As I get older, I find myself growing in my own sense of self awareness. I turned 30 this year which felt anti-climactic to say the least and I wonder if a lot of it had to do with the fact that this year has been marked with so many mixed feelings. On the one hand, my husband and I started amazing new jobs at the beginning of the year (for privacy sake, let’s just say I now work at an internationally renowned hospital and my husband works for one of the largest social media websites in the world). On the other hand, we started off 2016 with great tragedy as my father-in-law had a stroke overseas and we had spend most of the year finding a way to get him home to the US to get the health care he needs. Long story short, I haven’t been able to celebrate the great successes we had this year because it was overshadowed by worrying about my husband’s ailing father. We bought a house, I got licensed as a social worker, I turned 30 — all these exciting things that we couldn’t fully celebrate.
And then we brought him home.
I think this is when my awareness of my introversion became more glaringly clear. We went from a two person home to a four person home when my father-in-law moved in with us. We had my sister-in-law here during half the week to help care for him while we were at work. He needed (and still needs) 24/7 care and supervision after the stroke. I was not mentally prepared to have that many people in my home. My introversion kicked in quickly and there was one day where I just hid in the bedroom to give myself some sanity.
Now, what strikes me most as I think about how much more aware of my introversion I’ve become is comparing myself to who I was in college. I recently found my old handwritten journals that I started post-college and my college friend described me as someone with “unhumanly amounts of energy.” Everybody knew me as an extreme extrovert, with my extroversion off the charts. I scored as an ENFJ in the Myers-Briggs. I was the poster child for extroversion. Did I suddenly change over time? Or had I always been an introvert and didn’t know it?
I don’t think introversion and extroversion are as black and white as I’m making it sound, but I do think that what I used to think was extroversion was truly my insecurity with my own identity – my uncomfortability with my self. I couldn’t be content with being alone because I couldn’t figure out who I was. Plus, being in your 20s is far different than being in your 30s. I also sometimes wonder if something like trauma can change your introversion/extroversion. God knows I went through my share of ups and downs after college that shook my identity to the core.
But when I think about my childhood, the pieces fall into place much quicker. Yes, I’ve always been an introvert. I had a weird spurt of energy in college that led people to think I am an extrovert, but I can now literally feel my anxiety dissipate when I am no longer in social settings. What I am is a chameleon: I know what mask to wear around people to be accepted by them and what was acceptable in college was this extrovert. It was exhausting and I didn’t realize it, but it bought me acceptance.
As I grow older, I stop caring as much what people think of me and in turn, I feel like I’ve lost the acceptance of those who once accepted me in college. I don’t fit into the mold of who they want me to be anymore, but I finally found who I am. I have a busy internal world, I’m overstimulated by my external world, and I need a break from others often. Small talk drives me mad and having to expend energy around others is debilitating. The introvert who knows how to wear the extrovert’s mask does not want to wear it as much as she used to.
When we finally got my father-in-law admitted to an acute rehab (this is a longer story for another day), my home became my two person home again. I found solace in my home. I had no more panic attacks on my way home from work. I had solitude again.
It’s moments like that that remind me to embrace who I truly am. For years, I suffered with anxiety (and occasionally still do) but as I learned to become truer to my real self, I find myself more at peace. I can easily wear that extrovert’s mask any time, but for now, I will prioritize my self care by letting me be me.