In years past I’ve written glowing descriptions of our church Halloween carnival. I described how the community of congregation members creates this event for each other and how the creation draws the members of the community together. I’ve loved that aspect of it, just as I’ve loved how trailing a trick or treating child lets me feel part of a larger community of parents. I love these things about Halloween, so the arrival of the carnival last night should have been happy. It was, in a distant sort of way. I felt like it was a generally happy thing, without being made happier because of it. I was at the event, but did not truly engage with it. Certainly not in the way that my kids did. They were decked out in costumes and helping run the games. I did not have a costume, not really. Throwing on Howard’s old lab coat does not qualify as a costume in the same way that Kiki’s autumn elf with pointy ears and leafy skirt did. Kiki spent hours on her costume. I decided ten minutes before departure that I did not want to be completely boring.
The challenge is that I’m currently in a social withdrawal phase. I recognize this as part of my regular emotional cycles. Sometimes I’m reaching out, ready to give energy to the world. Other times I draw inward trying to conserve that energy to myself. Lately I’m pulling in. At some point in the future I’ll reach out and connect again. Paying attention to these cycles is important, because knowing why I’m withdrawing can make a huge difference in making my withdrawal into an effective and temporary retreat rather than into a prolonged period of self-imposed social isolation. Noticing that I’m withdrawing is an important indicator.
My current withdrawal cycle has, in part, been driven by shifts in my extended family. My grandmother’s health has been up and down in the past six months. I’ve often felt worried about her and about my parents who are acting as her primary care givers. All is currently well, Grandma is getting around the house with a walker, which she mostly needs for balance. Yet I worry about them. Several of my siblings have gone through periods of unemployment and financial stress. I’ve spent time sending them prayers, trying to think how I could help, and hosting people in my house as they pass through while on trips or relocating. Mostly there isn’t much I can do to help. I just wish I could, and the wishing takes emotional energy.
The withdrawal is also driven by internal shifts. This past year has taught me much about myself. I’ve found deeply hidden lies which were driving my behavior. I’ve rooted out sources of anxiety. I’ve made lots of progress on building new patterns of thought. Some of that involved figuring out which sorts of events feed my demons of self doubt and which fill my soul. I’m also trying to re-organize my life around writing. This requires that I have empty spaces in my mind and heart for the stories to grow. To create those spaces I need less input, fewer new things to think about.
This school year is being good for my kids, but I can also see how it is a preparatory year. Three of them are shifting and preparing to leap into new things next year. The changes have already begun and I want to savor this space before those changes are complete.
So the withdrawal makes sense. It is logical. I have good reasons for it. And yet…
Today at church during the Relief Society lesson I felt strongly that I should engage, participate in the lesson. I’ve mostly been drifting through church without doing that. In fact there have been weeks when I’ve spent time in the hallways because the meetings felt claustrophobic. It is all part of the withdrawal, I drifted through the Sunday meetings, just as I drifted through the Halloween carnival. But today I raised my hand and said something not particularly brilliant, but it supported the point the teacher was making. Discussion on the topic continued to bounce around the room, and I thought of another thing to say. I raised my hand again. For the first time in months I was not merely a passive member of the congregation, sieving inspiration from the lessons as they washed past me. Instead I was in the middle, speaking, sharing thoughts, helping to shape the lesson. It was powerful. I’d walked into that room idly noting all the familiar women who were there with me–even feeling a little frustrated that I ended up surrounded instead of off to the side where it is easier for me to observe. When I left the meeting, I loved the women, or rather I remembered that I’ve loved all of them for years. Somehow I had lost that connection and I got it back. I felt connected again because I reached out, not because someone reached to me.
Communities work only as their members make them work. You get out of it what you put into it. Often, through some incomprehensible divine formula, you get out more than what you put in. Which leads me to wonder whether withdrawing to recharge is a wise strategy at all. It is certainly the one my instincts would have me choose. When my resources are slim, I should conserve them carefully. Except I then feel like I’m continually having ever lessening amounts which I can conserve. Sometimes a withdrawal fills me up and I’m ready to engage again. Other times pulling inward is itself draining and what I need is to trust that I can continue to feed everyone with what feels like a mere handful of meal and a few drops of oil. I’m afraid to give more. I have so many things to tend already, but I think I need to connect with my communities. I need to be willing to give, particularly when I’m afraid that I’ll run out.
Withdrawing is good. Reaching out is good. Giving is good. Conserving is good. It feels like a test where all the answers are based upon context and interpretation. The best I can do is to muddle my way through trying out the different options as they seem called for.