I was a horribly shy child. As I grew up, hiding behind guitars and paintbrushes, I began finding my way in the world. I chose a profession as a psychotherapist, which allowed me to be in quiet spaces exploring quiet thoughts and feelings, all while keeping my fingers immersed in paint or strumming guitar strings in my spare time.
Marriage and children came. My children were gregarious, loud, and hyperactive. As an adoptive mother, I didn’t expect to have children who matched my temperament; after all, even biological children often are very different from their parents. But everything changed when my youngest had a vaccine reaction at 16 months. She went into seizures, and for a while, we weren’t sure she was going to make it. She was in ICU, hooked up to life support and quickly placed in a drug-induced coma for four days to stop the seizures.
When she finally awoke, she had lost all functioning. Her speech was gone. She couldn’t walk or use the right side of her body—she looked like she’d had a stroke. Worse, she didn’t know who I was anymore. We were told that she sustained a permanent brain injury, and no one knew what the extent of the damage would be or how many skills she’d regain, if any.
After three weeks, we brought her home. She was unable to even keep her head up, and we kept her strapped safely in a baby car seat, feeding her fluids from droppers until she gradually learned to swallow semi-solid foods. Little by little, my baby began to regain functioning. But something changed. Drastically. She was not the same child. She had temper outbursts, couldn’t sleep (I would lay my body over hers in her crib until she could calm down long enough to take twenty-minute naps). We started her with intensive therapies to get as much of her back as we could: speech, physical therapy, occupational therapy, and more.
Something within me changed as well. I had to become more extroverted, more pro-active. I was her advocate now and would not allow family, friends, therapists, teachers, or anyone else to say she could no longer do what she did before her illness. I stood up to authority figures in ways I never could before. When her neurologist told me it was time to teach her sign language, I shouted at him “No! She will talk again.” And after many months of intensive speech therapy, she did. She walked again too. Her right side, which had been awkward, became stronger.
But she was wild. The part of her brain that controlled impulsivity was gone. There were no brakes. Once she learned to walk again, she began to run. For three years, she did not stop moving. It took two adults to be with her at all times, to keep up with her, so that she wouldn’t hurt herself.
I finally found a medication that would calm her down—medication used for ADHD. And for the first time since her illness, she sat and played with a toy. She built towers from blocks for four hours straight. It was the first time I could sit quietly for longer than ten minutes.
I enrolled her in specialized programs where she could get individualized help. Every time there was a new milestone to reach, I was told it wouldn’t happen. But my fiery self and her inner strength proved them wrong. I taught her to ride a bike when she was 10 years old. I took her to swim classes, where she learned to take off independently in the cool blue water.
One of the biggest fights, where I had to force my introverted self to take a step back and allow my Mama Lion to roar, came at school meetings. When a child with special needs is in public school, they are typically given IEPs (Individualized Educational Plans), which require at least annual meetings with teachers and supportive staff. Mama Lion had to fight to get the services her daughter required and was eligible for. I learned early on that most of these meetings required me to be strong and assertive. What I didn’t realize at the time was that introverts can be strong and assertive. We aren’t church mice that stand in the corner with our heads down, afraid of the world: that is a total misconception. We make things happen, but in our own quiet (and sometimes NOT so quiet) way.
In raising my daughter Mackenzie, I became a powerful introvert.