How to Survive (and Enjoy) a Party as an Anxious Introvert

“It’s okay,” I told myself as I drove down the interstate through an unforgiving, almost mockingly spontaneous downpour. “It’s alright.  You’ve trained for this for the last six months. You can do this.”

It was time for my mother’s birthday barbecue party, in which all extended family members–dozens of them–would be attending. My mother had announced to me since the Christmas holiday how excited she was for this cookout.

“I’m inviting all of our family,” she gushed. “You’ll need to come early, B, to help out. Do you have the date down? Did you write it down? …Write it down, B, so you don’t forget.” The beautiful, warming lilt in her tone belied the loving, threatening edge of her order.

For the last two of my mother’s birthday parties, my depression and social anxiety had conspired against me and overtaken any sense of…well, common sense I had.  Overstimulated, feeling out of place, shaken, and frightened by the crowd of strangers (aka, extended family)…I’d hidden in a closet and fallen into a vegetative state for over four hours.

Yeah…not my shiniest moments.

Since that last party (and many much-needed therapy sessions), I vowed to myself that I would not so much as notice a closet or isolated space at her next party.  It was part of my 2019 resolution to focus on the needs of the people that I love, not myself.  And this party was about my mother, as it always was, should have been, and should be.

Of course, that didn’t mean my chest didn’t seize up every time someone mentioned the party.

For various reasons, I would be arriving at my mother’s party during its peak hours. I knew that, if I wanted to a) enjoy myself, and b) remain consistently visible throughout the party, I couldn’t arrive without a plan. And so, using my overactive imagination and a sexy spy hook theme song on my Google Play Music library (not sponsored), I established the following objectives to maneuver through this super-extroverted party while appearing social, positive, and engaged.

1.  Arrive with FULL Expectations

ONE WEEK BEFORE:

“Ohhh,” my mother had drawled over the phone, pondering on what she knew would freak me out, “it’s just gonna a few people.  No more than immediate family, maybe a few cousins.”

“Uh huh.” Sitting in my SUV as I drove into the parking lot of my weekly voice over class, I had allowed myself to imagine the multiple half-circle of chairs under tents, the stacks upon stacks of ribs and chicken awaiting their turns on the smoking grills, and the hours of introductions as I was passed across first cousins, second cousins, third cousins, and many more.

One tactic that has helped me deal with social situations is being honest with myself on how many people will be attending. As an introvert, I prefer smaller crowds of people that I know intimately. Since I still struggle with anxiety, I am thrown when I am spontaneously placed in front larger groups than I anticipated, or people who I have no idea of their identity.

  • Are they family? Are they in-laws?
  • Are they part of the family/friend side that we “like”?
  • Are they…different like me? Can I trust them to accept my weird, random self without blinking at me or blowing me off?
  • Or, is it simply the generic meet-n-greet with a handshake, a smile, a couple of small-talk inquiries (“You come from out of town? The weather’s been crazy, amiright??”), and a customary awkward pause before I say, “Well, nice to meet ya!” before moving on to do it all over again?

I know. I could be in worse situations. We all could.

But if we don’t like certain situations, we don’t like certain situations. We will all be in situations that will make us uncomfortable. All we can do is be aware and mentally prepare as best we can.

2.  Establish Your “Core Team”

If you’re going to a party where you know at least one or two people who will also be there, you can establish these people as your core team. This core team will serve as your party anchors to whom you can temporarily latch onto to regain your mental bearings after a particularly awkward or stressful situation.

Here is what’s important. Your core team must be people whom you can trust not to be cruel or condescending should you get overwhelmed and even give up halfway through the party.

I’ve been around guys I considered dating who laughed at me when strangers entered the room, and I’d nervously backed up to adjust to the change.

I’ve even had close family members roll their eyes at me when I was struggling to recover from a panic attack in public.

These…are NOT core team people.

My core team at my mother’s party consisted of my mother, my two sisters and my nephew, who were also attending the party. They are all very aware of my social anxiety issues, including my social “incidents” from my mother’s previous parties. Despite my past behavior, they’d never belittled me or made me feel any less. They projected nothing but love and support, even as they’d opened the closet door and asked me, gently, if I was doing okay.

These…are absolutely core team people.

3.  Focus on Your Target: Be a Social Bee, Not a Butterfly

One thing that I have observed with some of my more social friends is that they don’t actually speak with the same people for extended amounts of time. Instead, they flutter from cluster to cluster, asking how everyone is doing and rotating at regular intervals to make sure they’ve greeted everyone equally.

Yep. I’m not there yet. Too many faces, not enough time for intimate exchanges.

What I am learning to do is get a layout of the party, find a single target within certain areas of the room, and aim for those.

The technique is not to force yourself to speak to everyone, but to engage with enough people to make yourself seen. In my case, my aunts and couple of cousins to whom I was closer to were littered throughout the yard. These were family members I’ve been familiar with, yet hadn’t seen for years. Thefore, it was the perfect opportunity to set targets through what would otherwise be…walking through a horde…of…strangers.

Thus established, I drifted over to each member and greeted them warmly while passing a friendly smile to the group with which they were engaged. Introductions were made; I gave a shy smile and a few comments. Whenever I felt a little nervous, I returned to face my “target” as a reminder that I wasn’t alone.

4.  Find A Job to Stay Busy

Idleness isn’t just in the devil’s workshop; it’s also part of an anxious person’s nightmare. For me, standing somewhere in the middle of crowds, doing nothing, makes me feel like I should either be talking to someone, or doing something. I’m not a big “bend over my smartphone” kinda gal–or rather, I try not to be. I like to feel needed and productive.

What better way to do that (and to reduce the nerves of facing simplistic chitchat) than to get assigned a job?

I was lucky that at the cookout, my immediate family was hosting. That meant that, as soon as I parked my SUV in my mother’s yard and climbed out, I was put to work.

“Go send this chicken up to your cousin at the grill,” my mother barked, loading my arms with aluminum pans of raw poultry. Like a soldier hurrying to help support the flag, I rushed up the hill to where a pair of deluxe grills were mounted.

“Is your mother doing hot dogs, too?” my cousin asked, with one hand waving the grilling tongs majestically over the slabs of ribs smoking over the coals.

“I’m not sure; I’ll go check!” Down the hill I raced, tossing smiles at people I passed.

“Hot dogs? In the fridge. Take two packs!” Off I went, from kitchen to grill and back again.

Having a job can help give purpose and direction as well as keep your thoughts from being too preoccupied on the excessive surrounding stimuli.

Not only that, but watching some random person run wildly back and forth with supplies can be a very entertaining sight for the party-goers.

And I might be an anxiety-prone introvert–but I am also a performer, dagnabbit.

5.  Remember Your Post-Event Life–aka Life After Party

The trouble with social anxiety is that it makes you all encompassed on the moment causing the anxiety. The only thing that fills your thoughts is how many people there are, and are you able to make it through, and man, you are so tired and why won’t everyone just shut up for a second.

But remember: as overwhelming as this moment is, it’s not the only moment. Once the party is over, you have–well–the rest of your life to relax from this exhausting moment.

Me? I had a full week of relaxing and playing with my immediate family–my mom, et all–to look forward to. It had been six months since I’d seen any of them, and I–I missed them.

I wanted to show them the new improv games I’d learned in my 8 weeks at the Village Theater. I wanted to test out my new voices I’d honed from my intensive voice acting course. I wanted to hear about their lives, their relationships, their highs, their lows. I wanted to reconnect again, find my bearings amongst them all.

If I had to make it through a few hours of heavy interaction with strangers just to get to the more intimate rest of the week, I would.

And…I did.

And you know what?

The party wasn’t half-bad, either. 😌

Featured article image by tangjiao990 from Pixabay.com.

8 Classic Video Games for the Classic Introvert

(B’s Update–July 7, 2019: This blog post was completed weeks ago and already scheduled to release today, so I decided to go ahead and let it go. I’d hate to deprive anyone of the current huge summer sales they’re having on games right now, if any of these interest anyone. Please read and enjoy–and hope to be blogging regularly again soon!)

Click here to go straight to the list of games.

I have been a gamer since I was five years old. In the late 1980s, my family was one of the first in our neighborhood to own an Apple Macintosh computer. And boy, did we use it.

The first game that my sister and I played on our brand new, state-of-the-art Apple II was the pixelated puzzler, Think Quick!

Think Quick promotional screenshot
Image courtesy of Moby Games. Ermagosh, the feels.

Just doing a Google search on this game has brought back a wave of nostalgia of the likes I didn’t know I could feel. Perusing the castle mazes to find the keys that would help you build the knight who would destroy the dragon…turning doorknobs to block the dreaded slime worms before they ate you…customizing your own castle levels for your friends to try… kc%^ne9*8r5RT…

But I digress.

The reason I bring up the notion of video gaming in the first place, is because I noticed a serious gap in games that I don’t feel are celebrated enough across Let’s Play communities these days. Maybe because they’re not the most exciting or visually astonishing, or maybe because they’re old. I will hold onto my love for games long after even their publishers went bankrupt.

It goes without saying that everyone is a different kind of gamer.

My entire family are all different types of gamers. Even my parents.

Like, seriously, you haven’t lived until you’ve seen my mother (well in her sixties) rage quit over a range of games like Crossy Roads or Burnout Paradise.

I re-digress.

My personal preference of games are puzzle-solving adventure games. Give me an evenly paced, story-rich game with developed characters, clever dialogue, and an intelligent, relevant set of problems to solve, and I am a happy camper for weeks.

In short?

Give me a game that plays like a good novel. Give me a game that promotes a sense of quiet and comfort as I play it–a game that a good friend or two might sit in the room with me and do their own thing while simultaneously keeping me company.

I’ve come to realize that my favorite kinds of games are what a lot of quintessential introverts might go for. As is commonly reputed, some of the most well-known behaviors of an introvert (courtesy of Introvert, Dear) are as follows:

  • Your inner monologue is hard to shut off.
  • You do your best thinking alone.
  • You notice details that others miss.
  • You can concentrate for long periods of time.
  • You live in your head.
  • You like to people watch.

All of which go famously when playing classic puzzler adventure games.

I think non-introverts often assume that introverts might need to move slower, because we think slower.

We don’t think slower; we take more time to process the thousand-and-one ways in which we can respond to the situation at hand.

So, nyah to anyone who thinks that way.

But I re-re-digress. Let’s get to the good stuff.

With 31 years of game-playing experience, I’d like to present the list of my favorite, super introvert-approved video games. Click on each tab to read the brief synopsis, as well as why it may work for a classic introvert. Though I linked the games to their versions on Steam, some games can also be found through gaming consoles and even in mobile format.

So find, get lost in the story, and enjoy!


NOTE!  While I do call this list a list for introverts, I also recommend trying this list if

  • You’ve always wanted to try a video game but weren’t sure what to start with.
  • You don’t like violent, scary, fast-response or first-person shooter games.
  • You can never play at the speed you need to actually solve puzzles in other games. (*raises hand*)
  • You panic in games. A LOT.  (*RAISES HAND*) 

Classic Video Games for Introverts

Blackwell Bundle poster
Artwork and image courtesy and property of Wadjet Eye Games. Click the image to go to the games!

Premise:  Roseangela Blackwell is a young woman with a family secret she initially would rather forget: a ghost by the name of Joey Mallone whose soul (ahem--sole) duty is to help lost spirits to move into the next existence.  As this unlikely partnership finds their groove across 5 games, however, they realize that simply leading ghouls towards the Light may be the least of their problems.

Why Introverts will love it:  Roseangela is the quintessential awkward, reluctant (and yes, introverted) heroine who must learn to overcome her social issues just to get to the next puzzle.  Pairing her with her more extroverted spectral sidekick makes for some fun exchanges and pleasantly unique gameplay.  How ironic that the one of the pair who would love to chat up everyone--can't.

Also, if you are a fan of immaculately pixelated point-and-click puzzle games from the late 1980s - 1990s (think King's Quest, Space Quest, Legends of Kyrandia, and a host of others), you will absolutely adore this series.

Edith Finch poster
Artwork and image courtesy and property of Giant Sparrow and Annapurna Interactive. Click the image to go to the game!

Premise: Sometimes, you have to look at someone's death to learn about their life.

[Sorry, lil morbid. Bear with me!]

In What Remains of Edith Finch, that is all you have left as you return to the mysterious and eccentric Finch home to explore your legacy. What secrets are nestled in the creaking nooks and crannies of an island that housed countless generations?

And why is there only one left?

Why Introverts will love it:  The beauty of Edith Finch is that you play not as one, but as multiple characters, each on the last day of their lives. This isn't a spoiler; this is literally written in game synopses. But for an introvert, this can only begin a path of pondering that continues long after the game is done.

With dabbles of fantasy elements thrown in and gorgeous artwork styles customized per character, you can't help but be emotionally drawn into the legacy that the Finch family left behind.

The Longest Journey poster
Artwork and image courtesy and property of Funcom. Click the image to go to the game!

Premise: Your name is April Ryan. You are a young, small-town girl who was accepted into art school in one of the most bustling cities around. All you want is to make a name for yourself in the art world, dress stylishly, and enjoy your big-city living.

But fate is literally cruel. You are troubled by nightmares--nightmares that bring whispers of prophecy and promises that you will bring balance to the dual worlds of chaos/magic and science/order. Suddenly, with the help of a strange mentor, you are (literally) thrown through a portal into a world where science doesn't exist--and where you are expected to save all worlds.

Why Introverts will love it:  This game can literally be summed up by its title--it is a long game. But personally, I found it to be a game that has easily stood the tests of time. Its playability is awesome; its dialogue and daring to stick a horde of backstory in is refreshing; and its puzzles make sense--which makes getting from point A to point B a heck of a lot less frustrating.

Though The Longest Journey is only the first of a trilogy of games (check out Dreamfall and Dreamfall Chapters, if you like), I found TLJ the only one that didn't have any cliche elements or try to play up to any trends at the time. For example, slight spoiler: Dreamfall played to the popularity of the time with adding a horror-esque "mysterious girl from the Ring" trope. They also added quick-response fighting gameplay. If you are into that, great. But if I'm reading a novel, the last thing I need to do is suddenly toss my book aside and MMA fight one of the characters just to turn the flippin page.

Blackwell Bundle poster
Artwork and image courtesy and property of Freebird Games. Click the image to go to the games!

Premise: What if you could have one wish granted? Any wish at all? For Dr. Rosalene and Dr. Watts of the Sigmund Corporation, this act is their bread and butter: fulfill the last wish of their dying patients.

But this fulfillment isn't easy--especially when the patients themselves don't divulge all of the needed information. In this (current) two-game series, Dr. Watts and Dr. Rosalene must figure out a way to break through all the internal, proverbial red tape just to grant the wishes of two of their more difficult subjects. Oh, that, and get out alive?

Am I joking? Muahuahua...

I mean...why not?

Why Introverts will love it:  Surprisingly sweet, surprisingly funny, and surprisingly original, this game is another one with the makings of "book reader" quality. Though the gameplay itself is pretty linear, the game does a tremendous job of making you mentally double-take and think harder about what could happen than you'd ever expect.

Also, did I mention the re-playability of their soundtracks? Seriously, I'm listening to them right now.

Myst 25th poster
Artwork and image courtesy and property of Cyan Worlds, Cyan Worlds, Presto Studios, and Ubisoft. Click the image to go to the games!

"I realized the moment I fell into the fissure that the book would not be destroyed as I had planned. It continued falling into that starry expanse, of which I had only a fleeting glimpse. I have tried to speculate where it might have landed, but I must admit that such conjecture is futile. Still, questions about whose hands might one day hold my Myst book are unsettling to me. I know my apprehensions might never be allayed, and so I close, realizing that perhaps the ending has not yet been written."

Premise: An ancient, mysterious book lies at your feet. You open it and are stunned to find strange, moving images fluttering the page. Entranced, you can't help but reach out and touch it. Suddenly, your home, your family--your life--fades into nothingness, and you fly instead towards a remote island full of peculiar structures, deceit, entrapment and revenge.

You have been called, dear friend. The world you left, you may never return to. All you know for sure is that the story of the future is now unknown and yet to come.

Why Introverts will love it:  This, dear introverts, is THE GAME that lauched the success of a thousand first-person, single-character, adventure puzzle games--and for good reasons. With a first-person vantage point beyond its time, you were not force-fed into being a random character in a game. You were YOU--and it was YOUR job alone to solve the puzzles hidden across MYST isle. Nor are there other characters to meet and chat to get your clues. Using only torn letters, book portals to other worlds, and the power of your own mind, you have to uncover the MYSTeries all on your own.

This, ladies, gentlemen, and all others, is an introvert's dream game.

(Also, note that I only recommend playing the games through Myst IV: Revelations. There's good reason for that. It's kinda an unspoken rule amongst Myst enthusiasts--Myst V does not count. Myst IV was the end of the series. That's my story, and we're ALL sticking to it.)

Syberia Bundle poster
Artwork and image courtesy and property of Microids. Click the image to go to the games!

Premise: You are Kate Walker, a New York attorney with a rising professional future, a fastidious fiancé, a loyal best friend, and a doting mother. So why and how, pray tell, did you end up stuck in the middle of a miserable French village, just because the owner of a toy (sorry--AUTOMATON) company whose signature you need to complete a high-stakes merger, JUST died?

Oh, but it gets better. When Kate learns that there is still an heir wandering the surrounding tundra, she must embark on a wild goose chase just to find him and finish her mission. But she has nothing to worry about, right? After all, her firm, her future, her fiancé, her friend, and her...mother 😒...are no more than a phone call away.

Why Introverts will love it:  Despite being a third-person clicker with plenty of characters to select for attention and aid, the Syberia games still manage to play with a heavy sense that everywhere you go and everything you do is something that has been long forgotten. One of the major components of the game is a fully automated train that takes you--who the flip cares?! It's fully automated and taking you to an unknown destination! Get the freak outta mah way! *shoves you aside and scrambles onboard*

(Oh, and yes, there is a Syberia III game that was released in the last year. Have yet to play it, and probably not gonna. Why, you ask? Please see my note under The Myst series for explanation. Kthxbye.)

The Beginner's Guide poster
Artwork and image courtesy and property of Everything Unlimited Ltd. Click the image to go to the game!

Premise: You have an hour and a half to explore the inner workings of a creator's mind. What does it look like? How is it structured? What would you do while you're in there? As you are guided by a friend of the creator through a maze of creative processes, you might be surprised as to what you uncover--not of the creator, but of yourself.

Why Introverts will love it:  I'm not gonna lie. The first time I started this game, it went momentarily intense on me--so much so, that I turned it off immediately and didn't reopen it for weeks. When I did, I highly regretted stopping it at all. This game affected me harder than many of the other games, but for different reasons.

I can't say any more without giving something important away, but I will say that by playing it, dear introvert, you will not be disappointed.

The Room poster
Artwork and image courtesy and property of Fireproof Games. Click the image to go to the games!

Premise: You are known only as the player--the one chosen by some knowledgeable predecessor to follow their footprints deeper into the unknown. Clues are left to you in the form of letters, and you can only move forward, deeper into the rooms--and the secrets--by solving clever puzzles embedded within intricate boxes. But are you wiser for going deeper, or for finding a way back out?

Why Introverts will love it: Let me tell you. If any game ever nailed the Myst-like aesthetic and atmosphere, it's the Room Series. Unlike the other games on this list, this compliment stands true to all four of the games in the series. There is only one player--you, in first-person--and though there are memories and letters of people long gone, you know that you are fully alone. And as an introvert, that leaves you to ponder, explore, and solve in the peace of your own mind.

As an added bonus to these games, they were originally designed for mobile platforms. So, if you want to get the experience that Fireproof originally intended, I recommend heading to Google Play or the App Store and checking it out.

Have you played any of these games? Which one(s) is/are your favorite?

Or, if you know of a game that is perfect for introverts that you didn’t see on the list, please recommend it in the comments! I (and I’m sure others) would love to know what games we should try next!

Being Different Sucks–and I Love It

As kids and adolescents, we’re told that being different is a wonderful thing.  “You’re unique,” our parents gush, fluffing out the neon blue tutu we’ve refused to take off for eight days straight.  “You want to stand out from the crowd.  People will always remember you.”

What they don’t tell you is that, once you’re an adult, being different will make you stand out in both positive and negative ways.

Case in point: my Monday.

“Well,” said a voice behind me as I washed my hands in the restroom.

I turned around to find a woman I used to work with passing me a rather smug, though not unfriendly smile. “That was a brave question you asked at the town hall.”

I paused, mid-paper towel wipe, to stare at her blankly.  While I couldn’t deny the presence of a town hall that morning–I had attended, after all–I was a little bemused by her description of my inquiry.  “What do you mean?”

She shrugged, still smiling.  “I mean, no one else would have asked it, especially of our leaders.”

Confused, I erupted into a flubbed mixture of “I wasn’t trying to be controversial” to “The numbers seemed pretty obvious, so I just wanted to know,” and “It was the only chance I’d have to ask them!”

Being Different and Not Knowing It

The issue here wasn’t so much the question of what I asked, but that the question was something that everyone else was thinking but apparently too nervous to say out loud.  I, at time, had raised my hand without question and, other than a flinch at the sound of my voice over the speakers, had charged ahead.

It concerned me that I hadn’t noticed that it was obviously a delicate topic.  Why hadn’t anyone else?

Maybe it was because I was lacking in a couple of extra hours of sleep.  Maybe it was because, after six years in the same company, I’d finally felt comfortable speaking my mind over a microphone in front of my peers, my boss, my boss’s boss, and my boss’s boss’s bosses.  Maybe it was because, after a year of epic awesomeness, I finally felt empowered enough and, wanting to continue being different than the meek girl I’ve been most of my adult life, went for it.

I mean…if you can’t jump in with both feet and not realize how deep the well is until you’re sinking to pressure-crushing depths…what canyou do?

I confess:  I love being different.  In some practices, in order to learn more about myself (hmm–that sounds like a future blog post), I’ve purposefully tried different styles.  For example, right now I’m in the habit of dressing like a 1960s housewife, knee-length skirt and all.  It’s fun, it’s different, and it makes the workday go by.

But that’s just how I look. The way I act is a different story.

I don’t consciously drive myself to behave a certain way.  At least, not anymore.  The last incident of that occuring was in high school, when I emulated my older sister in order to be popular.

Being different often just seems to put myself in my own way.  It can be frustrating. When that happens, I will try to lessen what I believe are my odd mannerisms to blend in and hopefully remove any spotlights.

And yet, there are many times that I seemed to miss the memo of how to be like everybody else.

Speaking Different

Hola.  Ohayo gozaimasu!  These are how I greet friends and family.

Not too bad, right?

The dry cleaners lost my favorite designer gown.  I am not pleased.  My way of saying that I am royally pissed to all heck.

Yeah, a little stranger, but just a little bit.

Fiddlesticks.  Dagnabbit.  Flab-jabbit.  Apple cider vinegar.

This is how I curse.

No, not to cover up the more obscene language I use in my personal household. This is honestly how I curse.

Just this week alone, someone asked me how I was doing.  Do you know what came to mind?

Spiffy.  Dandy.  Just swell.

I’m 36 years old, people. No one I know of any age, race, denomination, or sexual/gender orientation even remotely talks like that.

I can hear you all now:  “Um, okay, sooo–stop trying so hard and just talk normally, then.  You can use modern slang and not make it a big deal if you really, really wanted to.”

No…I can’t.

Believe me–I’ve tried.

Creating Different

This last weekend, my stepmother invited me to take part in her family’s annual cookie-making extravaganza.

Oh, how the cookies flowed from the oven!  Chocolate, orange drop, tea cookies, red velvet brownies, conventional brownies and–the star of the show–sugar cookies.

It was the sugar cookies that were whisked to a separate table where contestants of all ages worked vigilantly with colored icing to decorate and submit their edible artwork for the annual contest.

At first, I resisted joining the decorating festivities.  I was tired, I couldn’t think of anything, blah, blah, blah.  However, after being aggressively cajoled to give it a try (by no less than four people), I conceded to sit down and go for it.

Inspiration struck me like a thunderbolt that had learned to slap.  I scanned the cookie tray, taking up two shapes that would work best as my blank canvases.

“Uh oh,” my stepmother said, “I think B’s got something.”

In the end, I was quite satisfied with my two submissions, especially my second one.

First, let me present the full spread of submissions from all contestants.  See one that stands out?

For those of you who don’t already know:

In The Mind of B, one does not–I repeat, does not–merely design cookie art within the standard boundaries presented.

A gingerbread man is not simply a gingerbread man.  Instead, he is a full mural of a delighted fisherman slinging his rambunctious catch out of turbulent waters:

And a Christmas tree cookie?  Oh, that is far from just being a Christmas tree cookie.

My current kick of general interest has steered me towards the very unique and astoundingly talented sculptor Jim McKenzie.  Just earlier the same day, I had watched a trailer of his debut show, “Lost Magic,” from 2016.  His art piece “The Nest” was especially haunting:

“The Nest,” by sculptor Jim McKenzie.  Image taken from Twitter.

So, of course, I’m gonna emulate this timeless look onto an evergreen-shaped sugar cookie.  It only seemed fitting.

I did a pre-tty good job, if I do say so myself.  I even had enough Christmas spirit to give it a holiday theme.

Sucka won second place amidst some competitive judging–which may have included my father in the panel.  But I can’t recall all the details clearly.

Bias, you say?

What bias?

Meh, who am I kidding?  Whilst people oohed and ahhed over all the other cookies, both of mine received a pause, a silent stare, and then a hasty, high-pitched, “That’s…cute!”

Yep.  They hated them.

But that’s okay, because they were mine, anyway. 🙂 And, delicious.

Loving Different

In the middle of October this year, I took an eight-hour flight to land for the first time in The Netherlands. My manager nominated me to attend a young leadership summit with approximately 1,800 of my peers.  The summit was literally life-changing, as it made me aware of not just the struggles that the rest of the world works through, but also my own realization that I want to help.  (More about this in a future post, I promise!) 

After the summit, I took the Eurostar from The Hague to London, where I flew back to the States after three days of “me time”.

For most people, one of the most exciting moments of their lives might be attending the summit with friends, visiting clubs on their off evenings, visiting historical pubs and museums in London, and taking the epic Harry Potter studios tour.

Those are all wonderful, and I would surely have enjoyed them.

However, almost nothing that I’ve done in my life affected me as much as navigating three hours into the English countryside to find myself in a village of 1,000 people and tearing up before the gravestone of a folk singer I would never meet.

A Perfect Moment

It was probably a plethora of experiences that had led to that moment–the culture shock of the OYW young leadership summit I’d attended; the overload of stimulation from meeting thousands of people, including a handsome stranger I’d asked out for coffee :); my fighting through a vitamin D deficiency that had kept me bedridden the day before.  Still, it was that very moment, which I never even dared to fantasize would happen, that invoked connection, emotion, triumph and an inner calm and peace that I never thought I’d feel.

Funny how that works.

Most would find the perfect moment in a concert, or at a mountaintop, or with a beer and within poignant conversation.  For me, chilled and silent and alone, kneeling in front of a grave in the middle of nowhere thousands of miles from home, I learned what I was capable of so long as I wanted it enough.

Connecting Different

Several months ago, as my small team at work was still acclimating to each other, one of my coworkers recommended that we perform a Trust Equation on one another.  In this assessment, we would calculate how much we trusted one another by scoring our credibility, reliability, and intimacy levels.

When I met with each coworker, including my manager, they scored me respectively well in credibility and reliability.  However, my scores in intimacy were a slap in the face.

Every one of them scored me low.

They were apologetic yet firm as they explained their rationale behind their numbers.  “You keep to yourself a lot.” “You close up,” “Sometimes, I’m not sure how to approach you.” “You know you like your time to yourself.”

I do.  I do.  I know.  I do.

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t notice how easily and naturally my teammates seem to interact with others.  How long they stand over each other’s cubicles to chat–about what?  What could they possibly be discussing for so long?

And why don’t most people stay that long at my desk?  For me, it’s ask the question, the awkward pause, and then the even more awkward departure.

Small talk.  Networking.  Opening myself up.  Making myself vulnerable to strangers, even if it’s just for a simple lunch date.  Those actions are not intuitive for me.

It’s like how most people are when they go to the gym.  It’s not always fun; you have to plan how to get the most from the situation; and you’re often in pain and exhausted when the session is over.

But then I see how much benefit my teammates, the cast from the radio show I’m voice-acting in, even my own family, have such an amazing connection in interacting for so long with one another, and I wonder–why can’t I get the formula down?  What am I doing wrong?

How do I learn it?

looking near camera

Proudly Different

Back to the town hall incident.

As part of my neuroses, there is still a part of me that laments about whether my question embarrassed my manager or our team.  However, I have to let it go–partially because my manager hasn’t acted any differently since then, and also because one of the very leaders told me it shouldn’t.

I ran into her in the break room and, upon her seeing me and recognizing me, she smiled.

“Thank you,” she said, “for asking that question.  It was a good question, and it needed to be said.”

I, in classic B ramblings, said things along the lines of “thank you for answering” and “I know it was the only chance I’d have to ask” and the like.  She, for her part, didn’t seem too mortified on my behalf.

A steadfast part of being different in my way is that I’ll probably always feel a little off from how everyone works.  But then, maybe I should continue to work towards being more “on” in how I work instead.

If I am sure of how I am–who I am–then maybe everyone else will be, too.  And then being different won’t matter that much to anyone.

Five Signs an Introvert is Running on Empty (with GIFs)

Introverts, by definition, function the best when they are surrounded only by themselves or by one or two very selective friends.  The more people they have to cope with, and the longer they have to cope with said people (especially when said people are talking a lot), it can quickly drain their energy.

But what happens when an introvert is running on empty?  What if they’ve gone too long without a chance to get themselves together?  No chatting, no socializing? Just they, themselves, and them?

Well, this happened to me last week when I hosted a week-long global meeting with nearly 30 attendees to manage.  By the third day of four, I wasn’t just running on empty–I’d depleted the fumes.  Add the fact that I am also highly sensitive, working through occasional social anxiety, and have been sick for a few months–and you get quite the dull blade.

Based on what I reflected on by the time the weekend had come, I managed to determine at least five clues that an introvert is running beyond low on their energy.

Warning:  this behavior is not the most considerate or thoughtful, and it should be handled and managed by the introvert in question as well as it can before it gets to this point.  If you are a friend of an introvert who is acting this way, please don’t take it personally, and help them make it through this tough patch as best as you can.

1. They Malfunction

via GIPHY

2.  They Get a Little…Catty


3.  They Go Radio Silence–and Want Everything Else To, Too

via GIPHY

4.  They Leave without Warning or Goodbye

via GIPHY

5.  And…They Look Like This

via GIPHY

Good Days and How to Appreciate Them

It’s a fascinating revelation as a person who is clinically depressed, anxious, or just naturally pessimistic, to realize that they are having a good day.  To wake up smiling and thinking back on recent events with love and joy is…well, a novelty.  While others may not give a second thought on how well a day went, this kind of person will sit, reflect, and even marvel a little at how it is even possible to feel this way.

That it is still possible to feel this way.

Last Sunday was the annual live Dragon*Con performance of The Blood Crow Stories cast and crew as they presented episode 1 of their upcoming Season 3, “The Neon Lodge.”  Earlier this year, through whirlwind circumstances I may divulge at a later date, I won the lead role for Season 3.  The hero of the season, Kesha Charles, is strong, resourceful, and confident, and doesnt take crap from anybody.

And I was terrified out of my mind on how, exactly, I was supposed to play her.

However, yesterday’s live performance went off smoothly.  The audience was engaged and really seemed to enjoy themselves.  By the time it was over, all I remembered were the grins of the cast and crew, the pride and excitement of my friends who came to watch (all seven of them!!  I have seven friends!! :O), and a strange, comforting calm as I (*gasp*) interacted with strangers.

Rewind to The Down Days

Last weekend was not a good day.

In fact, I would term last weekend as what I call “down days“–days that take you to the very bottom of yourself and sap your strength, your motivation, your emotions, and…in worst cases, your will.

Last Sunday was a day that I didn’t want to speak to anybody.  I didn’t want to leave my house, or post a blog entry, or work on my novel, or clean or text or care.

Yet at the same time, I wanted to talk to someone.  I wanted someone to sit quietly with me.  I wanted–needed–someone to hold me.  I needed that human contact to help remind me that I was a human being, and I existed. I wanted to shout and scream and expel all of the negative energy into the universe.

But I didn’t want to burden anyone with my stress.  So I called no one.  I ran the few errands I could make myself do.  And I told no one how much I didn’t want be alone.

Most down days last, as the name entails, a day.  This one stretched on through Wednesday.  More than anything, I wanted to avoid people and work and anything that prompted thinking or moving.  I had a chronic headache, shaking limbs and general exhaustion.

The last “down day” I had was five years ago.  If I made it through then, I knew I could now.  I had to.

And slowly but steadily…I did.

How You Know You’re Having a Good Day

But enough about the down days.  Considering that today is a marketable 180-degree difference from last week means that progress is being made.  Not only that, but I recognize that I am happy, that I enjoyed myself this last weekend.  And I know that I want more of that.

For those who also want to remember the good days as they come, here are a few signs that you are in the middle of one–that you are enjoying it to its highest potential.

1. You wake up smiling

Ever have those days when the world just feels like it’s in Technicolor?

Don’t know what Technicolor is?

Me, neither.

But, I know that Looney Tunes switched to Technicolor when re-releasing shorts, and classic Looney Tunes shorts are epic.

When you wake up on a good day, the world seems visually quieter, slower.  The sun is bright.

And you remember that you are alive.  You can do things.  And there are many things in this world that are still beautiful.

The beauty and vibrancy of nature.

2. You turn into a silly, happy fool

Oh, you know what you do when you’re happy.  You can’t explain it or help it–you just feel good.  And it’s been so long since you have.  Happiness erases years and makes you feel like a carefree child.

You play your favorites songs or involuntarily hum to the songs you hear on the radio.  You find the remnants of your favorite hobbies and think, “Ima start these up again!”  And then you actually do.

You call loved ones on the phone and chat in a way that makes them think in pleasant surprise, “WTF is she on?”

Or, you dance like this–and dang it if you don’t commit:

Arin Hanson Dances
Thanks, Arin Hanson–you know what I’m sayin’.

3.  Social media doesn’t terrify you

The term itself says it all.  Social media.

Present that term to a super introvert with social anxiety issues.

Even though I have FaceBook, Twitter, and Instagram, I use them both rarely and poorly.  Even when I do take pictures of something I like, I lament silently on whether they’re public-postable.  Then, I overwhelm myself with questions on whether I’m impinging on someone else’s rights to post a pic of them in it, and is my pic too blurry, and nobody will like it anyway–

Aaaaaand then I freak myself out and don’t post it.

On a good day, the thoughts don’t go as long.  Either I post it cuz I wanna, or I don’t cuz I don’t wanna.  Mind you, it still takes me about 5 – 10 minutes to write the caption under the pic–but I do post it, dagnabbit.  And that’s what matters.

4.  You rejoin the world

Three years ago to this day, attending DragonCon was a far-blown pipe dream.  I never, ever could have imagined that not only would I attend it, but I would also cosplay in it and perform at a panel.  Just typing that sentence leaves me staggered, humbled, and absolutely ecstatic.

That being said…I think this vid sums it up a little better than I can.

Dragon*Con 2018, baby!!!

5.  You want to give, give, give

One of the main reasons anxiety and depression suck is because of how selfish it makes you.  You think thoughts like, “I am stupid.  Nobody likes me.  I can’t do anything right.  I don’t want to talk to anyone.”  Me, me, me.

The cruelest part of it all is, you can see yourself being this way, but you can’t just pull yourself out of it.  You want to–you want to so badly–but it doesn’t work like that.

If you do manage to pull yourself out, however–the welling of love and understanding is almost overwhelming.  The shadowy silhouettes that fluttered in and out of your life become actual people.

Friends.  Family.  People who love you.  Who like you.  Who want to help you.  Who want to see you succeed.

You finally recognize how long they’ve stuck around, despite your crappy moods.  And more than anything, you want to express to them that you know–that you appreciate it more than they can possibly know.  You love them, too!  And you just want them to please–please stay in your life.

Despite the times you can be an emotionless mess, canceling plans because you can’t find the energy to support them, or snapping at them when they’re asking if you’re alright for the fifth time, you love them and they mean so much to you.  And you will help them however you can, so just tell you want they need, so you can do it!

And most times, you want to do it all before the next wave of depression and anxiety returns.

Because, believe me–it does return.

When the Good Days Go

The bad news is, there is no immediate, one-time cure for depression or anxiety, social or regular.  Even if there is medication to help reduce the symptoms, medicine alone can’t fix it.  Finding the right combo of medicine, therapy, and inner strength are the best ways to maintain control of your life and keeping the good days coming.  It is hard work and long work, but it does reap rewards if you stay with it.  The frequency and the duration of the down days reduce, and if you can just make it through each one, you’ll start to acknowledge them less and less.

Another way?

Remember that today, you are in a good day.

Remember how good it feels.

Remember that, if the down days return, you always have the chance to bring the good days back.

The Search to be Self-aware

When you’re consumed by a new concept, don’t be surprised when you hear about that concept from the least likely of sources.  For me, that concept was being self-aware.  The source?  My job.

Last week, I attended a lecture in which one of my department’s leaders was the speaker.  I wasn’t sure what the lecture would entail, and I went only because another coworker of mine (who had just joined our team a few weeks ago) was attending.

I didn’t want to seem like I wasn’t interested in supporting my people.  After a good internal whine-fest, I smiled and said, “Cool!  You ready to head over?”

Once we arrived at the conference room, we were surprised to see that it was, instead of a large lecture hall, a smaller, more intimate venue designed to hold only about 20 people.  We had run into our leader at the elevator of the building, and she’d laughed with relief to know that some of her team was going to be joining her at the lecture.

The facilitator, a manager from the North America Business Unit of our company, soon began the meeting.  I quickly realized that this “meeting” wasn’t to discuss manufacturing practices or a new trend in the food science industry.  Instead, it was meant to encourage discussion regarding “servant leadership.”

“Leadership,” I’ve heard of.  “Servant leadership,” not so much.

Servant Leaders–What It Means to Self-awareness

I went, as I always do, to Google.  Here was what the top result told me:

Servant leadership is a philosophy and set of practices that enriches the lives of individuals, builds better organizations and ultimately creates a more just and caring world.

Okay, great.  So…what does that mean?

I read further on the Center for Servant Leadership website, and found out that servant leadership is something of a process.

  1. The Natural Desire:  “It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first”.
  2. The Conscious Choice “Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead…”
  3. The Best Test:  “The best test, and difficult to administer, is: do those served grow as persons…”

These are the site’s words, but my takeaway is that, perhaps there is a cause you want to provide for.  Or there are people you want to help.  You make a decision to do what you need to do to help them.  Maybe it’s through starting a charity drive, or serving as a mentor to those who need it.

Your work is beneficial.  Your words become influential.  You couldn’t really care less.

You’re not doing any of this for selfish reasons.  You truly want to help, to see others progress and evolve.

At the time of the lecture, I didn’t know any of this.  And yet, one of my leaders was presenting content on this topic.

Being Self-aware and Shaping Yourself

I will honor the main principle of the group’s confidentiality (“What’s said in the circle stays in the circle,” the facilitator started with a smile.).  I will however, say that when my leader spoke, I was surprised by what I heard.  It wasn’t some generic comment about how everyone is important, and believe in yourself, and leading is important, and blah blah blah.

Instead, I heard the story of a human being who, when doors opened for her after college when literally there had been no options before, recognized that she could not and did not want to lose opportunities when they arose.

The first sentence out of her mouth was, “I was the most extreme introvert you could meet.”

My ears perked; she continued. “However, I knew I had to fight through that shell.  There were certain things I wanted to do, and I could not remain in my shell, staying indoors, reading all the time.  I had to change that.”

As she recounted her journey to her current role as a high-profile leader, she paused.  Her speech, laid heavy with her European accent, was calm and soft, but unequivocally layered with natural authority.  “I think we as a people need to put more emphasis on being self-aware.  We don’t spend a lot of time listening to ourselves.

“As we grow, we have to ask ourselves, what do we want to do?  My family–my husband, my child–is scattered across the world; we are truly an international family.  But I had to take this job opportunity and be where I am right now.  If I wasn’t the best of me, I wouldn’t be able to help my family.”

I saw several heads across the room nod.

Self-aware ≠ Selfishness

For someone looking outside of the leader’s family, it could be easy to think, “Oh, you moved halfway across the world away from your husband and son, just to take a job?  That seems a little selfish.”  To me, it seems one of the bravest, most selfless act a person could do.

Our leader did not force her family to move with her to the States.  Her husband had an established routine where he lived, and so did her son.  What would have truly been selfish was if she told them to come with her, or even if she had ended any communication with her husband, perhaps declaring his refusal to leave his job as a slash against their love.

Hers is a strong family, one in which each individual is aware of the life and career he/she is striving to develop.  In this stage of their lives, they must be apart to fulfill this stage.  The separation does not weaken their bond, but rather strengthens it.

Our leader, in her talk, said that her family is everything to her.  It is because they are everything, that she chose to take this job.  Physical distance is exactly that–physical.  The spiritual bond–the love–will remain strong as she grows in this new position and helps reshape our department as best she can.

How Self-aware are We?

I left the presentation with a newfound admiration and respect for my leader, one that I had admittedly wavered on before.  It can be easy to hear someone say, “Oh, he’s a great leader/she’s a great leader.”  But it can be difficult to understand what that means.

Recently, I’ve been told that I would be a good leader.  I’ve had people reach out to me, look at me as if they expect something extraordinary to burst out of me.  If I am housing the unicorn of Alien chest-bursters, it certainly would be new to me.

“What do you want?” I want to scream, feeling awkward and nervous under their anticipation.  “What do you expect me to do?  I’m just me!  I’m nobody!”

I’ve prided myself on being a “super introvert.”  I’ve told people I need my alone time; I need isolation and selective activity.  People “exhaust” me.

Not only that…but people don’t like me.

…They don’t.

Right?

I promised myself at the beginning of this year that my life would change not just for the better, but towards a permanent future of amazing, wonderful possibilities.

I meant this promise.  I’m still doing everything I can to keep moving in a direction of physical, spiritual, emotional growth and fulfillment.  But if I am to be truly self-aware, maybe calling myself a (proud) super introvert is not the most flattering aspect of myself.

I am not fully self-aware yet.  I’m still not sure want to do in life, or even what I want out of life.

But, I want to.

I’m trying.

And hopefully, that is moving in the right direction.

To conclude, here is one last quote from my leader, one that really, really resounded with me.

“We have characteristics that shape us, but we shouldn’t let that shape who we want to be.”