On being a high-functioning introvert

Some people are surprised to learn that I am an introvert and suffer from bouts of social anxiety and agoraphobia.

Unless things are really bad, I have no problems with most social interactions. I can be friendly, engaged and even talkative.
I might be aching to wander away and retreat into my shell but most people would never know that.

When things are bad, I can’t leave the house.
Not “don’t want to”, but “CAN’T”
Here’s an example.

A few years ago I had a heart attack, a fairly serious one. The pain woke me up in the middle of the night along with severe nausea.
I waited 3 HOURS to call 911.
I told people that it was because I thought it was just heart-burn.
I was a military medic for almost 20 years…I KNEW it was an heart attack!

The problem was that I was going through a particularly rough period of my life and just couldn’t deal with people at the moment.
From my medical experience I knew that not only would the responding paramedics poke and prod, but they’d be asking me questions, and talking to me and reassuring me and generally invading my personal space.
Because all that is essential when treating any medical condition.

So yeah, I didn’t call 911 for a heart attack because I couldn’t deal with social interactions!

And yes, I was fully aware that I could die because of that.

That’s how bad my social anxiety was that day. I would rather die than have to talk to another human being.

I finally called because the pain was immense enough to eventually override everything else.

I relay that particular story so you don’t mistake the affects of my anxiety as a lack of willpower or some other character flaw.

At this point some of you are likely saying, “But you have a good job that requires you leave the house (to go to work), and that you interact with people!”

One of the important things to keep in mind is that like many chronic conditions, anxiety sufferers have good days and bad.

If I must leave the house and interact with people on a bad day I have coping mechanisms that help me get through.
Work is usually a refuge for me. Its rare that things are so bad that falling into my work doesn’t mitigate the anxiety.
When it does I have people I to whom I can say, “I’m having a bad day today”, and they’ll know what I’m talking about.
With people outside that circle who notice that I’m off, I use the “not feeling great”, and if they push I’ll chalk it up to something that I ate.

Work is an imperative though. I have responsibilities to my co-workers and customers.

Social engagements are another issue entirely. I often feel some combination of anxiety, trepidation and/or dread whenever a social engagement is approaching. Even ones that I know I will enjoy.
As the time approaches my brain will race around looking for excuses to not go.
Its sort of like this:

ME: Oh no, I think I’m coming down with the stomach flu!!
ALSO ME: Relax, you just farted. You’re fine.
ME: I’ve got a really really bad headache coming on!
ALSO ME: No…you don’t. You really don’t.
ME: But there will be people there!!!
ALSO ME: JUST GET IN THE GODDAMN CAR ALREADY!!!!

You get the idea.

That being said, social engagements of any type are out of the question on bad days.
There is no particular thing that I’m afraid of on these days, its just the idea of simply interacting with another human being seems to be impossible.

Case in point a few days ago I was having a bad day. Unfortunately I absolutely had to go to the grocery store.
It took me a good hour to work up the nerve to go.
When I got there I was distressed to see that there were people canvassing for a charity at the front doors.
I put on my best “Don’t talk to me” posture and strode quickly past, grabbed a shopping cart and WHAM..came face to face with a sweet old lady asking me to support something or other (I don’t know what it was).
I stammered out a no thank you and practically ran into the store.

I picked up a few things, but was so frazzled by the unexpected social contact that I ended up forgetting to pick up what I went to the store for. (and there was no way in hell I was going back for them!)

So the title of this is being a high-functioning introvert, but having read it over…who am I kidding? I’m a mess.

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