Stay at Home? No Problem. Quit Complaining.
Currently much of the country is locked down, encouraged to stay at home, or quarantined. Here in Montana, it has been a little over 1 month since things started to shut down, social distancing was imposed, and gathering in groups was prohibited. It has been during this time that nearly all of my extroverted friends are chomping at the bit, going stir crazy, and inundating social media every 3 minutes in a fleeting effort to grasp at some sort of social connection.
As an introvert that has worked from home for nearly a decade, my day-to-day is largely unchanged. In fact, my mental health has actually improved considerably. As an adult, with a better understanding of who I was when I was younger, I can now smile at my extroverted friends going crazy, and say, “Suck it!”
Growing up as an Introvert
While I was growing up, I was told that I needed to “be less shy” and to “open up more” and that I would eventually “come out of my shell.” This wasn’t told to me from my peers though. This came from adults and authority figures in my life. This wasn’t told to me just occasionally, or once. I heard it almost every day.
These phrases, pounded into me, led me to believe one thing: there was something wrong with me. It made me believe that normal people talk a lot and are outgoing. Those of us who were quiet, “shy”, and preferred solitude were strange and needed to be fixed.
Over time, I accepted the fact that there was something wrong with me. Something I had to try to fix, but had no idea how to fix it. It led to social blunders, like attempting to fit in by being the class clown. After all, if I could make everyone laugh, then that meant I was interacting enough and authority figures stopped harassing me to come out of my shell.
That disconnect led to anxiety. A constant worry if I was doing it right. Fear of being reprimanded if I didn’t speak up enough, act jubilantly, or socialize. Did I laugh at the joke loudly enough? Did I laugh too loudly? It’s going through life trying to put on an act, doing what other people see as “normal”, in order to not feel abnormal. Ultimately it leads to more anxious feelings where the only reprieve is away from people where nobody can tell you to open up and stop being shy.
Being an Adult as an Introvert
Through childhood and into my teen years it was the same old repetition translated as: who you are is not good enough, be more like everyone else.
Entering into adulthood things were slightly better, but still largely the same. In college I was docked points on my final grades because I didn’t talk enough and ask enough questions. On the job, I was criticized as being unfriendly and stand-offish because I kept my head down, did my work, and didn’t go out of my way to joyfully wish everyone I saw a happy morning.
When I started my own business, it was a turning point. I wasn’t able to keep to myself and stay quiet quite as much. I had to market, network, and interact so I could help my business grow. I watched how my extroverted friends interact, and I mimicked their styles.
Over the last 8+ years, I have noted interactions, watched cues, and copied those I felt comfortable. I have stepped outside of my comfort zone and learned to play the part of an extrovert (at least to the best I can) so that I am able to build relationships and ultimately flourish.
The problem with adapting to a different personality is that it is utterly exhausting. Before gatherings and interactions, I have to rehearse with myself conversations that might occur. I have to decide how I will react to situations. I have to consider outcomes, and prepare for the worst. If you have ever performed on stage you understand the preparation that goes into that performance. This became a near daily occurrence.
For the last month, I have had to perform once a week during a networking meeting that I lead. The other six days have been near blissful. My best days I don’t have to talk on the phone, I don’t have a Zoom meeting to watch, and the only time I leave my property is to go for a walk with the family.
Understanding and Adapting
During this time of isolation, my mental health and well being has improved significantly. For all my extroverted friends, I can see that for many of them, it is just the opposite. And at the risk of sounding crass and uncaring, all I can say is, “suck it.” For 37+ years now I have had to perform the role that is socially acceptable; one that is outside of my comfort zone and causes stress and anxiety. When this time of isolation is over, I will have to head back into that performance.
It’s been about a month. We may have about another month to go. Is it hard to perform under a different personality than the one that comes naturally? Absolutely it is. For us introverts, it’s a lifetime performance; you can handle 2 months.