A community as the antidote to fear

I am, by nature and by compulsion, an introvert.

My phone is a repository of unanswered text messages because it is so hard scrabbling for the energy to give them the responses they merit. I simultaneously balk at dropping myself into a group of people and welcome the anonymity of being just one wave in an undulating mass of bodies guided by their own inertia. I get home from work and decompress in quiet seclusion for a while before I can really enjoy the company of either my husband or my dog—both of whom I love dearly, are my two favorite companions in the world, and are among the few who I can truly enjoy being alone with. I will almost always choose my solitude to others’ company. That’s just the way I’m wired, and I stopped feeling either obligated to change or guilty over what naturally recharges me quite some time ago. I’m much happier for it, and it makes the time I spend with the people I love most all the more significant because it means they are the ones who are worth coming out of my shell for.

I am at a point where I have realized that family isn’t necessarily blood and blood doesn’t necessarily deserve to be family, and the people I’ve surrounded myself with are people whose company I actively enjoy and whose presence in my life makes my world a better place (and who have made it clear that the feelings are mutual)—and who either empathize with or at least understand that my inclination toward isolation is in no way a thing they should take personally. They are the people who bring out the best in me: In the reclamation decade that is my 30s, figuring out who my people are has been one of the kindest things I’ve done for my state of mind.

I can fake extroversion well even when I'm not surrounded exclusively by my nearest and dearest, to the point that people laugh when I say I’m an introvert. The truth is, it’s easy to pretend when you’re motivated properly. It’s even something that translates gobsmackingly well to my professional life. I never thought that deciding to be a writer would have me hosting trade events twice a year, but here we are. As much as I hate forcing myself to interact with people, obsess over minute details when that sort of thing directly clashes with my big-picture preference, painstakingly plan when inspired improvisation comes so much more naturally, and Be On for 16 hours a day with not enough time at all to recharge my social batteries, it’s bearable because there are a handful of people I actively love and who I can’t help but be squealingly, bouncing-while-clapping excited to see. And having work friends offer me such a sense of belonging and who are oases of genuine connections in a more reserved professional environment are those whose company I gratefully seek once I’m off the clock. Their peaceful warmth is the boost I need to get through a few grueling days that are the exact opposite of my comfort zone.

And these past few months really have been the best argument for stepping outside that protective fortress of arm’s-length personal space, as well as endless proof that the people who bring out my desire for human connections also bring out the part of me that thrives on a sense of community. Aside from the Lake Placid skating camp, highlights from a month of summer so far include this past weekend’s writers’ salon with my BFF and finally making my way back to yoga after more than a year away from it as a lady-date with one of my oldest friends. I went to the writers’ event because it’s important to pretend I have writerly ambitions beyond hawking my talents for a paycheck and using my career of choice as an excuse for being a functioning alcoholic (and also for more wholesome, genuine reasons, like spending a day with the bestie); I went to yoga because I honestly have missed it and how good it makes my body feel all over, because other skaters keep telling me that it’s fabulous for flexibility and balance and body awareness, and because it’s been months since I saw the friend I went with.

The common theme here is that the promise of seeing some of my favorite human beans both makes an interest I'm already invested in even more enjoyable and holds me accountable so I won’t bail at the last minute, because any good introvert has a hard time resisting the rapturous afterglow of canceled plans. Or, more succinctly, I basically need to be lured out of the house for anything other than skating.

Which is why I was a little surprised that I left both of those aforementioned experiences feeling utterly, completely recharged, never mind the influx of New People I had to deal with (though it’s not like writers are a particularly cliquey bunch, and the folks who ran this particular yoga studio positively radiated good vibes in the most down-to-earth way). Getting to talk books and the craft and our shared aggravations and exposure and the publishing world reminded me how much I do love this hobby that I’ve turned into a career (albeit one that inspires less-than-warm-fuzzies in my soul these days, but deep down I know that’s just temporary), and it reminded me that I have a community of writers who are just as supportive as the community of adult skaters I’ve welcomed into my life this past year and a half. And yoga, despite being a thing I started doing exclusively to supplement skating with some off-ice exercise, has become a thing that makes me feel better in every sense and is something I can love on its own merit. As much as I love skating, it can (and will) leave a generous amount of physical wreckage in its wake; yoga, conversely, just makes me feel like my whole body has been engaged but not overworked, like I just got a delicious hourlong stretch from my neck to my toes.

I am noticing that as I let myself be more amenable to branching out with the safety of friends for social training wheels, the less I need to be externally motivated. It’s especially true for skating, which I initially gave a second chance because of another dearly loved friend. And it made me realize how much I really do relish these opportunities to meet new people who could very well become the kind of folks with whom I share a reciprocal warmth. And that’s a weird place to find myself when so much of my identity has been developed in the comfort of welcome solitude and instinctively avoiding human interaction as much as possible.

And I think it’s because I’m at a point where I want to share the things I love with others who understand why I get so excited about the things that energize my soul.

I finally started dragging myself to morning freestyle sessions, and it’s almost entirely because one of my favorite adult skaters is there in the summer. Just knowing that my ice time will either begin or end with (or be bookended by) conversations with my Freestyle BFF—another second-chance adult skater who ALSO has a literary background and who ALSO shares so many of my pain points and victories—when my weekday skating is traditionally devoid of meaningful connections is a delightful novelty of the highest order. When I’m so used to my skating community being a weekend and digital occurrence, being reminded that there’s even more to it than I realize is a wonderful reality check.

Said Freestyle BFF jokingly chewed me out yesterday for slacking off on my adult-skater solidarity obligations, which honestly made my heart all kinds of ooey-gooey because she made it clear that she really, really wants me to be there. Today, she introduced me to the half-dozen (!) other adult skaters who are regulars at this rink I've been skating at for almost a year and a half and even a few of the high schoolers taking advantage of summer skating—all of whom are tons better than I am but made me feel so incredibly welcome at a freestyle session I have spent so much time fearing.

One of the things I've always loved best about skating is that it's not a team sport. Turns out, it's actually best enjoyed as a communal passion. I have spent so much time hanging out in the lutz corner trying to avoid being in anyone's way when the ice actually feels so much more like home and freestyle is so much less intimidating when you know the other skaters' names, cheer them on after they run through a routine, and linger to chat while the Zamboni's out. Heck, I wound up talking to a younger skater's mom who totally torpedoed my apparently made-up worry that the skate mothers resent us ambling adults who are in their kids' way by openly admiring us for getting out there when she can't even stand up on the ice.

Being an adult skater will always be a fight against the fear, but realizing that freestyle sessions and other skaters are things I don't have to regard with terror was a revelation that only added to me falling head-over-heels in love with this sport all again. And all it took was stepping outside my comfort zone to see that there is a community of skaters waiting to welcome me home. 

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