Introverted? You??

“I’m quite introverted,” I said to my new mentor. “I find it pretty tiring being around people all the time.”

“Really?” he said, not disbelieving, I don’t think, but certainly seeming surprised. “I didn’t get that impression.”

There were a lot of things in my first mentoring session which made me think, but that little off-hand comment is one which has stuck with me. It’s an interesting assessment —more so because he’s not the first person to say that. It makes me question my self-assessment as ‘introvert’. If nobody else sees it, is it real?

There’s a philosophical quandary. I wouldn’t say for a second that a lack of visibility somehow negates my gender identity, so why my mental state? And speaking of which, there are plenty of times I don’t mention my depression — it might not be appropriate, or it might just not be relevant. That doesn’t make it any less a part of me, something I live and cope with.

My mentor encouraged me to get some anonymous feedback in the form of a survey. I went to it, came up with the questions that evening, sent it live — after checking with my boss, since this is all happening at work — the following day. Question one was a scale from one to five, with one end marked Introvert and one end Extrovert. Where would you rate me on this, I asked.

To my great surprise, most of the colleagues and friends who responded (so far, at the time of writing) put me much closer to extrovert.

They also said I’m generally friendly and approachable (obviously, this isn’t a scientific analysis of the survey results. I’ll be going through them in detail with my mentor in the next couple of weeks). Funny thing is, those I don’t deny — in fact, they’re traits I work on.

You just have to Google ‘introvert’ to find a whole bunch of great resources on how to strategise and cope with being one. I’ve read an awful lot of them, and live by many. Take time out for yourself. Recognise that not wanting to be around people right now doesn’t make you a bad person, or necessarily antisocial. Have a few little self-care routines, some things you can do at home, some you can practise at work or out and about. (One of mine is music, for example. I’m lucky to have a great boss and the sort of job where I can put earphones in and get on with my work, and I find music helps me concentrate rather than being a distraction. I have a long playlist of familiar favourites and calming music to relax my thoughts and help me concentrate on the task at hand, even when I’m surrounded by the draining bustle and energy of a busy office on a day I want to be quiet.)

But maybe people who don’t live with the social anxiety and worry of what if I have to talk to people think of it as something else? If they take it to mean standoffish, unfriendly, unwelcoming? That seems… not unreasonable. Unfortunately, it’s not something I considered before sending out the survey.

I’m not questioning my introversion, not really. My own assessment of myself is, in many ways, the most valid. A relatable nugget from minority communities (mostly trans, in my own experience) comes to mind: my own lived experience is my most valid one. My own definitions of myself are important, often for my own wellbeing.

But having said that, other peoples’ perceptions of me are their lived experiences, and they’re just as valid to those people. The fact they perceive me as more extroverted than I’d say myself doesn’t make my own assessment untrue. What it does mean is that I apparently hadn’t realised how well I do cope out there.

Recently I’ve been struggling a little with anxiety and depression, and though my work hasn’t suffered (I trust that my boss would have told me, in a kind and encouraging way — a gentle challenge, not a threat — if that was the case) it’s been really hard to be around people all day, every day. I’ve always said that I’ll talk to anyone, but it gets tiring. Lately it’s been flat-out exhausting.

It’s reassuring to know that other people don’t perceive me as standoffish and unfriendly.

Asking for the anonymous feedback was terrifying. When my mentor suggested it, my honest first thought was oh, shit, no, please no. I did it, though, and people have said some very nice things so far. Now I think I might be ready for them to say some things which aren’t so nice. Funny how that works out —finding out that their perception challenges my own in a way that isn’t negative makes me feel more prepared to receive more challenging feedback, stuff which might say I don’t like this about you, can you assess your feelings on that? Yeah, I think I probably can. I can try, anyway. It’ll be scary, but worth it.

Let’s go. Before my nerve decides it’s having an introvert day and runs off to hide…

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