Tuesday, October 21, 2014

People-Time

"Wäldchestag" oil painting by Heinrich Hasselhorst, 1871

Back in April, I wrote about my Myers-Briggs type, which flip-flops between INFP and ENFP. I mentioned how psychotropic drugs seem to affect my moods to such a degree that it changes my behavior, and therefore changes my Myers-Briggs type.

Yesterday some colleages and I got into yet another discussion about our Myers-Briggs types. Most of us who were in the room are NFPs, one E and three I's. As we talked about the differences between E's and I's, or Extroverts and Introverts, and how "shy" and "introverted" are not the same thing, just as "social" and "extroverted" are not the same thing, I said, "I'm friendly, but I'm an introvert," and the other I's understood. I like people. Sure, they get on my nerves sometimes, but for the most part I'm pretty pro-people. But if I'm around a big group of people, especially extremely chatty people, I need time alone to recharge my social-battery.

I think it's because I like people so much that I need time away from them. I relate to others, listen to their stories and associate them to my own life. I'm empathetic, sometimes to such a degree that I feel other people's pain. When I don't keep myself in check, I tend to overfunction. I jump in, without anyone asking for help, and take care of everyone's needs, often to the detriment of my own.

When I was in second grade, my mom got called in to talk to my teacher about my behavior.

"What's wrong," Mom asked my teacher.

"Well, when Becky finishes her work, she helps everyone around her with their work, whether they ask her to or not. I really need the others to do their own work," my teacher explained. Only I would get in trouble for being overly helpful.

But I've learned over time to take care of myself. When my needs are met, I'm more fully available to help others with their needs. But I need meds, or I'm not even getting out of bed.

Some people, understandably, don't like taking their meds because they can alter your thinking and behavior so drastically. What is this, some kind of personality pill?

But I'm not worried about that question. I say, "So, what?" That's precisely why I feel better when I take my meds. I've discovered during the decade-and-a-half I've been off and on sertraline that I like myself much better when I'm on it. It's sad that I need to swallow a pill to like myself, but it's much more sorrowful when I don't. Off my meds, no matter how much exercise I get, no matter which healthy foods I eat, no matter how many people tell me they love me and that I'm wonderful, I lie in bed, starring out the windows at the clouds, wondering why I'm such a piece of shit I can't even appreciate my life.

Meds get me out of bed. They don't make life perfect. Bad things still happen, and I still feel badly about them. There's still hunger. There's still war. There's still politics. There's still pain. Well, now I'm being redundant.

When I take my meds, I don't feel overwhelmed by the bad things. In fact, when I'm at my most mentally balanced, I feel brave enough to try to make this world a better place.

So I took the Myers-Briggs again this morning, just to see how being on sertraline for nearly a year has changed how I feel about myself. I no longer spend days in the dark basement, navel-gazing, staying away from the rest of the world. I get out. I'm active. I surround myself with funny, warm people. So will the meds make me an E instead of an I?

Yep, sure enough, the test I took this morning says I'm an ENFP. And then I remembered. The very first time I took the Myers-Briggs, during that five year stint where I was regularly taking my meds, it said I was an E. But my E and I were close. All the other times, when I was inconsistently taking my meds, it said I was an I, but still, a close E. Now it says I'm back to E.

Not that I'm saying that all introverts could take meds and switch over to an extrovert. And not that being an extrovert is better or worse than being an introvert. I've just noticed, in myself, that when I feel better about myself, I enjoy other people more. When I don't feel good about myself, I enjoy other people less. Sertraline somehow helps me recharge my social-battery faster and more thoroughly than my unmedicated self has the energy to do.

Still, I'm the type of person who sits down and writes a self-reflective 750-word essay about how she thinks medication that is prescribed to people with social anxiety makes her feel more sociable. So, there's that.

What can I say? I'm an introspective extrovert. I like time alone to think, but I need to be around other people too, so I don't spiral out of control in self-absorption. In fact, I'm gonna go now. I'm jonesin' for some people-time.