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Me-Time: Rest, Reflect, and Recharge

I am definitely an extrovert, but that doesn't mean that I don't need and enjoy alone time and "me-time." Living with chronic pain and RA is exhausting, which anyone who has the disease can understand much too well. Being a functioning adult, in general, is often exhausting, never mind throwing a painful, never-ending disease on top of everything.

Coping with pain every day can make the most energetic extroverts in the world need time and space to rest, reflect, and recharge. I'm a far cry from being one of the most energetic extroverts in the world, but the majority of the time, I do need to be around other people: talking, sharing, laughing, collaborating, connecting, and participating in life together.

Living with RA as an extrovert

Extroverts get their energy from being around and interacting with other people; introverts are the opposite and derive their energy from themselves and often feel drained from social interactions. Despite being a self-proclaimed extrovert, there are times when I simply need to be alone. When I feel a need and desire for solitude, it's invariably during or shortly after extremely stressful, traumatic, and painful situations or events in my life: RA flare-ups, disabling pain, sickness, job stress, financial stress/worry, stress and problems in relationships, family issues, times of grief and mourning.

For example, when I returned home from Germany in February after unexpectedly spending 3 weeks in the hospital in Berlin because of a serious leg infection, I definitely needed to rest, recover, and reflect on what happened to me physically and emotionally while I was so far from home. There was--and still is--much to process and heal from this trip along with several other big things happening in my life lately.

Finding balance through a stressful time

Most people I told about my German hospital horrors responded along the lines of: "Oh my God, how terrifying! You need to rest and take care of yourself now." Weary and exhausted, I agreed and only wanted to burrow and hide in my bed once I got back home.

So many stressful and unexpected things happened while I was in Germany: a full-body RA flare-up where I could barely walk, miscommunication with friends regarding travel plans, miscommunication with everything (my German is "nicht so gut"), 20-year friendships that I adored and tried hard to keep going finally exploded and fell apart, and a deadly and fast-spreading strep infection in my left leg that landed me in the hospital with an I.V. of penicillin in my arm for almost 3 weeks. Oh, and I got struck with an upper-respiratory infection and chest-rattling cough a few days after I got out of the hospital, thanks to my friends' 3-year-old boy whose entire kindergarten class was infected with the same nasty bug. I was a physical and emotional wreck by the time I said "auf wiedersehen" to Germany.

Not everyone was supportive of my needs

While my needing rest was supported and encouraged by most people, one person in my life has been struggling with my need for "me-time" ever since I came back to Minnesota: my boyfriend. No matter how many times I patiently and gently try to explain to him my need for alone time and space, he just couldn't understand. He couldn't (or wouldn't?) understand the deep, bone-tired fatigue of chronic pain and illness with comorbidities and other sicknesses piled on top, no matter what I say or how I say it.

Germany was a very stressful, difficult, frightening, emotional, and painful trip. I wasn't running around having fun without my boyfriend, as he accused me of doing. I wasn't throwing back steins of beer and stuffing my face with pretzels and mustard every night (darn!). I was in great pain and stuck in a bleak, Soviet-style jail cell of a hospital room day after day with gruff, semi-sadistic krankenschwestern (nurses).

When loved ones just don't "get it"

The personal boundaries I was trying to set for myself and my relationship upon my return were not being respected. I needed space, time, and solitude! Totally wrapped up in his own feelings and dysregulated emotions, my boyfriend continued to harass me with long, passive-aggressive, and snide texts about how much I sucked, basically, for canceling plans and not seeing him enough.

During one of our fights about this, when he was getting on my case for sleeping a lot, I so badly wanted to scream: LIVING WITH PAIN AND SICKNESS EVERY DAY IS EXHAUSTING! IT'S OK IF I NEED SLEEP! I realized that not only did my partner have no clue what I really went through in Germany, but he also had no clue what I dealt with every day simply trying to function and live with RA. How do I make him understand? One of my little "speeches" went something like this:

Sometimes, oftentimes, I am just really, really tired. I do not feel well most of the time, but I push through it and pretend like I'm okay. Realistically, I can't do that all the time. I'm not okay right now, and I need some time, patience, understanding, support, and kindness in order to process everything that happened and to heal and recharge after considerable, unexpected trauma.

Small improvements, day by day

My boyfriend is a very kind and sensitive person, which makes his behavior and response to my needing alone time very disappointing. I thought that he "got it." Or, he got it as much as possible, being a healthy and able-bodied person. Apparently not. And it struck me hard when I realized that he does not "get it" at all. Nobody does. We're still having challenges regarding my need to distance and isolate myself a bit since returning home. However, things are improving.

I'm finally starting to feel more like my "old self," wanting to get out of the house and do things. And my boyfriend has finally realized that he needs to chill out and work on his patience and empathy skills while understanding that "me-time" is about me taking care of myself and not about wanting to avoid or hurt him. Sometimes when we're feeling really lost and dark and confused, we need a little alone time to get back on track--and there's nothing wrong with that.

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