I must write a disclaimer here. I mean no disrespect to anyone with this poem. I wrote this days after Kate Spade committed suicide. I was walking up my stairs at home and I thought, “Brilliant. Hanging with a scarf. I have never even thought of that.” As one who has suffered with depression, I know that I am sometimes just tired. Mentally tired. The thoughts racing in my mind. I love life. I love recovery. I love growing. I love sharing through words. That is what this poem is about. It is not about suicide.
Extrovert. I was 12 years old when I first heard this word. I didn’t know the label at the time. My best friend’s father, Albert Gless, was an extrovert. He was larger than life! He was fun. He told stories. He drew you to him. He made those around him laugh. He was brilliant. He called me his “little extrovert.” We would swap stories. We allowed each other to shine. He was a New Yorker from The Bronx, 52 years my senior. He, his beautiful wife, Rose, and their children, Artie and Susan, my best friend, had come south to Gulf Breeze, Florida in the early 1970’s just a few years before I met them. With his New Yawk accent, he would ask me, “Do you know Mubbalubba Jim ovah by the bordah back bay?” I would respond, “Well, do YOU know Mubbalubba Jim ovah by the bordah back bay?” I think he loved that I found such delight in these exchanges.
When he died, he had a photo of my best friend and me in his wallet. I was his other daughter, his little extrovert. I got the call early one morning. It was in the summer of 1983. My beloved kindred spirit had died. Mr. Gless taught me that being an extrovert is a good thing.
As I got older I became perplexed that people believe they have the license to point out an extrovert’s personality traits and many times not in a kind manner. I could write a list of statements which have been said to me over my lifetime. “Wow, you are a piece of work aren’t you? Are you always on? Do you have ADHD?” or “Allen Stoner deserves a medal for living with you.” Yes, a prominent Christian man just a few years older than my father in our small city said this to me at a social gathering in 2010. I was 48 years old. I will never forget it. It cut me to the core. I still don’t get it. I don’t.
Conversely, I can’t imagine saying to an introvert, “Wow, you just don’t say anything? Are you always so quiet, so dull?” I take responsibility for letting some of these statements offend me. For hurting me.
I was very close to someone years ago. A friend of hers sent her an email expressing that she could not be friends with her at the time because of me….. because of my personality. The sad part is I did not want to be the cause of the split in their friendship. I wanted reconciliation for them, so I sent a letter of apology for being the way I was. For being over the top. For annoying them. I did this. I apologized for being me. She acknowledged the letter and sent a kind response, but she still stayed away. They are all friends again and friends with some of my old friends. I am out of this loop. I know now; these are not my people. When you have the exterior of being funny, happy, and kind some people see this as a weakness, and it causes some to have a level of superiority over the extrovert.
In recovery, I have learned quite a bit about me. I want everyone to love me. I have only disliked people if they were unkind to me, my family, my friends, or if they spewed hate or bigotry. I can’t imagine disliking someone just for being themselves. I have also learned that not everyone will like me and it does not matter. One of my favorite quotes is, “It is absolutely none of my business what anyone thinks of me.” We all want people to like us. I think extroverts put on a show for others to please them and make them happy. Part of my descent into alcoholism was trying to be what everyone wanted me to be. I loathed myself for being me. Period. I have tried to change me. Change who I am. Years ago a friend said, “Cookie is like the sun. Some people want the sunshine on their face. They look up and soak it in. Others put their hands up and guard their faces because it is too much.”
My career before being a stay at home mom was in sales. I worked at a Fortune 500 company selling postage meters and shipping and mailing equipment. I was in Sales Management in the hospitality industry and my last job was as a Pharmaceutical Sales Representative. Because of the balance of personality along with my work ethic I was successful in my career. I enjoyed great respect from successful business people. In my late 40’s after being at home, as well as working as my husband’s law office manager I began having coffee with a group of strong smart professional women on a weekly basis. One of the ladies was in the early stages of building her new company. After a few weeks of these morning coffee meetings, she said, “I would love to have someone like you work for my company.” Never missing an opportunity, I told her I was interested. We set a time for a job interview. I dressed in a suit looking and acting my most professional. I arrived 10 minutes early for my appointment updated resume in hand. We spent about an hour together discussing her vision. I was on my best behavior as I always was in business situations. At the end of our time together, she looked up at me and these were her words, “I just don’t know. All I know is this Cookie…..” and she proceeded to put her hands up and let out a crazy shrill. I thanked her for her time and we both agreed we would think about it. We never discussed it again. She didn’t call. I didn’t follow up which I normally would have if I had wanted the job.
When my daughter was about five years old, she was entertaining my aunt and uncle who had come to visit. I told her it was time to settle down. She replied, “Mommy, I just want to make them happy.” And, there you have it. Both of my children are extrovert/introverts. Extroverts first, but they are so much more. I have cried many tears because they are outgoing people pleasers. In an article by Beth Belle Cooper, she states, “Research has actually found that there is a difference in the brains of extroverted and introverted people in terms of how we process rewards and how our genetic makeup differs. For extroverts, their brains respond more strongly when a gamble pays off. Part of this is simply genetic, but it’s partly the difference of their dopamine systems as well.” So, we were born this way. We know when to be calm by society’s standards. We know when to behave. But, we are who we are because of the makeup of our brain.
I suppose I am tired of “extrovert shaming.” Of course, I say this somewhat in jest, but unless you have not been dismissed because you are an extrovert, you cannot understand what a lifetime of this does to a person’s spirit. So today, this ambivert is telling my truth. I love to be alone, but I also love being alone in a crowd of people who are strangers. I think this must be why I felt so alive when I lived in New York City for a few months in 2016. The people and the movement of the city energized me, but I found the mental space to be alone in the crowd. I did not have to interact to be energized. Extroverts love to observe. We don’t miss a thing. We are great listeners. We are very intuitive people. Carl Jung said, “There is no such thing as a pure introvert or extrovert. Such a person would be in a lunatic asylum.” I have read extensively about extroverts in the last few years. We are people pleasers. If we are quiet, then those around us want to know what is wrong so we have been conditioned to keep our level of energy up to maintain these expectations. Many people do not take us seriously. Though, I have found that true intellectuals and those whose opinions I respect, get me and have a deeper thought process of what it means to be an extrovert. Bluntly speaking, they have the sense enough to know we are many-faceted individuals and those who understand this are not so shallow as to be put off by an extrovert’s exterior. We become the yin to the other’s yang. These are my people.
This piece isn’t to garner sympathy. It is to continue the dialogue of understanding a misunderstood personality. We extroverts are not all happy people all the time. We don’t want to fill in the conversation when it gets quiet, though our brain thinks otherwise. We don’t always want to talk! We have to work at turning it off. Interaction with people makes our brain get charged and we are off to the races. Trust me, we want to stop. We have to keep our smile while we are mentally putting on the brakes. Many think extroverts are exhausting and most of the time they will come out and tell us. Well, I have a little secret for you, quiet people exhaust us. We just have the kindness and social graces not to tell you. Though, secretly we are thinking you are a “Flatliner” and hope that you don’t depend on your personality to feed yourself. Seriously, and we are serious people. We know when to have on our communion faces and we know when to be on. We are much more than our exterior.
I will always remember the first time my beloved kindred spirit called me his little extrovert. His smile was big and infectious and his blue eyes glistened. I felt he gave me a badge of honor. I will always be his little extrovert, but I will continue to set boundaries with those who need my boundaries. I will continue to shine when I feel like shining. I will not apologize for my personality. I will continue to be me.