My dear friends,
How are you? It seems like an age since we last spoke, and even longer since I last saw you. I understand that you must see me as a terrible friend. I hardly make time to see you anymore. I don’t seem to start conversations on messenger. I rarely text or give you a call. And I want to tell you why.
I need you to know a little bit about me. I am an introvert. This does not mean that I am shy, reserved, or antisocial. It means that I gain my energy from being alone and I find lots of social interaction draining. I also have social anxiety. Being around people causes high levels of anxiety for me. The two together are not an easy mix to live with.
First let me explain how being an introvert affects my everyday life. I have always been the quietest person in the group – especially in social situations. This is not new to you. During the week, I use up my people energy in work, socialising with my colleagues and clients. It’s like the little hearts along the top of your screen during a computer game; the more you play the lower your hearts get until you need to stop to recharge them. I use my weekends to regain this energy. Without this time to re-cooperate I suffer what I like to call a “people hangover”. I become grouchy, withdrawn and even more quiet (a technique to save what little energy I have left). You have seen this happen before, on nights out and at parties.
Social anxiety is a little different. This is more fear based. The fear of being judged by others. Unlike introversion, social anxiety is made not born. Something in our lives causes us to believe that we are not worthy.We start to worry too much. The fear of judgement of what I say or do outweighs my ability to rationalise the situation, causing some of the typical signs of anxiety.
I need you to know that I do not hate people and I do not hate you. I love and care about you. I have grown up believing that to be a good friend I must accept invites out; grown-ups go out on a Friday night to have fun and brunch on Sundays. They use the weekends like a child does lunch time; it’s a time to play and have fun with others. Over the years, I have noticed that the amount of events I’m invited to has decreased. I imagine that this is because I’ve turned so many down or dropped out at the last second. But I need to use this time to look after myself. I want to snuggle down on my sofa with the cat and binge watch Netflix. I want to read the book that is sat on my table. I want to paint and draw, and take long walks around the Cornish coast. It is important that you understand that this is not because I am anti-social or because I have lost interest in you. It’s what I need.. Socialising with you is important to me. It’s vital to my mental health, but only when I have the energy. After all, you wouldn’t drive a car without the petrol to fuel it.
I need time to think on social events. The more information you can give me, the better. What is the plan? Where are we going? How many will be there and how many of these will I know? Whilst at the event I need my own space to talk to people. Please don’t force me into conversations or leave me with strangers. I’d like us to agree on an exit strategy, in case it all gets too much for me. This might be a phrase I can say to you when I had enough or a way to leave without awkward questions the next day.
The day after, I need time to relax and recover from any “people hangover” that might have occurred, so please do not expect me to be free for lunch or to have put up any photographs first thing. There are times that I feel unable to deal with being social. I feel ashamed for being weak and unable to cope. I constantly remind myself again and again that being an introvert is a strength and not a weakness.
The most important thing you need to understand is that I love and care about you. I am interested in your life, I’m just never sure how to make you see that. I don’t do small talk. I know it’s essential in maintaining strong relationships, I just don’t really understand it or how to make it. I might not start a casual conversation with you but I do want to know what is going on. If you could just drop me messages now and again, I would appreciate it. I cannot make that first move to strike up conversation. So let me know how you are feeling, about your new job or car, about your family.
Introverts are a major part of the society and around 10% of the UK suffer from social anxiety. The two added together make up a big chunk of the population. We need to be involved in the community and with our friends. Allow us to be us and please do not forget about us. Don’t be the person who makes us feel guilty for not going out and socialising, we already feel the guilt and shame and we put enough pressure on ourselves.
Dear friends, I hope that this has helped you to have a little more understanding on why I am how I am.
If you feel socially anxious, shy or like you’re not good enough, Gemma has one clear message for you: You’re not alone. Gemma has personally experienced this too, and she understands how it can hold a person back in certain aspects of life. Now, Gemma shares tips and stories using her own insights and those of other people. Gemma is passionate about encouraging others to celebrate their quiet strengths, grow in confidence and move forwards in life. You’ll find Gemma writing for our blog, running our social media accounts, supporting people at our gatherings or, in true introvert-style, she’ll be out in nature with her camera on another Cornish adventure.