I’m not the most social of people. That would surprise people who hear me on the radio at WPKN, chatting, spinning tunes, interviewing all kinds of people. That would surprise people who have seen me give talks, do readings, crack jokes, try to inspire, and generally…perform. Like a lot of introverts, I can extrovert very well. But it comes at a price. I am drained by it.
My career as a psychotherapist involves me with people in a gratifying, intimate, but relentless way. By the time I get home, I seek the comfort of my big fuzzy throw, the tender company of my dogs, and a distracting reality TV show. Dinner with my husband is sometimes silent. Not because we don’t have much to say to each other. We’ve been chattering away ever since we met 22 years ago. It’s because I’m refueling through quiet and simplicity and inner-directedness.
Categorizing personalities into “types” is a tricky thing. In my work, you take the storehouse of knowledge about psychological functioning and use what works, while trying always to see the person as an individual. The contributions of great theorists, practitioners, and devisers of diagnostic criteria are vitally helpful, and can inform the treatment, but humans are complicated, and when we start generalizing, we risk losing a personal connection.
That said, I recently came upon a book about “Enneagrams” – a system of nine personality types that claims ancient origins, and has been taught since 1970. A patient asked me to consider reading the book after she found it extremely helpful in understanding her marriage and divorce. Her motivation for avoiding future destructive patterns was very high. I’m always a skeptic and a snob when it comes to self-help books; it goes with my profession. Men Are From Mars, I’m Okay; You’re Okay, The Four Secrets – even the titles make me cringe. But I also know that people are hungry for keys to self-understanding, and those keys can be found in surprising places.
If you get the Enneagram book, make sure to get one that has the test in it, so you can identify which type you think best describes you. It didn’t take me long to resonate with personality four: The Artist (sorry it sounds so lofty!), described as “The Creative-Individualistic-Introverted-Depressive Person.” Fours are introspective and intuitive, and at their best, compassionate, intuitive and creative. At their worst, they can be self-critical and pessimistic.
Like a true “four,” I’ve sought to arrange a life that allows time and space for possible creative bursts, and that requires a fair amount of time alone. I want to transform my experience into something valuable to others. I want to inspire and entertain, and I want to learn. So over many decades, it’s been through poetry, articles and essays, and a memoir, and it’s been through radio shows and production that I’ve had the opportunity to try to do this. Sometimes the magic happens. Most of the time there is a whole lot of self-doubt, procrastination, and false starts. Right now, I’m not sure what my next book will be, but I know there is one. So I feel adrift. Something is missing.
Like a true “four,” I can become too isolative. Which brings me back to my main point. I can adore, love, and appreciate people, but I’m always just a little bit afraid….
I joined facebook reluctantly, like a lot of you. I didn’t really want to find long-lost grade school chums, I wasn’t trolling for a new relationship, and I couldn’t see much else to it. But when my memoir came out in 2010, the world was abuzz with “social media.” Use it! Join it! Network! Brand! Connect! I followed the mandate, especially since SUNY Press was a small press with an overworked marketing department. I had to do my own grassroots marketing. I found it be surprisingly enjoyable. I liked building up the “friends” numbers. Connecting with other writers, radio producers, and people involved in the boxing community (an aspect of the memoir) was, well, FUN.
Facebook fits my schizoid personality. I like feeling connected without draining my battery. I can dip in and out of the connection. I know that my thousand-plus “friends” are not like true intimates; I’m not delusional! Some of them I have met, at readings and events; perhaps I’ll meet more. My world has expanded.
So the quips and postings and music videos and comments and political opinions go on and on….and I’ve joked that Facebook is like “crackbook” – addictive and often a huge time-waster. That’s all true.
But this week, when I had to put my 12 and a half year old dog, Sabine, to sleep, Facebook offered something I never would have expected: solace.
Yes, of course the friends I see regularly, and the relatives I see or talk to on the phone were immensely helpful. My husband and I have cried together. Sabine’s half-brother Griffin, who must be wondering where his buddy is, is my close companion through these days. He’s under my desk right now,
I wondered whether to post about her illness at all. I was critical of people who gave “too much information” on Facebook, from the superficial (‘I had oatmeal for breakfast’) to the unbearably poignant and sad (‘no one will ever love me’).
Once I had mentioned Sabine's illness, and her decline came fast, Sonia Taitz, author of “In the King’s Arms,” who I had interviewed a few weeks back on WPKN and then met at her reading in New Haven, posted a simple phrase: “Let us know how it turns out.” “Us?” Who was this “us?”
So I decided to follow her request
Wednesday, February 29, 2012: Status Update: Unfortunately, we lost our beloved Sabine today. A dog with a beautiful spirit; she put up a good fight, but a ruptured gallbladder and bladder tumor....well, we had to make that most awful of decisions that it is every pet lover's obligation...to prevent her suffering.
Almost 40 people responded, with genuinely empathetic comments; some lovingly commiserating, some with tales of their own losses, some with tips for grieving, some with profound acknowledgement of this amazing obligation we take on when we care for a pet – that we will outlive them, and will most likely be responsible for deciding the time of their death.
And the crazy thing is, it really helped. I felt less alone. My Facebook was a small hive resonating with my own personal loss. I wanted to respond individually to each of the people who took the time to say something, to say anything, to share their own pain, but I was uncertain: would that make me a Facebook crackpot? So I decided to write this just to say thank you to the Hive.
STATUS UPDATE: Griffin and I going to emerge from my study now and go into the kitchen. I’m going to give him a treat. Sabine couldn’t have treats in the last year (prescription diet only), so neither of them got any, and I think he’s been missing them.