On being introverted

I have always been shy. I hid behind my parents until I was fourteen, which is when I grew to be taller than my mom and reached the same height as my dad.

At church, I would take my mom’s keys immediately after service and make a beeline for her car, talking to no one if I could help it. I grew out of this particular habit once I became an adult and after my manic episode. I became somewhat more sociable after I recovered from my psychotic break.

I still loathe ordering at restaurants, and at twenty-six, I have a hard time introducing myself properly to strangers.  Case in point, a few months ago I went to a Toastmasters meeting one evening. I sat down at a table, and a few minutes later a man sat down beside me. He reached out his hand, so I shook it, and he said his name.

I was looking right at him, but I have no idea what he said, and I forgot social convention dictates I was supposed to tell him my name in return.

He let go of my hand, and it was a few seconds before I realized my gaff and I blushed fiercely (ironically, I thought about doing Toastmasters in order to get over my shyness in groups and my fear of public speaking).

There are two ways meeting people isn’t unbearable. First, if someone else introduces me, I can typically handle a hand shake and make somewhat decent eye-contact (two seconds) and on good days, I can manage getting out a quiet “hi.”

Second, and this is my preferred method: never go anywhere where there will be strangers, meaning, stay secluded in my apartment and get acquainted with new characters in a book (okay, so there are three methods).

Two is a crowd for me. I am at my best one-on-one. I can listen and be incredibly engaging when it is just me and one other person—except with family, I can handle several family members at once. When I am hypomanic or really on top of my game, I can be quite witty and attention-seeking in groups of seven to eight.

Typically, though, groups bigger than four or five are intimidating to me. I am not eloquent of speech, and when I try to say funny things in bigger groups, I often fumble over my words, or I miss the key moment for a joke because I didn’t project my voice.

I have a hard time at parties because there are always several conversations going at once. I am slightly ADD, and I am easily overstimulated. I’d like to be a part of one of the conversations, but all the other ones are distracting and I usually have difficulty differentiating what people are saying, even if I’m standing within feet of them.

Indubitably, I end up shrinking into myself and clamming up; or, if I’m lucky, there are kids around with whom I can engage. My shyness is reserved for adults. Around kids, I am a different person. I have coached a few volleyball teams, and I have discovered I am at my best around relatively big groups of kids.

It’s pretty obvious I am introverted, though shyness and introversion don’t always go together. Shy extroverts are freaking unicorns, but I’ve heard they exist. Outgoing introverts are more common, though those people would probably be more accurately described as ambiverts (a person who is balanced on the introvert/extrovert scale).

I am your quintessential introvert. Shy, as I’ve mentioned, but I also become a completely irrational monster when I am deprived of alone time. Because of my illness, irritability is incessantly bubbling under the surface. This phenomenon becomes more acute and volatile when I am forced to be around gregarious people for long amounts of time.

After a good’s night sleep and a solid morning workout, I usually have really good days where I don’t mind being around people. Without any introverting, I can maybe string together two good days. Don’t ask me to pull a third from my hat, though.

Working out is a nice release, but exercise alone is not sufficient to stave off my irritability. It does a great job, but I need time to myself to either write or read. Sleep, likewise, does not count as introverting.

For me, true introverting is a deliberate choice between being around people or being alone. Everyone wins when I wake up at the butt-crack of dawn and get automatic introvert time because no one else is conscious. Early risings are often a result of me going to bed early (aka, intentionally forgoing late nights and being around people), but it’s worth it because the next day I am fun to be around—at least until my “extrovert” juice runs out, which happens faster than you would believe.

Introverts and extroverts are just different, neither is better than the other. Too much alone time can lead to loneliness, and in my case, dark and morbid thoughts. Even introverts need people, as much as I like to “jokingly” deny I have this basic need.

Likewise, extroverts need to be comfortable with seclusion. Extroverts who are always around people become drained in their own right, and though they often don’t realize it, they are not at the top of their game after constant stimulation and being around people.

I hate to admit it, but there is a happy-medium, and I couldn’t live without people.

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