Sometimes you don't have to go anywhere to embark upon a journey and, last year, I embarked upon a pretty life changing one!
Last year (2020), a global pandemic forced us all to stay indoors, unable to venture out to explore or meet our friends and families. I listened to and read about many people who were struggling with this sudden change, missing social interactions and feeling trapped. However, I felt the opposite. Even though I missed my close friends and family, I felt completely free for the first time in my life. I have always felt very overwhelmed with big social gatherings and the things that are supposed to be 'fun' like parties, weddings, drinks out with friends In busy bars and bustling venues- in fact any gathering of more than 6 people would completely overwhelm me and sometimes result in a panic attack. Small talk, having to shout over music, competing to be heard in a group of lots of different people- all wanting to speak. These are not my favourite scenarios to be in! I would beat myself up for my inability to socialise and enjoy being in these situations when everyone around me looked so happy and comfortable. Why was I different? There must be something wrong with me! I would label myself as 'weird' and 'too shy'. I would try to force myself into these situations even though they felt invasive and uncomfortable and, if I occasionally turned an invitation down I would feel terrible about it. This was a loop of anxiety and guilt that I have been trapped in for as far back as I can remember.
Here I was in my flat with my husband, in lock down, happier that I'd felt in a really long time! A feeling of relief filled every day. Each day through Spring and Summer I would be up early to make my coffee and top up the bird feeder, watching as the birds had their breakfast. I would do Qi gong, and then wonder to the beach. I would work alone in my small conservatory, occasionally taking a break to check on the vegetable seedlings growing in my garden pots. In the evenings, I curled up on the sofa and watched my favourite series, maybe stopping to do a little yoga and cooking a yummy dinner. I did this day in, day out and I never got bored. I adored it. There were no invitations to group gatherings, no expectations- and therefore no guilt and no anxiety. Wow! What a feeling.
I was explaining my love of lock down life to my friend and she suggested that I take the Myers Briggs Personality test. I had never heard of it, but I did it and it told me that I am an INFP. I read the description and it was spooky how spot on it was! It revealed to me that I am 97% introverted. Introverted? I didn't really know what this meant and I was a lot of it! So I started to research introversion. I bought an amazing book called 'Introvert Power' by Laurie Helgoe, which helped me to understand introversion and to view it as a super power. It encouraged me to feel truly grateful for it! As an introvert, I have a rich inner world of thoughts, feelings and inspiration. Putting me in a busy room with all the extra outside stimulation is just too LOUD and I drown in it. During this time of discovery, I also realised that being an introvert doesn't make me unsociable. I love my small group of people! I have a few very close friends who I really enjoy spending time with in a quiet environment- maybe a catch up in a cafe over a coffee or a small gathering at my home with a home made dinner. I missed those occasions and I really enjoyed keeping in touch with my friends and family via WhatsApp and phone calls over lock down.
The most important thing I learnt about myself is that I simply NEED quiet spaces and a lot of time by myself to reflect, to recharge, to become inspired and to work through anything that is troubling me. I NEED that space and, without it, my health and wellbeing suffers. In fact, upon this realisation, I thought back to my 18 year old self starting at university, studying music with the hope of becoming a singer. The first year was ok- I despised clubbing- but I would go, because it's what you do when you're that age, although I would usually find myself sat in a lonely corner crying because I felt so uncomfortable and unhappy. In my second year, I developed depression. I was in a class full of singers. People with big dreams and even bigger personalities. There was a lot of confidence in that class and I felt like I was sinking, often unable to even raise my voice enough in a class to be heard. And I sunk. I started skipping classes, unable to work up the confidence I needed to walk in to the room. Eventually I even stopped leaving my bedroom, afraid my bubbly, sociable housemates would see me. I started seeing a therapist and came to the conclusion that I needed to drop out of university and start over. So I did, and it worked. It wasn't until last year though, that I realised why I struggled so much all those years ago. I was an introverted person trying to fit in to an extroverted world. Trying to mould myself and force myself in to being someone else. I was trying to pull myself out of my own personality and develop a new one and it was exhausting. I was in the biggest loop of anxiety and guilt I'd ever been in. It's no wonder I sank so low. I was in a state of permanent overwhelm and I lost myself.
But I didn't learn from that experience. I kept pushing myself to be a singer, despite horrendous stage fright that would linger for months leading up to a performance.. meaning that I was in physical and mental discomfort all of the time! But after 7 years of feeling like that, I finally had enough. I left that world behind and became an artist. A solitary, creative, imaginative field of work which gives me purpose. It was only then, that I began to feel alive- I began to feel like me.
Realising this has empowered me to be more honest with myself and my friends. As we began to come out of the lock down, the invitations and expectations started to arise and, so did my anxiety. I began practicing honouring the introvert and, for the first time, I turned down some group invitations that I knew would land me in a situation that would cause me high stress and anxiety. However, rather than saying 'I would love to come but....', I said 'I hope you have a lovely time, but group gatherings are not for me. I would love to meet up with you for a catchup over coffee though- just the two of us'. This was an honest response explaining that I simply have a different personality. It was such a relief to be true to myself. To BE who I am.
During a time when freedom was restricted, I went on a journey of self discovery and, what I discovered has been life changing. I am 97% introverted and I love it! I no longer feel that I SHOULD be more outgoing. Whenever I'm at a party or a large gathering, I WILL be the one that stands in a group conversation without saying anything. I WILL be the one sitting in a quiet corner. I WILL be the one that spends longer in the bathroom just to get some extra time to escape the NOISE, and I will probably also be one of the first to leave!! This isn't because I don't like the people I'm around! Not at all! This is because I NEED solitude for my wellbeing. And that is perfectly ok! I now feel confident about who I am. I know myself now and I can make choices that are kinder to myself leaving me with a much healthier mindset. I now treasure the things that make me feel alive, instead of apologising for them. So if you are introverted (as around 50% of us are)- please don't feel pressured to fit in to the extroverted world. Embrace your introversion and be true to yourself.
Thank you for reading