Published in the HuffingtonPost 18 January 2017
I am an introvert. This isn’t a complete revelation for me; I’ve often referred to myself as such, but in a superficial way, usually in the reflection of someone else’s obvious extroversion. I have spent a lifetime self-diagnosing my various anti-social proclivities, very rarely connecting them with introversion, and never digging deeper than an assumption that I might be little shyer than others and a little more prone to liking alone time. But in the middle of the veritable hell that is party season, I read a chapter about introversion in Amy Schumer’s autobiography, The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo, and how it links to the body’s energy levels; instantly I felt a huge facet of my personality come in to focus. I wanted to know more.
Amy refers to other people as energy vampires. I had forever been trying to put my finger on the feeling I have at the end of an evening socialising (approximately halfway through an extrovert’s evening) and this is exactly it. I literally feel my body shutting down, and my mental energy depleting; I’m left floating in a bubble; there, but unable to meaningfully connect any longer. The physical sensation can be described as feeling slightly out of breath. Queue the always dependable ghost exit, because the thought of reengaging with everyone to say goodbye is hugely confronting, and by this time (see the point about feeling out of breath) pretty much impossible. Time to retreat to my bed and my solitude.
I suffer from ‘event anxiety’ which is when I worry about an impending social occasion from the minute it’s arranged to the minute I enter the fray. This may be weeks of stress… about a party. I will have a non-specific nagging sensation that for me defines the build-up to ‘going out’. I now know that this is a common introvert trait. It’s not that we don’t want to socialise; for many introverts, once we’re out, we’re fine, more than fine; we can usually disguise any anxiety, and contribute and shine with confidence. My friends don’t know the weird fog I exist in beforehand.
If I have managed to go out, and I am selective about how and when I expend my limited social battery, that will suffice for quite an extended period of time. Similar to the variations of the human sex drive, an introvert has a reduced need for social interaction, and once that has been satisfied, we can happily retreat for weeks to recharge. Go out two nights in a row? No thank you! It’s not personal, I just can’t.
Introverts have less need for stimulation and have been found to be more sensitive to dopamine, needing less of it to feel happy. We are not the gamblers, sky-divers or risk-takers of the world. Give me a good book, the internet or an intimate dinner and I’m happy. Rollercoasters, surprise gifts, New Year’s Eve, birthdays (my own included), excessive drinking and partying; I don’t get energised by these things, they drain me.
Small talk is the worst. It saps my energy faster than conversations with friends I’m comfortable with. I am a typical introvert in that I don’t have a wide circle of friends, preferring a few close friendships that thrive on engaging and meaningful conversation. Making new friends is daunting, and breaking through the small talk barrier can seem like an insurmountable task; for those of you that have stuck around long enough for that to happen, thank you, and I salute your tenacity! If we can get past that, and you are not put off by how easily distracted I am in conversation (introverts are constantly dealing with an inner dialogue, plus engaging with the environment around them; all of it, at the same time that you are telling them something important) then we will be firm friends.
The Quiet Revolution, founded by Susan Cain, proved to be an excellent place to continue my self-discovery. The website is a great repository of information, including illustrations that show what it’s like in an introvert’s head (it’s busy). I finally have a blueprint to help me understand myself, and also to help others understand me. I have found my tribe. Not that I want one; I’m an introvert.
In case you were concerned about how I function in society as a newly self-aware introvert, be assured that I am happily married (to an extrovert) and I do have friends (most of whom are extroverts). I gravitate towards them because it’s easier to watch the fun than BE the fun. I have had a successful career, mainly and maybe ironically, as a communicator; I am good at public speaking. My entire life I have been fighting against what felt like demons; shyness, a fear of engaging with people, of speaking: always confronting them, never allowing them to swamp me. But now that I have a word for it, I will be kinder to myself about my need for solitude, my need to go home way before you, my need to not speak unless absolutely necessary, my total adoration for my bed and my downtime. My 40th birthday is coming up, and uncharacteristically I’m having a party. I have been worrying about this since November. So I’m dusting off my smoke bomb in case I need to make a swift exit.