Cave Party!

There are probably times in everyone’s lives when we want to crawl into a cave and not come out until the crisis is over. Whether it’s a health issue, problems with work, or difficulties with family or friends, sometimes things get overwhelming and we just want to shut the world out… at least most of us do. And then there are extreme extroverts.

Extroverts, as you probably know, get a real energy boost from being around other people. Extreme extroverts are utterly dependent on this energy boost. In times of crisis we may want to select our power base carefully – not all energy sources are equal – but we still need it. Which leads to a strange situation where we crawl into a cave, but want to take a carefully selected group of friends in there with us.  It’s no good shutting yourself in without supplies. It would be like building a bunker and not stocking it with food. We would wither.

The trouble is that when you’re in cave mode, it can be difficult to gather that crowd of supporters. Just when we need our friends the most, we find it hard to call for help. Even extreme extroverts can get to the point where we haven’t got the energy, or perhaps the emotional capacity, to say “I need you”. So we crawl into the cave and whither away, until the problem goes away, or someone who knows us well (and is unafraid of the dragon guarding the entrance) crawls in there and hauls us out.

And praise will come to those whose kindness leaves us without debt,
and bends the shape of things to come that haven’t happened yet.

Neil Finn, “Faster than Light”.

It makes me wonder whether even introverts would benefit from a support team in their cave in those darker moments. It seems somewhat anti-darwinian that we have this inability to call for help when we most need it. In my case, at least, it can lead to escalations and complications in situations that could have been resolved quite simply. Being alone in my cave is a rapid route to total perspective loss.

Caves are remarkably dangerous places. Problems grow, breed, and become ever more toxic in the dark. There’s nothing like telling your deepest darkest fears to a friend for making them shrivel back into molehill form (the fears, not the friends).

It’s not surprising that one of the warning signs of depression is social withdrawal. It is to some extent both cause and effect – a vicious cycle of social withdrawal making recovery harder, leading to further withdrawal. Even when friends know the signs, true depression can be almost impossible to break into.

Many of us, though, have a cave mode that is not actually depression, simply a withdrawal from overwhelming circumstances. Friends who recognise that withdrawal and invite themselves into your cave can be the difference between collapse and recovery. It’s dangerous to rely on the psychic abilities of your friends, though. Much better to learn to recognise the warnings signs yourself.

Next time you feel yourself slipping into cave mode, ask yourself whether there is someone who should come with you. Now, if you will excuse me, I am off to take my own advice. Cave Party!!

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5 thoughts on “Cave Party!

  1. Paul van den Bergen

    I have suffered from anxiety[1]. One of the things I read about this is that often when faced with a crisis – which is the definition of every day for a bad case of anxiety – people tend to behave in the opposite manner to normal – extroverts want to shun the world… Certainly at times of extreme stress the last thing I wanted was to be around people… so I’m not entirely convinced about your argument here – however – I like caves and think having a party in a cave is a swell idea… will there be cake?

    [1] still do – right now I’m trying to rewrite my resume for a job I really want… – It’s taking me for ever merely because I am so anxious about getting it right that I can’t make progress. Still – compared to where I was even 3 years ago I can’t imagine even attempting the jobs I apply for now….

    1. lindamciver

      Ah, but is there a difference between what you wanted and what you needed?
      And there will definitely be cake. Gluten free, fructose friendly cake. :-)

  2. Andrew

    Ah Linda… Well written, but still written as an extrovert.

    As in introvert – I have to get right into the cave to sort a problem out. If I can’t sort it out myself, then I come back out and chat. But the whole “Caves are remarkably dangerous places” is such an extrovert thing. I _cannot_ solve a problem without a trip to the cave. If a bunch of people follow me in, I just feel like telling them (politely) to sod off until I am done thinking!

  3. Alice

    Dear Linda, I hope you’re feeling better today.

    I don’t think we’ve met, but I’ve been occasionally checking in on your blog ever since a friend pointed out a post here a few months ago. I’ve enjoyed your thoughts and writing. Thank you for sharing :).

    Reading this post, I wonder if you might be able to help shed light on my bit of a pickle below.

    I know how it feels like to want to crawl into a cave, but more overwhelmingly, I’ve been The Excavator — The friend who is close enough to receive the snarls, bites and to be pushed away outright (without the tact accorded to seemingly every other friend/family), who after picking myself up and tending my wounds have to work out that the attacks weren’t intentional (Often not even conscious attacks) but a blow out of not coping with the world and an effort to retreat into the deep cavernous cave… which I will then have to excavate, craftfully treading past dellusions and slippery slopes, and brave myself for the imminent battle with The Angry Dark Self of the caver, before I might be allowed to sit with her in the cave or just say Hi before I leave to wait for her to resurface when she’s ready.

    But sometime last year, after years of regular wounds and each time making careful effort to toss unintrusive sparks into the cave to keep some light while I wait for her to resurface… I grew tired of fighting her. I thought perhaps that I should just believe that she really did want to be left in her own world… even on her 30th birthday. After all, I’d been pushed away so many times. Maybe it’s true that being left alone is what she wants… so I distanced myself and stopped reaching in.

    But that only upset her further. And I only found out too late that she never got over it. We had earlier had a conversation that I thought let the air out and had ironed out the creases…. I was happy, and whilst I noticed worrying signs afterwards, I believed in the conversation and that we had an understanding. But instead, she had gone back into the cave, and this time, didn’t let me in on it. She had gone into the cave and her brewing emotions bred an alternate reality…. believing that I was constantly angry at her, that any nice gesture from me was intended to make her feel guilty, all she could think and feel was that I was angry at her.

    As this was going on, in attempting to make up for pulling away earlier, I was being extra nice and extra understanding of any snarl, bite or push. But the nicer or more hurt I let slip, the worse things got.. which was extremely confusing, and then, extremely hurtful. When I realised something was very wrong, I tried different approaches… I gave distance, then I unashamedly professed the positives I see in her and why she was worth my standing by her despite the wounds, and eventually in desperation, I found myself pretty much begging and grovelling to make things OK. And then the pain got too much, so I told her that I was at my wit’s end and didn’t have the strength to keep trying anymore…

    After the loathing and harsh treatment I’d received, I couldn’t help thinking I wasn’t valuing and respecting myself if I pretended nothing happened and we went back to being good friends. It seems especially unfair when I consider that the basis of her anger was based on skewed perceptions because she isn’t able to convey her thoughts and allowed her emotions to construct cruelly false impressions of me at a time when I was oblivious and being extra nice and giving. I started blaming myself for pulling away earlier, but then realised that I only pulled away because her words said that she wanted me to, and I was too bruised to keep going.

    So finally I cut myself off completely. I decided to stop communications with her for 3 reasons: Most importantly, I didn’t have the strength. Which meant I yo-yoed between being nice and then spitefully angry, which made things much worse and detrimental to her psyche. I have to acknowledge that her “prophecies” of my constant anger became very true in the end, but only in the end. Secondly, because I couldn’t decide how to let things be in a way that would be fair to myself. Thirdly, she doesn’t talk about things and reach out even when all things are going well, so with the current disaster, any sensible talking through and attempts to understand what happened is likely impossible, and I’m tired of hurting her by trying.

    Sorry I went off at a tangent. My question: Why do people go into caves like that?? From your caving experience, what do you make of my story above?

    We were such good friends. “Joined at the hip”. “Same same but different”. “The giggling sisters”. “Partners in crime”. We understood each other without needing words. And yet, where it mattered to us, we couldn’t understand. It took me many days and nights of mulling, turning the situation round n round in my head, looking at it from different angles, mostly blaming myself, before I decided the friendship wasn’t worth my while. And yet each idle day I still question myself, I feel like an ungrateful bitch sometimes, and yet I can’t reconcile all the times that seemed so unfair. I can’t understand why, and so I can’t reconcile the hurt.

    1. lindamciver

      Hi Alice,

      I’m so sorry to hear this. It must be traumatic for you. I think that friendships that are so close are the ones that go the most spectacularly wrong – there’s a great line from a favourite author of mine, about how the expectation of understanding was so complete that its absence was a dreadful betrayal. Sometimes the gulf is so wide that only time and distance can heal it – if anything can at all. Ultimately you really do have to take care of yourself.

      I wish I had some answers for you!

      Linda

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