Tag Archives: introvert

Extroverts talk, introverts think

An introvert in an extrovert world

I feel like I don’t fit in. I struggle to be with people, I feel totally exhausted all the time, just existing. There are many reasons but one is that I’m an extreme introvert struggling to function in a world build for extroverts.

Some people would call me painfully quiet, shy or anti-social, but I find their loud approach to life over the top, overwhelming and exhausting.

Others may fear being on their own and struggle with loneliness; for me, solitary time is vital for my health and it’s a relief to shut the door at the end of the day.

The difference between introverts and extroverts is from where they recharge their energy. Extroverts gain their energy from other people, introverts recharge on their own.

A cartoon girl sat looking out the window with a warm drink and her cat. With the quote “I literally love being at home. In my own space. Comfortable. Not surrounded by people.”

The world sees extroversion as a gift because they mistakenly connect loudness with confidence and happiness; people don’t understand quietness because no one sees what goes on behind the scenes, they think it’s a flaw. Listening is a dying art. Being thoughtful, respectful and taking the time to understand each other seem to be happening less and less.

Everyone has something to say, extroverts easily get their voices heard, introverts naturally listen. When someone does finally listen to me, I’m so taken aback, my heart races, I get tongue tied and struggle to even put a sentence together (but that’s not just introversion, that’s social anxiety too – not all introverts have social anxiety!).

While extroverts feel connection when they fill space with small talk, it does nothing for me except sap my energy.

Low battery, cartoon characters lying flat on the floor

As the world moves towards open plan offices, hot desking and networking parties the only way to progress is to be “out there”, to have a “big personality” and to give your energy to the world. Where in the world do I fit if my energy is sapped by my chronic illness and when faced with people my battery runs to empty?

For those who speak softly it’s easy to blend into the background, people may assume you don’t have anything to say or that you don’t like them but introverts work better one on one. If you don’t know that about yourself, an introvert can feel broken in rooms full of people who just seem to know what to do.

Introverts can enjoy a party, just like extroverts but not everyone has to be “the life a soul”. If, as an introvert, you leave a few parties early because you’re tired and this is misunderstood and people stop inviting you – is that ok?

The science

Some science that supports the introvert/extrovert feelings involves 2 chemicals in the brain, dopamine and acetylcholine. Dopamine is like a hit of energy when we take risks or meet new people; extroverts feel great when this peaks in the brain, introverts are more sensitive to the effects of dopamine and easily feel overstimulated. Introverts prefer the slow burn from acetylcholine that is released when we concentrate or do things that focus our minds; we feel relaxed, alert, content. The release of acetylcholine during these activities barely registers with extroverts.

Reading a book in the sun by the sea
Are you an ambivert?

I’ve recently been listening to a series of podcasts where ever guest has been asked if they consider themselves an extrovert or an introvert and people have said things like “I used to be an extrovert but I think I’m an introvert” or “I try to be an extrovert” or “sometimes I’m a bit of both”, these people are probably ambiverts. It’s a shame that the majority of people feel the need to behave as an extrovert and gives weight to the argument that the world is built for extroverts. If all people were valued equally and given paces to be themselves we could feel more comfortable. An ambivert is someone in the middle of the spectrum, someone who can gain energy from being by themselves or with people.

Most people are probably ambiverts but it’s ok to have slight or extreme tendencies to introversion of extroversion!

We just have to find coping strategies

Introverts and extroverts can manage a busy chaotic work life and enjoy a buzzing party late into the night, we just have to find ways to cope. I, for example, take a break, away from my colleagues in the middle of the day. While others may want to connect more over lunch and have FOMO, I value time on my own. I have to fight the fear of being seen as anti-social, people makes comments such as “where do you go?” in a tone that says “why would you do anything other than socialise with us?!”. Unfortunately, because introverts are seen as aloof or maybe sanctimonious, I hide my reason with “I need some fresh air” – which is also true! I have no idea how anyone can spend all day inside!

It takes longer to get to know me, I have fewer friends with deep connections, I think inside my head, my brain sifts information before I talk about it but does this mean I cannot be a valued member of society?

While I’m proud to be an introvert and I’m content with my coping strategies, it saddens me that because I don’t fit into the extrovert world it’s assumed I’m the one that’s wrong. We’re not all the same, so, next time you come across someone who’s a bit “odd”, a bit “different”, a bit “weird”, don’t label them, give them space, listen to them, don’t rush them, value them.

Running through Bath tunnel

An introvert’s dream come true!

Being an extreme introvert, preferring long periods of time in my own company or with very few people, it can be difficult to conform to societal expectation to be sociable. Living with depression for a large portion of my life, I was often told that getting out and seeing people would be “best” for me…! When most ill and lacking energy, seeing people would sap more energy, I would put my mask on to “act normal” (without which, I wouldn’t be able to interact with anyone) but the resulting exhausted spiral would lead to me feeling even more of a failure.

Then I discovered running! It was something I could do that has a multitude of benefits!

Any form of exercise, if done regularly, can:

  • Improve mood
  • Improve bone density
  • Increase muscle strength
  • Increase energy levels
  • Reduce risk of chronic disease
  • Help with weight management
  • Improve skin health
  • Aid relaxation and sleep

I was “getting out” as I was told would benefit me, but I didn’t have the down sides of being exhausted by people!

But, even the most extreme introverts, require some contact with humans (occasionally)! This is where entering events comes in handy!

Over the years, I’ve done a few 5km, 10km and half marathons but for various reason I’ve not been able to put in the hours to train for the ultimate goal to run a marathon. But I was finally able to put in the hard work, see this blog, I wrote a few days before I was due to attempt my dream.

And that’s what I did, on Sunday 18th August 2019, in Bath, I actually did it, I ran 26.2 miles, all in one go, on the same day, without stopping, I ran a whole marathon!! I cannot tell you how overwhelmed I feel to say I finally achieved my dream! I did not set myself a time target, all I wanted to do as a) run the whole thing and b) enjoy it – I well and truly did both!

I’m still an extreme introvert but, funnily enough, I don’t think I could have achieved the enjoyment aspect without entering an event that involved other people. Lots of people enter with a running club, but I was not alone entering on my own; many individuals gather on the start line but we all set off together with a unified goal in mind – to finish!

Obviously you get the ones that race off, that’s fine, whatever works for them! But the rest of us settled into a steady rhythm with people shuffling up and down the pack gently. For a while I had the pleasure of settling in behind an incredibly tall girl who made each stride look so easy.

The Bath marathon is famous for its “Two Tunnels”, totalling 4kms of renovated railway tunnels, this made for a unique running environment, very cool but a little eerie. As we entered the first there was a little excitement from the runners, we called to each other, enjoying the echo!

As the race continued the runners became more strung out. I slotted in behind a couple of men, one of which was running in barefoot running sandals and having read Born To Run by Christopher McDougall, I couldn’t help but admire his beautifully elegant running style and appreciated the lack of stress he was putting through his body. Again, an absolutely pleasure to run with someone who made running look so natural and easy! The other man was running clutching a massive bag of nuts and raisins – at one point, they discussed their fuelling plans – the barefoot runner produced the tinniest energy bar from his rucksack and said he’d have it about half way around. I loved the simplicity of their plans.

So, here I was, an extreme introvert with multiple reasons why this marathon should not be possible, living out my dream! I was with people, gaining all the benefits of being “out and about” but I didn’t have to interact with any of them if I didn’t want to!

My experience is that at big events, the marshals are incredible, this event was no exception! Some of them had the starting list so they could look up your number as you ran towards them, they’d then cheer you on using your name – a massive motivator when things were feeling tough!

At mile 13 (half way) I was feeling strong, perhaps my concentration dipped a bit, I tripped down a slope, a couple of marshals jumped forward but I managed to catch myself before I hit the deck. It was quite shocking and I jarred my knee but it didn’t feel too serious.

The second half was tough, I knew I was slowing down but as the runners became more and more strung out it occurred to me that I was doing something not everyone can do! I’d trained hard for this and as mile 18 then 19 and 20 passed, I spent short periods of time running on my own; I was used to this in training but then I’d spot a fellow runner or a marshal up ahead and I’d feel spurred on again. I passed the odd person who’d resorted to walking – they were still going which I commend, but I was determined to run it all, it was just what I wanted to do!

Having loved running along the river, reentering the town signalled the end was near. Despite my legs feeling heavy, my hips and my back aching, my heart was singing, I knew I was going to finish!

The finishing straight was surrounded by people, spectators and fellow runners, all there for the purpose of celebrating everyone achievements, the atmosphere was a buzz of positivity.

Even as an extreme introvert, I do see the benefits of spending time with people, the community spirit of running events is fantastic. Looking around at the end, I could tell, people were hurting a lot but it didn’t matter, individually and collectively we’d all achieved something great that day!

What’s a Spoonie?

The spoon theory is a way of explaining that people With chronic illness or disability have fewer units of energy to do daily tasks and use more energy doing them, than other people.
There are 4 reason why I struggle with energy levels:
1. I’m an introvert in an world built for extroverts, my energy is sapped by other people – this is no one’s fault, just the way it is!
2. I’m a high sensitive person which means I take in the world around me and have to process it in a lot more detail than most people. A mild smell, quiet sound or moderate level of lighting to someone else is overwhelming to me and can lead to a migraine.
3. I have chronic pain in multiple parts of my body. Anyone who’s been in pain, just for a day can testify, it’s draining. Strong painkillers only take the edge of my pain, I am never pain free.
4. I don’t get restorative sleep. Most people go down through different levels of sleep, each of which have their benefits, but I do not reach stage 4 sleep which is where repairing and restoration happen.
I wake up in the morning and I’m exhausted. Unless they find a cure, this will be how it is for the rest of my life so I’ve got to find strategies that work!
Because my body doesn’t function optimally I use a lot of energy just keeping it going.
The spoon theory works like this:
Someone without a chronic illness would wake up with 25-30 or so spoons worth of energy, they use a spoon for their morning routine, a spoon to get to work, a few spoons for their morning at work, they’re replenished by eating lunch, they use a few more spoons in the afternoon and have some spoons spare to enjoy the evening. Even on a tired day, perhaps at the end of the week when they may wake up with less energy, you can see that they have enough to get through the day and don’t really need to think about how they spend their energy.
I, and other people with chronic illnesses and/or difficulties mentioned above, wake up with, maybe, 15 spoons. I use a spoon to get out of bed and dressed, if I need a shower, that’s another spoon used. I may use 4 spoons at work but if it’s been particular busy or the alarms are triggered more often, I might use 6 or 7 spoons and another to get home. If I have to run an errand, that might take 2 or 3 depending on what it is – doing the maths, I could be down to 3 by the evening. Spoonies have to save a spoon for getting to bed so I have 2 precious spoons to use in the evening. It may take me a whole spoon to make dinner, if I have a migraine or pain is particularly bad spoons just disappear from my reserve.
Some, but not all Spoonies are able to borrow spoons from the next day, if, for example, they know they can have a lie in or can take time to rest. This is an incredibly risky strategy as it’s not always straight forward. If I push myself today, using just 1 extra spoon, it can cost me 2-3 from tomorrow.
Spoonies often have to use energy managing their illness, for example, regular physio, taking medication or attending appointments.
Different people use different amounts of energy for the same thing, for example, I find 5 minutes of being with noisy children wipes me out, other people can last longer!
I hope this makes sense, it’s really difficult to explain to people who don’t experience it but I’m trying!
I’m not lazy, I’m not flakey, I’m a Spoonie.
Spoonies have to think more strategically about what they do when in order simply to make it through the day!
I do not feel sorry for myself – that would use more energy! I’d just really like it if people could understand!
For Spoonies out there, feeling at a loss, I have a few tips that help me:

  1. I use a lot of alarms on my phone – this means a) I do not have to use precious spoons trying to remember things and b) it means I remember to do things that help, like take my meds!
  2. I have routines (especially morning and evening) and I stick to them, this uses fewer spoons because there’s no decision making and I have to think less about what I’m doing.
  3. Strategically placed coffee – I’m fortunately that caffeine helps, it doesn’t help everyone but without it, I simple could not drive to work safely (believe my, I’ve tried, not good!) Some people find particular foods make managing energy levels better or worse – I’ve not found this to be the case for me.
  4. It’s ok to say “no” – if people judge you for saying “no” to something that’s going to cost you spoons you don’t have, that’s their problem.
  5. Work out what replenishes your spoons and do it! Although I don’t get refreshing sleep, I need to be in bed, resting for at least 8 hours. A couple of hours lost doesn’t just mean I’m tired the next day, it means I struggle to function, will have to borrow spoons and so the problem continues for many, many days! I also need rest time, down time, time out, me time, call it what you will – I need regular evenings of it!
  6. I write lists so I can plan my energy usage.
  7. If I want to do something I know will use a lot of spoons, I try to prepare by getting more sleep and making sure I know the plan so I can try and pace myself. It doesn’t always work but I do my best!
  8. Make sure you surround yourself with people who try to understand. They can support you to use your limited spoons wisely.

Spoonies do not own the monopoly on tiredness, it’s just a way of explaining the extra considerations we have to give to managing energy levels.