I’m an introvert and a proud one at that, but it can come at a price. I’ve realised that I’ve developed habits over the years that are fuelled by my reaction to social environments, one of them my friends know all too well; The Disappearing Act.
I flourish in my own environment, I’ve always maintained a clean and tidy room, my cave, my comfort. I can spend a day in bed reading or writing and feel energised and content. I don’t NEED human interaction, not daily anyway. I went a while without a phone last year and I was content to be left alone with my thoughts. I am happy in my own space with my own mind. I like to take that back seat and take in everything around me, I like to study people I meet and learn about them through observation, people often notice I will bring up small things they wouldn’t think I knew or would remember.
That’s not to say that I don’t enjoy socialising, chatting the night away and meeting new people. In fact I thrive off of that too, the buzz of meeting someone with similar interests to myself, the joy of seeing old friends or the fun of a party with complete strangers. A huge part of my job is being the forefront of a business, interacting with strangers, as well as leading my team, and building great relationships, and I like that. But that enjoyment comes at a price to me. The moment I’m left alone with my thoughts, the second that I’m distracted from the entertainment everything goes South. A distraction could be anything from realising that I’m hungry, thinking of the next day’s list of jobs, to simply using the bathroom. Once it hits I can’t remove that feeling, I can’t escape it.
I start to feel sluggish and have to force a smile. I start to fiddle with my bag or clothes and I lose concentration when conversing. I watch the time pass by wondering if it would be a reasonable time to leave. How long have I been here? What excuse can I make to leave? Then I worry. I worry I’m seeming uninterested or rude so I wander off. I come up against that fight or flight moment as I wonder if it would be okay to leave or if I should. It might pass I always think. It doesn’t. It swells around me as though the walls are closing in, I might feel a bit dizzy or even sick.
I don’t always intend to disappear without a goodbye but a lot of the time it happens. My close friends know by now that if I disappear it will be because I have reached my limit. My social quota has been filled and there’s no room for overflow. Sometimes I don’t come across that barrier, I don’t have that ‘moment’ and I can last all night and be the last person to leave but other times I sneak off, unnoticed and head home to return to my cave of solitude/ my partner.
I have been noticing this since my friend visited me from America last Spring. She stayed with me over the five days and is one of my closest friends. We had an amazing time, we visited some great places, did some cool stuff and she met a bunch of my friends, every night we were exhausted but I never felt that introverted voice begging for an escape, until she left. The moment I was home from the airport I felt that weight on my shoulders. It was as though for the previous five days, even though I was occupied and happy, the social exposure had built up into a little ball in the back of my mind and as soon as I allow myself to take a breath it collapsed upon me. I was back to work the next day but I made every effort to keep to myself and stayed in my room over the next few days to recuperate.
There are certain people that I don’t get this with. I can spend hours upon hours with my oldest friend (almost 25 years of friendship!), whether we’re out shopping or sitting in silence playing computer games and watching Disney films. In these environments I don’t feel that exhaustion or the need to escape. It has become so familiar that the person is just another version of my bedroom.
I don’t write this for sympathy at all but to remind others, especially those 80%+ extroverts that love to tell me I’m ‘quiet’ or ask me a dozen times if I’m okay- that we have a different brain. It’s not that we don’t love company (though everyone is different) we just need to balance that exposure to others in our own way and sometimes that means having a break from it. If I’ve ever made my disappearing act around you I mean no offence and as agreed with my friend that brought this subject up recently, I will always remember to text back to let you know I’m okay when I do disappear.
Are you introverted or extroverted? If you’re not sure take a Myers-Briggs test, you can find them online and they’re super interesting! (I am INFJ) Thanks for reading!
Edit: Since this blog I have gone on to write a series about Introversion, links to the full series below:
- Introversion 101: How To Handle Extroverts
- Introversion 101: Self Awareness
- Introversion 101: Don’t Forget Why You’re Great
- Introversion 101: Child Introverts
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Header image by Daniel John Cotton Wall / @CottonWallTog