I’ve always been an introvert. I’m most comfortable when I am alone, and being in group social situations is very tiring. As I have gotten older, I’ve not only accepted but embraced my introversion, yet there is always an underlying awareness that being introverted isn’t necessarily socially acceptable.
Increasing introversion over time
I experienced a boost in social activity while I was doing my first university degree, from about age 18-23. This was fuelled by alcohol, but also by a desire to explore and have fun while figuring out who I was. 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 interacting with people I didn’t feel close to required a lot of effort
I used to push myself to be sociable, since I thought I should conform to 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.
Being an introvert in a helping profession
I’ve been a mental health nurse since age 25, and that’s been 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.
Introversion + Depression
I first developed 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 essentially a hermit. I’ve pushed all of my former friends out of my life, and while I know in theory that’s probably not a good thing, I’m most at ease when I’m alone.
Introversion isn’t social anxiety
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. While I may occasionally feel slightly anxious in social situations, social anxiety has never been a major issue for me.
A key difference between introversion and social anxiety is that introversion can feel very comfortable if you accept that it’s the way you are, whereas there’s no comfort in social anxiety disorder. There’s more on this topic in this post on differentiating between introversion, shyness, and social anxiety.
Introverts may be most uncomfortable with the dissonance between who they are and 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 that’s come of my depression is that I don’t care what other people 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’ll find a happier medium somewhere between my natural introvert tendencies 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.
Embrace Acceptance: A Guided Journal draws on concepts from acceptance and commitment therapy to help you move towards a place of greater acceptance. It’s available from the MH@H Download Centre.