Dear Babykins: Sleep Payback

Dear Babykins,

During your first round of nap protests, I had several mothers recommend the book Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child  “It’s so helpful,” they said.  “It really encouraged me understand my baby’s sleep needs,” they told me.  Consequently, I bought the book and plowed through it.  Then I attempted to apply the advice given in the book to you.

You didn’t go for it, leaving me a hysterical mess because the book also assured me that if you didn’t get the “right” sleep, you would grow up to be a delinquent idiot.

Your own sleep cycle soon emerged:  For several days you would take extremely long naps and go to bed well, then several days you would only nap for 30 minutes at a time and refuse to fall asleep at night.  Each time you entered the anti-sleep phase there would be much wailing and gnashing of teeth because I was sure that your refusal to nap was a reflection of my terrible mothering.

At any rate, last week I thought we turned a corner with this whole sleep thing.  For three days you went to bed at 7:00 p.m. and you took a good morning nap and a good afternoon nap–just like the book said you should.  Then, without warning, you started waking up at 5:30 a.m. and taking 30 minute naps–just like the book said you shouldn’t.  Cue the wailing and gnashing of teeth.

After the second day of this, I talked to your grandmother.  I bemoaned the fact that you just wouldn’t take a decent nap and despite you continuing your 7 p.m. bedtime, you were insistent on waking up before 6 a.m.  “That sounds reasonable to me,” your grandmother said.

“But that isn’t what the book said she should be doing,” I explained.

“Oh, throw that stupid book away.  I’ve always told you that you gave up your morning nap when you were only a few months older than Babykins!” exclaimed your grandmother.

It was true, one of your grandmother’s favorite stories of my infancy is that I was a terrible napper and refused to take a morning nap well before I was a year old.  Originally I thought this story was amusing, now that you’re here, Babykins, I realize the horrible reality of a baby who won’t take a nap.  Oh, why did I put your grandmother through that?

Oh, right, because I was a baby.

However, it is a comfort to know I was a terrible napper and I didn’t grow up to be a delinquent moron.  So there’s hope for you.

At any rate, perhaps 26 years from now you’ll have a baby of your own who won’t sleep.  And I’ll tell you when you lament about bad naps that you would often only take 30 minute naps that made me wail and gnash my teeth.  But I’ll do so with fondness and laughter.



P.S.–After I had this conversation with your grandmother, you took a 3 hour nap that afternoon.  Go figure.




The Biggest Untruth of New Motherhood

I have been told many lies about raising Babykins.

Okay, “lies” might be a bit harsh–they are more like untruths.  Untruths stated with such certainty that it’s hard not to be crushed when they don’t happen.  Things like:

“Just wear her in a carrier!  She’ll be content and you’ll be able to get things done.”

“It’ll get easier at 6 weeks.”

“Nursing is great because you can sooth your baby.”

“Let sleeping babies lie” and “She can’t be hurt by crying.”*

Then there’s the biggest untruth of all:

“Trust you instincts.  You’re her mother, you’ll know what’s best for her.”

Because I don’t know what’s best for her.

I don’t know if I have an especially fussy baby or if I’m simply not coping.  I don’t know if she has acid reflux, gas issues, or typical baby tummy troubles.  I don’t know when she’s tired and hungry, tired and gassy, or tired and just won’t sleep.

The not knowing is almost paralyzing.  And that’s why yesterday–despite my nearly dry prayer life–I found myself crying while bouncing with a fussy Babykins on the exercise ball and begging God to have mercy on both of us.


*These may be true if Babykins wasn’t so small and gained weight faster.  

The First Sunday: Technology Glitches and Surprised Coping

My Husband’s First Sunday as Pastor

This past Sunday was the first time my husband led a service as Pastor.  He was naturally a bit nervous when leaving for church Sunday morning but was also excited.  However, the start of the service set off a dazzling sound system failure.

First, he couldn’t get his microphone to turn on.  He had to awkwardly stand in front of the congregation as he fiddled with the pack.  When he finally got it on, the sound wasn’t balanced correctly.  Have you ever listened to an old speech in front of a large crowd?  It echos across the masses, almost repeating the words of the speech.  Now think about how that would sound in a small sanctuary.  That’s how my husband sounded.

I’m fairly certain that there were some members frantically trying to fix the problem throughout the first half of the service.  However, the strange auditorium echo remained when my husband started preaching.  About 5 minutes into the sermon, the sound system gave up and created an eardrum splitting round of feedback.  My husband asked to have the sound turned off at the point.  On the bright side, everyone was quite awake for at least part of the sermon.

The worst part of all this was that several of the same problems occurred at the ordination service, so some members of the congregation worked on fixing the problem this past week.  They thought they had everything sorted out, so to have the same issues occur again was frustrating for everybody.

Naturally, the glitches on Sunday didn’t fall completely on the sound system.  There were the usual hiccups that occur when a new pastor does a service with a congregation for the first time.  My husband forgot to tell the organist about using a seasonal antiphon.  The congregation (myself included) got confused about what we were supposed to respond with during the prayer of the church.  Overall, it wasn’t the smoothest service.  When he got home, my husband shook his head and said, “I was just waiting for a dog to walk in.”

The good news is that Bible study seemed to go much better.  Despite my husband using a Power Point presentation, there wasn’t any technological snafus.  Nobody stormed out of the study deeply offended.  That’s not saying much seeing how we’re Midwestern Lutherans and such a public display of emotion would be unsightly.

My First Sunday as Pastor’s Wife

I had been dreading this first Sunday in a new congregation ever since we returned from vicarage.  Since attending services the first few months of vicarage was a horrible, anxiety-inducing struggle, I was concerned that I would wind up in the bathroom stall with a panic attack at our new church.

However, Sunday turned out to be surprisingly peaceful.  Well, at least it was only uncomfortably awkward and not panic-inducing.  I believe part of this relates to how sound carries inside the church.  Our vicarage church’s fellowship hall was loud and often had 60-80 people milling around between service and Bible study.  The noise overstimulated me, leaving me confused and anxious.   Our new church’s fellowship hall isn’t nearly as loud; it is also a smaller congregation than our vicarage church.

Leave it to me to feel relieved that there are less people attending church.  :/

Another helpful factor was that two members from our vicarage congregation surprised us by attending service (they were vacationing in the area).  It was a comfort to see a pair of familiar faces.

Overall, I left Bible study feeling like maybe, just maybe, I could swing this pastor’s wife thing after all.

First Sunday

Don’t worry, I haven’t lost my mind. I didn’t actually sit in the front pew on Sunday.

Introversion, Shyness, and the Pastor’s Wife

A Facebook friend had posted this on her wall today.  I was uncertain how this article about helping the pastor’s wife would come across, but his list actually proved to be insightful and clear.  To be honest, I don’t know who the author of this blog is and what denomination he belongs to (or even if his other writings are complete rubbish), but he mentioned many of the stressors that pastor’s wives can face.  #3 rang especially true for me:

No two pastor’s wives are the same. Some love having others in their homes. Some sing or play an instrument. Some love shepherding the women around them. Some are extremely outgoing. Interestingly, those tend to be the expectations that are placed on all pastor’s wives. The problem is that some pastor’s wives are very shy. Some don’t like large groups. Some find it difficult to build relationships. Pastor’s wives, just like every other group of people, are different. Have realistic expectations. Some people expect their pastor’s wife to be someone God never intended her to be. This is simply unfair. Have realistic expectations of your pastor’s wife.

I’ve heard over and over again that I don’t have to do anything I wouldn’t want to do as a layperson, but this is one of the few times someone has mentioned personality in relation to the role of pastor’s wife.  It gave me a little hope during what is proving to be a fretful month.  And hurrah, I’m not the only one who is shy, doesn’t like large groups, and find it difficult to build relationships!

Do you have a pastor’s wife who doesn’t fit the “traditonal” role?  What do you like about her (I’m trying to be positive here)?  Are you a pastor’s wife with a personality that doesn’t meet the “traditonal” expectations?  How do you help congregation members understand this?  

A Year Ago

Last year, October, November, and December were terrible months for me.  I struggled to adjust to our move.  I felt lonely.  I was diagnosed with anxiety and went on an anti-depressant.  It wasn’t a great time in my life, especially since I quit going to church during those months.

Thankfully, things eventually did get better.  I returned to church, a painful but necessary ordeal.  My panic attacks began to decline and finally stopped for the first time in three years.  I’m still on medication but it seems to help keep me in balance.  Most of all, I feel whole.  I didn’t realize it while it was happening, but a year ago I lived in a painful fog.  Most of the time I only felt apathy, sadness, or hopelessness.  Now I might have a stressful day at work or a chaotic weekend, but my base mood is contentment.  I can go to church again without trying to fight off uncontrollable panic.  Best of all, I feel like I can laugh again:  Laugh with my family and friends, laugh at what goes on around me, and laugh at myself.

However, while I am better, I am not healed.  The anxiety and depression is under control but it still lurks in my mind.  The past can haunt me.  Sometimes I’m unable to find a good answer to the question, “How was vicarage?”  It also scares me that things were so dark without me realizing it.  Likewise, the future frightens me.  I try not to think about the unknowns, but sometimes the old feeling of panic resurfaces when I think about having to face a new congregation this summer.  Then I know that while I’ve momentarily won the battle with anxiety, it still waits to resurface when I’m at my most vulnerable.

Yet I still have hope despite my worries.  I know now that even if my worst fears happen, I will survive.  I’m starting to formulate a preemptive strike against anxiety by preparing to find a counselor as soon as we know where we are moving.  And because now I know that I am not indestructible, my prayer to God is no longer “Lord, You must keep this from happening” but rather, “Lord, keep me faithful in my weakness, because I cannot.  Have mercy on me.”

Introduction to HSP

At long last, I’ve written the post on Elaine N. Aron’s book, The Highly Sensitive Person.

When I went through my first round of counseling back in 2011, my counselor gave me a book to read entitled The Highly Sensitive Person:  How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You.  I was initially a bit hesitant to read the book because, well, it sounded cheesy.  However, I was desperate enough to try just about anything at that point, so I went ahead and read it anyway.

It was a breakthrough for me.  Suddenly there seemed to be an answer about why I was having problems holding myself together, why I couldn’t function in the chaos at work, and even why I cried so much as a child:  I was a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP).

What is a HSP?

Being highly sensitive actually has a straightforward explanation.  According to Dr. Aron, who coined the phrase “highly sensitive”, it simply means, “you are aware of subtleties in your surroundings, a great advantage in many situations.  It also means you are more easily overwhelmed when you have been out in a highly stimulating environment for too long, bombarded by sights and sounds until you are exhausted in a nervous-system sort of way,” (xiii).  Basically, HSPs is more effected by their environment because their nervous-system picks up on more in its surroundings.  Because of HSPs’ sensitivity to their environment, they are likely to be more affected by things like loud noises, other people’s moods, and having to do too much at one time (for a self-test about being highly sensitive, go here).  My personal favorite sign of being a HSP is sensitivity to hunger because I turn into a terrible monster when I skip meals or snacks.

However, high sensitivity can also be hard to define in relation to shyness/social anxiety and introversion because many traits of HSPs are also found in shy people and introverts.  So what makes being highly sensitive a distinguishable trait and not just an outcome of being shy or introverted?

HSPs Aren’t Necessarily Introverts

Admittedly, HSPs’ style of socialization is very similar to introverts’ style of socialization.  However, the motivation behind these social styles can differ.  While the defining characteristic of an introvert is the need for alone time in order to recharge, HSPs “avoid people who come in the overstimulating packages–the strangers, the big parties, the crowds,” (97).  HSPs will prefer small groups or being alone so that they won’t feel overwhelmed by their environment.  This certainly explains why some introverts can handle a crowd without going comatose while some introverts become frozen like small animals facing an oncoming car when entering the din of a large party.

Since 70% of HSPs are introverts (98), their motivation for quieter socialization may be a combination of the need for alone time and avoiding being overstimulated.  However, that leaves 30% of HSPs falling into the extraverted side of the spectrum.  For extraverted HSPs, “you have a large circles of friends and enjoy groups and strangers. . .You still find other sources of arousal difficult, however, like a long work day or being in the city too much,” (98).  Consequently, the terms “highly sensitive” and “introverted” cannot be used interchangeably.

HSPs Aren’t Necessarily Shy

Many of HSPs’ social habits can make them seem shy.  In fact, it is not uncommon for HSPs to actually be shy.  However, they are not the same because, “Shyness is the fear others are not going to like or approve of us.  That makes it a response to a situation.  It is a certain state, not an always-present trait.  Shyness, even chronic shyness, is not inherited.  Sensitivity is,” (91).  So while a shy person can work on being less shy, a sensitive person can only change their reactions to being sensitive.

The reason many HSPs appear shy is because of their reactions to arousing situations.  They may hang back in a crowd or not talk much.  But Dr. Aron explains, “Remember, overarousal is not always due to fear.  Thinking it is fear can make you feel shy when you are not,” (91-92).  Take my experience on vicarage for example.  The social time between the service and Bible Study was extremely crowded and very loud.  When people tried talking to me, I couldn’t understand what they were saying because of the bombardment of surrounding conversations and the distraction of people milling around.  Since I couldn’t contribute to any sort of small talk, I had several members say things like, “You don’t have to be afraid of us” or “You’re very shy.”  Then I felt self-conscious about my inability to converse, making it more difficult to talk to others.  It also saddened me that a vibrant church community and large Bible study were things to be celebrated, but only brought me torment.

Now, you might be wondering why I’m once again adding a disclaimer to my shyness after demanding that shyness be accepted a few weeks ago.  It’s because Dr. Aron succinctly describes the negative aspects of being called shy:

Unfortunately, the term shy has some very negative connotations.  It does not have to; shy can also be equated with words such as discreet, self-controlled, thoughtful, and sensitive.  But studies have shown that most people on first meeting those I would call HSPs considered them shy and equated that with anxious, awkward, fearful, inhibited, and timid.  Even mental health professionals have rated them, more often than not, this way and also as lower on intellectual competence, achievement, and mental health, which, in fact, bear no associations with shyness.  Only people who knew the shy people well, such as their spouses, chose the positive terms.  Another study found that the tests used by psychologists to measure shyness are replete with the same negative terms.  Maybe that would be all right if the tests were of a state of mind, but they’re often used to identify “shy people,” who then bear a negative label.  Beware of the hidden prejudice behind the word shy. (93)

She eventually suggests using the term “social discomfort” instead of the word “shy.”  I’m not trying to stop from thinking of myself as being shy, I’m trying to explain that there many reasons that people appear shy and that shy people shouldn’t necessarily be written off as socially incompetent.

The Cons of The Highly Sensitive Person

While I highly recommend this book for people who constantly feel overwhelmed by the world around them, there are some aspects of the book that I didn’t particularly relate to.  First, there is an entire chapter devoted to spirituality.  I find when books try to cover all aspects religious practices by calling it “spirituality”, it generally comes off as seeming trite and flakey.  While there are some little nuggets of useful information buried in the chapter, for the most part I would have preferred that she left her audience to make their own deductions about how their personality trait may affect their religious practices.

Secondly, there was a lot of discussion (and an entire chapter) about “healing wounds,” especially the emotional wounds from a misunderstood childhood.  While I certainly had some rough years growing up, for the most part I look back on my childhood as a happy, healthy time (Good job, Mom and Dad!).  While I’m sure many of her readers did have difficult childhoods, it just didn’t pertain to me.

The Pros of The Highly Sensitive Person

However, there was a plethora of helpful and insightful information presented in Dr. Aron’s findings.  She had great insight into handling social situations as a HSP (something I found particularly helpful because the tips from my introversion books didn’t always help).  Since she is a HSP herself, Dr. Aron understood the struggle an overarousing situation can create.

Likewise, she had an entire chapter devoted to healthcare and the HSP.  She explained the sensitivities HSPs can have to medicine and the difficulties they may face when interacting with doctors.  I especially enjoyed her insights into the use of antidepressants and antianxiety medicine, something doctors can be overeager to prescribe to HSPs in order to “fix” their personality problem.  She was very diligent in weighing the pros and cons of these medications and left it up to readers to decide what was best for them.

Finally, I enjoyed reading The Highly Sensitive Person because it shows that people are complex.  After spending months reading about introversion, it was interesting to look at some of my behaviors from a different perspective.

Are you a HSP?  What do you like most AND least about your trait?  Are you a non-HSP introvert?  What do you see as similarities and differences between introversion and high sensitivity?  Are you an extroverted HSP?  How do you handle your personality trait?  

I’m Sorry My Shyness Makes You Uncomfortable, But Please Stop Pointing it Out

In the last six months or so, more and more people seem to be “coming out” as introverts on the internet.  Perhaps it’s because I’ve become more interested in my own introverted tendencies, perhaps it’s because I started sharing about being introverted so others have started posting introversion articles on my Facebook page (which I do appreciate), but whatever the reason there has been a flood of posts like “I’m Introverted and Sociable” or “10 Ways You Know You are an Introvert.”  Another popular theme for introversion posts is “I’m Not Shy, I’m an Introvert.”  In my readings about introversion, I’ve discovered that while our society is slowly becoming more aware and accepting of the introverts around them, shyness is still viewed as an undesirable trait.  But I’m a shy introvert who wonders why my shyness is such a big bother to other people.

The Problem With Shyness

Admittedly, being shy can cause problems.  In my experience, shyness can make it difficult to meet new people.  Likewise, it can make it difficult for me to join in a conversation when in a large group.  Finally, shyness added to a disastrous first few months of vicarage, where my struggle to interact with others heightened my anxiety about attending church.

However, I’m not trying to argue that shyness isn’t a problem for me.  I’m just trying to figure out why other people have a problem with my shyness.

Shyness Makes Others Uncomfortable

I know shyness isn’t necessarily a trait someone is born with and that it can be controlled, but why does it matter to others if I’m shy?  Are they the ones feeling panicked in a social situation?  Are they the ones who feel overwhelmed by a room of strangers?  Most likely not.

I think what it comes down to is that my shyness can make others uncomfortable.  It can make people uncomfortable when I don’t immediately engage in small talk, it can make people uncomfortable when I very obviously hang back in the crowd, and it can make people uncomfortable when I don’t speak or smile.

When people become uncomfortable, they try to “fix” my shyness by saying incredibly thoughtless, unhelpful things like:

join the group

I’m not saying that I don’t ever want to be invited to join a group–sometimes I really am feeling too shy to include myself.  But there is a big difference between demanding that I stop acting shy and join the group and having someone politely say, “Oh, hi!  Would you like to sit with us?”  And for the times I actually don’t want to be around others?  I might try to stretch my own comfort zone and join the group for those who tried to politely include me.  I mean, I’m shy and introverted, not mannerless!

Another popular comment of people trying to “fix” my shyness is this:

not talking

Along with the not talking much, I’m told I don’t smile and that I’m shy.  None of these are completely true.  I can talk a lot when I’m comfortable or passionate about a subject.  I can smile–you can look at my wedding photos for proof–I just don’t smile all the time.  And I’m not always shy, it just depends on the circumstance.

The Hermit Crab Analogy

Now I’ve heard the excuses for why people behave this way:  They’re just trying to make me comfortable and help me come out of my shell.  “Come out of my shell”–let’s take a moment and examine that phrase.  In college, I had some pet hermit crabs.  When I picked up one of my hermit crabs, it would immediately draw back into it’s shell.  In order to get it to come out of its shell, I would hold them quietly in my hand for a few minutes.  It would inevitably begin to peak out and eventually crawl over my hands.  It just took a little time and gentleness.

Now imagine for a moment that I tried to get the hermit crabs to come out the same way people sometimes try to get me to come out of my shell:

hermit crabThe hermit crabs would have stayed in their shells until I left them alone.  The same goes for me–if people try to have me “come out of my shell” by pointing out that I’m being shy, I’m most likely to withdraw further from them.

What Actually Helps With Shyness

I have been (slowly) working on my shyness and consequent anxiety.  Sometimes I make myself go to an event even if I know I’ll feel socially uncomfortable.  Sometimes I’ll force myself to start a conversation with someone I don’t know particularly well.  Sometimes I’ll even introduce myself to a stranger.  *gasp*

However, if someone wants to help me “come out of my shell”, there are some things they can do to help.  They can ask if I want to join the group, but make it clear that they won’t be offended if I don’t join (for example “Are you comfortable where you are or would you like to join us at our table?”).  Even better, they can ask if they can join me so I don’t have to try to enter a conversation with an established party.  Most of all, it is helpful for them to be aware that if  I am shy, I may just be quiet for awhile and that it isn’t anything personal against them.

Are you shy or have a close relationship with someone who is shy?  How do you cope/help them cope with shyness?  What do you find unhelpful when dealing with shyness?

The Worry Always Comes Out

On Wednesday we will be loading up yet another moving truck to make what is now becoming our annual move.  There’s a lot to be done before load up time:  Boxes to be packed, floors to be scrubbed, a location to recycle light bulbs to be found.  It’s a stressful time.  In the past, the stress of moving often reduced me to a crying pile of anxiety, but not so much with this move.  Don’t get me wrong, there have been nights when I tell my husband that I feel overwhelmed by everything, but this move hasn’t triggered any panic attacks and meltdowns.  It could be the drugs at work, it could be the fact that we’re returning to a familiar town, or it could be the fact that after three moves in three summers I’m finally getting adept at coping with these transitions.  Whatever the reasons, I’m happy to report that I feel somewhat emotionally stable for Moving 2013.

Well, emotionally stable as long as I’m conscious.  Sleeping has been a different story.

I’ve never been one to ponder the meaning of my dreams because they have always been fairly straightforward–I dream about whatever stressors are in my life.  In college I would dream about missing tests and forgetting papers.  While I worked at the daycare I would dream about loosing children.  The last couple of years I have dreamed about my nanny children when weeks have been particularly chaotic.  Since the beginning of July I have dreamed about moving.  And as irrational as my imagination can be during my waking hours, my unconscious mind can create some of the most unlikely scenarios:

The Not Packed Dream:  The moving truck had arrived and nothing in the house was boxed up.  I was frantically trying to shove things into boxes.  For some reason, one of my nanny children was with me so I was trying to teach him how to fold clothes to pack into boxes.  Since he was only 5 in my dream, it wasn’t going well.

not packed

The Search for Permanent Markers Dream, Part A:  I was searching Walmart (which looked oddly like Target) for permanent markers so I could label our moving boxes.  I searched and searched the aisles but couldn’t find them.  Oh, and I was on rollerblades and kept falling down.


The Search for Permanent Markers Dream, Part B:  I was again searching Walmart (which looked like Walmart this time) for permanent markers and still couldn’t find any.  This time I had a cranky child in tow, so I was literally dragging him through the store because he was on a harness.  I’m not sure whose child he was.


The Dual Parish Dream:  Somehow we had skipped fourth year completely and were trying to settle in at my husband’s first call, which was for a dual parish.  However, it wasn’t just that he had two churches, we also had two parsonages.  I was frantically trying to figure out how to split our belongings between two homes, frustrated because church members kept calling on my husband while we where trying to unpack, and devastated because we forgot our utensils at our farmhouse (and our utensils aren’t even that nice!).  Oh, and my sister was living with us for some reason.

dual parsonage

So there you have it, proof that the worry always comes out in some form or another.  The most stressful dream by far was the dual parish dream–I think my concern about the first call started showing in that one.  The dream that just makes me laugh is the thought of rollerblading through Walmart–I mean, really?  That’s just crazy.  At any rate, here’s hoping that a week from today the moving dreams will be gone. . . at least until next summer!

Do you have dreams about the stressors in your life?  How do you handle those dreams?  What has been your most amusing dream?  

Planning Conversations

Tomorrow my husband and I go to his other vicarage church to say goodbye.  I’m fully expecting this to be a highly uncomfortable experience for me since I haven’t actually been to this church since my husband was installed as their vicar last August.  There were some legitimate reasons for my lack of participation with this church–it’s 45 minutes away from our full vicarage congregation and transportation didn’t work out when my husband was preaching consistently there during Lent (he would go straight to the church from his confirmation class that was 30 minutes away from our house).  My not-so-legitimate reason for not going to this church was the fact that I could barely handle the congregation I worshiped with weekly; adding another church to attend occasionally created more stress in the balance of the it’s-only-a-year relationships.

One of the coping mechanisms I’m supposed to use when anticipating a stressful social situation is to think about possible conversations before the event.  This way I’ll have some sort of reasonable explanation prepared and won’t wind up looking like a small animal about to get hit by a car.  After being accosted by a pastor’s wife a few weeks ago for never attending the Winkels, I’m expecting some member tomorrow to comment on my lack of attention to their church this year.  Consequently, this is how I’ve thought out my response to this possible inquiry:

actual convoIt’s a reasonable answer to the comment about my attendance:  It doesn’t go into all the details about how this year went for me but it’s truthful about one aspect of the problems.

However, I told my husband that if I had the courage to do so, I would make the conversation go like this:

imaginary convoThis answer would be the full truth–I didn’t come because I was struggling and I couldn’t cope with another congregation this year.  Of course, perhaps my goal shouldn’t be to make congregation members uncomfortable by declaring my insanity–even if they make me uncomfortable by making comments with no “good” responses.



Introvert Monday: The Birthday Party

birthday party

On Saturday, my husband and I attended my nanny children’s birthday party (my nanny kids and their cousins all have birthdays in the same month, so their family throws a big birthday party for them every year).  This would be the first large group, non-church event we have attended since starting vicarage and truth be told, I was dreading this party all week.  I knew that I wouldn’t know most people at the party.  There would be a lot of people at the party.  Basically, I feared that I would go into introvert/anxiety mode in front of my boss.  By Saturday morning, I was berating myself for not finding an excuse to get out of going to the party.

However, it turned out to be a pleasant party.  The usual sensation of unease and stress never arose.  I didn’t feel my shoulders tense or my heart race.  It was the most comfortable I have felt at a large group event in a long time.

As we drove home from the party, I wondered why I felt so relaxed at the birthday party while Sunday mornings still remain a stressful ordeal.  My ponderings lead me to three reasons:

1.  There was ample space.  Crowds and noise are big triggers for me–that’s part of the reason I struggle so much at church (I know that I should be thrilled that the church is crowded with happy people; it still makes me uneasy).  However, the birthday party was outdoors with plenty of space for the numerous children to run around.  Likewise, there were several picnic tables spread out, meaning that when we sat down we weren’t bombarded by other tables’ conversations.

2.  I had a surrogate.  I’ve mentioned before that having a surrogate–a non-shy person to help a shy person in social situations–can be extremely helpful.  My husband is my surrogate.  While he is an ambivert (someone who falls in the middle of the extrovert/introvert continuum), he isn’t shy.  Likewise, he is a very gifted in small talk, meaning he can navigate social encounters with much more ease than I can.  Unfortunately, on Sunday mornings (and really any church event) my husband cannot be my surrogate because he is working.  However, for this party he was able to stay with me.  He didn’t need to rush off to talk to this person or that person.  And he was able to handle the small talk.

3.  There weren’t any expectations about my behavior.  I’ve heard it all before:  Just because I’m the vicar’s wife doesn’t mean I have to do certain things.  Despite this, I still feel pressure to be gregarious at church.  And whether I like it or not, what I say and do reflects on my husband.  This adds to the stress of Sunday mornings.  However, at the birthday party I was only the nanny.  If I didn’t talk much, if I seemed “shy,” that was okay–I have never heard of anyone expecting their nanny to be outgoing.  Likewise, it’s easier to monitor my behavior in relation to how it reflects on me than how it reflects on someone else.

The party provided both comfort in concern.  On one hand, here was proof that I could still function at a social event without going catatonic.  On the other hand, the three factors that made this party easier to tolerate cannot be easily emulated on Sunday mornings.

What do strategies to you use to make awkward social situations easier?