Was it some kind of neurotic elitism?

But as Cain continued to describe the conference, things started jumping out at me. She mentioned Elaine Aron, the research psychologist who defined the type and coined the name. I visited Aron’s website and took the self-test. Once again, check, check, check. ALL of the 27 traits on her self-test were true of me.

What was going on?? Was I just in an identifying mood? But no. It turns out (according to Elaine Aron) that Susan Cain is an HSP as well as an introvert, and much of her book really pertains to the former category rather than the latter.

Introverts make up more than half of the population. People with high sensory processing sensitivity (a less button-pushing name for HSPs) are more like 15-20%, according to Aron.

Finally, the job problems were explained. Turns out, my skill set primarily qualifies me for jobs and work environments that are the worst possible match for my personality type.

So Who Am I, Really?

I’m still figuring out what’s an HSP quality vs. an introversion quality, and how much of an introvert I actually am. I’ve joined Meetup groups for introverts (chuckling at the irony), watched YouTube videos, and taken out library books. I’m working my way through self-help career exploration. And I started this blog because, well, it’s what I do. Scribo, ergo sum.

SensitiveType is for everyone else who’s going through the same process – and even more for the people who haven’t realized they need to yet. Jump in. It changes everything, in ways you never imagined.

I’ll probably have to spend some more time in really challenging work environments before I find other solutions. But now I understand why they’re challenging, and how to find better answers. I hope that’s going to reduce the stress a little. I’ll let you know.

What Does it Mean?

I used to have a friend who often asked me this. Like I would know.

It’s a good question, though. I’m in the early stages of an internal paradigm shift, and as I look around, I’m not the only one. The world is in dire need of a paradigm shift right now. I’m not sure the one it needs is the same as the one we’re having, but I can’t wait to find out.

So Kit, if you’re still wondering — I’ll get back to you on that.