THE EXTROVERTED INTROVERT
Am I normal? Is this weird? Is there something wrong with me? Just some of the questions that were spinning in my head on repeat. Daily. Non-stop. For a good couple of months. Then I got sick, so I had to stay in bed for two weeks. And that didn’t help. I was already so in my head. I started down-spiraling. Fast. Not being able to find the answers, not being able to get out of the house and clear my head. I was getting depressed cuz I started believing there’s something seriously wrong with me and also that there is no way out of it. I kept digging myself deeper into the hole. And believed it was all true! How did I even get here? I couldn’t find the correlation between my past and who I used to be or how I used to be, to who I am today or more how I am today. Being in that dark hole there was no way I could think clearly or make any sense out of it.
Once I was able to get out of the bed and the house, and take a step back (it was actually several steps, about 12 miles to be exact) it all started to become just a little bit clearer. But let me rewind…
Ever since I can remember interacting with others in social settings, I somehow always became the life of the party, the joker, the attention grabber, the loud obnoxious guy who dominated the conversation. Some even called me scary. And looking back, I don’t blame them. I was overly outgoing, overly sexual in my conversations just to get reactions out of people and by doing so in some weird way control the situation. I was what you would easily describe as an extrovert.
I wouldn’t say no to an invitation to an event or a party, going out to the bar, any gathering really. I mean, I had to be networking, because that’s the thing you’re supposed to do. But also it was an opportunity for me to be the center of attention and to get some validation. (It’s all very layered, I am aware) To be seen, to meet lots of people, have lots of the same exhausting empty conversations about nothing over and over again. Making things up or embellishing stories just to make myself seem more interesting. Telling inappropriate jokes, making some people laugh, offending some… Still not feeling good enough anyway. And I couldn’t for the love of me figure out why I felt so hot every time I talked, because like clockwork in these scenarios there was a tiny stream of sweat just running down my spine, soaking my underwear (if it happened to be one of those rare days I was actually wearing some). The fact is, I had social anxiety (and by had I mean I still do). I hated talking about myself in group settings with people I knew or didn’t know. From the outside tho, you’d be looking at someone that could command the room with such ease making it look like second nature. But each time I’d probably lost a couple gallons of water in sweat doing that.
As I got older and more in touch with myself, I slowly, without any conscious decision making, stopped frequenting the bars, the pool parties and the “must attend” events everyone would flee to. And as I did that, the level of high anxiety I used to feel (but was completely unaware of until then) stopped frequenting me. I removed myself from the forced social scene, where everyone feels uncomfortable because there is very little authenticity, therefore even less chance to actually connect with someone. You know what I am talking about. We can all feel the energy but we will drink enough to numb whatever weirdness we’re feeling. But by doing so I basically eliminated any possible invitations to other social gatherings. I mean there were a few here and there but I could only say no so many times before people said fuck it. And just didn’t invite me anymore. Which, in their defense, is fair.
When I was younger I would have done anything to not be alone, very much as a part of FOMO but also just wanting to be part of something, anything, as long as it involved other people and gave me some sense of belonging. Even if it meant doing something incredibly boring or being with people that didn’t really bring any value to my life or any joy really. They were just fillers. And I know for many of them I was the same. But I started realizing the price I was paying for this was far higher than what I was actually getting out of it. Our time here is so precious and I was wasting it when I could be doing something that actually brings me real joy. Even if it means doing it by myself. The mental and emotional exhaustion, and the emptiness I would feel after those social things just stopped being worth it for me. I found that reading a book at home alone often brought me more joy and fulfillment than a day full of pool party hopping.
My circle of friends and people I see regularly shrank to a handful of beautiful and diverse humans that don’t require me to be anything other than who I am and all they want from me is to be happy. Nor do they require me to be their filler. Time spent with each one of them is connected and present and filled with love. We all share the same introverted qualities. And we all have conversations about how we should put ourselves more out there. It’s a running joke at this point.
Then therapy helped me see even clearer what was becoming so obvious just by listening and being true to myself. I realized just how wrong I had it about who I was for a big chunk of my life. I used to think I was the epitome of an extrovert. But it turns out it was nothing more but an act to protect the true more sensitive introverted me. And as the time went on, I dropped the act and started really enjoying my own company. Not belonging to anyone but myself. I felt for the first time a huge sense of relief – not needing someone to witness my every move, no desperation to have a boyfriend like I used to. None of that. I was content.
Going hiking by myself, or going to the movies, having dinner solo, going shopping or travel around the world on my own didn’t feel strange anymore. It felt peaceful. I never wondered about what other people saw or thought about the “lonely guy” in a restaurant at a table by himself. I was too busy devouring plates of my favorite sushi and washing it down with some delicious unfiltered sake, and basking in the moment. Having the best time. Smiling.
Then something happened…and I don’t want to say it was social media, but it was social media. I found myself comparing and questioning if I am putting myself out there enough, if I am robbing myself of opportunities, if I had become a total recluse and that’s why I am single, if I got too comfortable being alone, if I should have more friends, if I should date more, if I am normal, if there is something wrong with me because I enjoy alone time and my own company so much… It all happened and got dark very fast.
And I realized there was something wrong. I had let a momentary feeling of depression be compounded by the things I was seeing on my social media feeds. And that made me down-spiral and question the joy and contentment that had taken me so long to find only because it didn’t look like what the others had. I wasn’t at the parties everyone would be talking about the next day, I wasn’t making new business contacts at networking events, I wasn’t at the hip restaurants or taking the big group trips with the big group photos where everyone seems to be having the best time.
But being able to take those many steps away from everything after my down-spiral, I was able to recognize just how lucky I was to have actually found my own contentment and know how that looks to me. It’s not for everyone and it shouldn’t be. We all find our joy and contentment in different ways. But that doesn’t make my way weird, not normal or wrong. It is what works for me. And a friend of mine reminded me that I am not a recluse and that I still connect and meet new people. But I just do it in a more sensible (for me) and less obvious way. She said I am pickier and go for quality rather than quantity. But I don’t like that phrase. I would say I go for connection and authenticity over convenience and utility. I also no longer feel guilty saying no to something I know for a fact I wouldn’t enjoy, instead of forcing myself to do it just so I am not disliked. The whole popular notion of forcing ourselves to do something our body is clearly rejecting is so wrong. I treasure my time in solitude, not because I don’t like people, but because I need it and because it helps me be a better person in return. I am grateful I no longer let the fact that my friends don’t want to do an activity stop me from doing it, wasting a beautiful weekend on my sofa waiting around for who’s gonna call me to do something. I feel very fortunate I got to realize that who I thought I was isn’t at all who I am. And that when I stopped trying to be everything to everyone else, I became me. I can honestly tell you, having spent some extensive time in my own company, I am pretty awesome. And since I am being honest, I very much prefer the introverted me over the exhausting life I used to lead trying to keep up, being like everyone else and being the epitome of an extrovert. But in case of an emergency, I can always turn it on and become the extroverted introvert.