On catching up again and again (or the calm before the MS2 storm)

While in NH a few weeks back, I met up with a CrossFit athlete and coach, Joey Vachon. He had recently competed in the East Regional, a feeder competition for the CrossFit Games, the highest level of measurement for the Sport of Fitness. It had been a few weeks since his debut at Regionals and I used this as an excuse to talk about him, rather than myself, while we caught up and ate burritos at Chipotle.

He talked a bit about how the stress of competition and preparation affected him differently than he had expected, and I gently prodded about his plans for the future. After some back and forth, he sighed and admitted that he has been talking about Regionals pretty much non-stop since coming back and just wanted a break, to enjoy training and CrossFit again.

Looking back, I empathize with him: returning to school is exhausting, with colleagues and friends asking me about my summer at every turn. I attempt to stay present and engaged, but these are conversations in slightly different shades of the same color. It must be similar, in some small way, to what broad fame feels like excited folks coming up to you and wanting to talk about this thing you did a while back, but you just want to eat your burrito in silence while cruising your phone.

The constant catch-ups are exhausting; I wish in my introvert heart of hearts that I could stand up in front of the class and quickly recount my summer for all to hear, then allow the next person to tell their story. Instead, between mandatory group activities there is a flurry of social activity, like story-telling speed-dating where you find someone you haven’t caught up with and you both tell your highly refined tale of the summer months.

So, I quietly avoid group situations because I know I’d have to tell the story of my engagement again and again, or talk about my road trips to California and New Hampshire. When folks are sitting together for lunch, I find a quiet spot alone and watch Netflix on my laptop to passively consume a story, rather than produce it myself. I genuinely want to talk and relate to my peers, but I can’t do it fifty times in a row with a new person each time. And, I don’t want to put them through another retelling of their story, either. Maybe I’m projecting, but I see the tiredness in them when I turn the tables and ask, “What about you? What’d you do this summer?”

I hope that others understand my need for alone time, and that it doesn’t come off as disinterested or unwilling to hear them. I’m in such a different place now than I was last year, ready to start MS1— then, I had just finished my third season of coaching fifty high school athletes with Great Bay Rowing and felt at home standing in the middle of a hundred foot circle leading them through twenty minutes of yoga and breathing exercises. Now, I spend most of my time alone with my partner, in our newly shared apartment, rarely going out into crowds, and I could not tell you the last time I sat down in a noisy bar. Earlier this week, the chatter and bustle of a lunch with the dean nearly overwhelmed me with stimulation. I’m changing and so are my needs as a person.

I wish I had a solution to this catch-up dilemma. I originally hoped that my travel logs from the summer road trip would replace these conversations when I returned to USF, but that simply shifts the burden from myself to my friend. I can’t expect them to read my ramblings. For now, I’m wiggling out of the problem entirely by avoiding most social situations where I would be expected to retell my story again and again.

In a week or two, once the general frenzy of summer catch-up is gone and we are knee-deep in the mania of second year lectures, I’ll begin to engage my friends and peers again. I want to drop back into a rhythm, like an old friend you haven’t seen for years but the familiar dynamics and chatter pick up immediately where they left off. For now, I need to charge my batteries instead of consistently draining them with small, but lovely, social interactions.

I hope that you can forgive me.


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