On Being an Introvert (Part One)

Read Part Two here!

I’m an introvert. I always have been. And learning more about introversion has been helping me make sense of some of my personality “quirks,” such as a preference for hangouts one-on-one or at least in very small groups as opposed to parties and shows and big events, a preference for writing letters and communitcating over the internet rather than having in-person conversations, and a preference for working alone rather than organizing with collectives and working on collaborative projects. As a child, and still today, these preferences are often mistaken for shyness, anxiety, and a tendency toward the antisocial. I was the kid who hid behind their mother’s legs at family gatherings, or sometimes even waited outside in the car while my mom hung out with the family. I made her late for work on summer mornings when she dropped my twin and I off at the Boys & Girls Club to wait for the bus to summer camp, and when we got to the conservation area where the daily camp was held, my sister and I would refuse to participate in games and swimming lessons, instead separating ourselves from the groups to read or talk to each other. Learning more about introversion also helps me see why I constantly feel like such a misfit at shows, events, and parties, even when I’m surrounded by queerdos and punks and crazies who are surely misfits themselves, and perhaps feel just as awkward and shy as I do.

Reading 5 Things to Know about Introverted Children on Parenting From Scratch brought back memories of my childhood. I remember being introduced to people as a shy kid, and I remember being encouraged to interact with the other kids at summer camp, family gatherings, and birthday parties, and just not wanting to. If more knowledge of the innerworkings of introverted children had been accessible, maybe these little quirks of mine would have been accepted, respected, and encouraged, rather than viewed as a problem. Not only did I constantly feel like I was unwanted and in the way, I also felt like everybody else was in my way; but I didn’t know how to communicate any of these things because, you know, I was a kid. I just knew I was weird.

I’m still learning how to communicate these things. As an introvert, I have some pretty major boundaries to set on my interactions with others, and my need for silence and solitude, but because I was raised in what the literature of mental health and BPD often refer to as an “invalidating environment” (through little fault of the adults around me but perhaps through the fault of society as a whole), I have always had great difficulty setting boundaries and saying no, and I often make decisions to please others rather than myself, a habit that is very hard to break and that I sometimes continue to do without even realizing it. I tend to feel like I owe something to everybody and I need to be as nice and small and quiet as can be. This works to my detriment, of course. I do want to be kind, yeah, but I am still learning the difference between being a nice person and being a total doormat.

I’ve always known that I work better alone, but again, this was always viewed as a problem. I grew up as one of the top kids in class and generally had the highest marks of the class in English and French. I remember finishing my work before everyone else and feeling bored and restless; I was also frequently argumentative with students and teachers, and occasionally violent; I remember yelling at teachers, shoving desks aside, and threatening further violence. My Grade Six teacher made me tape blank paper to my desk so I would stop drawing on my schoolwork. In the same grade, a friend and I petitioned to have benches installed in our playground since we felt too mature to play anymore, and wanted somewhere to sit and chat at recess. I often stayed inside at recess and volunteered in the library, tidying shelves and cleaning tables, and once caught the teachers in the staff room beside the library making fun of me for being such a weirdo. We weren’t given the benches we asked for.

At the ages of thirteen and fourteen, I spent two two-month intervals in a detention centre after being arrested for several crimes. There was a classroom in the detention centre. We were assigned books to read and given simple assignments. Each student would read out loud to the class until the book was complete. In one of the few encouraging actions for an introvert that I remember from that period, the staff at the detention centre let me work alone in my room instead of attending class with everybody else. Once again, I finished the books and the assignments before everyone else (though it was remarked upon that I needed to stop writing different names on all my schoolwork and choose one identity to stick with), and was left with time to write my own stuff and read other books (these books were usually Anne Rice’s novels, Kurt Cobain biographies, Stephen King, and Shakespeare, as that was the general selection from the small bookshelf in the detention centre).

These days, I’m still figuring out what everything means. Being an introvert, among other things, explains why I don’t fit in with certain communities, or at least why I only fit in from a distance. It explains why I choose to sit in corners when I go to shows, restaurants, and parties; it explains why most of my closest friends are long-distance pen pals; and it explains why I chose to drink so much in my late-teens and early-twenties as I attempted to be social and make friends for the first time since leaving school at the age of fourteen. It explains so many things!

When I was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder last year, as I started doing my research, reading books about the diagnosis and memoirs by others with the same diagnosis, everything began to make so much sense to me that it was actually kind of ridiculous. Like, suddenly there were all these explanations for my behaviour and my history, all these answers on how to deal with it, and all this validation that I had never felt before. I was actually kind of elated and grateful to finally have a diagnosis that made sense.

Well, that is the same feeling I get as I learn more about introversion. Things make sense. And suddenly I’m finding all these answers on how to feel content and in control as an introvert, how to communicate with my pals about my introversion, and how to discuss my boundaries and learn how to say no. It’s like, finding hope, you know? I know that word is kind of overused or whatever, but when you actually feel it, it does truly mean something.

Introvertedly Yours,

P.S.: If you’ve benefited from my writing in any way – if my words have inspired you, helped you feel less alone, or sparked some weird feeling within you; if you’ve felt encouraged, or curious, or comforted – please consider compensating me by offering a donation of any amount. Whether you’ve been reading my writing for years, or just stumbled into me this afternoon, I invite you to help me sustain the process!

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