I’ve been reading this wonderful book, “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Won’t Stop Talking” by Susan Cain. This book is fascinating and comforting. Thanks to the friend that recommended it to me, or else I probably would never have heard of it, much less bought a copy.
I was the kid my mother labeled as “painfully shy”. I was the adult that the doctors labeled “Social Anxiety Disorder”. When I was young, I was the bright kid in the back of the room, contemplating coming to school in some sort of full camouflage so that I would never get called on in class. If I didn’t understand something, I suffered quietly through. There was no way I was raising my hand and calling attention to myself so that everyone in school would know what an idiot I was. I made my way through school not living up to my potential, because I had no clue how. I could not function in the world that I was being forced every day to be a part of. I was stressed, anxious and overwhelmed. I hyperventilated nearly every single day of my high school career. Why? Because a teacher called on me, or because I had to give some sort of oral presentation. Every day, in the girls bathroom, hyperventilating and afraid I was going to throw up on my shoes. My mother had no clue. Classroom group work was a particular kind of punishment. I would rather have been drawn and quartered. Literally. I had a small group of friends, but only one or two that I would say I regularly did any sort of socializing with. One on one with someone who took the time to get to know me? I was fine with that. I was comfortable. Parties? Who ever said parties were fun? I didn’t think so. Parties were stressful and gave me a headache. I remember my senior year of high school I was actually asked out on a date. A date itself might not have been so bad, but he invited me to a youth group function at his church. Yay, lots of people. I didn’t know any of them. It was possibly one of the most agonizing nights of my life, and I cannot even imagine how the poor guy felt. I remember the discomfort so distinctly, because here I was on my very first date, and I was miserable. Halfway through the evening, this guy comes along and stops in front of where my date and I were sitting. He stood there a minute and then said that we reminded him of the painting, American Gothic. I was so embarrassed.
Fast forward a few (okay a lot) of years and here I am, happily living in my own little world. I go to work, I come home, I take care of my daughter, and that pretty much sums it all up. All of my life I have been labeled as shy, as anxious, as quiet, aloof, cold, standoffish, thought to be a snob, and probably a dozen other labels if I could think of them off-hand. I have a very small group of friends now. My best friend in all the world lives nowhere near close to me and we may see each other once a year. I don’t go out with my girlfriends, my sisters have their own busy lives, and although we talk often, we don’t have any girl’s nights going on. I have a couple of nephews who are great enough to hang out with me some whenever they are in town, which I always enjoy, but I have heard, more than once from people, “you should get out more.” My question is why?
All my life I have felt inferior because of my preference for solitude over people. I have felt like I was not normal, that I was some kind of freak because being with people stresses me out, and is in no way relaxing. Crowds make me claustrophobic, and I prefer working alone. I have a job where I deal with the public. I like my job. When I’m working, I can deal with the people around me, and I have some customers that I really like and would consider friends even. After work, I do not need to go and be around more people. That is not relaxing. Sure, an occasional dinner or movie with one or two friends or family is fun, don’t get me wrong, I’m not a recluse or anything, but there’s a limit to how much “fun” I can handle. I’ve always felt that I was not good enough the way I was. I felt my shyness got in my way, that I could never be successful or never chase down my dreams because I didn’t know how to live in that loud, extroverted world that existed all around me. I felt society wanted me to change who I was in order to accept me. Even my best friend frets over the fact that I don’t get out of the house, or have any “adult” company. She fears for my mental well-being. She wants me to join the knitting group at the local yarn shop. What she fails to realize is that maybe she can enjoy the company of a dozen women while sitting around drinking coffee and happily knitting up charity scarves, but that would stress me out. I can sip tea while knitting up charity scarves all in the comfort of my living room while wearing my pajamas. She fears that once my child is grown and leaves home that I am going to be lonely and miserable. I probably will be lonely when my daughter is gone, but miserable? I don’t think so.
Do I get lonely sometimes? Sure I do. I don’t mind being alone, in fact, I’ve come to treasure being alone. Does that mean that from time to time I don’t wistfully wish for someone to curl up on the sofa with? No. Sometimes I do. Sometimes I do wish for that intimate kind of company from someone who doesn’t care that I’d rather stay home than go out, from someone who understands that just because I’m quiet doesn’t mean that something’s wrong, it just means I have nothing to say. I’m not bitter and I don’t dislike my life. Sometimes I do crave companionship, but I’m not so desperate that I’d settle for the wrong kind of companion. There’s a big difference between being alone and being lonely. Most of the time I’m simply alone. I wouldn’t turn away the chance of finding someone I wanted to spend my life with, but I’ve also found that dating is quite the extroverted game and after marrying young and being married many years, I just find dating awkward. The whole getting to know you stage is something I’m not good at. It’s not that I don’t want to get to know you, or that I can’t think of things to ask you about yourself, I’m just too “painfully shy” to ask you. My love life, or lack of, is probably a topic best kept for another day. Or avoiding entirely. I’ll go with the latter.
Reading this book has been one of the best things I’ve done recently. Sure, maybe it’s all common sense in a way, but it comforts me to know that I’m not some freak of nature. (well, I may be, but that’s another subject entirely) Solitude fuels my soul, loud parties do not. This book has given me hope that I do not have to change who I am to thrive in this world. I no longer have to wonder why I can’t be like everyone else, or make myself feel bad because I’m not. It’s okay to not crave the hustle and bustle. It’s okay to not be the loudest person in the room. It’s okay to not want to be a leader, but to be the one that follows directions. It’s okay to want nothing more than to curl up with a book every night. It’s okay to not live by the rules society is trying to press upon me.
I can stop wondering why I can’t be like everyone else, and start embracing the fact that I never will be. It has nothing to do with being shy, or having Social Anxiety Disorder, or being ADD for that matter. I am shy. I am also an introvert. If that means I have Social Anxiety Disorder because I want to pull out chunks of my hair and run screaming from the room when I’m in a forced social situation, then I’m okay with that too. Yes, there are some things that must be done, however distasteful I find them. There are times I’m going to have to pick up the phone to make appointments or other necessary phone calls. I put these off. It’s a struggle to talk to people I do not know, even if necessary. Once, my car insurance lapsed, because my payment got mixed up and when I got the letter I kept putting off going by the insurance office because it was just so hard. That was pretty pathetic. Since that time I have come to terms with the fact that I have to take care of business even when I find it difficult or distasteful. Go by the insurance office. Talk to the agent. Hyperventilate in the car afterward. It’s all good. So, I’m painfully shy. I don’t go around telling people to quiet down, so why should people go around telling me I need to talk more??
I have not finished this book, but am enjoying the comfort I am gleaning from its pages and the slow realization that there is nothing wrong, that I do not need to change. I do not have to live by society’s rules. I do not have to feel like I’m the one with the problem. I used to think that people who were born extroverts were lucky. Now I’m not so sure.