Isn’t it the most magical time of the year? Ooops, I was daydreaming about National Library Week again, my bad. It’s the most terrible time of the year, duh! Obviously I’m talking about all of the necessary social functions. And by necessary, I mean necessary torture. You know, like when you kiss your crush in 7th grade while playing Truth or Dare, and then follow it up by punching him in the stomach because ewww, feelings.
Somehow on top of being shy and introverted, I’m also blessed with having one of the most severe cases of FOMO you’ll ever witness. My friend Tara T. has it too, so I know it’s real. Except she’s extroverted and actually fun to be around. I have no idea how I came to be cursed with both sides of the spectrum. The only plausible explanation is that I’m schizophrenic – one personality likes to be a part of the action while the other likes to hide in closets. This worked out well in the 90’s because I mostly just hung out in dark clubs dancing by myself in front of a mirror and impressing myself with my awkwardness, but is frankly little help in today’s fast-paced world of business and general adulthood. Anyway, my mental health advocate, psychologytoday.com, assures me I’m normal-ish. Okay, normal with a side of neurosis. And a smidgeon of S.A.D. (Guys, as an overachiever I’ve really nailed this. I’m sad and SAD, clearly crushing lower AND upper case disorders!) Which explains why people are lined up to be my friend. Imaginary friends, but that totally counts.
Most of the year, it’s easy for an introvert to stay balanced because social functions are spread out with plenty of down time in-between to heal from the overstimulation. But then December comes along and it is impossible to stabilize, so you spend a month either drinking, crying, or running naked through the Quad. I still haven’t actually found the elusive Quad, but my running pace has increased exponentially, proving that Will Ferrell really has his shit together.
Extroverts seldom understand the massive amount of energy suckage that occurs when introverts are repeatedly put in social situations without rest. Exhaustion doesn’t even come close to describing it. It’s more like a piece of your soul has disappeared. And the rest of your being is desperately searching for it, but at the same time a clown with a chain saw is running straight at you. Also your feet are in quicksand and you are in front of a packed arena in your underwear – and they are tighty whities. And your professor from Calculus II just showed up with a pop quiz that covers material he never went over. And the noise and all the sights are taking over your ability to think straight so you end up in conversations with distant acquaintances without a polite escape and then end up saying something monumentally ignorant and nonsensical.
Other than THAT, it’s not that we absolutely hate it, but we’re not at our best like we could be if we were one-on-one with someone or even in a small group, talking about things that inspire and intrigue us. A room full of people for an introvert is constant neural overload. Our brains are pinging back and forth all over the place because they are taking in so much data and trying to convert it into something meaningful, but we are always one step behind in our analysis. We end up like a computer with 100 internet tabs open all at once. There is no way to keep up, so we crash. Hard.
Unfortunately, the crashing usually occurs when we are with the ones we love, which makes being around family during the holidays such a train wreck. Your father-in-law will politely ask if you’ve been doing any holiday baking and all of a sudden you are shouting “SO WHAT YOU’RE SAYING IS I LOOK LIKE A GOD DAMN HIPPOPOTAMUS!” Then your eye twitches, you gasp for breath, down a bottle of cheap Chardonnay and cry quietly in the corner for the rest of the visit. I’m not saying this has ever happened to me. I’m not saying it hasn’t either.
In the interest of keeping the extroverts of the world informed about how hard the holidays are, I’ve come up with a guide that I think you’ll find helpful. At least when you witness a similar scenario, you will recognize that there is an introvert on the scene, and maybe, if you are extra nice, you’ll do something to make them feel more comfortable. Support that is never, under any circumstance allowed includes anything that involves physical touch or personal questions. Awkward silence is okay though. I know, the rules are confusing. We find you terrifying as well.
A Guide To Holiday Introvert Behavior:
1. If someone you know and care about walks right past you at an event and doesn’t say hello or make eye contact, that doesn’t mean she is a snob.
(I call this the “I’m so nervous I don’t even recognize my own friends” behavior. Or, “How I alienate everyone I know.”)
2. Daring your friends or taking bets on how best to make an introvert feel uncomfortable never ends well.
(April Larson, your time is coming. My entire being is violated. Specifically my lap.)
3. Sometimes we get in the wrong car, it happens.
(Being out of our element makes us so nervous! It’s when you get in the wrong car and it is already occupied that things get out of hand. Otherwise you’re just a car prowler and not a carjacker. Nobody likes a carjacker. Or a tracker jacker. Or Cracker Jacks, seriously Frito Lay.)
4. Asking permission for a hug is the best gift you can ever give.
(Don’t assume. We need to be prepared for further giving of ourselves. Which means telling our brain not to assume it is battery and maybe hold off on the “groin, sternum, eyeballs” self-defense maneuver. Or you can play it by ear because you like danger, whatever.)
5. Each personal question you ask results in shorter and shorter answers, unless you are a close friend. We don’t find ourselves interesting and it horrifies us to keep talking about how boring our lives are.
(This is simply the Law of Diminishing Returns in action. I went to business school, I have to incorporate it into my life somehow. Also, we are conscientious about not wasting your time with inane descriptions of the books we are reading and it’s all we really have to talk about that doesn’t give away any piece of ourselves.)
6. PLEASE start by talking about yourself and sharing what is happening in your life, it puts us at ease and gives us a minute to zone out and adjust to our surroundings.
(Don’t be offended when I say “zone out.” Chances are we won’t remember what you said even if we were trying to pay attention. Being nervous and overwhelmed results in short-term memory loss. But since I live in Washington, it’s highly likely that everyone has short-term memory loss this year anyway.)
7. If we’re talking a lot, don’t let us have another drink.
(You have been warned. This only usually happens when E is around anyway. On account of needing to be thrown over a shoulder and physically removed from the immediate surroundings for safety.)
8. If we touch you voluntarily, you are in the circle of trust and are not subject to the stranger-danger rules any longer. Feel free to hug us any time. But please don’t joke about how we hate to be touched, it makes us feel like there is something wrong with us.
(Also don’t take it to the next level. See “April Larson” above. She’s been ejected from the circle. I’m currently taking applications for replacements.)
9. If we start talking about something we find fascinating, we hope you have a couple of hours to spare and want to dissect and analyze the entire spectrum of the topic.
(I’m talking charts and graphs, a trip to the library, some off-location follow-up discussion, maybe a field trip and 37 texts and an email arguing the other side of the issue just to be fair.)
10. If we say this is our 6th party this week, you might want to grab some popcorn and settle in for the show because chances are, we are at the outer limits of behaving appropriately.
(You are about to see a side of us we don’t even know yet about ourselves. As a precaution, have 9-1-1 pre-dialed on your phone. Or a GoPro, depending on if you want some blackmail money.)
In summary, being a social misfit is not very glamorous. We stammer, trip, hide, cackle inappropriately and generally make everyone else feel really good about themselves. We are an asset to any peer group because we keep things pretty real, even when we try not to. We are petrified of starting a conversation and are probably holding a “safe object” in our hand for comfort. You’ll recognize us because we’re in the corner. Or in the kitchen doing your dishes so we don’t have to socialize. We’re different. Just like everyone else.