I’ve done it more times than I care to admit. I’m not sure when it started, and maybe I’ve always done it one way or another.
It happens whenever I find myself in a social situation in which I feel vulnerable, nervous, unsure, and alone.
I can feel my anxiety start to creep its way into my mind and body like an invasive parasite; ready to drain the life right out of its host.
Should I initiate small talk? Should I put my earbuds in and pretend to drift away? Should I just sit there awkwardly picking away at my nail polish? I will take my phone out of my bag, place it into my hand, and pretend to dial a number.
I will hold the phone up to my ear and begin having a thoroughly fabricated conversation with myself. I will then continue this fake conversation for several minutes, answering myself and nodding my head, even feeling brave enough to laugh a bit as if the person on the other end had said something witty. Finally, once I feel like it’s safe, I pretend to bid adieu, and hang up the phone. On myself.
Don’t worry, I am completely aware how utterly ridiculous this sounds.
In fact, I can’t believe I’m publicly admitting that I have fake phone conversations. I feel the need to be transparent here, because as bizarre and laughable this behavior is, it’s a very raw reality for me.
It’s just one of the many ways that I try to cope with my anxiety and fear regarding social situations and how I process them.
You see, even though I appear on the outside to be a stage-loving, attention-hogging, talkative, social, enthusiastic extrovert, the truth is quite the opposite. Those characteristics can be true to me in many ways, but more often than not, they are a facade.
My real truth- the one that took me so many years to figure out- years where I wondered if I was normal, or if these feelings and behaviors I exhibited were common in others- is that I appear on the surface to be extroverted, but when you really strip it down, I’m a closet introvert to my core.
Some common misconceptions about truly introverted people is that we prefer to be alone, we aren’t social, we only enjoy peace and quiet, and we are shy.
Sure, these might be true for many introverts, but definitely not for all. Whether you are an introvert or an extrovert doesn’t have to do with those surface interactions or how you act- it has to do with where you get your energy. I do not get energy from crowded, busy, social situations. If I’m around a ton of people for too long, especially if it’s people I don’t know well, I feel like my tank has been emptied and I need to recharge my batteries.
I feel drained.
The reason I consider myself a closet introvert is because I am often mistaken for an extrovert.
In fact, most people to whom I reveal this secret about myself are completely shocked, and don’t believe me. I am comfortable on a stage in front of hundreds of people, I don’t get nervous or shy when public speaking, I tend to be super talkative and loud, I have a genuinely outgoing and bubbly personality, and I truly enjoy spending time and having fun with my friends and family. But, when you start digging a little deeper, you’ll reveal an often hidden layer.
Social situations in which I am surrounded by familiarity, relaxation, and structure are my sweet spot. I feel in control, and my general self-awareness thrives.
It’s social situations in which I’m surrounded by people I don’t know, feeling obligated to interact with them, that make me feel like all the breath is being sucked out of my lungs at once.
It’s not that I don’t enjoy talking to people, or that I don’t love conversing with others and being social.
The problem is that I only want to do those things with people I know and feel comfortable with. All the energy is zapped right out of me when I’m forced to engage with others in circumstances that are way too….well, peopley.
For example, I will actively avoid any situation in which I need to call somebody on the phone. This is beyond weird considering I’m an online teacher and spend ninety percent of my day on the phone, but that is obviously different, duh.
My worst nightmare is when I get an invitation for a birthday party or shower in the mail, and beneath the letters RSVP is simply a phone number. Guys, really? It’s 2019. Put down a damn email address, or at least indicate that a text is acceptable.
I screen all my calls and I’m not ashamed to admit it. Having to call someone to make an appointment, request a reservation, gain clarification, or rectify a mistake- NOPE, no thanks. I literally have to hype myself up before I dial, and even worse, I will legit hang up if someone answers after praying I’d be able to leave a voicemail.
I wouldn’t even blink an eye if someone told me I had to get on a stage in front of hundreds of people and either perform or speak.
But then put me in a room with the same people afterwards and ask me to mingle, I would want to crawl into a hole and hide. I don’t do small talk- it gives me hives. It honestly probably looks like I have the worst RBF sometimes, and I can’t imagine how unapproachable I look when you combine my body language with fidgeting, but it’s a defense mechanism.
I can’t help it- my face and body physically repel awkward conversations.
If I see someone I know at the grocery story (aside from close family and friends), I will often turn around and walk the other way to avoid the awkward chit chat scenario. If I have to run in somewhere, ask for help, order off a menu, complain about something, or stand in a line I will ask my husband to do it for me as often as I can get away with it.
As a mom, I have struggled big time with putting myself in social situations involving other moms and their kids.
I so desperately want to make small talk with you on the playground, Karen, but I also want you to leave me the eff alone so I can enjoy my venti vanilla latte in peace, kay pumpkin? PTA meetings, playdates, doctor’s offices, school functions, and parks- it’s like a never-ending communal nightmare I can’t wake up from.
Here’s the thing. It’s not so much about the fact that I want to avoid all of these social interactions, or even that I don’t enjoy them. It’s just that I need some time to breathe.
Both extroverts and introverts love being around people, but we need to be able to do so in our ways, and within parameters that make us feel energized and restored.
The qualities that make me a closet introvert are not ones that are easy for me to admit to, and they are ones that I am trying to work on. I’m trying to find the right balance, and push myself to engage in social behavior that is usually uncomfortable and scary.
One of the things I’m always desperate for people to understand about true introverts is that we aren’t trying to seem unapproachable or anti-social.
It’s just harder for us to engage with others sometimes when it takes so much out of us to do so.
Nonetheless, I want to try. I want to get to a place where I finally can feel comfortable meeting new people, and not over-analyze every single situation in my head. I want to silence that inner monologue that’s constantly running through my brain and let myself simply enjoy all that life has to offer.
I mean look. I may pretend to talk to people on the phone sometimes, and I may or may not have my husband go up to the cast member at Disney to ask a question that I’m way to stubborn to ask myself. I may pretend to have a broken leg at a teacher training when they ask us to go around the room and play “People Bingo” to get to know each other better, and I may or may not cringe when asked to introduce myself in a room full of other moms at my son’s PAC meeting at school.
But, it’s okay because those qualities and actions, as odd and nonsensical as they are, make me who I am.
I am a closet introvert, and I’m not afraid to say that I own that shit.
This post originally appeared on The HotMess Supermom