Friday, December 20, 2013

A brutally honest account from an introvert

I love people. Don't get me wrong.

It took me a really long time to adjust to living with another person. As an only child, I got used to sharing space and time with no one in particular. I had a fair amount of friends as a child, and a handful of good friends in high school as well. When Brad and I were about 20, we decided to move in together. It took awhile for Brad to get used to how much I liked solitude, and frankly, it took me just as long to get used to living with another person. Brad also was an only child growing up, but would spend more time with neighbouring children and had more friends at close proximity.

I didn't even know what an introvert was until many years later. At around 2008, I started developing some harsh anxiety and left university to focus on my mental health. Because I suddenly had gained some free time and didn't spend much time around other people, I had a pretty constant desire to see friends. I didn't find myself drained or exhausted. I genuinely wanted to spend time around them.

Summer came and went, and Brad and I moved into a new apartment with our new family member--a kitten named Lady Pansy--while I adjusted to my new job as a waitress. I suddenly started to realise that I didn't like spending time around people as much as I thought I did. The very idea of hanging out with friends became an exhausting prospect. I would start to ignore my phone to catch up on some well-needed writing and reading time. Even planned dates or hang outs with people would become things I would dread. I didn't know that this was because I was spending much more time around people and needed to recharge.

I'm going to stop for a moment and point out that if you think this makes me a bad friend, you likely don't know what an introvert is. Here are a few articles to help you along your way: How to Intract with the Introverted7 Positives that only Introverts would Understand23 Signs that you Might be an Introvert5 Things you need to Know about Introverts. Think you've got it now? Excellent. I'll proceed.

I didn't really know I was an introvert. In fact, a lot of people would likely think of me as an extrovert upon meeting me. I'm very friendly and approachable. I work in customer service, so I see and talk to a number of people on a daily basis. I have a metric ton of acquaintances; it's hard for me to go anywhere without seeing someone I know. I have extroverted hobbies, like singing, acting and going to concerts. Sounds like an extrovert? Not quite.

I have cancelled many plans for the mere reason that I have seen far too many people that week and I just want to sit quietly with my cats and recharge. I have, out of frustration, ignored doorbells when not expecting anyone over. The only time I answer my phone without hesitation is when work is calling me, and that's only because being available is part of my job description. Otherwise, I very regularly screen my phone calls.

Continuing with my story, I had some friends who were starting to wonder if something was wrong. I had a lot less time than before, plus I was seeing an awful lot of people a day and, as a waitress, dealing with conflict as well. I would pass on hangouts and tell Brad to see our friends alone while I caught up with my own mind. I changed jobs and was finding myself working 40 hours a week as a barista, which made my introversion even more prominent.

Eventually, I embraced it. I stopped letting myself worry about whether or not people would be upset if I wanted to spend time with them. I explained to my closest friends that I've never really spent a lot of time with others and that the period of time that I did was the real anomaly. I started to worry less about feeling pressured and decided that I simply am who I am.

Interestingly, the comment section of one of the articles I posted above had an extrovert asking "so, what? Extroverts are just supposed to cater to introverts all the time?" to which another poster responded "the world caters to extroverts". Good point.

I am only spontaneous a good 1 out of 10 times. Very rare is the time that you will ask me "want to go do this right now?" and I'll say "yeah!". Often, I come to the conclusion by myself. If something sounds good enough and I'm not being pressured, I may ask to tag along, because the worst thing you will say is "no" and then I can get back to whatever it was I was doing.

If you identify as an introvert, I recommend you embrace it and teach your friends and family to embrace it, too. After all, it makes you unique. I read online--so, you know, take this with a grain of salt--that only an estimated 25% of the population identify as introverts. Personally, I love being an introvert. It's helped me learn to stand up for myself a little better, and it keeps me self-sufficient. It's not to say that I'm always alone; I'm often seen with my husband and we spend a lot of time together. I can just be content when he's busy or working that I can do things by myself, too.

Here's a little handful of things I hate as an introvert:

10. "You should get out more!"
How about I decide that for myself?

9. Too much stimuli in one place
I love going out to eat, but if we're in a place with 5 TVs, loud music and I also have to order and socialize with the person I'm sitting with, it's overwhelming.

8. In equal amounts, the sound of the telephone or the doorbell

7. "What are you doing on Tuesday?"
I'll tell you what. Invite me to something on Tuesday, and then I'll tell you.

6. Sudden plans
If you pop by my workplace to ask if I want to catch a movie after work, my answer will most likely be "no". It's not that I have any special plans myself. Maybe I just wanted to go home after. It's nothing against you--I just need a bare minimum of a day to get used to the idea of changing plans.

5. Guilt trips
Never ever ever guilt an introvert for not wanting to hang out. This is for the sanity of both parties. This will only push the introvert further away, because he or she will come to associate spending time with the non-introvert friend as an impending guilt trip or just filling a "quota". The more understanding you are of your friend's nature, the more likely they are to seek time with you on their own.

4. Awkward conversation
If I see you in public, I'll likely smile and wave, and carry on my way. I'm not a huge fan of small chat outside of work--I'd much rather keep doing what I was doing. This is nothing against anyone. This is more of a situation that I don't know how to control or respond to. Small talk simply isn't necessary if I know you. I'd rather hear updates and changes with you rather than go back and forth with "what's new?" "not much, you?" "how's Brad?" "good" etc.

3. When I'm done, I'm done
Don't try to keep me around at a party. It will not work, you will be disappointed, and I'll be annoyed.

2. "Are you okay?"
I'M FINE. If I'm not crying or screaming, I am fine. I'm just not saying anything. That happens sometimes.

1. Dropping by
If you just drop by with no announcement, I may never speak to you again. I don't care who you are--unless you're the mail carrier with that package I was waiting for, CALL FIRST.

Some of my favourite things include cancelled plans, power outages in busy places, getting to places before everyone else (i.e., coming into work early before any other customers or co-workers arrive), and early mornings when very few other people are up and about.

To be clear, I don't necessarily advocate using labels to define people. I don't think that being an introvert defines me as a human being, but it does provide a little context as to why I act a certain way socially. I don't think it gives me carte blanche to be a jerk, either, but I do think that it can help people understand why certain friends seem more distant than others. I don't hide behind my introversion or use it as an excuse. Rather, I feel that I define my own sect of introversion.

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