mental-health

the introversion diagnosis

August 02, 2016 Roobs Leiser

i’m sick of being called shy. people don’t make me nervous, don’t scare me, don’t intimidate me (much). for years i found myself being the embarrassment of others, found myself being apologised for - ‘she’s just shy’. for years i felt pathetic for not wanting to speak over others, not wanting to be the centre of attention, not wanting to go the party. and for years i told myself that eventually i’d grow up, get a grip, be charming and bubbly and the star of the show. 
but i’m not shy. i’m just chronically introverted. talking to people doesn’t frighten me, it exhausts me. not in a superior, drawling sort of way. i feel like i’ve been used up, that i’m empty. i feel physically, and emotionally, drained. because it takes effort, it takes extra brain power, it takes everything i’ve got to keep myself at level 100 for the duration of a whole night, a whole party, sometimes just a whole conversation. not because the person i’m talking to doesn’t interest me, and not because i’m forcing a conversation out of politeness. the people i love and admire and cherish more than anything in the world tire me out. to a lesser extent, perhaps, than a stranger at a party i’m making small talk with - but still enough to leave me needing a break. 
and for years i felt bad about this. i felt bad that i was boring. that i found myself wanting to go home while everyone else was still having a good time. that, even on christmas day, i’d need to curl up in my bedroom for an hour with a book before i could reappear, feeling replenished. years of going to events i didn’t want to go to because i felt guilty about missing them has not left me any happier than if i’d stayed at home in my sweats. people will call you antisocial, or dull, or sad but, i now realise, staying home because you don’t feel mentally up to it is as valid as staying home because you’ve got a headache. 
as someone with a psychology degree, you’d think i’d have grasped this sooner. as much as the terms ‘introvert’ and ‘extrovert’ are flung about these days by the same people preaching pop psychology 101 about freud and dream interpretation (spoiler: they don’t mean anything, sorry), the two personality dimensions do have an actual chemical & physiological basis within the brain. disclaimer: this is about to get a bit psychological, but it’s necessary to vindicate my ‘we’re not just boring’ claims, so bear with me. 
dopamine is the chemical in our brains that gives us great big whooshes of happiness when we do something pleasurable, take risks, act quickly, or do something new/exciting. a number of studies have shown, using brain scans, that ‘introvert brains’ show a much higher sensitivity to dopamine than ‘extrovert brains’. this means that it takes less to arouse an introvert’s mind - a pro - but also that we can very easily become overstimulated, making us feel anxious and worn out - a definite con. this is why extroverts get more into a party throughout the night, while introverts start to suffer the longer it goes on.
we can also blame our brains for that classic introvert trait of overthinking. the pathway that sensory input (a person’s voice, a new face, an insta pic, something on the tv etc etc) takes is physically longer in an introvert than an extrovert. when an extrovert is having a conversation, the info they receive goes along a pathway in their brain that passes through the bits where sight, sound, taste, and touch are processed - i.e. sensory, corporeal, substantial responses. the introvert pathway, however, goes down a considerably more messy route. when introverts process info, it passes through areas responsible for: empathy, self-reflection, emotional meaning, error perception, speech, self-talk, planning, developing expectation, assessing potential/actual outcomes, long-term memory. is it really any wonder that it can be so hard for us to make small talk, if every bit of new info we receive takes such a long - and complex - route through the brain? 
but the brain isn’t the only culprit. we should also condemn our nervous system - which has two sides. one side is the sympathetic nervous system (hitting the accelerator), the other side is the parasympathetic nervous system (slamming on the brake). using the sympathetic side releases adrenaline & dopamine - which gets you pumped up, alert, ready to go - but decreases thinking. using the parasympathetic side releases acetylcholine - which relaxes your muscles, stimulates deep thinking - but decreases your readiness for action. both types of people use both sides, of course, but brain scan studies show that introverts prefer the calmer, slower parasympathetic side. duh.
basically: it’s not our fault. and while most people won’t be completely introverted or extroverted all the time, and will exist on more of a spectrum, i still think it’s important - for the sake of your wellbeing - to remember to give yourself a break if you just can’t be bothered going to the party. there will be more parties. and, i promise you, going to a party that you don’t want to go to, and getting drunk to try and make it better rather than because you wanna get drunk, and trying to force yourself to have fun because you think you should be having fun, will not make you have fun. it will make you resentful, and annoyed, and unhappy. and you will wish, more than anything, that you’d stayed in and binge-watched ‘stranger things’ and cuddled your pet. 
don’t force yourself into social situations you don’t feel up to, don’t be made to feel boring, don’t let people make excuses for you, don’t be reduced to ‘just shy’. 
xoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxox


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