A tweet never sent:
All of my greatest accomplishments were achieved while ever so slightly intoxicated.
Lately it seems every time I turn on the interwebs they are feeding me something about introverts and extroverts. Either this is a suddenly chic topic or I’m currently hyper-attuned to it because I’ve been giving it some long overdue thought.
I’ve been giving it thought not because it’s new to me, or because I’m figuring myself out. I’ve always known I’m an introvert. And anyone who’s ever known me would surely agree.
I’ve been giving it thought because introversion, for me, ain’t the half of it. That’s what I’m realizing, anyway. I’ve also known for a long time that I have what’s called social phobia, or social anxiety disorder. But I’ve only recently had the a-ha moment that introversion and social phobia are not the same thing. I can’t believe it’s taken me so long to see this.
I could cut and paste a definition of social phobia from the interwebs. I could explain it in layman’s terms. Or I could just say that when I’m out of my comfort zone, I tend to freak out. Klaxons sound, my shields go up, and I come across as a real weirdo. My head and feet pull back inside my tortoise shell, and they don’t come out until they know the coast is clear. This results in awkward verbal and non-verbal behavior on my part. In other words, I lose all sense of how to behave like the real me.
I’ve been giving this some thought because I’ve never realized how weird this must be for other people. I’ve always been focused on my own sense of self/comfort/security, etc. I’ve never really sat back and understood just how insane I must seem to other people when I raise my shields like I sometimes do.
I’m not nuts. I’m not socially incompetent (well, not entirely). I couldn’t have done what I wrote about here if I were. I’m reasonably successful in my life and work. This is because I know the people I live and work with. When I’m in my comfort zone, I’m witty, engaging, caring, considerate, and not at all bad company.
Outside of my comfort zone, though, I’m kind of like Rain Man, except without the mad counting skills.
And as I said, it’s because I’m not just an introvert. Lots of people are introverts, and lots of introverts are able to function just fine outside of their comfort zone, meeting new people, going to parties and what not. Some even talk about how they can hop onto a stage and deliver a speech, for example, as part of their job, so long as they can retreat to their own space afterwards to recharge.
I used to not believe people when they told me they were introverts. I didn’t believe them because I saw they were able to be pleasant and engaging and behave naturally when meeting new people or interacting in unfamiliar situations. I thought these people were incorrectly identifying as introverts, because I’d tested as an introvert, and I wasn’t consistently able to do those things, like them. To sort of fake it for a while, like them. I wasn’t able to do those things, really, at all.
If I were just an introvert, I would probably be just fine. But that combined with social anxiety disorder, or social phobia, is a double-whammy. A nasty cocktail. A real bitch, actually.
My older daughter turned five today. That meant birthday party. That meant engaging with other parents. For me, this can be unreasonably stressful.
If these were parents I knew and had built relationships with, preferably through the kind of one-on-one interactions I’m most comfortable with, and whose company I’d already come to enjoy, this would be fine, and probably great fun.
If these were parents I’d never met, I would dread it. I would wish that time would slow down, or come to a stop, so I wouldn’t have to go through with the event. Or that time would skip right over it, and it would be done. Or that I would have to work, and therefore miss it.
Guess which one it was today? Hint: What am I writing about?
Luckily, my daughter wanted a bowling party, and the brand-new, upscale place we held it at was 1) dark, 2) noisy, and 3) good at throwing kids’ parties. This meant I had to do next to nothing insofar as being overtly sociable. My social anxiety was hidden by cover of darkness and noise and someone else acting as host. This left me with just my introversion to contend with. And I can contend with just my introversion, just like normal introverts, even when I would prefer not to. I can understand the need to make a bit of small talk with other parents. That it was dark and noisy, and that we were forced into a situation where the only possible kind of interaction was one-on-one, in between pleasant distractions of each child taking their turn at bowling, or eating pizza, or playing an arcade game, was perfect for me. I can do that with (relative) ease. What I mean is, it’s not easy, but I can do it.
But if they’d stopped all the bowling, turned off the music, and turned on the lights, I would have felt the ground falling out from under my feet. I would have lost the ability to context simple comments. To follow a story being told. To nod, smile, or laugh at appropriate times. I would have come across as some kind of weirdo or asshole.
So I get it now, introverts. You really are introverts. You really don’t like what you sometimes have to do, but you can do it, and you really do need alone time to recharge afterwards.
The tweet never sent that I quoted above was intended as a joke. I don’t remember why I thought it was funny at the time, but I never sent it, so I must not have thought it was all that funny anyway. But there’s a good bit of truthiness to it. I killed the Best Man’s speech at my brother’s wedding. I mean, I wrote and delivered (after a practice run) what might possibly have been the best, most heartfelt microphone speech in front of what (to me) was a heinous number of people that was ever delivered. Okay, maybe not, but it was pretty dadgum good. A couple of strategically timed shots of vodka beforehand helped. And afterwards, I had people coming up to tell me I should go into public speaking. It reminded me of another time when I did an Elvis impersonation in front of an audience. Afterwards, I had girls lining up wanting to meet me (that’s another story entirely).
But in both cases, some awkward conversations ensued with those people. I hadn’t practiced them like I had the speech (or the Elvis impersonation). The lights were bright. And there was no music or pleasant distraction. I felt the ground falling out from under me and I lost the ability to context simple comments. To follow a story being told. To nod, smile, or laugh at appropriate times. I’m sure I came across as some kind of weirdo or asshole.
Which is a shame, because I killed that speech. And I can be entertaining when I find my comfort zone. And I used to have a pretty mean Elvis, when that kind of thing mattered to me.
But I would rather be sitting in a dark corner watching someone else doing it, and watching everyone else watching.