I guess you could call this whole thing an identity crisis. Or maybe just a misdiagnosis crisis. Anyway, things just aren’t adding up–which is to say, I have always self-identified as extroverted mainly because I have great social skills and am generally effusive and enthusiastic. But I was missing one major component: I never admitted to myself that social interaction exhausts me. True extroverts GAIN energy from social interaction. Me? I feel utterly sapped, sucked dry.
I like to come out of my safe underground burrow for brief public appearances and then scurry back inside to rest, recoup and reflect on everything that happened.
While I enjoy social interaction (and am never anxious about meeting new people), it totally depletes me. I feel ragged and undone. I have to hobble back to my nest of pillows and be very, very quiet for awhile.
I routinely avoid parties. I back out of playdates. I need lots of recovery time after church or group activities. I used to think I was just hyper-sensitive about religious group activities, but the reality is that ANY group activity exhausts me—even Bunco!
The thing is, I always self-identified as an extrovert because–in the words of my therapist–I enthuse. I am full of spirit. I thrive on human connection and relish relationships.
But the truth is that I’ve never been able to join anything: moms groups, play-groups, book clubs. I get all torn up and exhausted and prefer to live on the fringe–just observing, taking it all in and singling out one or two people upon whom I devote my attention and energy.
“Maybe you’re just an introvert with excellent social skills,” my therapist suggested.
I chewed on this.
“Writers are generally introverted,” she remarked. “You’re an observer. You reflect. You live inside your head and mull, ponder, turn things over.”
Which is true.
Furthermore, unlike the classic ENFP, I have rarely acted impulsively. Like, ever. Although I’ve always considered myself the impulsive ENFP the truth is that I have lived a very circumspect, disciplined life. Like an ENFP, I do feel everything but I use my words (instead of actions) to express myself.
The odd thing is that I don’t mind public speaking or going on national TV. Yes, I get a little nervous but I can handle it just fine. These things don’t exhaust me. Rather, I’m exhausted by things like family vacations, girls’ weekends (yes, I know, I suck as a girlfriend), dinner parties (if you’ve ever wondered why I rarely entertain? this is why), playdates, double-dates, family dinners, holidays, small groups, baby showers, bridal showers, women’s bible studies.
I don’t know why I’ve never seen this about myself before. Well, actually. I do know why. It’s far better to be extroverted in American society. At least, I think so. Extroverted people are well-liked because they are connectors. We rely on the extroverts to bring people together. The truth is that I love making connection–but then I get all exhausted and need to scurry away and think about it for a long time.
At the end of the Bolivia trip last summer, I left a day early. For one thing, I couldn’t bear being away from my children for one. more.day. The other thing was that I was so utterly spent, so utterly exhausted and TOTALLY depleted that I simply could NOT go on another day. I was such a wreck by the time I got on my final plane flight home, that I needed a Xanax. By the time I landed in Los Angeles, I was practically comatose.
Even after that, I kept thinking I was an extrovert.
Maybe I’m half-and-half? Maybe I’m a borderline introvert/extrovert? Maybe—like almost everything else in my life—I don’t fit neatly into one category.
One last story:
I have never flipped out so badly as I did the one time we went on a family camping trip in a pop-up trailer. When it started raining, there was nowhere for me to go. There was no private space where I could burrow down and hide. I literally had a massive panic attack and had to drive to a nearby hotel to spend the night.
So, all this to say: forgive me for misleading you. Apparently, I don’t know myself as well as I thought I did.
Ah, well. Onward.
Book suggestions for introverts? Hit me up, yo.