Two words that seem to contradict each other yet I consider myself to be both.
An introvert is generally seen as someone who is shy and tends to keep to themselves; someone who prefers solitude or just their own company over being around others; someone who is usually overwhelmed easily in crowds and large gatherings of people, even people who they would consider friends or family. A pretty standard description and one that fits me perfectly.
Being described as out-going generally means that you are someone who reaches out and connects with others socially, whether it be one on one or in a group setting; someone who’s comfortable in a setting involving many people; someone who seeks out companionship and enjoys interactions with others and even craves it seemingly.
Both very different, but both me…and I think not that uncommon.
Growing up, I was almost debilitatingly shy. Switching schools almost every year did nothing to get me over the fear of being in unfamiliar places and having to meet new people. I remember being physically sick every year for many years on the first day of school. Stopping to throw up as I walked to school because I couldn’t stop my body from reacting to the stress. Racing heart, tunnel vision and frantically trying not to cry (because that would just draw more attention to me when I already felt I stuck out as the new kid). Being afraid to speak up when asked direct questions… never volunteering answers in class because then people would turn attention to me and people would look and listen. Terrified at the dreaded book report time of the school year. I would do anything to get out of it.
I was called a snob, told I was stuck up because I didn’t talk or try to make friends. It wasn’t that I thought I was “better than” like they said… I was scared and shy and had no idea how to join in or to connect.
I went on this way for years. Then something happened. The start of grade 7, I decided that I was going to try to fake it. I reached out one day and found that it was easier than I thought it would be. A comment and a laugh and I had a new friend. And I liked it. I had someone to spend time with and talk and share and laugh. I still coveted my alone time and wanted it – a lot – but I also wanted to be around people. My circle of friends grew slowly. I ended up staying in that school the longest I ever did – 3 years – and I found a comfortable thing develop. I made friends easily. All sorts of friends. This was when the schools were made of very defined “cliques” and found I didn’t really fit in any one in particular. I had friends who I hung out with in science and others in shop class, others that I went for lunch with and smoked in the alley with after school. My closest friends that I spent weekends with roller-skating or going to the mall… I loved it, but I was still shy.
I was always the quiet one in the bunch when new people came in or we met up with others. I would then revert back to “me”. Quiet and shy and timid. But it got easier as time went on to start to open up.
Carrying through as I left that school and life marched on. I found that in new places, jobs, schools, I would take a deep breath and fake it on day one. Try to hide the discomfort and the unease that was clawing at my insides… and it worked.
I even specifically chose a career based on how much it terrified me. When I was 20 years old I decided that public speaking would never be ok with me; so I decided to become a fitness instructor. Not only public speaking but doing it in spandex! Not bad for an introvert with severe body image issues and an eating disorder to match ;). But I did it. Sure I threw up three times before my first practicum class, but I did it… and that set the path for me to keep going.
I’m still usually the quietest one in a group. Although people are usually surprised if I describe myself as shy because that’s not how I tend to present as now. Yet underneath, the constant desire to just sit and be quiet and unobserved is always there. That’s my default. That’s who I am. Not what I am, but who.
Which means… While I have grown to love that closeness and connection with those I call “mine” in my life; my chosen family, my friends, my loves… I still am the happiest sitting and watching and being part of it all but alone and separate and just “me”. I may burst out with a joke or be the giggly centre of attention for a moment but then I retreat again… eventually making a full retreat to solitude and an aloneness that will give me what my introvert spirit needs to restore and recharge. Quiet, solitary time with just me, my Self and I.