Unless you know me very well, most people are not aware that I am an introvert. Painfully shy, social situations fill me with anxiety, and leave me longing for a cosy corner and a book. A viral cartoon explains how the introvert is in a human hamster ball, their bucket of energy relentlessly drained by other people, desperately needing to ‘recharge’ by curling up alone. It’s not about being a recluse, or hating people (… though that sometimes comes into it). It’s the fact that my energy comes from space and quiet – if I’ve spent all day in a loud environment, it’ll take me a day of doing my own thing to recover. A day of blankets and books and as little noise as possible.
I’ve always been like this. As a child, even family friends coming around saw me hiding me in my bedroom, not wanting to interact with people I didn’t really know. New people are scary, particularly when they want to talk all the time – what if I say something wrong? Or embarrassing? Or can’t think of anything to say? Which is highly likely. But I quickly realised that you can’t get very far in this world if you run away from every conversation, and don’t every now and then step into a room full of strangers. So I learned to hide it– doing a degree in Theatre probably helped immensely, and I found ways to breathe through the anxiety.
But it doesn’t go away. I stand here (well… sit at this desk) and declare that I am still an introvert. I still wish I could run away from people – any people – and live in a cave somewhere. A few months into our relationship, Simon saw first-hand what my anxiety can mean. We were late for a dinner party coming back from a climbing trip. I was tired, sweaty, and longing for a shower, but 4 hours of traffic meant we couldn’t stop off at the sanctuary of home to prepare. Because that’s what introverts need – time to prepare themselves mentally to engage with other people. We had to go straight there, windswept hair and all. I had what you would call a breakdown. Hyperventilating sobs rendered me a pathetic sight, next to a man who thought he’d caught an action girl. I’d spent the day climbing sea cliffs, but the possibility of a room full of friendly people who weren’t yet my friends left me terrified.
Another time we were having two friends over for dinner, and I was looking forward to a well-needed catch up with them. At 5:30pm on my train ride home, I get a call from Simon – “uhh, we’re now having seven people round, two are staying over!”. I immediately felt the desire to disappear. To get off at a different stop and just not be in that tiny one-bed flat, soon to be crammed with nine bodies. I expressed my discomfort (Simon is most definitely an extrovert, and sometimes forgets my need to prepare for battle..!), and went for a 15minute run just to give my head a chance to come to terms with this new arrangement. The dinner was a great success and good fun, but on a Friday night after a long week, it wasn’t what I was expecting.
Just a few days ago, I accepted a rare invitation to socialise – the invitations being rare because I tend not to engage too fully with people and generally discourage too much activity. A habit that has left me feeling somewhat stuck without friends (bar the few I’ve clung on to for years!!). But I bravely said yes, and spent several hours with 5 new people. I nearly ran away between shopping and eating, but managed to hang on. No-one even noticed me spill soy sauce all down my jeans (and phone) after a near-perfect evening of social normality.
I’m never going to be the life of the party. It’s still going to be a daily struggle to smile, talk, and not just hide away. I still have the dream of one day working from home, where I can make my time my own and invest my energy on my terms. But I’m getting better at stamping down the anxiety. At allowing myself to be in situations I don’t like for the benefit of … well … company. Furthering my career. Just being a nice person! It’s difficult and it’s never going to be easy. But it’s possible.
Tonight I’m going to an exercise class on my own. The battle continues…