The internalized thinking you do as an introvert can exacerbate traumatic experiences. So sometimes, you need to let painful thoughts see the light of day.
When my first wife, Lois, was sick with cancer (she died of the disease in 2012), she had to have a Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scan of her entire body every one or two months to determine whether the weekly chemotherapy she was receiving was working.
Shrinking tumors meant a step toward life. Growing tumors meant not only a step toward death, but also instant uncertainty as to what would come next for Lois—if anything.
PET scan days were stressful for me beyond any words I can articulate. (And no, I can’t imagine how they must have been for Lois.)
On the one hand, I wanted to find out the scan results as soon as possible.
On the other, I hoped we’d never have to face them.
Sometimes, ignorance really is bliss.
Feet Can Talk—Only Too Well
We were blessed to be working with a team of world-class experts at Mayo Clinic who were not only kind and compassionate, but fast.
Lois would undergo her PET scans early in the morning and we would get the results later that same day.
Over time, as Lois and I kept re-experiencing the excruciating wait for scan findings as we sat in a gray-and-brown consultation room, I developed a strange skill: I began to be able to predict the scan results 10 seconds ahead of time by listening closely to the approaching footsteps of our nurse practitioner, Lisa, as she came down the hallway to deliver the day’s verdict.
Lisa’s feet told me everything I needed to know.
If she was walking briskly, practically bouncing, she was skipping in to bring us good news.
If she was walking slowly, and I could hear the weight of her burden with each passing step, I braced for the worst and started executing my comfort-Lois-and-act-confident plan.
Traumatic Experiences Have No Boundaries
All of these memories came flooding back to me the other day when I heard the footsteps again.
For a split-second, I was right back at Mayo, trying to read the leaves not in the bottom of a tea cup but on the bottom of someone’s shoe.
But I wasn’t at Mayo.
And I wasn’t with my wife.
I was at the vet’s office with our cat Paws, and we were waiting for the veterinarian and her assistant to pop into the room to tell us whether Paws’s ear infection medication was working.
There was no need for me to make any predictions, and I wasn’t. At worst, the medication would not be working and we’d have to switch to something else.
But once I heard the footsteps of the vet and the vet tech shuffling outside in the hallway, I briefly reverted to the red alert of PET scan days. And I had to remind myself of where I was.
And where I wasn’t.
Get Traumatic Experiences Out—Somehow
We introverts have a reputation for being observant, and we love reflecting on what we’ve seen and heard so we can try to figure out how it impacts our life.
But all that activity in our heads can have a downside …
Some of it can get stuck there as unaddressed trauma that continues to affect us months, years after the fact.
When this happens to you—and it really is “when,” not “if”—figure out how you’re going to expel this sludge from your brain and soul.
It needs to come out (though you’re not required to share it with anyone in the process).
Maybe you need to work with a counselor or a spiritual advisor.
Maybe you need to get it all out of your system using oil paints and a canvas.
Or maybe, like me and many other introverts, you need to write.
That’s what I started doing the moment I left the vet’s office, armed with another tube of the antibiotic that is indeed helping Paws’s ears.
I started writing this piece in my head on the way home, and now I’ve turned on the faucet to let it pour out onto the page.
The vet says we may never be able to fully rid Paws’s ears of the infection.
You’ll never fully rid your brain of trauma, either.
But you can lighten the load by releasing the painful memories into the light of the day—in your own introverted way.