Not an Island

words: Jessica Sowards
images: courtesy Katie Opris

No man is an island. At least, that’s what I’ve heard. For a while, I argued with that stance. John Donne penned his oft-quoted poem and posed a decent stance for man’s need for relationships, but I wasn’t so sure. Then I considered the fact that it was God who first said, “It is not good for man to be alone.” And while I might be willing to argue with John, I’ve learned the hard way how well it goes when I argue with God.

I am an introvert. These days, it’s a pretty embraced thing. There are plenty of articles explaining the woes of the introverted, and truly I’m glad for it. Having an understanding of your own needs makes a world of difference in relationships, and for a long time, I had no idea why long spells of social interaction made me feel like a tire with a slow leak. But now I do.

I am not shy. In fact, daily, I upload videos to YouTube and speak to thousands of strangers. I have no issue speaking in front of crowds, and I can even handle myself fairly well at a crowded party. But if you watch closely, you may notice that I excuse myself to the restroom fairly frequently.

Introverts are familiar with bathrooms. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve found myself sitting on a person’s fuzzy bathmat with my head leaned up against the wall and my eyes closed. Just for a moment enjoying my own private space before putting the smile back on and heading back out into the crowd.

See, I can do social interaction. I can do public speaking. I can do hugs and conversation and questions. But it costs something. Extroverted people are recharged and energized by interaction, but for people like me, every bit of it is like a withdraw from a bank and when the balance reaches zero, forget about it. Game over. Shut down.

“Allowing yourself to need people and to receive the help and friendship of others makes life so much easier.”

I can feel it coming. When the days have run together into weeks and having five sons that need me for five million things a day has piled on top of having an incredibly extroverted husband and a social media presence that promises several hundred messages and questions every day. My goodness, I feel anxious just telling you about it. It snowballs, multiplies, throbs like some nearly exploding thing.

I know myself well. I know what I need in those moments. When I’m overwhelmed, I need to take some time, an afternoon, an evening. I go spend some alone time with Jesus. Or go disappear into the corner of a coffee shop, or I just sit in my garden until I can breathe again. The calm always comes back.

I tell you all of this so you understand that, by my own nature, I really enjoy time alone. I require it. And there was a time in my life that being alone dictated many of my choices. I was the kid in high school who spent lunches in the library reading. Through my teenage years, when many of my peers wouldn’t even walk across the school hallway without first employing the company of a friend, I was spending entire afternoons in city parks and coffee shops entirely by myself. However, at some point along the way, my need for space and quiet became the walls that defended fear in me. That is until I changed my last name to Sowards.

My husband, Jeremiah, comes from a big family. He’s the third of nine kids, and while like all families, they have their intricacies and dysfunctions, they are really close. I’ve belonged to his family for nearly a decade now, long enough that I comfortably call them my family and don’t feel anything amiss in saying it. My transition into being a Sowards was relatively smooth. They embraced me from the beginning but being embraced by a huge, loud, extroverted family that had built lives where they needed each other was like learning another language. One that required some really tough introspection.

Early on in our marriage, Jeremiah’s mom and siblings would offer to come over and help with my laundry, they’d spend the night at our house and just hang out for long spells. And I was bewildered. When his precious mom would ask if I wanted to do our grocery shopping together or ask if I wanted company on errands, I would think, Why?! I wore my introversion like a badge. It was WHO I WAS. But the offers of help and community kept coming, and eventually, I leaned into them, and I learned something about myself. Allowing yourself to need people and to receive the help and friendship of others makes life so much easier.

I realized that for a long time, I’d rejected my need for community because I didn’t want to be let down. I didn’t want to be hurt. I didn’t want to need someone else because I couldn’t count on other people like I could count on myself. In short, I was broken and afraid. And all it took to drag that brokenness into the light were some people who had learned to depend on their relationships.

I still enjoy my time alone. I really do need it to feel refreshed. But I can’t tell you how thankful I am that I’ve learned to need community too. I’m thankful that I’ve learned to step out of my comfort zone and grocery shop in the company of someone else. I’ve learned to open my home to a group of boisterous extroverts regularly, and though they give me the grace to disappear to my room when the crowd is too much to bear, they know I’m glad they’re there.

Living in community, being vulnerable in relationships, and allowing myself to need other people has sincerely taught me the value of tearing down my carefully erected walls and denying what I may be tempted to call “my nature.” It’s led me down the road of examining many of my mindsets and questioning why I think the way I think. It’s been a difficult walk, but one that has brought me a tremendous amount of peace and understanding about what I need to thrive.

I am an introvert, but I am no island. No man is, at least, that’s what I hear.

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