I’m an introvert.
If you want to know what that means in general, you can Google it. There are millions of results, and you can read everything from how introverts can survive in the extrovert world, to how to take care of the introverts in your life, to the scientific research that is beginning to prove that, yes, my brain is fundamentally different from yours – if you are not an introvert, that is.
I started thinking last night about what being an introvert means for my life, and maybe more importantly what it means for the people in my life that I care about. So this is more for them that it is for me. It’s my way of explaining what I am to those that aren’t like me. And if you are an introvert, then maybe this is for you, too. For those times when you might need to try to describe what it’s like just being you on a day to day basis.
Venturing out into the world is a painful process for me. It takes preparation. I have to gear up for it. I have to talk myself into it. I literally have to flip an imaginary switch in my head and throw a few internal walls up so that I can deal with external stuff. Like crowds, and talking, and people, and noises and the stuff that a lot of people seem to process with ease, because maybe they aren’t even processing it at all? I don’t just mean leaving the house to hang out at the coffee shop with people. I mean leaving my head, in any way. I need time to get ready for the trek outside of my brain – even if it’s just a few precious minutes to measure my energy and take a few deep breaths.
I am an excellent actress in public. Once the switch is in the ‘on’ position, and the walls of safety have been erected, I can interact and socialize like nobody’s business. I can become the center of attention, and a sparkling conversationalist able to draw out others and make them feel like they are the most interesting and wonderful person on the planet. I do this because it is far easier to have someone else tell me about themselves than for me to talk about…me. Which isn’t to say that I don’t care about what people tell me about themselves – I do. Deeply. I think about it and ruminate on it. And while they’re talking, I get to be quiet and listen and retreat into my head to take a mini-break from having to be ‘on’. That, truly, is pure survival instinct.
There is thought behind every word I utter. Lots and lots of thought. If we’re in the midst of a real conversation and I go quiet, it’s not because I’m ignoring you, and it’s not because I am all of a sudden bored by you. It’s because you have engaged me to such an extent that I now have to retreat a little into myself, think about things, understand my feelings about my thoughts, form an articulate answer that describes said thoughts, run that over in my head, see both sides, revise my additions to the conversation, mull that over, re-form my response, and then open my mouth. No, I’m not kidding. That is all happening in the span of time in which my mouth is closed and you are looking at me awaiting my answer. So apologies if my contribution to our conversation takes a bit of time. It’s not because you’re boring, it’s because you’re interesting. If you were boring, our conversation would never make it to the point where I was quiet.
There is a reason I like repetition. It’s not because I’m a boring person. It’s because I can easily slip into the world in my head while still appearing to be a social butterfly. Part of the reason that I can watch the same movie more than once, or watch repeats of a television show, or read the same book over and over again is that while I’m doing that, I don’t have to think about it. I can instead delve deeper into my thoughts, while still being with you. It’s my way of being inside my head and out in the world at the same time. So, if we go out and I want to do the same thing we did last week, take it as a compliment. What I’m really saying to you is that I like you so much that even though I am not feeling fully charged enough to be anywhere but in my own head, you matter enough to me to want to spend time with you when I’m not completely ready.
I am a terrible actress in private. If you ever get to be one of the few people that I allow in my head, all acting ceases. If I have shared private information about myself with you, if we have shared ideas and thoughts and feelings with one another, if we have connected on a level where I feel comfortable telling you about me, then I am unable to act with you any longer. I think the reason for this is that you are – in a sense – in my head with me. I have allowed you to break through the wall of safety, and chosen to have a bit you you inside my world with me. For this reason, there will be times when I start to feel very emotional during conversations, may start to shake when we are talking about very deep feelings, and may even shed a tear or two when I have offered you a bit of myself. Sharing my inner world with you is the highest compliment I could possibly give you. Even if in the next moment I seem to retreat away into my cocoon – which is a very likely possibility.
When I get back from the outside world, I need to cocoon. Leaving my head requires so much energy. It depletes quickly and if I don’t recharge my stores, I’m useless. There have been times – usually on a Friday afternoon after a very stressful and people-filled week – that I could (and have) just sat and cried for a few minutes because I am completely drained from having to be around so much and so many. Before I get to that point, it’s important for me (and to me) to get into my pj’s, crawl into bed, and just be. Be with a book, be with my thoughts, be alone in my head so I can hear me and so I can process all of the things that I need to process. It doesn’t matter what the situation. Work, parties, social media, phone conversations – anything that is outside myself equates to a drain on my resources. Even spending time with the people I care most about in the world requires energy for me – albeit less than if it’s something like work. Whatever it is, if it happens outside of my own head, I will require time afterward to re-charge my resources. I will require that cocoon. It’s life-giving, this cocooning. It allows me to continue living. Both inside my head, and outside it.
If I am quiet with you, I fucking cherish you. When I am with you, and I am comfortable enough with you to just be quiet, and be in my head whilst in the same space at the same time with you? Oh my god, you have no idea. You can’t know how much that is worth to me because it means that I do not feel the need to be ‘on’ all the time with you, and I love you for that. A deep, all-encompassing, words-can’t-describe-it, brings-me-to-tears love. And if you ask me if me if I’m okay, I will tell you that I am fine. What “I’m fine” means is that I am content and happy and that I would rather be quiet with you than talk to anyone else in the entire world. It is, to me, one of the sweetest feelings in the world, and I am thanking you for it.