mental health

The Socialization Pill

Anti-social board
Photo by Sarah Pflug from Burst

Everyone without mental illness has a solution for curing depression. And most of those answers don’t usually come in the form of therapy, medication, or communication. Nope. They’re usually sunshine, exercise, diet changes, or (my personal favorite), socializing. Because when you feel like the world is collapsing in on you, the one thing that’s going to make you feel better is interacting with a horde of people.

WRONG!

We crawl into our blanket forts to get AWAY from people. It’s not a subliminal call for others to come join us. Getting thrown against a wall of humanity won’t do anything for the crippling misery boring through our skulls. Think about it: how does getting forced to interact with complete strangers make you feel better? You have to dredge up socialization skills. Then you have to force a cheer you KNOW you don’t have because people don’t want to deal with depression. And you’re usually confronted with topics you A) have no knowledge of (remember, these are strangers) or B) couldn’t care less about. And introverts do NOT have a mastery of small talk.

You’d have better luck pitching one of us into a ravine with starving predators. Our odds of survival are MUCH higher. We’d also come out on the other end with a better perspective. (Attempting to survive a genuine threat tends to to do that for you) Social interaction won’t fix things for those of us coping with a bad day/week/month/season. It’s not the answer we’re looking for. We’d TELL you if we wanted that kind of thing. You’d see us put on our “going out” clothes.

Everyone is NOT a social butterfly.

It drives me up the wall when people tell me I need to “get out more.” (And, yes, I realize the irony of discussing this during our current pandemic. You’re just going to have to transcribe this to a different time and place) Getting dragged to parties, dinners, and get-togethers made me skin crawl. I’d come up with every excuse in the book to decline an invitation. But since I hate lying (and I’m particularly BAD at it), that meant finding REAL reasons not to go. Or it meant I had to go – kicking and screaming.

Then I sat in a corner, twisting my fingers into knots and wishing I was anywhere else. I couldn’t start conversations (another introvert habit), and sneaking out the door is difficult when you’re trapped behind a wall of people. Conversations dropped within a few moments because I lacked that small talk ability. And people KNOW when you don’t want to be there. (Which is why this “solution” FAILS!) My eyes would dart back and forth, looking for my opening to leave. As soon as ANYONE made their farewells, I seized my chance to bolt out the door. I looked like a prisoner making a jail break!

It’s ridiculous!

And it’s completely unfair. To me, to the person who invited me, to everyone around me. I have no idea if they were trying to be polite, if they thought they were doing something good (that supposed “cure”), or if it was some joke to place bets on how long I’d last in a social situation. But the result was always the same. I used the same brittle tone of voice. You know the one: “I can’t believe I’m sitting here, and I wish I was anywhere else, but I’m trying to be polite – please stop talking to me.” I’d catch a glimpse of myself in a mirror and think of a deer in the headlights. (VERY complimentary)

There’s a difference between being around the people you love and being thrown into a social situation. One relaxes you, makes you laugh, and makes you feel safe and secure. The other tenses you up, makes you want to cry, and cranks your anxiety past eleven. What’s the difference?

Your CHOICE!

When someone pressures you and throws you into the socialization coliseum, nothing good comes from it. If YOU decide you want to form a get-together, it’s different. You’re selecting the people, the place, and the situation. There’s no awkwardness, no forced conversation, and the anxiety settles to a manageable level. (Let’s face it – you’re organizing something, so there’s going to be SOME panicking) And you’re not going to do it when you feel like the world’s falling apart. It’s THAT simple.

Don’t let people pressure you to go out in the masses. (Especially now – but that’s a different story) You know it won’t help, no matter what nonsense they spout. Are they living in your head? No. So why in the world would you take their advice? You know better than that. Shake your head and tell them no. You don’t need to make an excuse, just say no. It’ll save you in the long run – BELIEVE me.

mental health

Introverts Assemble…at Home

Human contact – the final frontier.

~THE SIMPSONS

Surprise, surprise – the majority of the blogging universe is compromised of introverts. It doesn’t just stop there, though; gamers, coders, hackers, writers – all of us prefer the company of our keyboards, laptops, and properly back-lit screens to five minutes of conversation with another human being. We’re very easy to spot out in the wilds of society: sunglasses (sometimes even when it’s cloudy), hoods drawn low over our faces, ear buds in place (are we actually listening to music or podcasts or just trying to avoid listening to you? You’ll never know!), and a book or technological device in hand as a universal signal that we do not want to be disturbed. Let me clue you in on a little secret:

We don’t!

That’s right, ladies and gentlemen: we are happy and content in our little bubbles! We don’t want to participate in small talk, we don’t want to make eye contact with strangers, and we really don’t want to get embroiled in a long-winded discussion about whatever you are dying to spew at us. If we could have our way, we would never venture out into public; we would spend our lives in our blanket forts, surrounded by our books (or games – every introvert is different), while our one extrovert friend (it’s a necessary evil) plies us with nourishment so we don’t die. We are SAFE in our homes where we know where everything is, and while a book or game may take a sudden turn we weren’t prepared for, that risk is something we’ve committed ourselves to. There are no loud noises (gamers are an exception – they’ve made their peace with it), there are no stressful news bites, our extrovert friend has been properly trained not to frighten us, and the worst anxiety we can expect to encounter is what to do when we reach the bottom of our To Read pile (just kidding – that pile never truly empties).

Introverts can still have fun, though – we just prefer the company of other introverts. If you have ever experienced the wonder that is DragonCon (or any of those amazing sci-fi/comic conventions – DragonCon is just a personal favorite of mine), then you’ll understand. Get a big group of us out, in our element, and we start to look like extroverts! (Just don’t engage us on our own too far away from the herd, okay?) We relax, we participate (vociferously) in discussion, we make eye contact, we shed our ear buds and hoodies (and don amazing costumes and cosplay), we STAND UP STRAIGHT! Why the difference?

Acceptance.

Our fellow introverts (and – if we’ve managed it – our pet extrovert) don’t expect us to be anything than who we are. They know that we spend 90% of our day in the shadows, our nose pressed into a book or up to a screen, existing in worlds of imagination – so do they. They know that the thought of venturing outside among “normal” people gives us hives; they share the same anxiety. They know that, once the Con is over, we’re going to return to our blanket fort brimming over with new ideas and excitement that will tide us over for months, because they’re brimming over, too. We’re not trying to seek validation from each other, and we’re not trying to gather attention from one another; that isn’t what resides at the core of an introvert. Instead, we’re sharing in the experiences of what it’s like to BE one another. We’re looking across the room and smiling as a silent, “I see you. I am you.”

So, if you’re curled up under your blanket right now, skimming through this, or if you have your ear buds in this while riding public transportation, or even if you’re someone’s extrovert and stumbled here by accident, let me take a moment to smile and let you know, “Hey, I see you over there. I know what it feels like. We’re on the same page.”