For years, I convinced myself I was an introvert. I was wrong.
Until very recently, if anyone had asked me if I was an introvert, I would have given them an unqualified “Yes.”
I wouldn’t even pause and think about it. It seemed so obvious me to me that I was.
When I took a tally of myself, I seemed to squarely fit into the introvert mold.
I’m extremely shy.
Being around other people makes me nervous.
I’m very quiet around others. I barely make a peep around a person I’m not already intimately familiar with.
I avoid social gatherings and events like I had a Final Destination-style vision that something was going to go down at them.
If I’m cornered or roped into small talk, I come out of it feeling worn out and exhausted.
And isn’t that what an introvert is, deep down? Someone who feels drained from too much social interaction and energized from their alone time (or time spent with someone they’re close to).
Where’s the Comfort and Fulfillment?
By all accounts, I’m an introversion success story.
I nabbed myself a guy I can spend hours with and not get bored, and we have a few kids together.
I live in mild seclusion, with no one ever coming around my house to bother me.
I get to dive deep into research I’m passionate about and write about it.
Those check off my big life goals.
So why am I not fully comfortable with the life I’ve crafted for myself? Why have I spent my entire adult life feeling unfulfilled?
I felt like something was missing, but I only had a vague sense of it. Whatever it was, I knew it made me feel kind of lonely.
And that loneliness made me wish I was different. I kept thinking life would be so much easier if I wasn’t so shut up in my shell. I wished I could be an extrovert.
Something about it seemed kind of… fun.
So, I went to Google to find out if it’s normal for introverts to wish they were extroverts.
I didn’t exactly find an answer to that question. I found something even better.
I came across several articles, blog posts, and videos that described what it’s like to be an extrovert with social anxiety.
It described me down to the letter.
It also helped me understand why I’ve been feeling so restless for more than ten years.
My Desire to Connect with Others Is Strong
When I was a teenager, I went to a lot of parties and I absolutely loved them.
I used to drag Mr. Austin to them, even though he was a little more iffy about the whole thing. (He always got some naughty, sloppy sex afterwards, though, so he gladly accompanied me.)
After a while, the parties stopped, and I haven’t gone to one in years. But I miss it. A lot.
They wouldn’t be the same. I’m a 32-year-old lady now and I don’t really want to go to some weird basement party with a lot of watery beer and sketchy dudes.
But I wouldn’t mind a gathering with two dozen adults and at least two sweater vests. Maybe a really big holiday dinner or just hanging out with a group at a bar. I’m not picky — I just want to get to know people.
I also have these exhibitionistic urges. I don’t mean sexually (though, yeah, sexually too), but I’ve been very attracted to the idea of just putting myself out there online, of finding a way to reach out to others from the comfort of my own home.
I’m trying to do that a bit more on my Instagram. And Love, Emma isn’t my first blog. I started and quit two others before. One was a parenting blog and the other was a vegan recipe blog. Those flopped and I got discouraged.
I vlogged for a while, too. I uploaded videos about parenting and pregnancy to YouTube. That did better. I got some followers and comments and it just felt good to have that.
But then I shared it on a Facebook group I thought was closed [narrator voice: but it was not closed]. My post showed up in some people’s main feeds and at least two people in my life found out about it. So, I burned the whole thing down and left no trace.
Turning my back on each of those ventures felt so bad. I wanted to be seen. I wanted to be heard. Even if I had shut myself up in my home, I wanted to reach out and connect with dozens and dozens of people.
I Held Myself Back from Living the Life I Wanted
I’ve been looking at my life to wonder what went wrong. How could an extrovert set herself up to live like an introvert and convince herself that she is one?
As is usually the case, it’s a few things all mushed up together.
Chronic Health Issues
I have chronic health problems that come with a bunch of unpleasant symptoms. One of them is brain fog.
Brain fog makes me feel like I’m sleep deprived at all times. It’s like I’m half-checked out.
It’s been harder for me to socialize since I started feeling like I’m not totally there. Even with small talk, I always worry they can tell I’m struggling.
It’s a lot of work, so it made it hard for me to identify as someone who gets energized by social interactions.
I have four young children. That means there are times that I just have to stay home because someone needs to supervise them.
Going out with four young kids isn’t easy, either. They’re far from perfectly behaved and they legit embarrass me sometimes. My daughter is autistic and I do love her dearly but she can get manic and throw aggressive tantrums when we’re out in public, which is difficult to handle.
I still take them out, but I avoid certain places or events because I know it will be too challenging.
It’s also hard to meet people or talk to strangers when the kids are drawing a lot of attention that feels negative and makes it harder for people to approach me.
My husband works from home and has a very flexible schedule. So, even when I was a stay-at-home mom, that meant I never had to run errands alone, never had to handle phone calls, never had to go to meetings at the school without him by my side. That made staying in my bubble a lot easier than stepping out of it.
We also moved a few times because Mr. Austin attended grad school. That put some distance between me and my old friends and I never managed to make new ones because the thought of doing that just terrified me.
My Own Script
When I learned the concept of introversion and extroversion, I was already an adult.
I had met my future husband and we were in our honeymoon phase. It felt good to be alone with him.
That’s also when my health issues started manifesting themselves.
So, when I read descriptions of introverts, that sounded like me.
I didn’t want to go out often. I had trouble facing the outside world. I often chose to spend time by myself instead of seeing people.
I bought into that label and made it part of my self-identity. That gave me permission to really go hard on the introvert behavior while also giving me an excuse to ignore my urges to reach out to others.
This is the big one. I could’ve gotten over the script. I could’ve gone out and met people, made friends, figured out how to balance that with all my adult responsibilities. I could’ve powered through the brain fog and fatigue. I could’ve done all that — if it wasn’t for the fact that doing so absolutely terrifies me.
Having social anxiety, for me anyway, isn’t so much about being scared of other people. It’s more like I don’t trust myself to be a normal human being.
I second-guess everything I say or want to say, often to the point of just staying quiet because I can’t convince myself that anyone wants to hear from me.
I crack jokes constantly with my husband, but I almost never do when I’m around other people. I keep thinking of things to say that I think are funny, but I stifle because I have this overwhelming worry that anyone hearing it will think I’m unamusing, stupid, or rude.
It happens online, too. I almost never share the anecdotes or facts that come to mind when I’m reading other people’s stuff because I have this irrational worry that they’ll just call me out in some way, or just tell me that my comment was pointless.
When I think of reaching out to someone, find a way to get to know someone, or even post a dumb Reddit ad looking for some kind of connection, my first (second, third, and last) thought is almost always “Why would anyone want to be friends with me?”
With all that mess going on in my brain, cancelling plans, staying home, and sending my husband to run errands for me just felt good. It was a huge relief. The more I acted like an introvert (or a loner, really) the less my anxieties would flare up.
Those positive feelings were short-lived — I’d go right back to feeling like my life was getting a little too empty — but they felt good enough to convince me it’s what I really needed.
Setting a New Course
Learning about extroverts with social anxiety was extremely validating. It’s like a giant puzzle piece just fell into place. All of a sudden, everything makes sense.
The desire to connect and the fear of social contact are still at odds with each other, but I no longer have to excuse one of them away. They can exist side by side in one miserable mental cocktail.
But knowing that’s what I’m dealing with is exactly what I needed to set myself on a new course in life.
Introversion was like a cocoon I wrapped myself in to protect me from the world. But it also closed me off to the things I really needed.
And now, I’ll be going after those things. I’ll be making room in my life for connection. I’ll be seeking out others and letting them into my life a bit more.
Social situations still fill me with panic, worry, and discomfort, so I’ll only be able to take baby steps. But at least now they’ll be baby steps in the right direction.
Source : Medium