Much of my life I’ve probably seemed like a model introvert from the outside. Generally preferring to stay in, not outgoing, and quiet. But over the years, I’ve noticed that many of those traits come from a place of anxiety rather than what I’d prefer to do. Often I’ll avoid going out, not because I’m going to feel better being alone, but just the idea of going out can feel overwhelming. Notably, I don’t necessarily feel more rewarded, fulfilled, or recharged when I’m alone, but more bored than anything. When I can over come my anxiety, I actually end up feeling more energized around people. Though I do feel my social skill lacking, probably stunted due to long years of social anxiety, which of course then feeds back on it self to create more anxiety. That’s not to say I’m necessarily an extrovert with social anxiety, but if introversion/extroversion are taken as a spectrum, I may actually find myself somewhere closer to the middle rather than full introversion.
While I’ve been noticing for a while that a lot of my “introvert qualities” come from a less than healthy place, the COVID-19 pandemic has somewhat forced the issue fully into the light for me. There’s been many jokes and memes about introverts have been practicing for the pandemic lock downs their entire lives. And while I do recognize that extended lock downs can end up being detrimental to the mental health of introverts as well as the non-introverted, but my admittedly non-scientific observations of introverts I know points to many of them thriving better than most. I have not. In fact, even my normally solitary activities ran out of steam quickly. A few weeks in I found myself bored and in just a general mental malaise, which seem to match the feeling of those in my non-scientific observations that seem more extroverted. Admittedly there’s a ton of asterisks that can be added here. There are introverts who fared worse than their peers and extroverts who fared better. There are also other factors involved such being in lock down totally alone verse with family/friend/roommates, still having a job even if remote versus not actually having to do anything at all, and the length of time in lock down.
At the end of the day, I have to consider whether my social anxiety has made me live the life of an introvert without the “mental rewards” that true introverts get out of those particular choices. Even when I avoid social activities, I do so with far more regret than relief and invariably always feel rewarded and fulfilled when I can overcome my anxiety and actually participate in social activities. Prior to the pandemic, I was making some real strides in this area. I was going out more, meeting more people, and the thought of dealing with employees at a store or restuarant wasn’t nearly as panic inducing. That had a profound impact on my overall mental wellbeing and even made those solitary tasks like reading more enjoyable. I’m pretty sure I painted and read more when I was more socially active. Right now my hope is that I don’t lose all that progress when things go back to normal. It’s not as simply as overcoming the anxiety(obviously not a simple task in of itself either), but also trying to tear down the feed back loops in my habits that are fed by the anxiety but also reinforce it. As I mentioned earlier, I’m probably not a secret extrovert either, but I want make sure what introvert qualities I may have are actually part of who I am rather than the symptom on crippling social anxiety and at teh same time I’m going to try to push the limits on the extrovert end of the spectrum to see where my boundaries are and hopefully it’s not to late to learn some social skills. It’ll likely end out being about balance for me. Even at 36 years old, I’m not even entirely sure who I am on a rather basic level, but I think I’m getting closer.