I’ve just finished listening to Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking as an audio book. I found it thought provoking – it’s even provoked this blog post.
I know I am introvert. I went on a corporate course in 2001 where I took the Myers-Briggs personality test, and came out as an introvert. Despite learning on the course that as an introvert I liked to recharge by being on my own, in quiet spaces, and recognising from how I chose to live my life that this was true, over the intervening years I haven’t thought about this.
I had my first child in 2000, and as a working mum I did not make an effort to carve out time for myself. Any mum of young children will tell you about the impossibility of time alone (unless they’re sleeping). By the time I had child number 3 (who didn’t sleep much) I don’t remember times in the day when all three of them were asleep or at school/playgroup and I could grab a few minutes of peace of quiet.
When child number 3 was two years old, I went back to work, and time to myself became even harder to find. I worked in an open plan office and there was a lot of noise and chatter. I used to cycle to and from work and also go for rides on my own. I used to love this time and it was quiet mentally, but since I was very physically active I don’t think it would count as recharging.
From the book I learned that introverts operate best in environments with less stimulation (noise, people etc.) than extroverts. However, our modern world seems designed for extroverts. The education system focusses on discussion and group work, whilst at work offices are usually open plan and team working is often obligatory. Pre-illness I was operating in a world with a higher level of stimulation than was ideal for me as an introvert and I did not take time to recharge by quiet, alone time, because of my many commitments (especially the children).
The book also talks about the role of the amygdala in our “arousal” state – introverts are “aroused” by lower levels of stimulation than extroverts, and the Amygdala is also mentioned in ME literature: most notably in Gupta’s Amygdala Retraining. Gupta’s theory is that the Amygadala becomes chronically sensitised and hyper reactive to symptoms in the body.
This has got me wondering whether my in-built introvertedness contributed to my illness. Perhaps because introverts amygdalas are naturally more sensitive it is easier for them to flip into the hyper reactive mode experienced in ME. Certainly, quiet time alone has been a key part of first stabilising my illness and then the improvements I have made. I have built a meditation habit, which I plan to continue even when I am fully recovered.
I would be interested to know of any research into the prevalence of ME amongst Introverts and Extroverts. If proportionally more introverts than extroverts develop ME then that would be an indication of a link. Given the lack of research into so much of our illness I won’t hold my breath on this one.