There is no such thing as a born introvert. I may not be able to point out a specific research article or anything to back me up. But I do have my story. Maybe that’s enough.
All of us remember singing or dancing with exuberance as children. An awkward home video of a child singing not very well, what did you expect, not all of us are the next Taylor Swift. I my case it was a magic trick involving a camera cut. I stood there wobbly on my uncooperative ankles. A big flashy toy weapon hung in my hands. The camera cut on cue. I hid said sound weapon in a cardboard box. The camera started again with me holding nothing. A trick of the camera disappeared a toy thing.
Other memories of my singing along of ABBA for some ungodly reason. Dancing around with my sister as she spun me around by both hands. Listening to a ton of the Beach Boys, I had no idea what they were singing about. Something changed when I was around other kids my age. I clammed up and became shy. My parents never discouraged that behavior or modeled something different.
Some traumatic event or more realistically a series of such events leads to introversion. The science suggests nature and nurture contributes to the continuum. I was always the smallest, weakest kid, so very few people were always nice to me. This initial trauma forced a tight limit on the number of friends that felt good. For, me that grew into focusing on a few close friends with the general exclusion of others. This started out well and good. The reality doesn’t sink in during childhood. Without exception these first dozen or so friends moved away, and I never saw them again. That’s a traumatic experience if it happens again, again, and again, and I almost forgot again. These friendships were all from my first elementary school.
The last two-thirds of sixth grade were in a new school. Unlike my old school, there weren’t many black or brown students let alone teachers, wah wah wahh. Let’s say some people didn’t like me very much as the wheelchair bound Indian kid. One kid, Mathias was showing me the lay of the land. Five dollar mechanical pencils were the equivalent of Letterman jackets. I didn’t really feel like investing in one such meaningless mark of social status. I had the cash but didn’t go there.
It was probably stupid considering what I did next. I got a broken Pilot G2 pen from Johnson, fixed the sucker, and never took it out. Then I asked the class jokester to see his whatever mechanical pencil. That kidder told me it was on his desk and I could look at it. Mathias stood right beside him giggling like the funniest thing was happening. I should have seen it as duping delight. That wasn’t on my mind because everyone was so nice. They always looked happy to see me, said Hi insistently, and were really friendly. Like a sap, I cruised down the really long hallway back to the classroom and looked. I was mad. There was nothing there.
I’m not trying to make an indictment here. That single event struck a fissure already deeply ingrained from everything before. Mathias and I became friends. I ignored Mr. Joker from then on. I also think the timing had a lot to do with it.
Just as the Fates turned on me, six months later they saw me back into their good graces. The school district boundaries changed and my middle school wouldn’t be the general vanilla of Osseo. The relative cornucopia of Brooklyn Junior was my future. That’s when my anti-social period began.
I wasn’t looking for friendship any longer. I hit the books for really the first time. I made a few loose friends but no one expect me valued those friendships. My mind turned over this intrinsic human need of companionship to my imagination.
I watched everything and I mean every single thing going on. Using these observations, I storied their lives as I saw them. As flawed and isolating as this was, it created the components I now use to write. A few interesting characters were Harry, Gwen, and Veronica.
Harry was Mr. Cool. I felt he was really struggling in Honors. Basically, Harry was hitting above his average. His wardrobe needed work but the girls loved him as a friend. I could never really talk to girls throughout middle school or high school. Harry was my hero in that way.
Gwen was someone I always felt a connection to. I never worked up the courage to say a single word to her. The news got around to me through the usual ways. Did I mention the fact I hear like a bat. Eavesdropping was my skill that sometimes helped but usually kept everyone at arm’s length and gave me enough to feel a connection without interacting. Gwen was in the school play. Years later, I found a lot of similarities, more about that later.
Veronica was this person in all my Honors classes. I can probably still describe a ton of things that contributed to my story of her. I thought of her as a girl ahead on the maturity front, more open than most, a social butterfly, and a good person. This has no basis in truth, but I like to think it does.
Now the part where I un-learn the lessons from all bad stuff delivered my way. I wasn’t that easy, in fact it was the hardest thing I had done up to that point. A few things motivated me to turn back the damage and try again. I lost the physical ability to speak. Very few people know that but there it is. I had stopped going outside and living some time before. The 20’s depression so many millennial’s have, had just ended with the beginning of my fiction writing career. I knew that marketing would be a big part of my future. I needed to escape the cage of my own creation.
This reclamation of my social self began with the common social medium of my generation, the attention trap that is Facebook or fb. I friended anyone I recognized from High School and on back, including everyone I imagined knowing. I didn’t recognize a few. This changed nothing because either the request is accepted or ignored. No friend requests are ever declined.
Then rejection therapy. I said hi to every single accepted friend. It was an internal battle each and every time. After the first hundred rejections things became a tad easier. I found a few people to talk to.
So I’ve exposed the possibility of rejection and faced it en masse. The next step was to learn the social lessons I passed over. I fb messaged like an awkward new-born. I talked about anything that worked. Each message ran a laundry list of worries through my head. Did I say the wrong thing? Should I apologize? This one I agonized over for days and weeks at a time. I projected my conscious into a shade of this friend and searched this new soul to understand what my friend was going through. I agonized, literally agonized this question. I’m not a nice person or a mean person. It isn’t possible to bridge the gap from being okay to being nice with an apology. I spent years ruining friendships thinking I could apologize my way to being a nice person.
In time, by that I mean years later, I was ready to break through years of social anxiety with a final Karate chop. I made a list of secrets I had always been terrified to share with anyone. It was the usual stuff like bad experiences and the things you cherish the most. I forced myself to type them out and send them like clandestine missives, all on the very brink of a panic attack. My friends are the greatest, and I hope everyone can say that.
I went from a child having fun and not knowing better to a cynic with too many bad experiences. Now, I’m a speculative optimistic trying to get back everything I denied for years. People need friends. It might be easy to say forget them. If they can’t appreciate me, it’s their loss. I might be easy to say my friends love me. Do they really or just the part you show them. We all can have epic, radically honest, complete friendships. All we need is the motivation, the guile, and the bravery to confront the possibility of loss. Without that, what is the point to this maddening, meandering, mess we call life. There is no life in a vacuum.
Take life into your hands and make it your own. This is one story of my life. Take anything helpful and ignore the rest.
2 thoughts on “Why I was Silent For Most of My Life”
I understand what you are trying to say about your own history with being social, but I would disagree with you labeling that being socially withdrawn in “introversion.” The way that introversion came into being started with the Myers-Briggs Type indicator, according to which you are an introvert if you derive your energy from “within” versus from the external world which is the case with extroverts. The labels do not define how social people are. You can have very social introverts and very reserved introverts. An introvert not being social is closer to a stereotype.
In your case, if anxiety was driving your social withdraw, I would call it being shy, but if you just preferred to be socially withdrawn, I would call it introversion.
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I think I’m finally ready to reply to this. I wasn’t anxious without reason. In the past, every time I tried to build a friendship it exploded in my face. I just wasn’t well adjusted in a way that allowed me to form healthy friendships. That led to my anxiety around being social. Some socializing is fun for me, but after a certain point it becomes too much. That isn’t true for an extrovert. How does that manifest is where I’m deriving this article from. The difference between mild and extreme introversion. Extreme being anti-social and mild meaning trying to make friends. I should’ve reworded this article making that clearer. It is what it is. People change. When this was written, I believed every word.