You know those irritating statements which begin "There are two sorts of people....."? I never believe them. There are all sorts of people and people are more complex than any sort of labelling can convey, particularly the kind of labelling that sets one description against another: you are either an x or y.
Take the long recognised distinction in personality testing between introvert and extrovert. I can accept that some people take their energy from interaction with other people while others find it from within but I know plenty of people, including me, who do both. Whenever I do the Myers Briggs type tests which look at introversion, extroversion, thinking styles and ways of interacting with people and problems, I am always an extrovert. I see that in myself quite clearly in that if I have too little engagement with people I begin to have less and less motivation to do things. I feel myself become grey and blurry round the edges. Leave me with no interaction with others for too long and I begin to drift and melt like mist, losing all my dynamism and energy. But equally, if I don't have some time to myself, completely to myself, I start to feel like Munch's Scream.
It is as if I am trying to live with the radio on too loud or trying to solve a complicated problem while someone chatters in my ear about their neighbours' bunions and the price of bread. I just begin to feel overwhelmed. It is very much to do with noise. At some point the swell of the noise of other people rises too high for me to think and the only way in which I will be restored to easy calm is by a snatch of time by myself.
That was one of the reasons I found having very young children hard. They never go away! You snatch your moments of quiet when they are asleep but I still remember opening the door into a silent house when the older one had gone to playgroup and the younger one was for the first time being looked after by a friend for a couple of hours. It was the first time I had been totally alone for about three years. I had all sorts of things I needed to do which were impossible with the children around but for half an hour of that empty time I just sat in the silent house with a book, not really reading, watching the dust motes swirling in the sunlight pouring through the window, and felt my whole self become calm as sunlight on water.
I realise looking back on my life that I have arranged things so that the need for people and the need for silence were both met. When my children went to school and I was back at work I always kept a couple of hours a week when I had the house to myself. Ostensibly this was for practical housework reasons but quietly clearing my head was always as important as vacuuming the carpet. For my mind to settle it is necessary not to be doing anything. Walking or doing anything satisfying and repetitive like weeding or kneading bread will get me there as well after a while but the quickest way to calm for me is silence, solitude and doing nothing at all.
When I was working away I got this balance between people and no people automatically. The days were full of action and interaction, noise and clamour and the evenings were solitary. They could be just a bit too solitary but the weekends were full of people again and this time it was the company of those that I loved. That worked quite well for a quite a long time but gradually the amount of being away from my family and the amount of energy which I was pouring into my work started to make me feel that my life was out of kilter.
When I left my busy job I had to make active effort to ensure that I had enough of the energising company of other people. The silence and the solitude came naturally every day in bucketloads when Ian drove off to work and the house settled quietly around me. I had to make a choice to get down off the hill if I wanted company. It didn't need to be a lot but it did need to happen: yoga classes or Welsh lessons, a coffee with a friend, a shopping trip. I found that I am quite flexible. I can be happy with quite a lot of company if I get my periods of solitude. I can manage quite a lot of time by myself if I get my shots of conversation and laughter. What I struggle with is not having both.
Is that introvert or extrovert? Are there two sorts of people? How does it work for you?