I have always been an introvert. I am at my most comfortable when I am alone, and being in group social situations is something I find to be very tiring. As I have gotten older I have not only accepted but embraced my introversion, yet there is always an underlying awareness that being introverted is not necessarily socially acceptable.
I experienced a boost in social activity while I was doing my first university degree, from about age 18-23. This was fuelled in large part by alcohol, but also by a desire to explore and have fun while figuring out who I was as an adult. Even at that time, though, I had my small core group of friends that I had strong connections with.
As I moved through my 20’s, I continued to have a reasonably active social life, although it became increasingly clear to me that it felt like work to be in group social situations. I wasn’t anxious; it was more that it just didn’t feel natural. I hated making small talk just for the sake of talking, so when I was interacting with people I didn’t feel close to it seemed to take a lot of effort to come up with something to say. I used to push myself to be sociable even though I didn’t want to be, since I thought I should conform to normal social expectations. As I moved into my thirties, though, I began to adopt more of a “f*** it” mentality; if I hate parties, I’m not going to go to them just to try to please other people.
I’ve been a mental health nurse since age 25, and that has proved to be the curious exception to my introversion. I thrive off of interactions with my clients. In part that’s because the nurse-client relationship is the rare situation where highly personal topics are seldom out of bounds. I also feel like there’s less spontaneity required; I’ve been a nurse for 13 years, and it’s very much second nature by this point. My nurse persona is a well-oiled machine that takes little effort to set in motion.
I was diagnosed with depression at age 27. When I’m depressed, my natural introversion is amplified exponentially. As time has gone by, my depressive illness has pushed this introversion to extremes, and I become extremely isolative, as described in my earlier post My Hermitification. I have pushed all of my former friends out of my life, and while I know in theory that’s probably not a good thing, I am mostly at ease when I am alone.
One misconception about introversion is that it is the same as social anxiety. Let me put that myth to bed right now; they are two very different creatures. There are some good reads about social anxiety on James Edgar Skye’s The Bipolar Writer blog, but that’s not what I’m talking about here. While I may occasionally feel slightly anxious in social situations, social anxiety has never been a major issue for me. I think a key difference introversion and social anxiety is that being an introvert can feel very comfortable if you accept that it’s the way you are, whereas there is no comfort to be found in social anxiety disorder.
Where introverts may experience the most discomfort is in the dissonance between who they are and the prevalent sociocultural expectations of extroversion. In many cultures, people are expected to be social creatures. Parties are supposed to be a good thing, and having a large group of friends is valued; one need look no further than social media to see this. One good thing (maybe?) that has come of my depression is that I don’t give a fat flying f*** what other people want or expect of me. My depression makes me hate people, which allows me to wallow in my introversion like a pig in mud.
Maybe, just maybe, if my depression goes into remission again, I will find a happier medium somewhere between my natural introversion and my depression-fuelled dislike of the world. Then again, maybe I won’t, and my social connections will consist of my pet guinea pigs. Either way, I fully accept that I am and always will be an introvert.