Introverts are not necessarily shy. I’ve been an introvert in denial for years. I love being alone, quiet, immersed in my own world. Out There, however, I am known as the Chatty One, the one bubbling over with smiles and sunshine and long-winded, airy-fairy tales and incoherent ramblings. So, imagine my surprise, after living alone for about several years, when I invite two housemates to share with me, and realise this: I don’t like to talk. Well, I do, but not as much as I thought I did. The relief of coming home to an empty house, to silence and the freedom to BE Silent, was what has made living alone such bliss. I adore it. It has been my refuge. Completely. I never get tired of being alone, I never feel a big push to go and find a crowd. Until now, I hadn’t encountered any situations that would have shone a light on this fact. So, although living with people temporarily has been a huge, somewhat uncomfortable adjustment for me, I am fortunate that it has allowed me to realise this about myself. I always knew in the back of my mind I was an introvert. However, I was never allowed to BE one. It’s as if it was wrung out of me slowly, to the point that there is a bit of irritating residue (that will most likely never come out, nor would I want it to) but the symptoms, as they are regarded in our society, were hidden until now. School terrified me; in primary school I was picked on by older or bigger kids, and I did not like being called on in class. I cried in the morning for years when it was time to go to the bus. The school sent me to psychologists and child specialists to find out what was ‘wrong’ with me, as they felt the level of sensitivity I exhibited was troublesome. I was medicated when I was 13 as they diagnosed me with ‘Social Anxiety Disorder’.
This popular medication has since been shown to have the same withdrawal symptoms as heroin. Luckily for me my parents took me off it before I became dependent on it. I don’t remember much of the time I was medicated, apart from the numbness. Everything was ok, but I felt nothing. In junior high school I was a legit truant – climbing out the windows and simply NOT turning up at school because the idea of sitting in a huge group of kids who just didn’t let me be me was scary. There was one classroom that had a big window right next to my desk and after attendance was taken, the minute the teacher turned away from us or popped out of the room for something, I’d climb out the window. My poor parents didn’t know what to do. I got good grades, so long as I was left alone to work, but I didn’t mix with the other kids much and I didn’t physically go to class. For awhile the teachers sent me to the guidance counsellor’s office to do my work there, but when I managed to sneak away from that, I was sent to a school for ‘difficult kids’. There I met about 15 kids of varying backgrounds with different stories to tell, but all pretty heart-breaking, especially considering my healthy home life. Some were abused, some were addicts, some were homeless, some were pregnant. One guy was a pyromaniac. All were anti-social and incredibly sensitive to criticism.
In order to get back into a ‘normal school’, which for me meant going on to an Arts high school that would allow me to dance a few hours per day as part of the curriculum, I needed to pass an audition as well as an interview to show that I had the right temperament for the course. My family encouraged me to try my best at the interview as they knew this was the right type of programme for me; academic but with a huge emphasis on artistic training. So, I SOLD myself in that interview. All smiles and jokes and chat. I was accepted. And probably due to this, I completed high school. I would have sunk like a stone at another school, I 100% believe. My school allowed a bit more breathing space for the Introverts, the Artsy Fartsy kids. What we lacked in chat, we made up for in choreography, in music, in paintings and sculptures, in poetry. I blossomed. Ours was a school of creative misfits, tattooed and pierced, freakish outfits and tutus and trombones clanging together in the corridors. There were school performances every month and anyone could audition a piece; there were poetry coffeehouses in the evenings for the literary crowd, and there was always a span of performance projects in the works. I had four happy years there, and then when I completed the dance programme and had one year left (all academic), I left to travel and to finish my courses on a distance learning basis. Without my dance training every day, I knew I wouldn’t attend school, although the teachers and students there at that point had become like family.
Somewhere between then and now, I have come to realise that I have traded on personality and chat since moving away from home to another continent at 20 and making my way here. A true graduate of performance! At this point, my own chatter even irritates me. I don’t mean the lively conversations that happen spontaneously and naturally; I mean my need to keep the chat going, even if it is one-sided, the effort expended and the exhaustion I feel seep from me when someone leaves, when I can be quiet again. It appears I’ve been advertising myself for a long time, perhaps because I feel that the Real Me won’t appeal to my audience. It is such an uncomfortable process, learning to be quiet – even when it is all you want to do. It isn’t even about the chat, it’s about learning to just sit with someone quietly and not feel the need to win their approval. About pausing before you speak and weighing whether or not what you have to contribute to the conversation is valuable or whether you are just doing it out of this need to be heard and accepted. Now that I understand this about myself, and want to change it, it’s all about practicing it.
Society isn’t kind to introverts. If you want to get a job, a date, a promotion, a good bargain…you need to know how to turn up the volume and make a good impression. Simple, direct communication is under-rated, and I believe we make a performance out of most transactions, simply based on our need to come across a certain way, as a certain character best suited for dealing with the situation at hand. When you realise that this character is, in fact, incredibly different from who you were born as, it is over-whelming. Freeing, also though. The real work comes when you try to get back to that character and say a gentle goodbye to the Forced You who has been with you for decades. Especially, sadly, because this character has gotten you to where you are in life! The sooner we learn to accept the quiet ones, the ones who blush and cry easily and avoid crowds, the better. Studies have shown that I’m not alone in this; that many people identify as introverts but, for the purpose of fitting in and getting along in life, adopt extrovert qualities out of necessity. Truth be told, I don’t have an answer to this. As someone whose conditioning into a faux extrovert began in school, I would have to say that that plays a huge part in it. We spend so many hours in school, to learn that you must also spend those hours playing a part like a performing monkey is a lot to take in. I think this does a lot of damage. I am proof of that. The world in fact needs introverts. The balance that they bring to the world is invaluable. Although many are assimilated into the extrovert group, their sensitivity and quiet energy has proven to create many of the world’s greatest works of art, architecture, literature, music, IT innovations…the list of individuals who have succeeded in life AS INTROVERTS goes on. To not recognise and nurture these individuals in their youth is a crime.
Imagine if someone had told Leonardo da Vinci to smarten up and socialise more often! Or Albert Einstein! The sooner we recognise, as adults and teachers, how to support and nurture these individuals before society gets to them and makes them perform, the better it will be for us as a whole. I know it is not black and white, that one can be a bit of both at the same time, but I am talking about introvert qualities in general, which usually culminate in a fully formed introvert, but also some extroverts have introvert tendencies and I think those should be nurtured and encouraged also. The balance has been tipped for a long time now and not nearly enough creative genius has been unleashed for fear of it not being accepted. This is a big challenge. But for now, I am just going to sit and enjoy the quiet.😉
Lately I am thinking about all of the other people out there who are missing someone. Someone who has left this life and is ‘unreachable’. They say that the first year is the worst, that it gets easier as times goes on….but I am finding that that isn’t the case. So I’m sharing it with all of you; bringing the thought out of the shadows into the open. . . I think after the first year, you’ve stored up so many funny stories, life updates, and experiences that you would normally be sharing with them on a daily/weekly basis…that it starts to feel physically uncomfortable. Before, when you reached this overflowing point where you had so much to say to them, you’d pick up the phone and get yourself settled in somewhere comfortable for a nice long chat. But now that they’re gone, what do you do with all of these words? These things you want so badly to share with them? I am thinking of all of you who are in the same boat, who are bursting at the seams to share these things with that Someone, but can’t. It’s their voice, their responses (that are so authentically THEIRS, they can never be replicated or mimicked by anyone else), their advice and their laugh that you miss. It is seriously kicking my little ass at the minute, my friends, and I think the only way through is to acknowledge it and share the burden. I hope you don’t mind. 😉 For anyone else out there who is feelin’ it, I am with you!! It doesn’t get ‘easier’, you adjust. And the adjusting (to their absence) is the most painful part. Sending you all lots of hugs tonight…
I consider my Life to be a collection of beautiful fragments, each bookmarked unconsciously as they happen. Ever-growing, minute and milli-second in length. These moments cannot be predicted, nor can you always explain why they mean so much to you. I have a hard time recalling them on command, but for this piece I sat and observed what came to me.
1) My niece Siofra asleep next to me, her hands playing with my earrings in her sleep.
2) My Mom’s hands.
3) Drinking my morning cup on the back step of my kitchen, feeling the sun and wind on my face off the mountains.
4) Floating in a natural pool, high up in the hills outside of Panama City.
5) Alone on a train from London to Edinburgh when I was 18, listening to Jeff Buckley’s version of Hallelujah with my backpack next to me, an empty car, and a full moon up above.
6) Sitting at the kitchen table with my Grandma, playing cards and talking.
7) The smell of my parents house on a Saturday morning as a teenager, when my Dad was off work and the coffee pot was on.
8) The sound of skates on ice.
9) Lying in Parque Monceau in Paris on a hot summer’s day when I was 18, reading Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast.
10) Paddling a canoe with my family at our cottage in Quebec, my Uncle’s dog swimming along next to us. The sound of the water lapping at the bottom of a dock or boat always reminds me of my Grandpa.
These things that came to me in this experiment, on reflection, cost me nothing at the time. All of the money I have spent on things and achievements and planned excursions I do not regret, but I have learned to pay attention to these simple moments. You never know which ones will stick. The most beautiful thing is: They are YOURS. Some seem unimpressive at the time, but years later they could be the ones that bring a lump to your throat and butterflies to your tummy.
I’ve been fortunate in the last two years to have found work and a home in a rural area. For the ten years previous, I lived in a small city. A bustling hub for people in their twenties, parties, festivals, a feverish community of artists….and a lot of noise. To put it short, I burnt out. I spent my twenties pfaffing about different social circles, learning new languages, partying, falling in love, falling OUT of love (waaaaay out of love, shall we say!) and having very little time alone to reflect on what all of this was doing to/for me.
When I finally did make the somewhat impulsive move to leave my job in the city and re-locate, wonderful things happened. Not always comfortable, but wonderful nonetheless. I had time to get to know myself. Without the constant need to ‘perform’ as is the norm for a 20-something year old female with a soft spot for hippies and eccentric play let loose in a city of hippies and awesome eccentrics! I discovered I am innately, NOT, the social butterfly I thought I was. When I arrived in this city, also a new country for me, at 20, I came out of my shell, so to speak. Now, at 31, I am happily and voluntarily going back INTO the shell! 🙂 I discovered that I do not need The Buzz of a hectic and drama-filled social life to inspire me. That silence and stillness does it even better. That eccentric characters are often….eccentric! And a lot of work. And that buzz-chasers who you meet at every party and share drinks with don’t always have the same aspirations or ethics as you. And that, basically, most people are just playing a role. Including you. After awhile it felt like I was at a Halloween party every day, with no clue who I was really talking to under the masks.
My happy place is not Happy Hour anymore, it’s my kitchen step looking out over the valley, or my bedroom window at night with a full view of the moon’s progression across the mountains. I would say it is a quiet life, but the noise the birds and sheep and wind make can be deafening and distracting sometimes! I have a few friends in the area, but don’t mind if I don’t see them everyday. Most of my closest friends are in other time zones, and that is totally cool with me also. My best friend is right here, and although I am still getting to know her, she’s all the company I need for now.