Having just spent a wonderful, fun weekend away with dear friends I have a confession to make – I don’t want to see/speak/interact with anyone for at least a week, maybe more. The reason is I’m exhausted. No, not just hung from drinking too much (although I’m sure it helped) or listless from eating my own body weight in food at every meal, but simply because being social wears me out.
All that laughter, conversation and good company I loved at the time leaves me feeling like my Apple Mac when that dreaded swirling rainbow appears after– warning, operation system low, no power left, lower the lifeboats there’s going to be a crash…
You see, I am an introvert. Rather than let me try to explain, this description I read recently perhaps says it best:
The key difference [between introverts and extroverts] is how the person recharges. Which environment best juices your batteries? Some people charge their batteries by surrounding themselves with other people; those are the extroverts. Being alone in focused solitude is draining for extroverts. Others charge their batteries by finding alone time; those are introverts. Being in a social setting is draining for introverts.
Well-rested introverts can (theoretically) handle large, intense social situations just fine if they’ve had time to recharge. Similarly, if an extrovert has had plenty of time to be around people and find that stimulation they crave, staying home alone isn’t going to feel as crippling as if you ask them to do so on Friday night after they’ve been cooped up in an office all week.
It’s also helpful to think of introversion and extroversion as being somewhat similar to being right or left handed. Most of us will be one or the other, but writing with your right hand doesn’t render your left hand inert. Similarly, an extroverted person can still do things that aren’t typically associated with extroversion. Meanwhile, introverts can learn to adapt to more extroverted scenarios, even if it might not come as naturally.
Ask anyone who knows me, especially those I played with in the 90s, and they will argue it is impossible someone as vivacious, people and party loving as I was, could be anything other than a raging, whistle-blowing, loud and lush extrovert. Hell, I thought I was too. But I’m not, or at least I’ve changed, and discovering this has been a vital key to finally unlocking a sense of emotional contentment I long craved.
For a while there, I thought I may never get off the seesaw of high and low energy levels, positive and negative thoughts, looking in the mirror and saying “you’re a good person, hold your head high” and “you are a disgrace to humanity and everyone knows it”.
You don’t have to be Blind Freddie reading the above to see I’ve had problems with depression throughout my life. In fact, until the last few years, I’d say all of it. I copped it in the genes from both parents and well, my childhood, teen years and life’s obstacles only aided and abetted its persistent return in guises from mild blah grey to the deepest pits of hell and despair black.
For a while there, I wondered if I was actually bipolar – as did my therapist when I finally sought treatment – but I am not. When I get depressed I am a foetal ball that can’t move a muscle. There’s no low dip after a high, just a subtle slide down, down, down in to the darkness.
What I see now was happening was that I was not allowing myself time to recharge, to be alone, to say nothing and just be after socially active periods. Instead, I would believe such plateaus were a depression descending which, dammit, I refused to accept or needed to block, forcing me out the door and back to people and alcohol and the pressure to be up – the very triggers that shot me down in the first place.
When I kept doing this long enough, a real depression inevitably descended, making me again believe it was the reason all along for my social ennui, and so the cycle continued. Unlocking what was really going on has been a Godsend. I now know myself, my strengths and limitations, and how to adapt to them.
These days I have a life philosophy of being as real and honest as I can possibly be, which is why I have felt forced to cull myself of certain friends over the last few years.
Gone are the ones who I felt I had to be a performing seal around – the life of the party, the entertaining court jester amusing fellow guests at their soirees. Gone too are the guilt trippers, so-called friends complaining, “we never see you”, “we thought you were dead”, “you never go anywhere”. When the guilt got too much for me and I did go out against my better judgement, they were the same ones complaining, “Is there something wrong with you?” “You don’t seem yourself” or “Who is in a bad mood then?”
Nope, my real friends these days are the ones I can be honest with, who understand and respect the limitations of my emotional make-up and don’t take it personally - wonderful, understanding, loving and non-judgmental types such as the woman who runs this site.
I can call Mia and tell her I am not up to going somewhere and she will not only understand and empathise, she’s likely to drop me around some chocolate and magazines and bottle of bubble bath to ensure my alone time is as enjoyable as it can be.
The funny paradox is, of course, that I always want to see Mia because I know I can be myself completely with her - that I am understood and whether I am ready to jump on a podium or need to crawl under one to hide.
Wendy Squires has been a journalist for more than 20 years, starting work at News Ltd as a cadet journalist before moving to New York where she worked, lived and wrote for several years. Upon her return she edited Cleo and Australian Style magazines as well as holding senior positions on Elle, Mode, Who Weekly, Madison, Woman's Day and the Australian Women’s Weekly. She released her first novel, The Boys’ Club, based on her brief experience working as a network television publicist in 2010, and is working on another. In 2011 she moved to Melbourne where she now writes a regular opinion column for The Age and freelances for numerous publications. You can follow her on twitter here.
Are you an introvert or an extrovert?