I work in a very social profession. I work with people. Many people, day after day. I make phone calls, attend meetings, send emails, manage groups, participate in discussions, collaborate, inform, petition, intercede, and support. I lead, spending large parts of my days in the “spotlight,” being the decision-maker.
I am surrounded by people.
I love my job. Anyone who knows me knows that about me. It can be difficult and stressful, but I love it.
It is a very social career, and I… I am not a social person.
I am an introvert in a job best suited for extroverts.
I can fake it for a while, but at some point, my stores become completely depleted.
The term is social introversion.
I am best suited for my home. I do not need to be surrounded by groups of people to feel happy. In fact, large groups of people make me nervous.
I hate small talk. I am actually really bad at it. I never think to ask casual work acquaintances how they will spend their weekends. If they ask me first, I reciprocate, but I do not think of it first. I care about the fact that my colleague’s husband might be sick, but I worry that I might be prying by asking.
I do my job well because I understand it, I know what is expected of me, and I love meeting and surpassing expectations. But the social aspects of my job that are not my “actual” job are parts that I rarely have the energy to accomplish.
A few weeks ago, I told someone that I struggle to interact with people outside of my regular duties at work. She expressed surprise. I said, “I’m not very strong socially, and I know it. I try, but I am tired.”
She said, “I think you picked a funny career then.”
Maybe my career choice is ironic in light of this information, but I believe that there are a number of social introverts in professions best suited for extroverts.
This is my attempt to encourage them as well as myself.
I am an introvert.
I need quiet time. I need to sit on my couch with reruns of The Office or my Kindle or my well-loved copy of Pride and Prejudice or my cross stitching and just not be talked to. I need long runs on country roads or winding trails. I need hot baths and peaceful Sundays. I need yoga sessions that allow me to meditate and pay attention to my own breathing. I need quiet moments with Saint Daddy nearby and no other concerns because he appreciates silence as much as I do.
After spending a full day at work, I need a chance to not talk for a little while. After a full week, I need to stay in bed with a book for an hour and just be.
I am not energized by socialization. I am exhausted by it.
I am an introvert.
But I am a social introvert.
Some situations do bring out my best side. I am “on” while performing my duties at work because it brings me joy. I could spend entire days with my family or closest friends and not feel completely drained. I am shy when I first meet people, but once I warm up, I am a loyal and dedicated friend. I would do nearly anything for almost anyone. I love being helpful. I love being needed. I love filling a need.
I am well-suited for certain social situations, even if I need quiet time to survive them.
Because of my nature as a social introvert, I may appear to others as something other than what I am. If I feel comfortable with someone, I am warm with them. If I meet someone new, I can appear standoffish and rude.
After hours of being “on,” I run out of the energy to fake it anymore. I become easily agitated and, again, appear rude.
I need to be surrounded by silence or, at the very least, by people who appreciate my silence.
What happens when I am not?
The phrasing that I use is that “I am not a good version of me.”
The me who has been overwhelmed by social situations is anxious. I am hyper-aware of my thoughts and feelings. I begin to overanalyze every word that comes out of my mouth. I fear that I have crossed lines. I do not feel adept at casual social interaction and I begin to imagine the worst scenarios. My brain cannot handle it, and I want to get out of those situations quickly without making a fool of myself.
The things I do to not appear a fool…
In these situations, when my anxiety begins, it is not uncommon for me to go from enjoying myself to quickly deciding that no one wants me there at all.
I have been in more than a few group conversations when we were all laughing and enjoying the moment and my brain said, “I bet they would be having just as much fun without you here. They might even prefer if you just left. Just think what they’re thinking of you that they won’t say.”
This sort of social anxiety caused by my introversion also means that, when I am depleted, interactions that would otherwise be taken lightheartedly will be seen as more serious than they are. When I feel depleted, and the light switch does not work and Saint Daddy says, “you were the last one to use it. What did you do to it?”, I do not hear “let’s figure this out.” I hear, “What did you do wrong? You mess everything up!”
I do not know statistics on people with anxiety who are also social introverts. I looked for a statistic on Imposter Syndrome because I wondered, but I did not look for one this time.
I like to imagine that, if no one else, other people with anxiety can understand my thoughts. They can understand how I can go from feeling at peace to being convinced that the world is not on my side.
I am trying all of the time. I consider myself a work in progress. I will never stop trying to improve myself. Not until I am dead.
Yesterday, I was thinking about myself, who I am and what I have done. The person I am now is better suited to handle myself when my resources start to deplete than I was even a year ago. I feel brighter. I know when to seek my refuge, and I do so as soon as I can. I ask more questions. I make more small talk. It is painful sometimes, but I see it as a good sign that I can do it.
I will be a social introvert all of my life. I will need peace and quiet to recharge before interacting with groups. I will have anxiety all of my life.
But I will not let any of these things define me.
Sometimes, anxiety does run my life, but I refuse to let it do so without a fight.
I will always fight.