If you understand that I’m an extrovert, you probably have a hard time grasping that I have severe social anxiety.
And if you understand that I have severe social anxiety, you probably can’t believe that I’m an extrovert.
Most people know one before they hear about the other.
First, let’s remember that “extrovert” is not synonymous with “outgoing.” The two have nothing to do with each other. But even people who understand the scientific difference between introversion and extroversion scratch their heads over my situation.
I need to be around people to mentally recharge. Solitude is crippling. Just reading a list of things introverts find comforting makes me lonely. I LOVE people and would prefer to be around them all the time.
But what if those people don’t want me to be around them?
This is the root thought from which the little gremlin that lives in my brain grew. I call him that so maybe he’ll seem cuddly and less life threatening. He doesn’t have a name; just know that if I ever mention “the gremlin” that’s who I’m referring to. Sidebar, “the other gremlin” means depression. She’s the other because she isn’t as big or as frequent of a problem. You can ask me later why depression is a girl and anxiety is a boy.
Because I need people, I’m terrified of never having that need met. Or of people only meeting that need because they know I need it.
Last Tuesday I had a horrible day at work and did NOT want to talk to ANYONE. I was out of spoons but not yet out of things I needed to do and people I needed to see.
But I still wanted and especially needed company. I spent twenty minutes drafting a text to my friends saying “If I’m going to refuse to talk, would it be better if I just didn’t come tonight? I just want hugs and then I want to listen to everyone else.” I elected not to send it, I went, I sat in my car for seven whole minutes before going in the house, and my heart was slamming out of my chest all night as I tried to act normal and chipper even though I just really desperately wanted to cry.
Other common contradictory behaviors people observe in me, things that make people say “BUT YOU SAID YOU WERE AN EXTROVERT” or “How can you ___ so easily if your anxiety is really a thing?”:
1)I love being around people, even big groups of them, but the more there are, the more anxious I’ll get when it’s time to leave. I prefer to ghost. I try to escape without saying goodbye to as few people as possible. Then I obsess over it once I get in my car because I’m afraid the people I didn’t say bye to are mad about it.
2)I mean it when I say “the more the merrier,” even though I sort of hate crowds.
See, there are a small number of people who are safe. I call them my lifeboats. As long as they’re there and I can come back to them anytime I want, I can swim through any ocean of social interactions and be totally fine. They don’t even have to be right beside me the whole time. The safer the person, the more distance they can give me; when I go to CIU to visit Scott, he can be on the other side of campus while I’m making new friends and I’m still thriving.
I do LOVE new people. So if I see a risk-free opportunity to meet some, in other words if I’ve already determined that one or more of my lifeboats will be involved in whatever activity I’m referring to, I want to take advantage of it and will therefore invite as many of them as possible.
3)Strangers don’t bother me. As in, pure strangers. People who will remain strangers for likely ever. I talk and joke around with my customers all day at work, even the regulars who I no longer consider strangers, because all of those people are compartmentalized. I’ll never interact with them outside of the context of ringing up their burritos.
Strangers who are potential friends though…that’s like asking me to calmly walk into a cave full of hungry wolves.
I love people more than anything.
People scare me more than anything.
I love it when people make it clear that they want me around, because it makes them much less scary.
If I like you I’ll work really hard to get to a point where you no longer scare me.
I can’t do the hard work alone.