Quiet and proud.

I don’t need anybody or any test to tell me that I am an introvert.  My idea of the best Friday ever is me, alone, in bed, with a book and some kind of dodgy food. I actually get little shivers of excitement just thinking about it.

But until last year I actually had no idea what being an “introvert” actually meant. I guess in my head I had a list like this:

Introverts          

quiet

shy

like to spend time alone

like to do quiet things like reading, knitting, staring at the ceiling

are not party animals

are the uncool ones

the nerds

there is something wrong with them, they are defective in the social arena

 

Extroverts

talk a lot

like fun, and fun includes parties and music and noise and people

are the cool ones

the fun ones

the successful ones

this is how everyone is supposed to be.  If you are introverted, you better try your damndest to change, or you will be doomed to the sidelines of life.

 

But after an incident last year that was really frustrating and upsetting to me, I started to think a lot about what is really going on when someone is an introvert.

 

Specifically, I was partnered at work with the most extroverted person I have ever met.  Her whole mission in life is to meet and talk with people. All kinds of people. And to sing and talk and laugh all day.

 

I loved her. She is the most engaging person, the most fun person to be with. The sweetest, the kindest.

 

But working with her almost killed me.

The scientific environment does not have an abundance of extroverts of her level, so this was not something that had ever been a problem for me before. And it would not have been a problem if we were just sharing a lab or sharing the work. But she wanted to do every task with me. She hated working alone. She wanted to do a step and then pass a tube to me so that I could do another step, all while singing and talking.  She did not understand the concept of needing space. She wanted to come to the bathroom with me. We spent all day, every day together, and we socialised after work too.

Until then I had never realised how important it was for me to work alone. I have trained people, and I have been trained by people without problem. But when I have to perform long and complicated tasks that require continuous concentration, I need to do it alone. Even without the singing and talking, if there is someone there, it is like my brain splits in two, and it cannot just keep itself present in me. It is constantly monitoring the other person, trying to think like she would, and who knows what. It really feels like I split in two.

You can imagine how I feel sometimes at parties with lots of people I do not know well.  Scattered is the word. It is pretty exhausting having your consciousness split up into dozens of pieces and trying to keep track of all of them. For some reason the scattering happens less and less the more I know  a person, unless that person is exceedingly bouncy.

 

So anyway, long story short, after months of working with this girl who I loved, I ended up in adrenal fatigue. I was dying from stress, from anxiety. I was going insane. I was coming home every day on the verge of tears. I was losing it big time. I had to take an entire week off work when she left, just to try and get my body to relax, and my sense of self to return. My  body was wound up like a coil. And I could not figure out why.

The whole thing made me feel terrible. I liked this girl so much, but being with her in the way we were, that uber close way, was killing me. I could not sustain that situation. When she left, I was relieved. Not because I don’t like her. I am still very fond of her. Just because I knew that if things kept on that way, something scary would have happened.

Needless to say, it made me feel like  an awful, twisted person.

Anyway, I spent  much time in my week off googling stuff and trying to understand why I am such  a shitty excuse of a person that I can’t even just enjoy somebody’s company.

And it turns out that basically everyone in the world knows that introverts are the way we are because of actual physiological differences in our brains in comparison to extroverts. Ergh. Everyone except me.

When I finally understood this, it was a revelation. An enlightenment. I was floored. All this time, the reason I am how I am, it is not because I am a freak, not because I am a deviant, broken, wrong. It is just because of the way my brain processes external stimuli?

My whole life I have heard people ask “what is wrong with her, why is she so quiet?” Teachers told me that if I did not speak louder and become more confident I would never amount to anything. The western world treats introverts like freaks and misfits.

But it is not our fault we are like this! There is nothing “wrong” with us at all! Our brains process things differently. That is all it amounts to. We experience fatigue and loss of energy from different things because of the ways our brains process things.

I feel like I have come to know myself and what is really going on with me more in the last year than ever before. A little freaking late, I fear, but better late than never.

 

Tomorrow I will probably blog about how an introvert’s brain actually works. And maybe mention that I have met people who have suffered far worse discrimination for being quiet than I ever have.

But I don’t feel guilty that I went into adrenal fatigue from working in Siamese twin fashion with an extreme extrovert for 5 months. It was inevitable.

And I will never feel bad about being quiet, ever again.

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9 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Roz
    May 22, 2012 @ 21:43:31

    Thanks Po, this is a great post! I really feel for you having to work with that chatty girl! I am also an introvert and feel misunderstood quite often, especially in the workplace. There is a new book that came out recently called Quiet: The Power of Introverts, by Susan Cain. I read it and it really helped to calm down the negative chatter in my head. It is NOT a self-help book but focuses on why introverts are different, and why we are great :)

    Reply

  2. poseamonkey
    May 22, 2012 @ 21:46:28

    Roz, aha, I just finished reading that book a few weeks ago! I must admit the first time I read some of the information about how introverts work, I was a bit upset cos I have wasted years of time trying to be more extroverted. Now I embrace my inner introvert with pride.

    Reply

  3. Roz
    May 23, 2012 @ 20:55:20

    Ah! I thought some of your reasoning in the post sounded familiar! But she does say there are some situations where you have to try to *act* extroverted. So it’s not an excuse to spend all our lives in bed reading, unfortunately. Anyway, I look forward to your next post on this.

    Reply

  4. Po
    May 23, 2012 @ 21:10:52

    yup, I totally get that sometimes we need to be more extroverted than feels comfortable, like making phonecalls and making small talk and all that jazz, but I have realised that I don’t need to do things that make me unhappy any more. Also, because I work in the world of Science I am surrounded by people who speak softly and not much, and they are successful, because it is their ideas that count. They still need to learn how to project themselves to a degree, but you can be soft spoken and successful, despite what my teacher said!

    Reply

  5. paulabubble
    May 24, 2012 @ 19:18:11

    conveniently my long comment didn’t appear.

    In laymans I’m a melancholic sanguine. Which essentially means I am an introvert extrovert.

    oh and teachers can be wrong

    Reply

  6. poseamonkey
    May 25, 2012 @ 13:48:01

    heehee paula, for a lot of people it is not as obvious as it is for me, heehee. If you think a lot about how you process information, if you take a long time to think deeply about stuff, if you get tired if there is a lot of noise, if you prefer to write than to speak as a form of learning and thinking, then those are clues. Many introverts love people and spending time with people, and the only clues I have that they are introverts is they have a quiet manner and quiet voice, even when they are the centre of attention. I dunno. I do think it is important to get to know yourself as well as you can to improve your mental health, cos you can understand why you do things, and stop blaming yourself for things that are biologically wired in you.

    Reply

  7. Ilse
    Jun 05, 2012 @ 11:34:22

    Dear Po, was on holiday for far too long and missed this discussion. But let me add my penny’s worth: I’m an extrovert married to an introvert with twin sons, one an extrovert and the other an introvert. And we extroverts know we drive introverts crazy if we’re in their company for too long. Someone should have told your ex-workmate this in a nice way because she’s going to have to learn this sooner rather than later. But, we extroverts in the family do our extrovert thing until we drive each other crazy, after which we go and join our introvert other halves and relax totally in their soothing, quiet company. And every so often the introverts join us when we’re busy with our extrovert friends and then they have such a good time that they shock everybody. The point is: live and let live. My introvert and I have done this for 37 years and we intend to continue for many year to come.

    Reply

  8. poseamonkey
    Jun 06, 2012 @ 13:08:45

    Ilse, I would have told my colleague if I realised what was going on! That is the thing, I liked her so much, so I made an effort to hang out with her after work and stuff. It took a long time for me to link me having a nervous break down and my physical symptoms to this problem of introversion because I did not know how my brain processed info and that social interaction made me so tired. Quite frankly, I have never met anyone quite as extroverted as her, ever!

    I guess I am writing this stuff now in retrospect because it was all new to me and quite a shock. I hope other people are more aware of the way their own brainzzz work than me.

    Reply

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