As I prepare to write this, I am fantasizing about rocking the fetal position under my desk, or perhaps taking a sick day and hiding under soft covers instead. I live in a rather ironic balancing act between being an extreme introvert and yet being passionately called to roles that put me in front of a room. They are my own choices, so this is not a request for sympathy (though compassion is welcome). It reminds me, however, of the courage and vulnerability it takes to be seen, and I want to take a short minute to honor that for all of us who may straddle that uncomfortable, “red-faced producing” fence.
As a teenager, I was a point guard on an awesome basketball team for a high school that sadly no longer exists, St. Thomas Aquinas High School Lady Saints. I was not a consistently strong player, and I was surrounded by some amazing talent. However, you know the cliché, a team is only as strong as its weakest link. My goal that championship year was to simple be strong enough to hold the team up to what it was capable of.
I had my moments of glory, such as one perfectly timed steal and lay up to end a team summer-camp semi-final game with victory. I also had my moments of letting others down, like a fall in a really tough practice that I just couldn’t get up from. Both the high and the low triggered the same complex in me: overexposure.
As I work with more and more survivors of violence, I notice the overexposure theme recurs with a disturbing frequency, and often motivates our choices around self-care or sabotage. Even at the moments when we can taste success or freedom, such as a survivor landing a permanent apartment after years of transition, we can throw it away. Our fear of “arriving” where we always thought we wanted to be can trigger panic that doesn’t make sense to us. It can be painful, relentless, and trigger our own shame, as for the outsider, this is a GOOD thing (so what’s the problem).
My introverted friends, allies and readers already understand all of this and are rocking their head nods like at a heavy metal concert. Being a survivor is not a prerequisite for the oxymoron that is pride in ourselves while wanting to keep it a tremendous secret. My son, an 8-year-old budding runner, last week had to collect three things that meant a great deal to him for a project at school. At the last moment, he swapped out his age group medal for a 5k race with a McDonald’s Happy Meal toy. He then complained that he didn’t know what to write about why it was important to him. My instinct was to say “of course, silly, it’s a McDonald’s toy!!” Instead, my introversion-recognizing self kicked in, “were you too embarrassed to share the medal, honey?” “Yes.” I told him I “got him” and pulled him in for the kind a side-quickie-hug being a growing boy can allow. He was proud of that medal, but still wanted to keep it a secret.
If you get this, I honor your guts. Breathe through the vulnerability. If you can allow yourself to be seen a bit, pat yourself on the back, and then quickly plan a chance to recharge. You’ve got this.