Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A powerful introvert

Being alone
It can be quite romantic
Like Jacques Cousteau
Underneath the Atlantic
A fantastic voyage
To parts unknown
Going to depths were the sun's never shown
And I fascinate myself
When I'm alone

"The Lull" by Andrew Bird

Andrew hit the nail on the head! Realizing and accepting my introversion is the input i just needed in my life. All the time I experienced situations like "—Jean secretly drinks beer in his house on friday nights, and he just doesn't tell anyone about it!" or "—You just don't want to go out, you should go out more!" and "—This should be the year of getting as much new friends as you can"... The list is endless, and each item made me feel like the biggest flaw on earth. By then, I was only sure of one thing and it is that long social interactions quickly drained all my energy. Honestly I did not why, and every time it happened I felt like I was seriously damaged, I felt alienated, and internally obligated to become a more extroverted, "happy" and outgoing person. In all my endeavors to achieve that, I failed not only once but twice and more. My damnation was settled, and I even labeled myself a schizoid.

Introversion is the picture of absolutely all my life. While others played sports, I was hidden, practicing the subversive action of, yes, coloring. I avoided going to support the team not because I was a snob, but because it was energetically expensive for me. While extroverts have their energy replenished with people and interaction, mine gets drained and is replenished in solitude. This is not a disease, but an orientation of life.

Life is not divided in having fun and being bored, people are not divided in the ones that have fun and the ones that don't, the more is not necessarily the merrier, life is not solely about who you know and who knows you, being extroverted is not necessarily the desired state of being and not everybody is fond of parties.

Some people are terrified about going to the movies alone, they feel uncomfortable and weird. For me it's a totally fine thing to do. Whether I have a nice company or not, I have a good time. I have learned to become my own good company when needed. "I can go but I'm not going because I have nobody to go with" does not exist in my lexicon. I went to Russia by myself, only me and my suitcase. There I found 2, or maybe 5 people. For me it's ok.

For me (and for most introverts) parties are a serious problem. We appear that we don't give all of ourselves, and that we are shy and not committed with the moment. Believe me, it's not just about "I'm just thinking too much that I should seriously stop it, mingle and enjoy" Turns out to be that Thinking is the new opposite of Enjoying. I prefer one on one interactions with people, my energy is maintained and I am more talkative and even funny. I have learned that about myself. Going to a large party for me means entering a war of messages, speaking loud, small talk, gossip. Yes, I see a lot of friends there, they want to see me as much as I want to see them, but I just don't achieve the level of communication I want to have with them. If I could take all the party time to speak to them in groups of 2 or 3 apart and silent it would be awesome. Of course I'm not trying to change the way parties are now, and I'm not saying they have to change. If I definitely have to go, I plan my escape in advance -yes I do, and I hope you understand this is not about you-, or I simply take breaks. When I am not in the mood or have no energy for interacting I use my cellphone, or I walk as if I became invisible. Sometimes joining the helping team is a way to keep myself apart, or I try keep a one-on-one conversation with somebody else; And the good thing about this is that I feel so much better!

Small talk is sometimes mandatory, but I believe everyone is willing to agree that it is exhausting to follow them the most of the times. They start by pointing out something obvious as conversation starters: "Hey, you have grown up so much, the last time I saw you you were more little!" Yeah, we grow up don't we? "Oh look at him, he just looks like his dad with his mom's hair!" or "I held you when you were one year old, don't you remember?" -Umm, maybe not... and they reply "Oh yes, yes, c'mon I know you remember!" (fake laughter and nodding and so on... until face is frozen). At first it's manageable but after ten minutes, my mind is just drifting away and I'm on automatic pilot: Nod, smile, funny gasp and then reply and repeat.

Sometimes going out does missing out for me. I love writing, listening to music, reading, or walking the street for no particular purpose, and sometimes I like to do it alone. Studying is not something that I consider a duty, but a pleasure. Yes, I get tired of that it's normal. This is when I do something else like going for a walk, and then I get my energy back.

Some friends ask me about what I did this morning and I say
-I went to the beach.
-With whom?
and I always get the worried "Why!!!"

-Why? Because I can, because I like it.

I can go with more little amount of people as well and have a nice intimate time. If you add a bunch of stuff, loud music, more people, more noise, and less space, then I just get lost and be sure that I will plan my escape, to get my energy back on track. Providing excuses and apologizing did not help my self esteem... by doing so I was telling myself I was a failure. By the way, apologizing for what? For feeling exhausted? For not trying hard enough to fit in? For my lack of commitment and empathy? These are the questions that hurt big time, and make me feel bad about myself, but now I am able to stop and change from apologetical to assertive. "I am leaving because I feel drained, I feel exhausted and I need to retreat. This has nothing to do with you, it's just enough for me". After this, comes the hardest part ever: persistence! "Oh come on! look it is too early for you to go, what are you going to do in your house now, nothing! Locked all day you need to ease your mind and dedicate some time to yourself. Besides, it's Friday and you don't have to do anything tomorrow morning so you should stay! There's so much people you can meet tonight!" Persistence is indeed a compliment: You are wanted, truly. They do want to share more, but you just reached your lowest energy level... What to do!!? You know that an answer different from yes will make them go crazy! I have found myself cornered in this one, and I said yes multiple times. After some minutes I was acting grumpy and cranky. I started to fidget and I felt weird and alienated.

I'm going to say that declining the invitation or the persistence of extroverts is often seen as snobbish, non polite and arrogant. This drives them mad! They can't simply understand a no for the question they just asked, and it seems fairly understandable "How is it possible that I get a No for that!" They become disappointed because they fail to understand why is it that other people are having a good time and I just refuse to join the club. "You are so conservative you're going to regret not having fun now that you can, later you'll be old unable" But I'm not having fun, so I won't regret anything! I do not regret not meeting another 100 new people last year (the more the merrier assumption), I'm glad with the 2 or 10 or 20. Not every silence is an invitation to talk, not all the realities are meant to be outside for me. People are not divided between the happy and the depressed, the outgoing and the inappropriate, the extroverted and the losers, the social and the hopeless. Alone is not a four-letter-word, and solitude is not loneliness. Introvert is not the opposite of social. I am social, however, I need people one or two at a time and with time and space in between. Of course this does not mean that If I go to a classroom and see 4 people -not 2- I'm just going to panic and run away to the bathroom for energy, or like: "Hey this is my introvert friend and we're already 3 so you can't come in for he deserves special treatment". I do not deserve special treatment whatsoever and I do not pretend to change anything. I do expect to provide a grain of sand in the understanding that introverts need to retreat and recharge after long periods of social interaction or crowds. If I go out early in the morning and interact nonstop the whole day, chances are I will be depleted by night.

The idea of an apartment is fascinating for me because it would be my space. Now I understand why I get so excited when I go to stores like IKEA or Bed, Bath and Beyond. Introverts spend so much energy, money and time in their inside because that is where they are nurtured. Being home or being "locked" in the house (as some like to put a dramatic tone on it) can be an awesome party of self indulgence, or the perfect plan for the end of the day. We like going back home, and sometimes we stay in the home because we want to do so. The next day for example I want some close company, and that's when I visit friends and loved ones. Sharing a couple of beers with friends I haven't seen in a while is excellent; I care for them and I want to know about them, but that does not mean that I'm going to be all the time with them, and in reality no one does.

When I invite an adult to do something, I am assuming the independence and autonomy of the other person. I like saying what the invitation is about, i.e: "Going to the park". If you are allergic to pollen, or really don't like parks, then say it, I'm not a mind reader. Nothing and absolutely nothing will happen. This is not a flexibility of tastes exam. It is Ok not to like certain stuff and choose not to do them. Do not expose yourself to allergies to be polite accepting the invitation, if it doesn't make you feel good then drop it, if you didn't know and now realized it's not what you expected, you are free to go! Why would I feel mad about it? There are a thousand things left to do! Lack of freedom brings stress. Not everything is about "Hey, I don't care about the fact I don't like the park, the company is the more important thing!" If so, then do not blame me for suffering in silence with sneezing, and do not expect me to do the same if it was the opposite. Suppose that I have the flu but I have an invitation from you to play in the snow, then I go because company is so important and then I blame you for having a strong fever! In that case, I would refuse the snow invitation at once, and there might not even be the flu involved, the reason can perfectly be "because I don't feel like going to the snow today, maybe another time".

One of the most common stress triggers is lack of assertiveness. It creates grumpy, anxious people because they are not able to communicate what they feel and need. The change from apologetical to assertive, as I mentioned before, is likely to be the first step for developing a healthy introvert life.

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