I’ve always felt anxiety and pressure in social situations. It wasn’t that I disliked the people around me. Far from it. But something about the expectation to perform in a social capacity always filled me with dread.
For a while, I thought I was broken. Everyone I knew loved hanging out and being around one another. In one of my peaceful moments of alone time, I decided to do a little research to find out if something was wrong with me.
I learned about introversion. I learned about countless millions of people just like me. It became my mission to discover and understand the ins and outs of that mindset so I could better myself. I finally realized I didn’t have to change who I was. I could embrace it.
Over the years, I’ve cultivated knowledge I feel may be helpful to other introverts who don’t know there are people like them. I want to share with you some examples of situations where I felt uncomfortable and how I handled them. I don’t expect everyone to encounter the exact same situations or react the same way, but I think this will be a good template for other introverts to use.
1. Do you feel enormous anxiety about having to go to parties? You may be an introvert!
There was a party at my college. My boyfriend at the time, Jay, really wanted me to attend. This was at a really bad time in my life and the last thing I wanted to do was plaster a smile on my face and interact with drunken strangers. I tried and tried to convince Jay that I didn’t feel well and that the party wouldn’t be a good idea, but he kept trying to guilt trip me into going.
After a while, I told him I’d go. The party was a couple days away.
I was really upset with both Jay and myself. I was mad at him for not respecting my claim that I was sick, but I also hated myself for being so messed up that I was forcing him to have to make me to go to a silly party. I didn’t sleep for two nights because I was so nervous.
On the day of the party, while Jay was still sleeping, I secretly took a dose of syrup of ipecac. When Jay awoke, I was in the bathroom puking my guts up. I’d never felt so sick in my life, but he finally believed me. Hours later, after he’d made sure I was going to be okay, he went to the party by himself. I’d won. My stomach still hurt, but the night alone was wonderful.
2. Have you ever been at work and been told you need to do something that fills you with dread because you’ll have to interact with other people? You may be an introvert!
Years later, there was a mandatory retreat at my job. All employees had to go for “team building” or something similarly awful. I’d just started feeling comfortable at work, too; I’m a designer so I get to spend almost all day alone, drawing logos or characters or whatever for clients. Hearing I had to go on this retreat brought terrible, breathless anxiety. I didn’t know what to do.
On my drive to the convention center, I saw a homeless man sitting near a payphone. I had an idea. We spoke for a few seconds, I handed him a quarter and a $20 bill, then I got back in my car. I drove up the street, parked, and watched the man in my mirror.
He picked up the phone and dialed. A minute or two later, he hung up and ran away. I pulled the car back into traffic and kept going toward the retreat. Ten minutes later, I got a phone call from my supervisor saying someone had called in a bomb threat at the convention center. We were to come to the office and treat it as a normal workday.
3. Does the thought of seeing people from your past make you feel awful because you’ll be in a situation where you need to talk about your life? You may be an introvert!
My sister, Melinda, was having her baby shower. She’s only a couple years older than me, so we knew many of the same people in high school. She’s still friends with most of them. I’m not. Most of them used to make fun of me while others only talked to me because I was Melinda’s sister. I didn’t want to go. At all.
My car was in the shop, so Melinda offered to pick me up. There was no use trying to fake being sick. Mel knows I’m an introvert and get anxious in social situations. But this was important to her. She wouldn’t take no for an answer.
She picked me up a few hours before the party so we could go to our parents’ house where the event was being hosted. The plan was to help Mom set things up so she didn’t have to do it all. I wanted to do the setting up and leave, but that was out of the question.
Mel’s phone rang while we were on our way. It was her friend, Denise. Apparently Denise and eight other guests had arrived early to help Mom with the decorating so Mel wouldn’t have to. While Mel was elated, I was distraught. I’d built in a mental countdown that gave me three hours before I’d have to be around those people. I was planning on using those hours to try to get myself in a state of mind where I could accept being with them. But now it was gone. I had no time to prepare.
I started to silently panic as we hurtled down the highway toward my impending social cataclysm. I was sweating. Everything blurred. My heartbeat was like a series of constant detonations behind my ribcage. Ahead of us, on the side of the highway, I saw a family of deer. One of the fawns placed a foot on the pavement. I saw an opportunity.
I screamed, “look out!” and grabbed the steering wheel, turning it in the opposite direction. Our car struck the median, flipped over it, and sent us into oncoming traffic. Another car hit us at 75 miles per hour.
Somehow, when the whirlwind of chaos had ended and the car was no longer moving, I was relatively unhurt. My arm and leg were broken, that I could tell immediately, but everything else seemed okay. Mel’s side had taken the brunt of it.
Mel was pinned by her legs by the steering column. She was bleeding badly from her head, but she was breathing. Her hands were flailing at her belly. I looked down. A piece of metal from God-knows-where had carved a deep gash through her lower abdomen. I could see the a wet loop of intestine sticking out. And something else. A tiny, twitching foot.
The baby shower was cancelled.
So if any of these scenarios of socialization and togetherness make you feel anxious or lightheaded, you may be an introvert! I hope this helps, because nothing is worse than feeling like you have no control over your life. Sometimes it’s just good to be alone. And you know what? There’s nothing wrong with it. There’s no shame in being different.