Confessions of a closeted introvert
I don’t know how I missed it. How it skipped my classrooms, my books, my conversations with parents and friends, but I had not even heard of the word “introvert” until I was 16. Before then, I just though I was weird, anti-social, a loner, or depressed. After I discovered the term, I finally realized I didn’t have a weird condition, that I wasn’t an alien. I was just like J.K. Rowling, my most favorite person in the world.
I now had an identity, and yet nothing had changed. I couldn’t just walk into class next day and tell my biology teacher that I am an introvert and prefer doing this assignment on my own (well I already was doing it ALL on my own, but I would at least appreciate receiving all the credit for it). I couldn’t use it as a response for every time my parents called me anti-social or depressed, telling me I need to get out more often, that staying in and reading all day wasn’t good for me. My world had changed for an entire hour and then went back to exactly the way it was. I was once again, a closeted introvert.
Pretending to be an extrovert didn’t turn out to be so difficult. I eased right into it as soon as I realized I shouldn’t be preferring reading Charlotte’s Web over riding my bike with the other girls my age in the neighborhood. I had to be like them, or at least pretend I was, if I didn’t want to be picked on. I needed to love riding bikes and braiding each other’s hair (although my hair was always too short to be braided) if I wanted to survive the children’s kingdom. And already being the target of bullies for physical attributes (all of which I could never change), I really wanted to survive. Maybe I am actually very good at acting (I always did dream of being an actress), or maybe my natural survivor instincts always kick in at the right time, either way, I managed to fool almost everyone.
My family wasn’t as easy to fool though. They would overhear when I canceled plans because “something unexpected happened,” and it’s quite impossible to miss a fully grown 16-year-old who was always at home when not at school, so they made me feel guilty about it. Their statistics showed that 100% of people want to socialize ALL the time and that I will never be successful in life, as unsocial, shy people can never advance in today’s world. “The world is full of wolves, there is no place for lambs like you,” they would say.
I was 18 when Susan Cain’s book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, was published. I heard it was the most magnificent thing that has happened to introverts since texting and the Internet. Even the title brought shivers down my spine. “A world that can’t stop talking.” Oh boy, does this book get me or what? A couple of months later, our local library actually got copies of the book and I was first on the hold list. There it was. Finally. A book about people like me, a book that taught me I’m not alone, I just think I am because all my peers are in hiding, just like me. I learned that the number of introverts is way higher than I could have imagined. Also that we can be just as successful in life as an extrovert can, that people often misread us and misjudge, and that our classrooms and workplaces are not designed for people like us. I also learned that this changed nothing.
My new understanding of myself, my epiphany of sorts, did not, in any way, change the fact that I had to drag myself miserably off the couch once a week and away from Liz Lemon, Leslie Knope, or my new favorite book to go out and seem “normal.” That I should force myself to sit beside colleagues and engage in conversations during lunch even though my very socially-active job had already drained the life out of me. I am not antisocial, and I do not hate people as many assume introverts do, it is just as if the social interactions take something away from me as opposed to a nice book that gives me something special, a magical source of energy that keeps me running.
My body completely agrees with me on this matter, as if I am actually allergic to too much social interaction. If I do not get those 4-5 hours of alone time, my brain will let me know that it is about to explode. Headaches, red eyes, and other actual physical symptoms appear telling me they really want me to go home. Yet, I just can’t. The university I apply to wants me to be extremely socially active, be a leader, be a member of teams and of numerous clubs. My employer wants me to “highly agree” with “loving teamwork” or “working with others.” My parents want me to act like a “normal teenager” and go out with friends at least twice a week. The truth is, this world is no place for an introvert like me. Unless I am willing to say “Screw it!” run to the woods, and end all social interactions with the civilized world, I am bound to act as an extrovert in order to go to college, get a job, and get my parents’ and peers’ approval.
I am sorry if this essay was not what you might have imagined. It was not about how I, a closeted introvert, came out to the world and life went on exactly the same, no, even far better than before because I was myself. Instead, I tried being myself for a week and things were miserable. These were confessions of a closeted introvert who just wishes she could be herself and live the life she wants at the same time.