INFPs and Work-Related Stress

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Well, I think—I think—I may just have perhaps over the last week induced a fever through work-related stress.

Yes. An actual fever. A low-grade one of 37.5°C (99.5 °F), to be exact.

I mean, I knew I was wildly stressed-out; after all, not only did the job  entail plenty of draining chit-chat in the form of customer service, but it was also quite physically strenuous, as I was on my feet all day, with only one break in-between, walking around the store. I knew, as the weeks passed, that my stress levels were building. That I was pushing myself too far. That dealing with people non-stop, day after day, would take its slow, but terrible toll, on me, especially wrangling with less-than-polite and sometimes downright sweetly-mean customers.

The signs of stress started off innocently enough. A painful pimple here and there, which I put a little cream on and hoped would go away. Some small, devilish canker sores on the inside of my mouth. Then things started to upgrade themselves, and I woke up one morning with a searing, throbbing pain on either side of the back of my mouth, and discovered my gums had swollen there, become red and painful and inflamed.

By the next sunrise, the fever came on, and I found myself bedridden and calling in sick for work, my body aching all over and a headache pounding at my temples like a hammer.

That was Wednesday. It’s Saturday now, and I have finally recovered enough to be able to sit at my laptop (after buying an extendable keyboard, since the letter “t” has stopped malfunctioning on the laptop’s keyboard) and write. I still feel pretty bad, to be honest—my gums are still swollen and painful enough for me to feel as though my body is quietly torturing me, and I still feel a little shivery—but the need to write came upon me like an insatiable urge, and I had to do it.

Look, let me just say it: INFPs are fragile creatures. What I just wrote about is a clear example of just how delicate people like us can be. And I’m not the only one. Lots of INFPs I’ve read about, or who have reached out to me through this blog, suffer from career dissatisfaction and unbearable, work-related stress because of our gentle personalities and fragile souls. That’s a fact.

We are not as strong as other people, not mentally or physically. And by physically, I mean our constitutions, our immune systems. We are soft, and sensitive. Stress can strike us down just as bad as any virus, and a spiteful word or look is enough to cut us to the bone, or make us feel physically sick. There’s simply no way of getting around it—trust me, I’ve tried.

Actually, you know what, I don’t think I’m making it clear just how fragile a lot of INFPs are. Sure, we have our books, our big, powerful imaginations, but all of that is spiritual, cerebral. Everything else that makes up a human being, in us, is soft and delicate beyond belief. Fear of the meaninglessness of life is enough to exhaust us. In case that still isn’t clear enough—if we just spend too much time thinking about life and death, we get tired. Our souls get tired. Our will to live, and be happy and animated, shrinks. As a highly sensitive person on top of that, places like brightly-lit shopping centres or loud and busy roads add extra stress, bombarding my senses until I want to just curl up under some blankets somewhere and hide, and lose myself in a daydream.

A quiet, simple and slow life is the healthiest life for us to lead. I, for one, when allowed to at my own pace, take everything simply, slowly and quietly. I do not type these words with the crazed fervor of someone struck by the creative muse—in fact, even when struck by the muse, which happens rarely, I still type at a relatively steady pace. When left to my own ends, I am the tortoise, plodding and slow, gentle and soft, in everything I do. Wolfing down food too fast makes me feel ill. Too much high-intensity cardio exercise contributes to stress build-up in my body (which is why I always jog for short intervals, never run at high-intensity for a long period of time). Sunlight after a bad or average night’s sleep is horrific, which is why I much prefer the night, and rainy or cloudy days. I don’t race through books. I read them slowly, savouring the words, sometimes re-reading sentences because they’re just so pretty. I am quite skinny, pale, and perpetually absent-minded.

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Whereas the modern workplace? Bright, artificial lights. Loud voices, raised in chatter and talk. Constant verbal communication, and, if you’re working in customer service like I am at the moment, never-ending false cheeriness. Physically strenuous marching up and down the store, to tackle customers, move from one display shelf to the next. Long hours spent standing on my feet at the cash register. No-one there understands me, so I have to employ my acting skills and pretend I am talkative and robust just like the other employees or run the risk of being told by my boss to “to put in more effort”. Really, if it wasn’t for the money, I would have tossed in the towel long ago. Probably my first week. But I gritted my teeth and stuck with it—I needed to help cover living expenses, and pay for upcoming nursing school fees—and sort of muddled through the whole thing in a kind of painful daze, and then everything just blew up and I found myself lying in bed, feeling like a corpse, and staring at the ceiling.

Am I going to go back to that job after I’m better? Yes. Probably. I don’t know. For a while, I was on government benefits, but that was a pittance, and getting the money involved applying for job after job, engaging in interview after interview, and it was simply not a good way to live for the long-term. I don’t think anyone would want to live on government benefits for an extended period of time. Not only is the money not enough to cover basic needs, not to even mention school fees or supplies, but you feel rotten while you’re on it, with the sense that the government is breathing down your back everyday, nudging you to be a good, hard-working citizen like everyone else, you lazy “dole bludger”. I want to contribute to society like everyone else.

It’s just difficult to find a proper job suitable for people like me, INFPs, that allows us to be both compensated for work and not severely taxed by the requirements of the position.

I am seriously re-thinking my long-term goal of becoming a mental health nurse. At the very least, if I do continue pursuing that path, I can only work part-time. After this job, at a busy pharmacy in a customer service role, I have become all too aware of my limits.

Which brings me to the question: what should I do with my life? How should I earn a living, when all I really like to do is daydream, write and read?

Obviously, being a professional writer comes to mind, but that’s out of the question for now—I’m still writing, but none of the books I’ve sent out have received any replies from publishers. As for this blog, well, while it has built itself up over the years, traffic isn’t high enough for me to warrant buying a domain name and getting any money from advertisements.

I did consider starting a Patreon for my blog, dreamerrambling.wordpress.com, so that people can choose to donate, if they want, for each blog post I put out, even if it’s just a dollar. To somehow try and become self-employed, through the expertise and knowledge I have accumulated over the years about the INFP personality, based on research, personal experience, writing on this blog, and talking to other INFPs. In my imagination, I fancy myself a kind of INFP guru, or fairy godmother, who whisks a magical wand and—writes about secrets inside the hearts of INFPs, the daydreams, the struggles and tears, the love and joy.

These are all possibilities, Tenuous ones, I must admit, because I don’t know if I have the readership to do such a thing, or if anyone would be interested at all in donating or supporting my blog posts. Or how exactly to go about offering services—maybe advice columns?—that would be enough to create my own business and become self-employed. Really, I have no experience in anything of the sort, and kind of find myself expecting it to fall over on its face if I try, like a puppy taking its first steps.

In the end, as with everything in life, and in the healthiest possible way for INFPs, I will take it slow, and steady. I will be quiet, and gentle about things, as I naturally am, and we will see what comes of it. I hope you are all in good health, and doing much better in your lives than I am.

—Dreamerrambling

20 Habits of INFPs

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  1. Taking different routes to places because they feel more “unique” and “exciting”, like following fairy trails or something like that.
  2. Always trying very hard to focus on the other person and their face when speaking to them, in case we look like we are bored and are daydreaming, as we often are.
  3. Unable to resist the urge to try and befriend cats, and always getting disappointed when they turn out to be wild, feline creatures who do not warm up to us as much as they should.
  4. Falling in love with someone from afar. That’s it. There’s no plot twist, no ending: the only thing that happens in this love story is that the young woman or man pines beneath the balcony forever, while everyone else happily goes on with their lives, including the object of their affection.
  5. Wanting to be a writer but unable to realise this dream completely because of one’s scatterbrained nature or the reality of earning an income in this world.
  6. Scrolling through career options late into the night for the same careers or jobs—childcare worker, nurse, and other “caring” careers—just to reassure yourself that you do have some utility in this world despite your daydreamy nature.
  7. Feeling an urge to drop everything and escape to a farm somewhere and never letting this urge become a reality. Because INFPs, in case you haven’t noticed, are not good with reality.
  8. Wanting to escape into fictional worlds and lives for all eternity so the realities of life, such as earning a living in this world, never have to be faced.
  9. Feeling so lost in life in terms of career options you could scream, because it seems you were born for nothing more than sitting around in meadows, picking flowers and philosophising on the meaning of life. Unfortunately for us, no-one in their right mind would pay someone to do that.
  10. Making a decision to eat only organic and healthy food because that way one is more “in balance” with nature, but then giving it up because junk food is too tempting and you get too depressed not to rely on it sometimes.
  11. Contemplating, after realising how limited one’s career options are and how most of the ones INFPs seem suited for pay not very much at all, how bad would homelessness be, really, I mean, as long as you’re not starving it can’t be too bad, right?
  12. Wishing you were born into a different family, one that was able to nurture your sensitive, creative nature instead of trampling all over it, or worse, ignoring your “special needs” as an INFP offspring.
  13. Being unable to find things. Period. I don’t know about you, but there seriously must be an invisible wormhole following me around for much of my days, because that’s the only plausible reason I can give for losing everything I own.
  14. Gazing wistfully at other people and their lives and wondering how they manage to have it all together so well, so perfectly- poised and comfortable and happy. I can’t remember the last time I was utterly comfortable and happy in this world.
  15. Watching episodes of your favourite TV show instead of doing more important things, like chores. Actually, scratch that—reading books instead of doing chores, because reading is a much more pleasurable activity than pretty much anything else.
  16. Completing chores improperly. What do you mean, the dishes are still a little greasy? And that spot on the floor, I missed it? Well, I must have been thinking of something else.
  17. Getting lost when you go to new places and panicking to no end because when you get lost, you feel like you’ve fallen off the edge of the Earth and will never find your way home again.
  18. Rescuing tiny creatures, like slugs or ants, saving them from being flushed down the drain or drowning in a puddle of water. Because you care.
  19. Always being the friend who supports/admires/helps/compliments the other louder and more rambunctious friend, while silently daydreaming and writing on the side whenever you think the other friend isn’t looking.
  20. Having a long list of coping mechanisms for dealing with the realities of life—such as writing lists like these, eating junk food, and watching various movies—that do nothing whatsoever to help you to deal with the realities of life.

When Everything Seems Difficult

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One of the first signs that depression hasn’t completely released its hold on your life is if everything seems difficult, from the smallest of tasks, such as brushing one’s teeth, to bigger jobs, like applying for courses and making grown-up purchases. For me, it’s as if my brain has become, after the depressive episode, stuck in a kind of rut. In the past, I used to be able to write words and sentences with ease; now, they trip and stumble over each other on their way from my brain to the page, heavy and loaded with insecurities. When before I used to be able to immerse myself in fictional world for hours on end, now I find it a stretch to even write one scanty page of fiction a day.

It’s as if my mind has blacklisted, without asking me, all the tasks that I once found fun and enjoyable, and have now made them unbearable chores. It’s one of the reasons why I find it highly unlikely I’ll get published in my lifetime at this rate—not if even the writing of words sends me down a crazy spiral of despair! And to make matters worse, this lack of motivation and energy stretches to all domains of one’s life. Not only do I find the prospect of applying for my Diploma of Nursing next year complicated and unbearable, but I also find the very idea of finding a significant other and settling down and having a family an immense chore in the future, which, if I do manage to attain it, will require only more hard work and sweat and blood and tears. Laziness isn’t the reason for this—if that were the case, all I had to do was give myself a good talking to—but something more, a lassitude and lethargy of the soul, that makes all of existence as boring and monotonous as pushing pebbles up a hill with your fingers.

I feel terribly tiny and insignificant a lot of the time, and it is not a nice feeling. Sometimes, what I feel is anxiety—fear of homelessness, of not having food to eat or a roof over one’s head—but other times it’s this blank loneliness, wherein I feel myself to be little more than a speck of dust on the wind. In a sea of billions, I am nothing, and whether I live happily or miserably, die early or late, it matters little to the world, to the universe. Perhaps God, if He exists, cares, and a handful of people on the planet, but other than that, you and I, each and everyone of us, are tiny ants crawling across the surface of the planet, going about our daily lives, with our small cares and worries. Inevitably such thinking leads me back down into a state of depression, and I try to claw myself out of it by reminding myself that I am a miracle, and a part of nature and the Universe just like any other organism.

Life is hard. I think it’s hard because humans don’t really know what we want, and when we do get what we want, we often find we do not like it. Everything seems better when seen through the lens of “in-the-future”, but when that particular future becomes the present, we find that whatever we wanted–a family, a car, a house, a better job–actually makes life just as mundane and ordinary as when we didn’t possess it. And that’s the problem—after this depressive episode, I don’t know who I am or what I want anymore. At the moment, my only goal is to study so that I can eventually find a job and support myself financially, and that in itself will be a large mountain to surmount, but after that? Or during it? What do I want? Now that I no longer have the prospect of becoming a fiction writer in my life, I am left adrift, my identity scattered and broken. And I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to put myself back together again.

 

 

 

What This INFP Has Been Up To

 

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So it’s been a while since I’ve posted or written anything on this blog, but there has been good reason for it. For the last half year or so, I descended into a period I like to call “productive depression”. I was most definitely depressed, because I had all the symptoms—low mood, lethargy, complete lack of interest in activities, etc.—but at the same time, I was still able to write snippets here and there of my own fiction, so the entire period of time I was away wasn’t entirely wasted.

Finally, after a hospital stay for suicidal thoughts, I am partially healed of my depression and have returned to the blogosphere, to continue writing my thoughts and sharing with the internet my own, little life. So what, exactly, have I been up to, apart from moping about and trying not to kill myself? Well, I completed an 8,000 word children’s book, which I have already sent in to a publisher, but I don’t even have my fingers crossed for it because I have very little hope my horrible little book will be published. It just won’t happen, I can feel it, but at the very least I did something during my depressive episode, at least I did practice my writing a little bit.

Because of anxiety and depression, I had to leave school early, which means that I have needed to quickly find some way of gaining education that would lead to employment, because, suffice to say, this particular INFP has realized that her dream of becoming a writer, at least for now, will certainly not put food on the table; so in July this year, I will be enrolling in an Aged Care course that will allow me to take care of elderly people in a residential setting, helping them with tasks such as showering, eating, toileting and the like. It is not the most glamorous of jobs, but it will put food on the table, and even INFPs need to be realistic sooner or later when it comes to earning money; and after a while, if I want, I can transition into nursing by doing a Diploma of Nursing and then going on to do a Bachelor of Nursing, and becoming a Division 1 Nurse, So, basically, I will work in the aged care industry or go on to become a nurse, and do my writing on the side, as a sort of hobby, because the publishing industry is a very hard nut to crack, and I just don’t think my writing ability or the quality of my work is good enough to get published yet.

It’s not the most ideal path—I mean, I’m not too sure if INFPs are completely cut out for working with elderly people, I am a very caring person and I certainly would like taking care of and conversing with old people, but there is the small matter of dealing with difficult elderly people, who might have dementia or behavioural issues, that I am rather concerned about, simply because, like a typical INFP, I am terrible at dealing with aggression of any kind. However one needs to put food on the table, and this is the best educational option suited to my temperament that I have at the moment, especially since it will be a long time, if ever, before my writing pays for necessities like food and rent, so I’m sticking with it for now.

Anything else? Oh, yes. I cut my hair. Yes, that’s right: during my depressive episode, I cut all my hair off, until I practically looked like a man. Well, no, I still look like a woman, but it does, in my opinion, look very ugly; I feel exactly like a shorn sheep, bedraggled and naked. All my long, silky, beautiful black hair I cut off, because I was so depressed and felt like doing something earth-shattering and immense to snap myself out of my depressive state at the time, and now it will take forever to grow back. It’s a small and insignificant thing, perhaps, to the people around me, but to me, it’s enormous and horrible, and I feel almost as though I will never be beautiful again. It’ll take two years, at the very least, for it to grow back to shoulder-length, because my hair is very thick and grows very slowly, and in the meantime, I am miserable and morose whenever I look into a mirror.

As for my writing—well, this INFP is having very mixed feelings at the moment about her writing. Almost every INFP I know likes writing, and I am no different, but to make a career out of it, especially in fiction writing (in particular, fantasy, the genre I like to write in) is something very difficult to do indeed. My problem at the moment is that while I might have brilliant flashes of inspiration, I find it very difficult to flesh them out into proper books, with proper characters and things that happen; more often than not, whenever I try to write fiction, I just start off with a great idea that peters out into nothing, because I don’t have the ability or the writing skills to truly turn a seed of an idea into a flourishing beanstalk of a book. It’s very aggravating, and something that makes me feel as though I will never become a writer, never be published, because ideas without execution are nothing, little less than leaves on the wind. So this particular INFP is getting a bit more realistic about her airy-fairy dreams, and going into aged care instead—sometimes, the real world will break your heart, because unfortunately, banks are stronger and more powerful than castles in the air.

And money is something I cannot live without at the moment. I am turning 20 this year, and have very little money to my name, and still live with my single mother, who works as a cleaner and doesn’t earn very much at all. What’s more, what I’ve discovered with writing is that I can’t pursue it full-time, because whenever I write for too long, I get stuck, and the characters and the descriptions of the world start to go nowhere. Basically, my optimum level of writing, I’ve found, is a page of words a day, if I want to keep myself from getting bored with my own writing, and at that pace, I end up turning out short, mediocre childrens’ fantasy books. Not a good omen for a future in the publishing industry, I can tell you that. So in order to earn money I’ve had to be more realistic; even dreamers, after all, need to eat. I’ll be writing more posts soon—I’ve returned for good this time—especially about romance, and my own loneliness as a young INFP who has never so much as dabbled in the world of love—so keep tuned. I hope everyone is well, and has been doing much better than I have been.