Spinning out.

Spinning out.

A family legend:

Not long after they were first married, my parents were debating whether or not they were ready to buy their first house.

According to my mom, my dad sat on the couch for hours during this period. When my mom asked what he was doing, he’d say, “thinking.”

This behavior baffled my mom, the consummate extrovert. I’ve heard her tell the story over the years, and every time I’ve laughed again at the thought of my dad just sitting there, thinking.

Who does that? 

Well, it turns out that lately, the answer is … me.

spinning out 2

It started back in the spring. We have four kids, so our “normal” life is pretty crazy. On top of our normal crazy, we traveled, moved, hosted houseguests, performed oodles of deferred maintenance on our old house, and played All The Sports.

I’m a maximizer by nature. I hate to have wasted moments, instead preferring to turn the empty minutes I spend driving, or running, or doing the dishes into something useful. When I’m by myself, I typically fill the empty space by listening to audiobooks or podcasts or chatting on the phone.

But this season of life has been full. Too full. I’ve had triple the usual number of balls in the air, and my usually methodical mental to-do list has turned into a tangled, knotted jumble.

Lately, when I get in the car, or lace up my running shoes, or seize a (rare) moment alone on the couch, I somehow know that I need to resist the impulse to grab my earbuds and instead let myself just be.

Just like my dad all those years ago, I need to sit and think. I need to let my thoughts run free, until the tangled jumble in my head spins itself out into something manageable again.

Spinning out | Modern Mrs Darcy


Elizabeth Foss pinpointed a related concern in a post this week. (I’ve loved her recent series about how her FitBit is helping her tend her soul.)

Elizabeth said that she’d finally identified a feeling she’d been wrestling with as loneliness, which didn’t make sense to her because she has a happy (large) family life and is in regular contact with dear local friends. Then she got a FitBit, and started taking long, daily walks. She writes,

Within the first week or so of walking, the loneliness dissipated. Maybe loneliness isn’t the right word for it at all. I was lonely for myself. Those ninety minutes in the morning were absolutely necessary for the care and tending of this introvert. At last, I was getting sufficient time to refuel. Time to talk to myself. And to listen to myself.

As a fellow introvert, I suspect this is part of what’s going on with me lately. It’s not just that the clutter and noise of my life are getting to me (although the clutter and noise do get to me). The lack of alone time is also getting to me. (And I don’t mean “alone time” on the phone with the furnace repair guy. That’s the opposite of restorative.)

I’d love to hear about your own experience with your own tangled, jumbled mess of thoughts, and the best ways you’ve found to give yourself the space you need to spin out. 

P.S. The best book you’ve never heard of on the daily grind, and why Thursdays (used to) make me crazy.

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  1. Whitney W says:

    I love this post, and I love your blog! I am an introvert as well, and I need “me” time in order to function during the day. I wake up, go to the gym, and come home to give myself 30 minutes of quiet, uninterrupted time. I eat breakfast, read blogs, meditate, plan–whatever I want to do. My husband knows I need this time, and he gives me my space. It works well and puts me in a peaceful place for the day.

  2. Steph says:

    I’m an introvert maximizer too but I find that if I don’t spend a few minutes every day in total silence I start losing it. I always make sure to take a shower without any sound but the water running and sometimes I shut everything down while driving as well. This usually is enough but I have been known to declare that I need to go look at a white wall for a few minutes…

  3. I’m a pretty strong introvert myself. It’s one reason I work by myself — and have childcare for the hours I’m working. I like to focus. It’s also why I like running. People sometimes talk about how fun it is to exercise in a group class and why I can see that people would find it appealing it is never something I’ve found like I need to make time for.

    • Anne says:

      That’s so interesting about the fitness group classes. I’ve gone through seasons where I love the camaraderie and motivation that group classes give me, but I’m currently in a season where I’d rather just run by myself. I think you’ve pinpointed why. My social needs are more than met in this stage; what I need these days is alone time.

  4. Kiana says:

    First I want to say thank you for recommending Quiet. I read it and really came to understand so much about myself and my daughter. I can really relate to this post….I just returned from A WEEK in a cabin up north with two of my own children, my two siblings, their spouses, and their children. Plus we were up there with other extended family who were in different cabins but since ours was the largest most days everyone gathered at ours so it was not uncommon to have our cabin full of chaos…..Don’t get me wrong…I cherish the family time but by the end by Friday (day 6) I was done. I drove home and have spent the last week not really doing much at all. I have read 3 books this week, watched movies alone and with my kids, and done a lot of relaxing. I was starting to wonder if something was wrong with me but I think I literally needed a week after that chaotic week to just “be”. I call it decompress. LOL! Like you said….I need my time to myself….badly!! Thanks for all your posts about introverts! I finally feel normal! LOL!

    • Anne says:

      I’m so glad you enjoyed the book! I can totally relate to feeling like I need a vacation at the end of a really fun vacation, just because weeks like that are so draining to me as an introvert. Understanding introversion has made me feel a lot less guilty about this impulse, and instead channel that energy into doing what I need to do to recharge (like you’ve been doing with books, movies, relaxing) after a good but draining week with family.

    • Amy says:

      We usually lead a pretty hermitish existence out on the ranch, so when we do get chances to socialize, we have to “recover” from it too. My husband especially needs time to “decompress” after busy family gatherings, but one evening he told me that he needed to go outside to sit by himself on the porch and “decompose” for a while! So that’s what we do at our house now, we take time to be relaxed and decompose, haha

  5. Beth says:

    I can definitely relate to this post. I try to get up to run and then pray/think/etc. every morning before the kids are awake, but lately my schedule has been hit-and-miss. I need to be more conscious about carving out some alone time — trying to squeeze it in as a stay-at-home mom (four kids here, too) leaves me suuuper cranky! It will probably help when the kids go back to school next week and we are on a schedule again. Only my two oldest are in school but it will force me to organize my time a little better, and maybe “rest time” (we definitely do that every afternoon, too) can be a little more restful!

    I found your blog a couple weeks ago and have really enjoyed getting to know you through your posts and archives (and all the comments — seriously the best comment-section on the Internet). Now that I’ve listened to the two latest podcasts, too, I feel like you’re a friend, except it’s in a kind of creepy one-sided way. So I’m purposefully de-lurking, so it’s just a little less creepy. 🙂 Hi!

    • Anne says:

      Hi Beth! It’s nice to “meet” you in the comments section. Welcome to MMD; I’m so glad you’re here. 🙂

      Good luck with that time organization, especially with fall right around the corner. It’s tough to do but I hope you find a rhythm that works for you and your whole family.

  6. Tina B says:

    Until I read your blog, I thought I was just “shy.” Now that I understand the meaning of the word introvert, I feel so much more normal. It’s so good to know that I’m not the only person who is drained by spending the day or even hours with other people and that I need to make the time to recover. My “me time” is so important and that includes time to be alone and think. I would have been glad to just sit next to your Dad on the couch and think in silence.

  7. Jennifer says:

    Oh Mrs. Darcy, I am such an introvert and I work as a newspaper reporter so I’m dealing with people much of the day and need to be “on” to a certain extent. I really, really need time to just sit or drive or walk by myself. No music, no radio, no companion. It makes a huge difference in my sanity.

    When I was a child, I would often escape to my room to just sit and think and it would make my mom crazy to see me just sitting there doing nothing. She would ask what I was doing and I would say thinking and later she told me she thought I was just being lazy. Years later, she finally understood that I was a child/person who really needed time to be alone in her brain.

    • Anne says:

      A newspaper reporter, oh my! I can imagine how you’d have to go really hard at work and then crash really hard when the work day is over!

  8. MelissaJoy says:

    What I like about your post is that you are advocating for thinking space. It is necessary for introvert function. Have you read The Artist’s Way? It’s geared toward all types of people in an effort to unblock the creative self through a variety of tasks and daily writing but a big part of the “recovery” is taking two hours per week for an artist date. At first I thought it was frivolous for a *committed/responsible* wife and mother to take such time but these weekly dates for two hours have been essential to my mental health. Layers of my being that I thought were lost forever are now engaged once again. Hallelujah!

    • Anne says:

      I’ve only read the part in The Artist’s Way about the morning pages. I keep meaning to read the whole thing but I haven’t gotten there yet. Thanks for the reminder—I need it!

      • MelissaJoy says:

        Morning pages are genius! It’s not meant to be linear so no pressure on an end product. This is huge for me. If you do go through the book at some point I know lots of your readers would be interested in your takeaway.

  9. Virginia says:

    I read her post this week and told her in the comments that I think it’s so telling when things that are heavy on our hearts are vocalized and shown to us by God through someone else’s writing. Lots of her post hit home for me as I’ve tried to talk myself into sacrificing some time in our schedule for me to recharge, exercise, write, and just take a few moments to tend to my soul.

    You talking about her post? Another nudge, don’t you think? 🙂

    • Anne says:

      I love Elizabeth’s blog for exactly the reasons you say. And you might be right about those little nudges. 🙂 Wishing you well as you process all that.

  10. Christina says:

    I just have to say – it’s refreshing to hear you mention how crazy you’ve felt the past few months. I think your blog has been on FIRE lately, and I keep wondering how on earth you are balancing everything – especially a move! – while still appearing so collected and at peace. It makes me feel a bit better about my human-ness. 🙂

    Side note, I get told by people all the time what a calming presence I have on others, which always makes me laugh. The activity in my head is ANYTHING but calm. I guess we all have our moments! 🙂

    • Anne says:

      Oh my goodness, thank you so much. 🙂 Rest assured, it’s been crazy around here. A good crazy (for the most part) but CRAZY all the same!

      And we must be cut from the same cloth: people tell me about my “calming presence” too. And like you, the activity in my head is anything but calm!

  11. Ana says:

    I can’t put earbuds of any type in my ears (I’ve tried them all, they all are uncomfortable), which gives me lots of quiet time while I”m walking and running. Without that time at least every other day, I start to feel a bit crazy, too.

  12. alvestonjoy says:

    Hello from the UK!
    I love your posts, Anne, and can relate to so much you comment on even though I’m in my late 50s and lucky to be retired from paid employment. I describe myself as an “outgoing introvert”. Jogging provides me with thinking time: I love it. I also enjoy (and highly recommend) walking in the English countryside and coastal paths. I’m usually with my partner. He’s a highly reflective thinker (and needs a long runway to launch his thoughts!). We sort out so much “stuff” during this special time.
    Come visit us in the UK! Joy

    • Anne says:

      I’m also an outgoing extrovert. I love and relate to Karlyne’s comment in this thread: “It takes a tremendous amount of alone time for me to be the social being that I am.”

      And I would love to come visit the UK! I haven’t been in twenty years, which is much too long. 🙂

  13. Kristin says:

    I can completely relate to this. Back in my college days I would know when I was completely stressed out because I would just find myself sitting there, doing nothing for a few minutes. That was so unlike me. I realized my brain was saying, “Enough!”

  14. I’ve always recognized my need to simple sit and “be,” but in the years since college, I’ve become a master maximizer, too. Where being intentionally still used to come naturally to me, as I’ve gotten busier, I’ve realized the only way to make it happen is to postpone (or get rid of) less important things on the almighty to-do list.

  15. Kathleen says:

    Yes! I can totally relate to this. I start to feel overwhelmed really quickly if I don’t have some “quiet time” each day. Sometimes this involves turning off the radio in my car and having 10 minutes of silence after dropping my kids off at school and I’m on my way to work. Sometimes this is 30 minutes at the end of the day with my book or a magazine. When I can, it’s a nice, long walk outside. Since becoming a mother, and as my boys get older and there are more pressures to do sports and other activities, I’ve learned to consider my own needs when we make decisions about our family’s schedule. I do not deal well with being on-the-go all the time and I have to make sure I get some down-time each day or everything starts to fall apart with our family life.

    • Anne says:

      That last sentence? That’s me. It’s so helpful and encouraging to hear from others who are built the same way. 🙂

      (And I love your related point: keeping yourself happy and sane helps keep EVERYBODY happy and sane.)

  16. Flynn says:

    A good long bike ride after a long day clears my thoughts and helps me forget about my worries. And being around good friends helps me get some perspective and stop (at least temporarily) rolling the same thoughts back and forth.

  17. Jennifer says:

    Yes. Since I’ve started taking out puppy on walks, I’ve realized how much I relish those quiet times by myself. I leave my phone at home, so it’s just me and my thoughts. No music, no social media, nothing. I love it.

    • Anne says:

      I think this is one of the reasons I have puppy fever right now! My 11-year-old lab isn’t up for the long walks anymore, but I sure am. 🙂

  18. Nicole says:

    This is hard for me in the “little people everywhere all the time” phase of life that I’m in right now. I keep trying to get up earlier and a baby will wake up with me, 2 hours before her wake up time. Then, I’m not only no longer having alone time, but I now have a crabby baby with me! On mornings I don’t get time to myself, I find myself staring at the wall or realize that someone has said “Mama” 112 times before it even registered. How do you survive being an introvert when you’ve got little munchkins all over the house?

    • Anne says:

      Oh my goodness, I get this. We are currently in a stage where I wake up before my kids 90% of the time, and that makes all the difference in the world. Not so long ago, we were in a stage where no matter how early I got up, at least one kid would wake up (crying, usually) 10 minutes before me, which was an unpleasant way to start the day. All I can say is seize the quiet moments you can and hang in there. It gets better.

  19. Heather says:

    Yes to the occasional quiet. I’m an extrovert yet I need my quiet, too. I had a roommate in grad school (over 20 yrs. ago!) who noticed that I’d turn on my stereo from the moment I walked in and not have a bit of quiet before bed. She once asked if I was afraid of quiet, afraid of being alone with my thoughts. Wow. That hit hard. When I remember that conversation (very one-sided), I turn off the noise. It doesn’t come naturally for me. Since I started teaching evenings, I’ve realized that I’m a more peaceful wife and mom when I get home if I turn off the radio on the commute back. I have to fight the urge to fill my quiet with noise.

  20. Gillian says:

    I totally agree. So much of our time is naturally filled with noise and buzzing…it’s good to just let your thoughts wander. I love to drive with the radio turned down. For me, it’s the best time for dreaming and processing and mental pep talks. If I’m feeling really stressed and overwhelmed, though, I’ll usually try to go outside for a walk by myself. That always turns my day around!

  21. Bethany V. says:

    I think this is part of one of the paradoxes of motherhood. I am an introvert so all day with my kids makes me feel totally tapped out. Sometimes I just desperately need a few moments alone where no one is asking me for anything, but the to-do lists haunt me. (That’s the J in me). But at the same time I feel lonely for friends. Friendships based on actual things in common besides kids the same age or attending the library story time. It’s a strange dichotomy.

  22. Karlyne says:

    I cannot remember who said this, but I totally agree: “It takes a tremendous amount of alone time for me to be the social being that I am.” So yes to your post!

  23. Scott Keen says:

    I’m an introvert, and also the stay-at-home parent to my four daughters, all under the age of nine. They can seriously talk all day long (well, maybe not the one year old, but she does make a lot of cute sounds), and I can relate about needing some time to just sit in quiet and think. I’m also a writer, and that time is invaluable when I’m thinking about my current story that I’m working on. Sometimes, just a few moments here and there is enough to rejuvenate me.

  24. Rebekah T says:

    I don’t think you have to be an introvert or a parent to need alone time. I’m a newlywed with no children, but also a community dweller and living so closely with hundreds of others and LOVING it has made me forget to take moments alone. This post was so good for me to read, but I’m an extrovert and am often baffled at how much time and space, and contentment, my introverted friends have, they are so different from me sometimes. I like that this was relatable for me.

  25. sonrie says:

    I loved both Quiet and Highly Sensitive Person – turns out I am both despite years of trying so hard to be an extrovert (and sometimes succeeding) but then wondering why I am drained….now I am embracing the quiet time, alone time, and ‘relax me-time’.

  26. Kristal says:

    I’m an ENFP, AND an HSP–so maybe an XNFP?

    This is really true for me and its been sort of a revelation thanks to your HSP posts. I need to protect myself from getting overstimulated and over-scheduled. Life is just better if I have time to recharge AND work out.

  27. Kayla says:

    We started the summer with a DIY kitchen renovation that was so exciting to me that I started getting up really early to work on it, just bouncing out of bed to go paint something at 5am. That getting up early and having a couple hours to myself before my kids start waking up, or even until my husband gets up for his devotions and exercise has been wonderful for my state of mind. Also, accomplishing something right away doesn’t hurt. My kids are getting old enough that they aren’t extremely high maintenance, but they do like to talk and occupy my mind space. Time with no one even in my sight seems to let my mind unspool a bit and I’m more relaxed and feel less need to “run away” in the evenings.

  28. Katie says:

    It finally makes sense. I’m a single mom with five children and for the past several unusually busy months I have been panicky when I have full days scheduled with no downtime. Super panicky. Panic attack panicky. And I’ve been thinking I’m losing my mind. Could it be that after all this time of thinking I’m an extrovert I’m actually an introvert and not really crazy? Is it possible that I just need to schedule quiet time to balance the craziness that is my life? You have no idea how much your words have lifted my spirit today and blessed me. Thank you. So much.

    • Karlyne says:

      I think that too often when we hear people should “make time for themselves”, we think it means participating in something: exercise programs or pedicures or make-overs or shopping, for instance. But a lot of the time what we really need is quiet, alone time. (I almost put “quiet” in caps, but then I thought that was excessively loud.)

  29. Eileen slater says:

    I was a teacher for 34 years. I loved my job, but could never understand why I went in earlier than everyone else when it was quiet and why at the end of the day I just had to get away! I was so drained I felt like crying! Now I understand I was an introvert in an extrovert profession! To decompress I love to take long nature walks by myself where I don’t have to talk to anyone! I love knowing I am not weird at all! I am an introvert!!

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