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Nancy Okerlund
Volume 2, Issue 16, 9/29/08

Drained by Joy

I missed the last deadline for The Introvert Energizer. It came shortly after I got home from a four-day wedding and I was recuperating from being drained by joy.

The wedding was one of those experiences that defies easy description. As a friend of mine said, hearing a short-version report, "Wow, it sounds like a movie!" I agreed. (And I wish you all could have been there – or at least seen the movie :-)

It's not a new experience for me to be drained by joy.

Maybe a third of me likes that phrase – "drained by joy". The rest of me thinks it's a contradiction in terms and a flimsy attempt to make feeling wiped out sound good.

Here's a snapshot of the wedding (from the "drainee's" perspective): The setting for this four-day event was on the shore of Lake Superior, in northern Minnesota. People in Minnesota love, many even revere, Lake Superior, commonly called "The North Shore." I'm certainly a member of that group.

The lake was one of my "drainers", so I came home and looked it up on the internet. Here are a few good sentences from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency website: "The Great Lakes – Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie and Ontario – are a dominant part of the physical and cultural heritage of North America.

"Shared with Canada and spanning more than 750 miles (1200 kilometers) from west to east, these vast inland freshwater seas have provided water for consumption, transportation, power, recreation and a host of other uses.

"The Great Lakes are the largest surface freshwater system on the Earth. Only the polar ice caps contain more fresh water…. Lake Superior is the largest in terms of volume. It is also the deepest and coldest of the five. Most of the Superior basin is forested, with little agriculture because of a cool climate and poor soils. The forests and sparse population result in relatively few pollutants entering Lake Superior, except through airborne transport."

From where I live, you jump in the car, drive a few hours north (five in this case) and there it is: big, rugged, pristine beauty. By itself, under the right (quiet) conditions, Lake Superior gives me joy and it doesn't drain me.

But this wasn't quiet conditions and it wasn't simple. For one thing, it was four days. I know that weddings in some cultures go several days but what I'm used to is more like a few hours. My introvert self knew ahead of time that a four-day wedding would be draining.

The wedding celebration would take place in three locations: the early afternoon ceremony, with 125 guests under a canopy right on the shore of the lake (that feels like an ocean.) Music and refreshments after the ceremony, up the hill in a large white tent set up on the big lawn of the log cabin resort.

Then, through the resort woods and across the road to dinner and dancing, in the town hall of the tiny rural village closest to the resort. Virtually everyone attending this wedding would travel a minimum of several hours.

Family and friends of the wedding couple began gathering on day one, to form a crew that would transform the three sites into wedding mode. One family, Irish east coast extroverts; the other, small town Wisconsin introverts (interesting to ponder in itself.) And a pack of miscellaneous urban Minnesota friends (which included me.)

In the way a common goal can do it, we wedding workers turned into a little community over the four days. We hauled chairs and tables, folded 140 moss green cloth napkins into a fancy banquet design, strung lights on trees, set up banners and direction signs all over the wedding territory. We spread out tables full of driftwood and beautiful Lake Superior rocks for the "resident artist" to decorate the dinner tables with.

We helped unload the caterer's van and we carried big stones from the lakeshore to make cairns (ancient Irish markers) down by the ceremony tent. We prepared an outdoor rehearsal dinner for 50 and hosted a post-wedding breakfast for the wedding guests.

All the while, the wedding couple fed us box lunches, made evening campfires, took us on hikes into the wilderness, and kept us moving with a remarkable set of spreadsheet do-lists and a lot of lighthearted flexibility.

But what about me being drained by joy? To digress briefly for a few key traits of introverts: our brains are designed to be busy thinking about and processing what we experience, so we can get over-stimulated by too many experiences in a short time.

Unlike extroverts, whose bodies are actually energized by lots of stimulation, introverts get drained and need significant "down time" in a low-stimulation environment to process and get re-charged. Creating energy takes more time for introverts and it flows out faster.

We tend to be observant, thorough, detail-oriented and like depth and meaning. And because of how our nervous systems work, our pace is slower, we tend to be hesitant in unfamiliar situations, and it's harder for us to move our bodies than for extroverts.

So this was a situation designed to drain an introvert: driving five hours into the wilderness (with homemade rehearsal dinner baked beans for 50 in the back seat :-) to spend four busy days, stationed in an unfamiliar log cabin, interacting with between 25 and 130 interesting people essentially non-stop. (Including offering a toast at the dinner, thrown in for added anxiety.)

And there was very little of the ordinary about this wedding. Besides that it took place at the shore of the largest freshwater lake in the world, far from everyone's home, this was the marriage of two gay men.

The ceremony was very personal, carefully designed by the two grooms and filled with beauty: a professional acappella vocal ensemble (of friends), live instrumental music, poetry and personal sharing read by friends and family, including the couple's teenage son. And the wedding couple, beaming in their elegant wedding suits.

After the ceremony, all 125 guests climbed out onto the mammoth boulders on the shore for a group wedding picture. A bald eagle showed up to circle above the big white tent as we had refreshments on the lawn. And the town hall was a night of good dinner, good music, laughter and dancing.

So I was drained by joy. By the time I climbed into my log cabin bed that night – with day four still ahead of me – I knew I wouldn't have a good night's sleep. My mind was entertaining me with a multi-media slideshow of images and impressions and thoughts and feelings that I put on pause only with great effort, so I could rest for a few hours. And it kept playing for days afterwards.

The moral of the story? Being drained by joy is worth it – but don't forget to recuperate.

End of food for thought – on to some practical ideas:

A Practical Idea for Introverts

Think of three things that help you recuperate from being drained.

A Practical Idea for Extroverts

Have sympathy for the introverts in your life when you suspect they're getting drained.

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