Radio Silence

Allegorical sculpture (Silence) by Giuseppe Blasetti, Campo Verano, Rome Italy.

A fog enveloped me in the last week and like most dense, inexplicable fogs, I find my way out of it by writing. Of late, there has been much lauding of the introvert. I have read Susan Cain’s Quiet and while the studies she cited were interesting, the clear agenda was to battle the predominate value of extroversion in our society. I am an introvert who can function as an extrovert when needed. But there is a dark side.

In the last week, I’ve been at events, on phone calls, in meetings and pummeled by emails and texts. Several days in, I began to wonder if I had a brain tumor. Words were getting stuck in a loop in my head. People’s agendas seemed crystal clear beneath their rhetoric and I went into sensory overload. My brain declared a partial shutdown.

In science fiction shows, when someone gains the ability to read minds, they are bombarded by the cacophony of voices – so many people with contradictory thoughts and agendas. I am not a mind reader, but like most humans, I have the capacity to read body language, hear voice inflection and understand verbal cues.

Whenever we talk to someone, there are a thousand little nuances that our brain is taking in, without really noticing. It’s an assimilated part of the conversation. When that starts to unravel, my brain notices the strands. Nuances become separate channels of information and I feel bombarded. It takes all of my energy to focus, to listen and to not turn and walk away while the other person is mid-sentence. Sometimes I just stare while they talk, turning over a word or phrase in my mind that they said 10 minutes ago.

Unfortunately, I always come to this realization when it’s too late. I become short-tempered with the people I care about because I’ve been drained of energy by social engagement. I begin to feel like a ball of walking rage, where every interaction feels like I’m being imposed upon. Every conversational exchange, in person or via the many electronic means, requires effort, thought and focus.

Since the partial government shutdown, the rhetoric has become so intense and nonsensical that it causes me paroxysms of swearing and muttering to myself. I keep hoping there is a finite supply of sports and war metaphors, but politicians and pundits keep coming up with more to describe their inaction and playground shenanigans. Like our duly-elected representatives,  I stopped listening.

Emails and voice mails go unanswered. Appointments and meetings are rescheduled. My writing becomes awkwardly introspective, like a teenage girl writing bad poetry (1983 was a very prolific year). When pressed, I’m irritable and abrupt and have no desire to converse. Sometimes I’ll sit in my reading chair, staring morosely out the window, unable to shake the feeling that the world just needs to shut up. Since I’m writing a blog post, I’ve taken my morning coffee with a little irony.

Silence wants nothing from me. I don’t have to respond or react or hold a certain expression on my face. I don’t have to follow up or get back to it or take notes. No actionable items, no content to manage, no concerns about giving the wrong impression, no feelings to hurt, no opinions to enunciate.

Sometimes solitude feels uncomfortable – the quiet being such a contrast to the constant noise of everyday life. All the emotions and thoughts that were summarized and cut short, in order to communicate effectively, bubble up and I wait until they settle in and are absorbed.

Standing on the deck this morning at 5am, I inhaled the autumn silence, crisp and undiluted. It seems such a luxury in our modern age, in the middle of suburbia, to hear nothing. Slowly, the fog begins to dissipate. And I prepare to engage with the world again.

Wishing you a few restorative moments of silence

before your week begins!


30 thoughts on “Radio Silence

  1. I love moments of restorative silence. I’d be perfectly happy saying nothing, and hearing nothing, for days on end.


  2. I am basically a hermit. My aversion to crowds is mitigated somewhat by self-medication but that comes with a cost, fogginess. Do I suffer the physical pain and be more coherent or do I medicate to achieve a kind of peace? I haven’t had those meds for days and quite honestly I do not care about them. But I was in Raleigh yesterday in a big crowd of Multiculturalism. I moved through the crowds in a rapid panic, my insecurities laid bare for all to see.


    1. I have an aversion to crowds as well. I often visualize myself running away with a primal shriek. When I reached my limit last week, I had the same impulse just talking to one person – I knew I was toast at that point. I have friends with the same issue regarding medication – take the edge off anxiety for higher functioning, but losing some mental acuity.


      1. Good visualization about wanting to shriek. I have severe depression as you can probably tell. And being stressed out over feeling trapped is a feeling that leaves me tired and distraught.


        1. I had a tougher time when I was younger, but I’m fortunate now to be able to tailor my life a little more. I just didn’t take the time last week to get “centered” so I could handle social demands without an adult-version meltdown!


        2. My youth was tragic in many ways but I survived and now resurrecting that innocence that was lost. The worst was not the sexual abuse but the loss of self esteem. Fortunately we can rebuild some of that but only in comfortable settings with people we trust.


  3. My goodness, Michelle, I think we’ve been having the same cravings of solitude lately. I, like you, also feel drained and short-tempered after excessive social engagement — not that I don’t enjoy my time with friends and family, but if I have not refueled enough with solitude time, the fuse grows ever shorter, particularly during times of stress or other life pressures.


    1. I read your post and tried to think of something meaningful to write in regards to the losses you’ve been dealing with – my writing is a tad pithy these days, though. Sometimes silence is okay. I’ve been less than pleasant to live with this week and that seems to be the wrong tradeoff for heavy social interaction. Starting to regain my footing. I have a heavy week ahead for human interaction, so I’m trying to unwind myself a bit. Your trip through the woods sounded wonderful and has inspired me to go out for a walk – nothing gives perspective better than being outdoors.


  4. As a self-declared (and proud) life-long introvert, this post resonated so much with me. Like you, I can “adapt/fake” extrovert quite successfully for business but it always catches up with me and then I feel like I have to go into “lock-down” mode. This past week seemed particularly fraught with extra ‘noise’ – my significant other is a total extrovert (as much as he denies it) but I am blessed that he understands when I say I just need a night on the couch, staring at the wall, with my dog and my knitting…or many nights 🙂 Basically, it’s all about doing what you need to in order to recharge your batteries…


    1. My husband is an introvert as well, but my 9 year old is an extrovert who can talk up a blue streak. Her presence in this world is why we’re not complete hermits. I think it’s good to be challenged, but I definitely headed into lock-down mode by the end of the week. I’m transitioning out of a job and have moved into a volunteer leadership role, so all of that entails lots of, you know…other humans. I just have to be more mindful when I start to approach the sullen, hostile stage!
      Thanks for stopping by and commenting!


  5. I hear you. Being an introvert is as natural and normal as being an extrovert. But the modern world can be hard on introverts. It must have been different when most Americans lived on farms. The solitude of plowing the south 40 must have been easy for introverts and hard on extroverts.

    I know that being an introvert shaped my life. I’ve worked several times and places as a newspaper reporter. But I spent most of my years on the copy desk, where an outgoing personality is not required, and human interaction is relatively infrequent.

    A large newsroom is not as quiet as a library, and it’s hardly solitary. Reporters and copy editors don’t have private offices. In the old days, when the staffs of morning and afternoon papers shared the same newsroom, reporters and editors often didn’t even have a desk to call their own. On the copy desk, editors often sat practically elbow to elbow. But you were interacting with the copy in front of you, and could get away with ignoring nearby editors, who were probably introverts too. (Not to mention obsessive-compulsive, but that’s a story for another day.)

    In the old days it was noisy, with dozens of typewriters clattering. People on deadline communicating by shouting. In the post-typewriter era, newsrooms and many other offices have become eerily quiet. In some office cultures, it’s uncommon to hear a spoken word. People communicate by texting or email. Introverts can feel quite at home in such an atmosphere, and it’s going to become more so. The office and the factory of the not-too-distant future will be populated by robots and a few human technicians. We may soon yearn for human contact with someone, anyone.

    I can report that introversion doesn’t mellow with age. I find myself increasingly impatient and solitary. I think it’s important to discern what our place in the world should be, in light of our gifts and personalities. For example, I think of running for some low public office. But I’m probably better suited for blogging.


  6. You mean there’s medication to help introverts to deal? Really?? I’ve never heard of such a thing (and please correct me if I’m not translating correctly) One of the best pieces of advise I ever received was to devote one whole day EVERY week to myself. Works great! And my condolences to those who cannot indulge in the practice..


    1. I think the discussion about medication was in reference to dealing with severe social anxiety. They’re not one and the same, but sometimes being an introvert and experiencing severe social anxiety overlap.
      I can’t swing a whole day a week, but I do try to build some time into each day to recharge. It works out better some weeks than others!


  7. Hi Michelle – I think there’s something in the air. I was having introvert/anxiety issues this week as well, but it played out differently. You touched on my experience – I got feeling quite uncomfortable when I shut down and went for solitude and silence. I blogged about that this week.

    I am very glad to be alone at my place in New Hampshire, but I have to head back to D.C. on Tuesday and am not happy about it. Hate to go back to the belly of the beast. I think you’re right, the govt. shut-down has something to do with the craziness this week, although I’ve been in news blackout mode, I haven’t escaped it either.
    Hope your week goes shockingly well!


    1. Melanie, I wish you a big, shiny coat of armor when you head back to DC. Wow – belly of the beast is right! I’m off to a week of intense volunteering and social interaction. There are times when quitting smoking and drinking seems a bit of a drawback! I’m just going to try to squeeze in a bit of exercise and some writing to hold onto the last shreds of my sanity! I hope all goes well for you this week, too.


  8. Your description is spot-on, Michelle. As a hypersensitive (talk about sci-fi-speak), I relate. The only positive effect of having ECT was that it seemed to short-circuit most of the incoming strands when I interact with people now. I don’t notice the body language, verbal cues, or simple details like I did before getting zapped. Which, frankly, is a blessing. Not that I’d ever advocate electroshock for anything. Ever.

    I would imagine stress saps your tolerance, as well–the job change, new people, etc. A good time to keep the TV and radio off.


    1. I think stress heightens whatever state a person is dealing with, although social stressors can be more significant for introverts. I’m trying to find a few pockets here and there of solitude and doing a little writing in order to keep from imploding.


  9. Glad you’ve found a way to grab some quiet moments to preserve your sanity.
    Hope you manage to tune out some of the noise next time you’re immersed in it…


    1. Thanks – I keep repeating “everything will turn out alright.” I’ve been listening to classical music, which often calms, but apparently stress in combination with the music simply reminds me of “Clockwork Orange”. I am sometimes a strange individual.


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