The vast majority of the time, I enjoy being around people. I’m comfortable in most social situations, enjoy engaging in conversation and have no problem being the centre of attention. I love making other people laugh, quite often speak up in large group meetings and don’t generally shy away from gatherings where there’ll be a lot of people. I can be loud, I can be over the top and I’m not embarrassed to do silly things to raise a smile. If these facts were all you knew about me, I’d hazard a guess that you’d probably classify me as an extrovert. However, after getting to know myself over the past 23 years, I’d most definitely describe myself as the opposite.
At one time I was under the impression that extroversion meant that you loved being around people, and that introversion was the same thing as being shy. So whenever the discussion came up as to ‘what people were’, I’d confidently announce to the group that I was an extrovert. How could I, someone who enjoyed chatting and being social, who loved leading conversation and making others giggle, be an introvert? It didn’t seem possible. Yeah sure, there were a couple of times a month at which I felt an almost crippling desire to be by myself, to curl up in a ball and recharge my batteries without the eyes of other people on me… but, like, that wasn’t really relevant. If I loved people, I was an extrovert. Full stop.
Now though, now I understand what extroversion and introversion actually are, I’ve revised my answer to that ‘what are you?’ question. I’ve come to realise that it’s exactly those moments, the moments of desperately needing to be away from the hum of humanity, that make me an introvert. I love being around people, but they’re not where I pick up my energy. I might like to spend my energy on other people, however a group setting is not where I gather it. My energy is gathered when I’m by myself, doing my own thing, in my own time, at my own pace. Though I love a group, that group will eventually sap my energy away and there’ll come a day where I can think of nothing worse than being around other people.
The most important step for me and my introversion was learning not to mistake it for low self-esteem or a period of ‘depression’ (in quotes because I thankfully do not currently struggle with this and don’t like to use the word lightly). I sometimes find myself unable to get out of bed in the morning because I know that once I do I’ll have to start dealing with the eyes of the world on me. I start to feel self-conscious and lacking in the confidence I can usually rely on to get me through even the toughest of situations. But finally realising that these down days are a side-effect of being an introvert allowed me to gather the tools I needed to lift myself again. I now know that when I wake up dreading the thought of spending time with or being around other people, I don’t need to mistake it for a longer-term, more serious issue; I just need to step back and realise that I’m simply in need of a recharge.
In a world where everyone is connected, where most of us have to get on a train every morning and go to work and surround ourselves with friends and family and colleagues, being an introvert and waking up one morning to find yourself completely drained of your desire to be anywhere near another human is intensely impractical. The best way I know to deal with it though is to simply be honest. I think it comes as a shock to some people when I suddenly have zero desire to be around them and I worry that they’ll take it personally. I end up pushing myself to be happy and excited and up for a laugh, which ends up leaving me feeling even more drained, for even longer. I’ve found that, especially in my closest relationships, it’s so important for me to be honest about how I’m feeling. If I need an hour alone, I ask for it. If I need to eat lunch by myself with my headphones in, I politely explain that I need some down time to myself. In order for me to not begin to resent the people I love, I have to allow them to understand where I’m at emotionally – no one can read minds!
Learning that you’re allowed to both love people and be an introvert was a massive step for me. The two most definitely aren’t mutually exclusive and coming to terms with that has made a huge difference in my mental health and happiness. So… what are you?