What You Know: Reading Fiction and Nonfiction

I was talking with a colleague the other day about loving to learn and about what kinds of things I like to learn. He mentioned that he can’t read novels because there are simply so many nonfiction topics to learn about that he can’t imagine wasting time on fiction. While I can understand the drive to learn as much about our world as possible, I can’t understand cutting fiction out of my life. Most of us understand what we learn or gain from nonfiction: straight facts or insight into phenomena or incidents in the world. However there’s a lot of people who appear to miss the real learning we can do when we read novels.

As a novel junkie, I’d like to take this opportunity to explain how I view fiction as a source of knowledge.

Many people see the arts as beneficial because they allow us to connect to each other, or to feel emotions. These are good things, but they aren’t direct lessons or sources of knowledge. In addition to catharsis or other emotional and/or spiritual (in the sense of connective) elements, there is a little more to fiction. In my mind, the most important thing we can learn from fiction is empathy. When we allow ourselves to enter into someone else’s mind and story, we learn about what it’s like to be another person. We learn about other experiences. We learn how to imagine what things might be like for someone else. This skill provides us with a great deal of straight information, and as we partake in this process in each novel, we gain facts about what it’s like to be each character in the novel. While no two people are exactly the same, these insights can help us connect with real human beings and understand their motivations, histories, and experiences.

In addition, we can also understand a bit of the human psyche by reading fiction. A good author will create characters who react realistically to their surroundings, who have understandable and realistic emotions and motivations, and who make sense as human beings. Spending time in someone else’s head can help you not just to understand a specific type of person, but to understand some basic human psychology. Again, this provides you with some additional empathy.

Depending upon the genre, you may also learn something about history, a certain place, a particular incident or phenomenon, or a group of people because of the setting. Again, many fiction authors spend a good deal of time researching and understanding the setting of their novels so that they can create something that is realistic and will teach you through the story.

But there are more difficult things you can learn by reading novels. Novels are made up of characters facing difficult situations. This means you as the reader are asked to contemplate those difficult situations, and you are left with a deeper understanding of ethics, as well as your own character. You can find new roles models (I learned feminist ideals from many of my childhood and teenage reading), learn what sort of person you don’t want to be, or imagine ideals in things like friendship and family. Literature often tackles deep philosophical questions, and while you may not directly discuss them while reading, you do still find yourself thinking about them and wondering what your own reactions might be.

Examples of these issues from books I’ve read:

1.What does it mean to lie?

2.When should you trust someone?

3.Should men and women be treated the same?

4.How should you treat a friend?

5.Are adults trustworthy?

6.What makes life worth living?

I also have read fiction books that tackled everything from mental retardation to pregnancy to life in poverty to being a rich socialite. You get insight into each of these worlds, you get to inhabit each of these worlds for a time and hopefully understand better the perspectives of individuals in these situations.

In addition, the conversations that arise out of novels and fiction are hugely important to informing our sense of self and our knowledge of the world around us. We see which things we react to and we can begin to understand why when we discuss novels and fiction with those around us. We may gain empathy for one of our friends or colleagues by hearing their interpretation or perspective on a book or movie. All of these things are real and true forms of knowledge: they’re knowledge about what it’s like to experience things, and that is something that you can’t gain from nonfiction.

Looking for a Guide: Searching for Mentors In Recovery

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For that reason, I believe documenting my transition can serve as a useful resource for other trans women. When I was first considering whether to start treatment, and then decided I would, I still had very little idea what I was getting into. Yes, there are the broad strokes: you’ll grow breasts, your sex drive will change, you’ll probably feel better…

But that didn’t really answer the question of what it would be like. And now that I’ve been through this myself, I realize that such vague information is like being shown only a single frame of an entire movie. How will my breasts develop? How fast? What will they look like and feel like? How will my sex drive change? How will I adjust to that? Will I like it? How are my moods going to change? Is it really such a big change? Will I be the same person? When it comes to these specific questions, there’s still so little information available. And I believe trans people deserve better. To that end, I’ve tried to explain and describe and capture these things in as much detail and depth as possible, just so the world can have some better sense of what this whole experience is like. Sharing our experiences, and finding points of similarity in our own lives, is incredibly important for trans people. Knowing what to expect, and that someone else out there has been through it, and feels much of the same things you do, is a thing of comfort in what can otherwise be a very uncertain and difficult time.”

I was reading a great post at Zinnia’s blog the other day when I ran across this quote. As I read it, I found myself a little startled at how familiar these questions and this uncertainty felt. I’m not trans and have never had anything comparable to the experiences of something who is trans. I certainly don’t want to co-opt this narrative or this feeling, but I can’t deny that when I read this it was like someone had finally put into words a problem I have been struggling to express for a very long time.

To me, this read like my feelings about recovery from my eating disorder. I mean obviously I’ve heard stories of how recovery is supposed to go: it’s hard and you struggle all the time, but you start gaining weight and you talk about things and you become more open with your family and friends, and eventually you just get better. Things will start to feel better and be easier, and you won’t think about food as much.

But what Zinnia is hitting upon here is that very rarely do we get stories of change and growth that really focus on the day to day experience of your body changing, your mood changing, your mind changing. We don’t have anyone to tell us what it feels like when you’re doing better but things are still confusing, or what it was like that one time you ate pizza for the first time in months, or when you noticed your mind had stopped always assuming the worst. We don’t get to hear about the times people fall down, or about how they notice their bodies changing, or about how sometimes it feels like you’re losing all conception of reality when you’re just trying to decide whether or not to eat a snack. These pieces don’t necessarily fit into the narrative, the movement from bad to good.

In general our stories tend to be either the before or the after: the middle is too muddled and confused to make a good story. But the middle is the part that scares the hell out of me, and the part that I desperately want to hear about. I want to hear about the bits that change and the bits that stay the same and the how and the why of it all. Perhaps there are these kinds of memoirs and accounts and I just haven’t found them, but people seem loathe to talk about what the work of recovery looks like, and what the pay-off means in emotional, internal, experiential terms: not how much you can eat now, or how good your relationships are, but rather how you have found meaning, how your perception of the world and yourself has changed, how you make sense of your disorder now, and how you make sense of the change. It’s not that I don’t want to hear that you’re more open now, I just am more interested in understanding why, what changed, and how you decided to make that change.

It’s hard to articulate why this is so important. Often asking for the stories of others in a deep, intimate, and clear way sounds selfish, whiney, or as if you’re throwing up roadblocks. No one owes me their story or their vulnerability. But wanting someone else to tell you what has happened to them, wanting to not have to find the path entirely on your own, particularly as Zinnia says in an “uncertain and difficult time” is entirely understandable. I want to know more than just that someone before me has gotten better. I want to know more than that they are simply happier now. I want to know more than how they got bad. I want to know what steps they took to get better, how it felt to them, how their bodies changed and how they coped with that change, how their emotions changed, whether they liked those changes, how they formed a new identity, and what that new identity meant to them. These are the questions that I’m wrestling with right now, and I want to know how some other people figured it out so that I don’t feel so entirely alone.

I’m certainly not asking for the roadmap to recovery. I know that whatever I do will be different from what someone else does. But seeing how another person made it through, seeing what worked for them and what didn’t, or just seeing their method of working things out seems like something that could help me understand where my ideas and dilemmas fit, and give me some ideas or thoughts about how to proceed myself.

I’ve been working hard to continually document my own progress and my own thoughts as they change and evolve through this process. For the most part this is selfish: I reflect and decompress through writing. But I do also hope that at some point these writings can be a comfort to someone else who is struggling to understand that they’re not alone and they’re not crazy. I want someone else to be able to see the down and dirty of it, to see the thoughts as they developed and grew and changed through a variety of stages. I hope I can do that for someone else, and I wish I had that for myself.

The featured pic here is me from when I first starting noticing problems. It’s good to document as much as possible.

How to Not Know

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A lot of questions that have been floating around in my mind for long periods of time have finally been coalescing into clear concerns and questions, and this blog post is about one of them. I have long been bothered by the nonchalant attitude that many people take towards questions that truly and deeply disturb me, and I think I’ve finally hit upon why. In a piece at alternet, Greta Christina addresses one of the main tenets of skepticism: “If we don’t know the answer to a question, it’s better to just say, ‘We don’t know.’ And then, of course, investigate and try to find an answer. We shouldn’t jump in with an uninformed answer based on our cognitive biases. And we definitely shouldn’t assume that, because we don’t know the answer to a question, the answer is therefore God, or something else supernatural.” In general, I agree with this principle. As a skeptic it seems perfectly logical. But there is a problem with this mindset, which is that sometimes we really do need to know the answers to things in order to continue to act in our lives.

Greta says this quite clearly when she asks:

“What do you do if the question on the table is one you really need an answer to? What if the question isn’t something fairly abstract or distant, like, “Why is there something instead of nothing”? What if the question is one with an immediate, practical, non-trivial impact on your everyday life? Something like… oh, say, just for a random example, ‘What are my chances of getting cancer, and what should I do to prevent it and detect it early?’”

This paragraph is fascinating to me. Most people are understanding that you want more answers and that you will struggle with trying to be a good skeptic while also continuing to find appropriate ways to act when your questions are things like Greta’s concerns. These questions are very clearly life and death, and people understand that you want the best possible answer to act in the best possible way when your life is in the balance.

What I don’t understand is why people are not willing to extend some of the same sympathy when you feel the same sort of emotional gut-punch from abstract, philosophical questions. What I really don’t understand is how people assume that things like philosophical questions can’t have huge real world impacts for someone. real world impacts like…oh, say, just for a random example, whether or not you walk through your life with overwhelming depression every second of the day.

For most people things that are abstract like “why is there something instead of nothing” don’t lead to anxiety or impact their day to day lives in any major way. It’s the kind of question that you can go through your life being fairly uncertain about without it gnawing at you or without it causing any major fear. Or at least that’s what everyone tells me. Everyone SAYS that it’s the sort of thing that shouldn’t bother you, the kind of thing that doesn’t affect how you live your life, the sort of thing that is just a philosophical exercise.

Unfortunately for me, it’s not. I cannot understand how people think that it doesn’t or shouldn’t have a direct impact on your life whether or not there is a reason we’re here, how our morality is formed, how much access we have to reality. I cannot understand how people feel that it’s appropriate, logical, or acceptable to go through life without any sort of answer to these larger questions, because without these larger answers, we have no overall guiding compass that puts all the rest of our actions into a context, a scope. Answers to the deep philosophical questions are what should be guiding us through each choice we make in life. I don’t know how to make decisions without answers to some of these questions, just like someone who doesn’t have all the information about their cancer diagnosis would have a hard time pursuing appropriate treatment options.

Some people might tell me to simply learn to ignore these questions, learn to live with the uncertainty. I would love to be able to do this and I have been struggling to do this for quite some time. However philosophical meaning and existential crises are deeply tied into my mental illness, and when I just ignore the purpose of my life, I tend towards suicidal ideation. For some people, these questions have serious consequences, and I am one of those people. It is just as life and death for me as the question of cancer is for Greta.

The number of atheists who are happy to just shrug off these questions with a “we don’t know” is upsetting to me, not simply because it ignores a fascinating question, but because it actively ignores something that deeply affects my life, and it tells me that the questions which are extremely important to me are trite and silly. It tells me that I shouldn’t be at all worried that I don’t know about something that affects my life. While I do need to learn to accept what I don’t know, it is unhelpful and dismissive to tell me that the struggle is unimportant. Just as it would be entirely disrespectful to tell Greta that she should just get over the worry of whether or not she might get cancer, it’s disrespectful to me to tell me that I should just get over the worry of whether I am going to be depressed.

There’s a reason I become so upset when people tease about being a philosophy major, or imply that philosophy is just an academic circle-jerk. I went into philosophy not because I wanted to use big words or nitpick about semantics, but because it was a matter of my life quality. Trying to come to grips with real, deep questions is not an exercise: it is a process of self-acceptance. The abstract is very real to me. It hits closer to home than many literal discussions about real-world problems. Some people may not be able to relate to this, but I still deserve the basic respect that says my concerns are worthy of time and discussion.

I have a request for the entirety of the non-religious world: please stop telling me that the questions that drive my life are unimportant, or that it makes no difference if we just have to accept that we don’t know. Not knowing about something that is upsetting or confusing to you is difficult and it sucks, and it’s not easy to just create your own meaning. While this may not be on par with the possibility of cancer that Greta faces, it does play into my own serious illnesses (depression and an eating disorder). Saying that the questions are abstract tells me I’m making a big deal out of nothing, when in reality the meaning of my life is anything but abstract for me. This is gas-lighting on a movement wide level. Stop.

Losing Reality

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I haven’t spent much time on this blog, or really much of anywhere talking about body image. Obviously I think about it: I don’t like my body and I never have. I have issues with my body that I take out on it through violence and starvation. But body image is simply not one of the aspects of my eating disorder that I find fruitful to write about, and generally when I bring it up in person I just get frustration and straight out disagreement from my audience. While I understand the impulse to tell me “YOU’RE WRONG” when I call myself ugly, there are times when I want to be able to express and explore my feelings about my body without being immediately shut down. This is one of those times. This exploration may not have a clear point, but I think it’s important to give voice to the thoughts and feelings that are a part of the disorder.

 

Lately my bad body image has been acting up quite badly. I’ve increased my food intake and put on a bit of weight. This means discomfort in my clothes, discomfort in the mirror, discomfort when I eat. But the worst part of it is that when I worry about my body image, I often find that I cannot accurately identify reality.

 

No, this does not mean that I hallucinate. I don’t see my body growing larger before my eyes, I can tell that I’m smaller than many people. However despite all this, I cannot understand what the truth is about my body: is it acceptable or not? Is it too skinny or not skinny enough? Is it healthy, or do I need to lose weight or gain weight? Now most people would find it fairly easy to figure out the answers to these questions by consulting a doctor, by looking at their weight in numbers, by assessing their current diet and activity level, and generally thinking about how they feel in their skin. However when I do these things I am left with strong evidence for mutually contradictory things. The scale tells me that my BMI is a certain number. That number is within the healthy range. Certain magazines tell me that the number is unacceptably high. My dietician tells me it’s acceptable but that I’m still not getting enough calories and need to increase my intake. My eyes and emotions tell me that my body is hideous and fat and horrible. My mind flicks between sources, trying to decide who is the most right, who I should believe, what combination of sources are right, where reality is.

 

It’s enough to leave anyone feeling as if they’ve completely lost their grip on reality. When that happens, all I can do is meltdown. When you don’t know what reality is, you don’t know how to proceed. You are left with no appropriate steps. When faced with a meal in this state, every choice feels wrong and every choice feels right. It leads me to a deep feeling of self-hatred that I cannot figure out even the most basic question of whether or not to put food in my mouth. The reason my body image drives me up the wall is not just because it’s bad. It’s easy when it’s just bad. What’s hard is when it disconnects me from any sort of rational thinking. For someone who prides themself on intelligence, skepticism, and clear-headedness, it destroys my concept of self.

 

It leaves me feeling like my concept of myself is a battleground between different messages of what’s appropriate and what’s not. I don’t want to live in a battleground. I don’t want to live in this body.

Starting Fresh

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So as you all may have noticed, I have been gone for a while. I promise there is a good reason for this: I started a new job, had a bunch of training, was without internet for two weeks, and was on the road for my job for the better part of a week. In other words, I’ve been busy as fuck and am only just now getting my feet back under me to start a new routine. But I’m BACK, and can now bring you fresh content from the new and improved self with a new and improved job.

So the biggest reason I have been gone is because I’ve been in the process of lots of adjustments, and it has been taking up a lot of my time and energy. Particularly my depression and anxiety have been acting up and I’ve needed to do a lot to cope (by a lot I mean watch ridiculous amounts of Supernatural). It’s been a long time since I’ve really had to adjust to a new kind of culture. My new office is loud, silly, close-knit and very familial. My last office was quiet, lonely and depression. And so as I get used to these new people, I’m finding myself with a bit of culture shock at how different people approach social interaction. Mostly I’m finding that I’ve gotten spoiled by hanging out with people who all know about my emotional and mental issues and know what to do not to upset me.

For the most part I adore my new coworkers. However I’m someone with a lot of baggage. It’s interesting that when we first meet people, we assume that they do not have a history that might involve triggers, mental illness, physical illness, or other difficulties. But more often than not, they do have histories with these sorts of things. Because you never know what someone’s baggage is until you get to know them, it’s often a very good idea to not say potentially triggering things to someone you don’t know very well. Particularly if you are going to be around someone for a long period of time, it’s good to ease into some of the more difficult topics.

In general we understand this: we don’t say race related things or sex related things around new people, or at the very least we understand that it’s in bad taste. But mental health related things seem to be fair game. So with that in mind, here is a handy dandy list of how NOT to freak out your new friend/acquaintance/coworker who has a mental illness.

1.Do not use mental illnesses as descriptors.

It’s been said so many times before, but no you are not OCD because you really like to clean and you do not have depression because you’re having a shit week. Your bank account is not anorexic, and the weather is not bipolar. It’s one thing to use these types of terms if you know the people you’re around, you know their histories, if you have one of these diseases, or if you have some understanding of what impact these terms will have on the individual you’re speaking to. In general I don’t suggest using them in these ways anyway, but particularly when you’ve only known someone for a week, just don’t use illnesses as casual adjectives. (Sidenote: if everyone can strip the word “purge” from their vocabulary when it’s not being used in the puking sense, it would make my life so much better).

2.If someone has quirks, let them have their quirks.

People are weird. People have different bizarre tendencies. Many times these tendencies arise for reasons good reasons, or because of particular interests, fears, or beliefs that an individual has. For someone with a mental illness, they can be important coping mechanisms. As an example, I’m a fairly picky eater. This is because being in control of what kind and how much food I eat is the only way I can eat right now without some major panic. Being able to say no to things and have that simply be the last word is extremely important to me. When you question, harp on, tease about or simply repeatedly bring something up that’s a little quirky about someone, you could be bringing up something that they do entirely intentionally but which they don’t want to share with you. It can be extremely shameful to be teased over something that’s related to your mental illness. There’s no particular reason you need to draw attention. Just let it be.

3.Let people have secrets.

This sounds weird but that’s the best way I could think of to phrase it. You are curious. You are outgoing. You ask questions. Great! Let someone not answer if they don’t want to. Let someone be vague if they want to. Example number two: I go to a lot of therapy right now. 4 appointments a week, totaling 5 hours. It’s a lot of time and effort and energy. It means I often have to jump through hoops to get my work schedule to work with my therapy schedule. When I say I have to leave a little early but I’ll work late tomorrow to make up for it, just let it be. When I don’t want to tell you what I did last night, it’s probably because I spent 2 1/2 hours in a therapy group with confidentiality rules. There’s a difference between curiosity and prying, and staying firmly on the side of curiosity will make people feel safer with you.

4.Avoid jumping into hot-button issues.

This does not mean never talking about important or sensitive things. It means asking the other person if they’re comfortable talking about it, starting with more neutral things about that topic, and working your way into some of the more difficult and personal aspects. If you want to talk about school shootings, that’s fine, but don’t start out the conversation by saying “those crazies all just need to get locked up” because I cannot be held responsible for any damage you or your property may incur after those words have been spoken. Instead of starting with your opinions about an issue, start with some facts or a question.

5.If you’re uncertain if you’ll offend someone, don’t say it (or at least don’t say it yet).

Most of these tips are for relationships that you intend to continue. This means that you’ll have all the time in the world down the line to say that absolutely hilarious one-liner about schizophrenia if and when you’ve come to understand your new acquaintance and their boundaries (although pretty please just don’t). Part of getting to know people is feeling out your boundaries. You may have to censor yourself a little more at the beginning of a relationship as you learn about that person, their pet peeves and passions, and you ask them more about themselves and their experiences. You CAN always ask. If you’re thinking of asking about something, ask if that’s alright. If you want to invite more vulnerability and openness into the relationship, be honest and open yourself. Take your time getting to know people. It’ll all be ok.

6.For those who HAVE a mental illness, recognize that you may have to just keep your mouth shut, and that other people’s habits do not have to be a commentary on your own.

I haven’t exercised in at least 8 months. I feel disgusting just typing that, but it’s true. Towards the end of last December, my dietician told me that I really shouldn’t be exercising anymore because I wasn’t consuming enough calories to sustain it. I stopped exercising when my gym membership at the local college ran out. I haven’t exercised since. It’s something that I’m incredibly uncomfortable with, but also something that is necessary because my body has simply been exhausted for years now. In my new job, people talk about exercising fairly often. It’s something that comes up. There’s an exercise facility in our new building. This topic is TRIGGERING AS FUCK to me. When my coworkers talk about exercising, I feel inadequate, I feel like I have to make excuses for my choice not to exercise, I feel lazy. But simply because they exercise and enjoy exercising does not mean that they are assuming I need to as well. Their behavior is not a judgment of my behavior. I need to take responsibility for my feelings and work on new coping mechanisms for a new environment.

I hope these tips are helpful to navigating new social situations for y’all. It’s good to be back! I have a whole queue of new posts and I’m SO excited to be writing again.

Coming Home and Going Out

One of the things that was really nice about my VISTA PSO training is that I’m among like-minded people. I have “found my people” if you will. These are people who use words like intersectionality and privilege in everyday conversations, people who are committing a year to service, people who are social justice minded and educated. And oh boy does it feel good to be around them. These kinds of experiences can be great, but they can also be a bit dangerous for social justice advocates, or those who want to make a difference in the world. What do I mean? Well, you can become complacent.

 

Let’s break it down. When you find your people, you can feel a lot of relief. Particularly if you’re a social justicey person you might be used to doing Racism or Feminism 101 every day. Every interaction might feel a bit hostile. People call you uptight, and they don’t understand your passions. So when you finally find people who are like you, it feels like coming home. Barriers fall, conversations are easier, there are common cultural touchstones. Here are the people you don’t have to argue with! It’s so relaxing! You feel loved and safe, you feel like the world’s finally ok.

 

But here’s the problem: the world hasn’t changed, only your situation has. These kinds of communities can become a siren song that lures you away from the rest of the world and the projects you used to be so passionate about. It can easily turn into the classic social justice circle: everyone hangs out and talks, but no one does anything. It can lead to complacency, and I’ve found can even result in discomfort around anyone whose priorities and thoughts don’t match your own. You become too comfortable. You rest on your laurels. You forget why these people made you so happy in the first place: because you want the whole world to be like this. You may start to resent the rest of the world for not being like this. This is a problem if you want to be an effective advocate for change. When you find home you don’t always want to leave.

 

And so as per usual, I find myself advocating a carefully chosen balance. If you are lucky enough to find a community that makes you feel safe and secure, that is GREAT. It is essential to have a place to relax and recharge if you want to be an effective advocate or even just an effective human being. But when you find yourself beginning to slip away from the things that were important to you in the past, it is important to plan out how you want to continue to engage. Forcing yourself into situations that might make you uncomfortable for a time can be a good thing. Adding activities like volunteering, writing, or going to rallies onto your calendar and asking your friends to help you stick to them is crucial. Sometimes you may have to leave your happy comfort bubble, but it’s worth it. With some careful effort you can be revitalized through a safe and comforting community while still staying in touch with the reality you want to change.

How To Train Your Introvert

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Yesterday was the first day of my Pre-Service Orientation for AmeriCorps VISTA. This training basically takes all the VISTAs from a particular region (whose projects and locations vary widely) and dumps them in a hotel together for 3 days, then asks them to discuss, team-build, and network through their training. Most of us won’t ever see each other again after this week. We’ve all been asked to stay overnight at the hotel, even if we live close enough to drive, and have been assigned a random roommate. As an introvert, this is somewhat like hell for me. Because I’m so uncomfortable, I’m sure I’m not getting as much out of this training as I could be, and in the spirit of wanting to help others around me make trainings and things not only more pleasurable but also more effective, here are some ideas about how to make your large group events effective for both introverts and extroverts.

So first and foremost it’s important to be flexible. This means that you could work in times that an individual can be alone and recharge their introvert batteries, or it means being able to accept multiple styles of listening and learning, or it means accepting that not everyone will participate in every activity. Each of these things is ok. Oftentimes trainings like to pack a lot in, and one of the things they pack in is people. Breaks tend to be short. This means there isn’t enough time for people to disperse, and there isn’t enough space to be alone. You can go a little stir crazy. People who are really introverted cannot handle a full eight hours talking and sitting in close proximity with others, particularly strangers. Trust me: we get cranky and unhappy. Incorporating longer breaks into the day, or even just having more space available for introvert hideaways makes a big difference (note to anyone who happens to design conference centers: nooks and crannies are the best).

In addition to this, having a flexible policy about little things like bathroom and water breaks so that people can bow out briefly is awesome. This means that individuals can manage their own need for space.

Now not all of these things can be done at all times: sometimes you have a lot to get done, or no extra space. What to do then? Well being flexible about how buddy/buddy everyone has to get can be good. Letting people doodle or fidget is a good way to get out that anxiety. And if none of that works? If you absolutely need socializing for what you’re about to do? I can’t speak for all introverts, but I know I’m far more willing to put up with the discomfort and exhaustion of it if I have a reason. Telling us why we’re being asked to socialize and what we’ll get out of it makes a big difference. Asking us to introduce ourselves to a room of people we’ll never meet again sounds to us like a sadist has our name on some sort of horrible list. Telling us we’re practicing a particular skill (like public speaking) or that these people may provide specific kinds of support for us later in our time makes us far more willing to put the effort in and to really want to develop relationships. To this end, forcing socialization, team-building, or group games because you think everybody likes it is uncool. Don’t force people to get to know each other unless they want to. Make the social events optional. It will be ok. Everyone will get by.

Finally, allow for a variety of methods of participation. Talking can be really overrated for some people. One of the best conferences I ever attended, and the one in which I participated the most heavily was one at which I almost never actually spoke aloud to others. Instead, there was a tweetwall, and I actively participated through my phone, asking questions, responding to others, and simply adding my thoughts. I got a great deal of information, felt challenged, and truly felt engaged. Providing alternative options that allow for writing, drawing, tweeting, or whatever else floats your boat gets everyone more content and engagement in the long run.

So please, trainers, Con organizers, businesses, and other people trying to get large groups of people together, keep these suggestions in mind to make people like me feel much better about our experiences.