When I wrap a podcast conversation and say goodbye to the guest, I’m left with myself, an introvert crashing in the wake of significant social energy expenditure.
I’m not saying that’s negative. But I’m still trying to learn how to deal with it.
To be clear, for any readers who are not introverted or who do not empathize with that energetic place on the social map, introversion as a podcaster is not a social handicap or skill limitation for me.
It is a big factor in how I amp up my energy output beyond typical daily existence for the duration I’m with someone for a podcast conversation, and then the energetic void that exists once I leave that (or any) social situation.
Throw in my proclivities for anxiety about how it went, and the haze I’m in for hours later (likely the rest of the day, and until at least one fresh sunrise has come) is a challenge at the least.
There’s a lot I am juggling intellectually and emotionally while recording a podcast conversation with another human, and it’s not all related to introversion. I’ve come to understand in recent years that I fit what’s termed a “highly sensitive person.”
I also am a person of high intensity and high emotions. (You can learn more about those concepts in my Humanitou podcast conversation with therapist and author Imi Lo. It’s by far the most popular episode on Humanitou with many thousands of listens, by the way.)
It’s possible a diagnosis would place me on the autism spectrum, or at least spectrum-adjacent, and possibly with what used to be referred to as Asperger’s Syndrome.
But it feels potentially unfair to others who have been “officially” diagnosed, and possibly overreaching to make that claim without specific professional guidance. And that’s guidance I don’t intend to seek. Maybe. I don’t know.
I have mixed feelings about diagnoses. I’m on board with self-awareness, though, and practices of knowing oneself. I’ve spent years with the inner work of my mental, spiritual and emotional being.
I’m just unsure, maybe even fearful, about leaning into a label. I have no interest in raising a flag, as if I’m joining a team and need everyone to know who I’m playing for now. I’ve never even been a bumper sticker or political yard sign guy, let alone showing something so extraordinarily and fundamentally core to my being.
I don’t want to let a potential diagnosis change how I view or present myself. But maybe learning from such information would be worthwhile. That Humanitou conversation I had with Imi Lo was revelatory and confidence-boosting. It really was meaningful in a way I never anticipated. I felt seen and recognized, affirmed. It’s informed me about me.
Instead of just thinking I don’t fit in anywhere, and having resigned myself to conclusions that I’m just not who I ought to be and I’m too much for others to comprehend, I came to see myself as having gifts and superpowers of value.
Oof. I didn’t mean to go here. There. Wherever this is. But vulnerability is worthy, and sharing is powerful. That, I advocate for. I bring others along in it with every podcast conversation I have. It’s only right and fair, to them and myself, that I be just as open and true.
Not having a diagnosis, or confirmation that I’m only neurodivergent-ish, does not change how I feel, process, connect and express in the world. I am aware of many “quirks” I have. I won’t bother to list them here.
I’m already sharing more than I intended to when I started writing this blog post. I feel awkward about that. And it feels somewhat out of place yet vulnerably useful, so I’m rolling with it.
My original intention with a short bit of writing here was to practice openness and vulnerability about a creative experience I know, to shine light on how I engage with and am affected by the process of podcasting.
As I write this, I’m in the post-podcasting hours of haywire vibrations and vague worries that I somehow wasn’t enough … wasn’t intelligent enough, smooth enough, concise enough, clear enough, sociable enough and just plain good enough. And …
“What did the guest think? And listeners, when they hear it? Do they think I’m weird, long-winded and focus-challenged and … well, just so markedly weird as a thinker and communicator?” And other questions, like the many that plague any common introvert after a social interaction.
And for a bonus, I’m also a photographer and make portraits of each podcast guest. The huge majority of people I’ve photographed over the past 20 years have a deep-seated insecurity about being photographed.
Many say things like “I don’t like seeing pictures of myself. … I don’t photograph well.” And that’s before we even get started with making pictures. Like I tell my sons, attitude matters. If you go into a thing telling yourself it’s going to suck …
Try being someone as I’ve just described myself to be and come out feeling like you’ve succeeded in your craft of photographing people when they are so deep into their own insecurities.
On one hand, I do make beautiful portraits that about 8 billion people minus 1 on planet earth could agree are very good, or good enough, anyway. Only that one person brings the hyper-specific baggage they hold to viewing that portrait.
On the other, the person I just photographed who has told me they don’t like to be photographed or look at themselves, and then tensely submits to the process as if that anguish will be invisible to the camera, is who I just spent a couple hours in deep, personal, revelatory human connection with and …
As a highly sensitive person, I attach to these podcast guests. I care how they feel. I empathize. I feel loyal to them. And yet I must separate myself from their self-perceptions that blind them to the beauty inside and out that is captured within a podcast conversation and a photographic portrait of them.
I put myself in this position over and over, though, a position in which this roller coaster ride of emotions is all but inevitable for me. I choose this. And despite how it might feel at this moment, I do so happily. More or less.
That’s the conundrum for me of being an introvert (among other things; see above) and a podcaster: I love having meaningful one-on-one conversations, and making that human connection, to dig into deep topics of the human experience.
It also energizes me in good, soul-lifting ways, ways that help me to feel glimmers of light in a world that overall feels overwhelming, if not downright crushing in its seeming lack of humanity.
I wouldn’t accomplish all these uplifting human connections without the podcast as the vehicle, either. People would not sit down with me, a stranger, for an hour or two and share what they do, answer the personal questions they do, and allow me to photograph them. The podcast gives us both purpose for being there, connecting.
So I take the downs with the ups. Podcasting brings with it chaotic mental and emotional waves for me. There’s the mustering of energy to get up for it, the high of making meaningful human connection during it, and the disorienting plummet after it.
It can feel like an emotional mix of surface waves and undertow, pushing and pulling, knocking me about while I constantly work to recalibrate and find balance.
But podcasting is socializing on my terms. No small talk or speeches at a large social gathering. I used to drink to self-lubricate in those situations. What now? I podcast. I prepare myself, stoke the energy, make it happen, love it and … then I crash.
The more minutes and hours that pass since the podcast convo ended, the more elusive (and illusive) the memories of the experience. That invites the vague worry. “Oh, my god. Did I just do the worst job of that, or what? … Well, I actually don’t know. I can’t remember what happened, what was said, how it was said.”
Days later, the swelling fears fade. I’m worried out. My emotions have leveled.
If I’m my own producer for a conversation, I often go right from talking with the person to hours of playing back and editing the audio so I know the state of things, so I can cut short the emotional cycling.
If I’m working with another producer, which I’ve done in most cases for the Looking Upstream podcast, I have to wait those hours and days for fears to subside, until I get my ears on the audio file, and can play it back as fodder for writing and recording the intro and outro comments I want to add.
As I say in many things I write about, regardless of the topic, it seems, it’s a practice. That’s why I embrace working with a partner on Looking Upstream. One reason, anyway. I don’t want to feel so rigid in my habits that I try to force everything to fit into a neat box, custom built for my “issues.”
I don’t want to cloak myself in safety nets and self-limiting rules. I want to keep feeling the challenges and pains, and to learn to work through them, or work with them, just not go around them. Aversion is not the answer, maybe to anything.
“The best way out is always through,” Robert Frost wrote in his poem, “A Servant to Servants.”
By the way, I ran this writing by my wife, Becca, before publishing it. She’s my best friend. She’s my champion and supportive truth-teller. She knows me better and more patiently than anyone. We’ve been on a 20-year life-building road together, and counting. She’s learned a lot about me, taken it in, and helped me to learn about me. And I think she’s okay with that, though it must wear at times.
Becca and I have long shared a light-hearted understanding of my particulars. She introduced the language of spectrum about me, to me. We’ve laughed together about my quirks, choosing to embrace them with humor rather than otherwise letting me dwell painfully in my “strangeness.”
I asked her to read this one blog post in advance, because I needed to confirm I’m not making things up, not exaggerating through too inaccurate or irrational a personal lens. I wanted to give her a chance to say, “Yes, I’m with you” or “Wellll, I never really meant that stuff. I was just teasing. Maybe you shouldn’t … ” I trust her perspective and wanted to measure twice before cutting.
So with her hand on my shoulder, here it all is. It might not seem like much to some, but this post has naturally grown into an unexpected coming out of sorts. To myself, as much as anyone.
There’s something of value about sharing it publicly that changes the feeling of what I’ve held only within my household until now. I didn’t intend this pouring out of deeper self. Yet here it is, here I am.
Maybe it’s time that I consider the prospect of diagnosis. In the interest of self-knowing. Knowledge is superpower.