Breaking the Bubble

Breaking the Bubble

People don’t believe me anymore when I tell them I’m shy. “But you’re so outgoing!” They’ll say. “You never seem to have trouble interacting with anyone!”

But they don’t know it’s all an act.

There’s lots of comics floating around on the Internet explaining what it’s like to be an introvert. Until I read them, I didn’t realize how many people are like me. My favourite explanation about the difference between introverts and extroverts is this; extroverts gain energy through social interaction, introverts spend energy on social interaction. This describes me in a nutshell. When we go to visit friends, I hit a point where I’m done. Depending on the day, what’s been going on, and how close I am to a person, my time frame expands and contracts. But I can tell the exact moment I’m done. I always want to walk out of the room or get in the car and go home. Usually I want to curl up alone with a hot drink and a book. Sometimes I just want to crawl into bed.

I used to think there was something wrong with me. I didn’t understand why I preferred a quiet corner at parties, or why I was hesitant to go out. Now I understand it’s just how I’m wired. I like small, personal interactions, for brief periods of time. I prefer not to answer the phone because it’s stressful to deal with unexpected interaction. I like knowing I have the power to end socialization when I hit my breaking point. Funnily enough, when I’m stuck at large get-togethers for long periods of time, I use the bathroom as my recharge space. Because you can disappear into a bathroom stall for about five minutes and no one thinks much of it. But I digress.

I work hard at Social interaction. Over a period spanning years, I have learned to interact with other people. I have learned to converse with confidence about the things I’m passionate about. I have learned what topics make me anxious, and I’m careful to avoid getting involved in them unless I know the other participants well. For example, I very rarely discuss politics, unless I know I’m in like-minded company. Not because I’m close-minded, but because the possibility of confrontation worries me. I can generally add enough to any conversation to feel like I wasn’t an awkward, social wallflower by the end of an evening. But people don’t see me come home and sink into bed because I’m exhausted in the wake of it.

Interaction is easier for me on the Internet, partly because I can take it at my own pace. If someone emails or instant messages me, they don’t know for sure when I’ll read that message, and I have plenty of time to respond. I can walk away any time I need a break. The same is true on social media. Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr are always there. I can take them in small doses. If I can’t summon the energy to be interactive, I can always come back later. In other words, people only ever see the social side of me, so they don’t know how rarely it comes around.

I used to be afraid of social media for the same reason I’ve always been afraid of other social interactions; I thought I was doing it wrong. I spend a lot of time watching other people do things before I try them myself (another mark of an introvert). Truth be told, I used to be afraid of a lot of things, until I realized I’d fail hardest by never trying (but that’s a whole other blog post). I read a quote by Neil Gaiman a long time ago and it’s stuck with me. He said that when he wanted to become a good writer, he pretended to be one. He often gives this advice; need to do something well? Pretend! If you pretend well enough, everyone will believe it’s true.

So I started pretending. When I sat down to write, I silenced the voices of doubt by pretending I was already fabulous. And when I sat down to Twitter or Tumblr or Facebook, I did the same. Pretending I’m fun to be around turned out to be easier than I thought (and who knows, maybe it’s actually true)!

And maybe it’s true that I’m not that shy, hesitant person anymore. Stepping outside my comfort zone has certainly expanded it. But I still have a hard time seeing myself as strong or confident, no matter how much I want to possess those qualities. People tell me they’re not sure how I do it. The truth is, I’m not sure either. But if a terrified turtle like me can come out of my shell, I assure you, so can you!

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