If you know me, this may surprise you. You may even disagree. The truth is that I am an extroverted introvert. An introvert can be defined as a shy, reticent person. That’s not the case for me. I am socialable, outgoing, and very far from shy. Some may consider me gregarious and really open. All of this is true. So how on earth do I identify as an introvert? Well first off, another way to define introvert and extrovert is based on how one energizes. I have the traits of an extrovert if you’re defining someone by their evident traits (an outgoing, overly expressive person), but I do not feel energized by being with other people, believe it or not.
This is something I’m understanding more and more the older I get and by regularly attending therapy, which has been extraordinarily helpful. As a child, I had a lot of friends, but I also found peace and solace in writing books by myself or training alone for soccer or basketball. As a teenager, I loved to go for walks in the local forest preserve to just be in nature and not talk to anyone. In college, I pushed myself beyond my comfort zone to party, party, party, but inevitably, I left my sorority in order to live with two girls as opposed to hundreds. Now as an independent adult woman, I enjoy living alone (though I do miss my dear Zoe, my best and favorite roommate). Nowadays, the last thing I want on a Friday night is go out and be with people, trying to yell over loud music somewhere.
Recently in a therapy session, I came in feeling off and then an avalanche of stress and anxiety I’d been carrying just revealed itself. I love the holidays so very much, but I’m also stressed about the amount of social obligations this time of year brings. Plus, work is so busy right now. This is wonderful, but it means that I’m interfacing with people all day, every day, trying to match them with their dream jobs. It is rewarding, but for me, can be draining of my energy. On top of that, there’s a 10 year high school reunion looming that sent me in a surprising tail spin. What’s meant to just be a fun party to catch up to me became a reminder of what a hot mess I was in high school and how unpleasant the my experience in high school was for me as a whole.
I talked to my therapist about how I want to show up for everything as the best version of myself, but the overwhelming pressure is literally manifesting as pain and heaviness in my body. What she said that resonated with me was this: “knowing what I know about you, expectations and control are something you are always seeking”. Never a truer thing was said. Why is this relevant? Well, as someone that has the superficial traits of an extrovert but feels empty by too much social interaction, how the hell do I get through this season without having a breakdown?
First, I’m trying to stop the negative thought cycle. “Catch it, check it, change it”. Stop a negative thought in its tracks, look for evidence for/against it, and then intentionally reframe it. Literally no one cares what size dress I wear, if I’m married or not, if my job is lucrative, if I’m out on the town or at home on the weekends. No one cares as much as I do. The anxiety and stress I’ve created without realizing it was all self-created. The good news is that means I can also deconstruct it and eliminate it by thought stopping and doing what’s best for me; carving out enough time alone to reenergize and feel more whole so that when I do interact with others, it’s meaningful and sincere.
I hope that sharing this may help others with similar anxieties. The reality is that we do have more control than we think, you don’t have to have it all together, and no one is judging you more than yourself. The holidays are a time of heightened awareness to what’s important in life, but for me right now, nothing is more important than mental and physical health. Please be easier on yourselves. Please consider therapy as an option. And please practice self-care.
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