Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Introversion: Why Write About It?

After one of my introversion blog posts last month, an acquaintance left a Facebook comment that said something along the lines of, "Why does this have to be a big deal? I've never felt pressure to be overly social, and I've never looked down on anyone for being introverted, so I don't really see this as a problem."

Although I'm sure many people in the church have that same experience and reaction (and that's good - I'm glad not everybody is affected by the bias), my initial reaction was hurt. I felt like my past painful experiences were being dismissed, like my sense of displacement was just something I came up with in my own head, like if I would just stop complaining and DO all the socializing I was told to do I'd find it wasn't that bad after all and everybody would be happy.

Here's the thing though: I did that, and I wasn't happy. I *didn't* think it was a big deal until I was well into my 20s. All through my teens, I was as social as I could, and I knew I sucked at it, but I couldn't change anything. I wanted to live for God, and this was how I was supposed to do it. A part of me realized I'd never gotten any results from doing things this way, but thought, "Well, as long as I'm doing the right thing, God will reward me for it ultimately." So I simply resigned myself to the fact that I'd never have any real life friends. ALL the people I truly considered friends were people I'd met online. (Nearly all those people are still my good friends to this day. The people I interacted with most in real life back in high school? I have occasional contact with two of them.) I was an introvert trying to be an extrovert - not even an extreme one, just a "normal" one - and it just kept backfiring.

Eventually, I realized how miserable I was. So I gave up for awhile. I gave up trying to reach out to anyone and hermited myself away. I began identifying myself as an introvert, but it was an entirely negative thing. In my mind, it meant, "I will never have a normal personal relationship with anybody because I'm weird and incompetent. I'm sorry you have to deal with me."

I couldn't tell you the exact time things started to change. I knew I needed some balance, so I reached back out to people again, trying to find the best combination of socialization and alone time (my most effective socializing-alone time ratio these days is probably 1:4 or so, although I almost never get that). I tried so hard to embrace the things I knew I was good at - listening, keeping in touch with far away friends, encouraging emails - but no matter what I did, I always felt guilty for not doing more. I was so frustrated with myself for not being more motivated to spend time with people.

I really think it wasn't until I started reading introvert-specific blogs a few years ago that I truly learned to not only be OK with who I am as an introvert, but to rejoice in it and embrace it. Up until then it was something that I knew was true about me, but also something I needed to apologize for. "I'm an introvert. I'm sorry." I remember reading the "How to Care For Your Introvert" article, and the Introvert's Corner at Psychology Today's website, and at some point I stumbled onto Adam S. McHugh's Introverted Church blog, and then his book, Introverts in the Church, which completely changed my life.

Introverts in the Church took me almost a year to read, because almost every single sentence connected with me. I would read a paragraph and mull over it for a week, journaling and thinking and praying through it. Eventually I'd move on to the next paragraph. I have also never cried so much reading a book. After years of feeling like there was something wrong with me, like I was fundamentally broken and could never really be fixed, here was someone telling me that not only were those "flaws" all right, but they were something beautiful. Something created by God, not destroyed by sin. The blurb on the back of the book said, "Read it and heal," and heal I did. By the time I finally finished it, I had built up new confidence for myself as an introverted Christian, an introverted woman, an introverted future teacher. I finally saw the value in that aspect of myself, and that's when I started to write about it and fight for it and work to affirm other introverts in who they were.

And *that* is why all of this is a big deal. Because if other people hadn't been blogging about this, I would still think I was broken. I would constantly be fighting my introversion and feeling guilt and shame when I couldn't overcome it (which would be almost always). And it's funny how much freer I feel to socialize now that I know that it's perfectly OK for me to go home at an early hour. I *do* enjoy my socialization more - but only because I know now how it fits into this aspect of my life.

There are other people out there like me - more than I realize sometimes. I am always surprised when someone I don't interact with much sends me a Facebook message or pulls me aside at a gathering and tells me that they read the introvert-centered blogs and articles I post, and that they're grateful for them. I love when people tell me they've been encouraged by reading my introvert experiences and identifying with them. I don't want anyone to live with the shame of failed extroversion the way I did. I want to continue to share my story. I want people to be aware of how certain activities or programs or communities or systems send constant subtle "Introversion is bad" messages. Even if all I ever do is encourage one introvert who feels like an outcast by letting them know that they are valued and loved by God FOR their introversion, not in spite of it, then it all will have been worth it.


  1. Once more, Hannah, you've shared something deeply personal and very moving. I admire your courage and your willingness to put yourself out there like this. And, once again, I find myself identifying with how you've processed your introversion because it's so similar to how I've handled my own experiences.

    As a Crohnie and as someone who has dealt with depression since his youth, I have come to understand that the single most important issue faced by myself and others like me that we can actually do something about is public perception. We can't innovate new treatments, but we can chip away at the way Joe Sixpack understands us.

    Doing this is very difficult for most people. Many of us don't want to share our experiences at all. We just want to put on our "normal" face, do what we have to do around "normal" people and get back home as quickly as we can so we can exhale and recuperate. I did this with depression for most of my life.

    After a few months of life with Crohn's, though, it became apparent I would have to address it. There was no way to hide my frequent tardiness, absences and prolonged visits to the bathroom. It was embarrassing at first. Like you, I initially apologized for it. "I'm sorry I can't function like a normal person anymore, I have a defect."

    I began to build a support network online of Crohnies. It was tremendously empowering and helpful. It gave me a sense of the continuum for this kind of life. I was able to see where I fit in (better than some, not as good as others). More importantly, I was able to see the importance to each of us of someone speaking out about our lives.

    In October, I was hospitalized for severe (read: suicidal) depression. In group sessions, I rediscovered my most important talent: speaking up. I have the ability to put things into words that others can't, and I'm willing to use my voice when others aren't. After just about every session, at least one other patient would approach me to thank me for a question I had asked, or a comment I had made. I could have sat in silence and processed what I heard, but what I learned was that the most therapeutic part of my hospitalization was finding my voice again. After years of feeling increasingly useless and worthless, I came to feel I had something to offer again.

    That's why I blog about my experiences. I'm hopeful every time I share that someone's perceptions of those of us with Crohn's or depression will change. I'm also hopeful that someone with these issues will find solace in knowing they're not alone. That kind of comfort is invaluable, as you well know.

    Thank you for writing and sharing this, Hannah.

    1. I similarly enjoy reading the personal experiences you share on your blog. I feel like the whole gamut of human experiences are much more similar than we sometimes realize. The fact that you connect with my blogs about my extreme introversion through your experiences with Crohn's and depression indicates that so many of these feelings and reactions *are* universal. Sometimes people think they are alone in these experiences. They think they have nothing to say... but they *do*. And I'm delighted to be able to share my story and see when it is used to encourage anyone else, even if the details aren't exactly the same.