Becoming a born-again extrovert: my story of overcoming depression and anxiety
It’s been a weird couple of years.
There’s something I never realise until I’m truly happy: exactly how unhappy I was before.
Whenever I have bouts of depression and anxiety, they creep on so slowly; it’s really hard to notice that they’re even there. I’ll notice it only when I’m in the thick of it — when I’m too scared to talk to people on a regular basis, when I’m feeling crippling emotional pain for no reason, when my mind goes blank at the worst times.
And I’ll notice all of that and more, once it’s all gone.
Recently I’ve been feeling something I haven’t felt since… I don’t even know? Maybe something I haven’t felt properly since I was a kid, if I’m honest.
I’ve been feeling like an extrovert.
All of a sudden I’m craving meeting new people. I’m having conversations with new people where I get a little nervous at the start sometimes, but I’m over that nervous energy as fast as I’m starting new conversations. I’m not thinking so much before I talk. I’m cracking jokes like I’ve known this new person for years. I’m confident that people will like me for the same reasons I like myself.
Did I mention I’ve been sober during these experiences? That’s new for me.
But the real question is: how did I get here, after being a self-described introvert for years? Probably the shortest answer would be: integrity, passion, and exercise.
But hell, I’ll write the longer answer for you too.
Most boring thing first: exercise.
Yeah, okay, we all know about this one. I’ll keep it short. I try to walk at least 20 minutes every day. Often it’s kind of incidental walking: walking home from work for 30 minutes instead of getting the bus, that kind of thing. That’s all I do.
I think it works.
Next thing: passion
Probably the biggest key to my happiness is working in a job I love. I was actually going to write this whole post about that, but it’s technically only one (albeit a very big one) piece of the puzzle.
I work with kids, and I love it. I laugh every single day — probably ten times at least. Everyday is different, and everyday I learn new things from them. I practice compassion with them, and I get to witness the returns of that.
When I was eighteen, barely out of high school myself, a teacher from my old school reached out to me with a job offer.medium.com
One of the best returns? Kids make you talk to them. You’re pretty much forced out of introversion when you work with kids, because you have to hold conversations about literally anything and everything. And their confidence can rub off on you too. I used to find talking with other adults who were confident to be difficult — it often used to make me feel even more introverted. But I found that’s not the same with kids, they’re just happy to be themselves, and for some reason it’s infectious.
I can’t explain it — but it’s a goddamned beautiful mystery that kids being themselves can help me to be myself.
Having other passions outside of work help me to feel fulfilled and happy as well. For me those are: volunteering, travelling alone, and photography. The former two force you to meet people as well, and have helped to boost my social skills even more.
Photography is mostly just for fun… it’s good to have balance.
Last thing: integrity
This is never on people’s lists. I’m not even sure if it should be on mine, because I think I still had it to a large degree even on my darkest days, but I think it did play a part in my recovery too.
I’m as honest with myself as I am with others.
When I was younger I used to lie a lot. And I used to get caught in my webs a lot too. I was such a bad liar, I basically had two choices: believe my own lies, or stop lying all together. I chose the latter.
The more honest I am with myself and the more true I am to my values, the more easily I can see when something’s not working for me. My own behaviours, my relationships, friendships, work situations, you name it. Cutting out things that are bad for me have given me a lot more confidence too — the lack of cognitive dissonance I’ve felt in the last twelve or so months has been blissful. I’m more confident in myself now than I have been ever before, and I think — actually, I know it shows.
So, there it is, my soul laid bare: integrity, passion, and exercise make me happy. This won’t work for everyone, and there might be things I’m forgetting. But these things are helping me right now to stay happy more days than not — and that’s something I never want to forget.