I’ve been thinking about alienation a lot recently. Most of my literature classes have reached the modernist years, where the word alienation is synonymous with many writers’ works, thus making it nigh impossible to get it out of my head.
You would think that spending a year in another country would be the most alienating thing in my life. It isn’t. I really considered it but it doesn’t really make a difference. Then I considered my mental health; does my depression and anxiety isolate me? No, not really. I think I deal quite well. Then I realized that I actually find it easier to talk about my mental health than another aspect of my personality: my introversion. And all I want is for this taboo to be removed.
Being an introvert is often mistaken for being shy, but that isn’t the case. I can thrive perfectly well in an environment where I have to meet new people; the struggle comes from the length of time I can sustain my energy in a social situation. No matter how much I enjoy socializing, I gradually start to flag. Even when my best friend and I hang out, I start to tire and struggle to keep my enthusiasm up – luckily for me, she’s aware of this and doesn’t judge.
It’s not so easy when people don’t understand. Society is built to favor extroverts, those who thrive off of social interactions, and thus I’ve spent years fighting the feeling that I don’t belong, that I’m just a bit too weird. I used to think it was because I had nerdy interests as a kid – everything from Lord of the Rings to My Chemical Romance, you name it, I liked it. But this year I realized the reason I feel so alienated is actually due to a part of my personality I cannot change or mask. Sure, I can pretend I’m not a nerd but I can’t pretend I’m not an introvert.
Introverts are described as gaining energy from reflection rather than interaction and that’s simply it. I enjoy interaction, but it exhausts me. The issue is many people don’t understand that; they think I don’t want to socialize, that I don’t like people, which is an insane assumption. We need interaction with other human beings. I’m not a touchy person and yet nothing is more comforting than a hug from my mum.
I can pinpoint the exact moment that my introversion jumped out and slapped me across the face. In my first week here, I was doing induction activities with other international students. I mentioned that the activities tired me out because I’m an introvert, and I was met with the line, “Oh wow it must be so difficult coming to a different country being an introvert!” Nope. No, it’s not. Thanks for reminding me that “introvert” is still a taboo word.
As it happens, I’ve joined two organizations, found friends in every single class and I’ve enjoyed nearly every minute I’ve been here (aside from ending up bloodied and bruised on my birthday, but that’s another tale).
Why should it matter if someone is an introvert? I want to hang out with people just as much as extroverts, I just can’t do it for prolonged periods of time. And that’s fine. That’s ok. Everyone is different. It would be so beneficial if people didn’t take it personally when I turn down an invitation to do something. Unless they’ve royally fucked up, I really have no reason not to want hang out with someone.
I’d be so much happier if people were more accepting of difference; I guess that’s what most of us desire in this day and age. I could do without the comments about how difficult life must be being so isolated all the time – I’m not. Introverts perform emotional labor for extroverts all the time; staying out longer than we’d like, agreeing to things we don’t want to do, and putting in effort to maintain the friendship. It can’t be too much effort for extroverts to do the same by allowing introverts to be happy on our own sometimes. I can’t speak for all introverts since we’re all different, but hopefully extroverts and introverts can work together to make life easier for one another.