In between blabbing about writing, I’ve written about introversion and social anxiety because they’re a huge part of my life outside of writing. Somehow, even when I’m not really thinking about it, they factor into almost all of my decisions and the way I spend my time. And for the most part, I’m okay with that.
But I’ve been trying to figure out where to draw the line between my natural introverted tendencies and my struggles with social anxiety—mostly to help explain my choices to other people. And to know if my choices are my own, or based in fear.
It’s hard to tell the difference between not wanting to do something because you’re introverted (and thus it’s a natural and perfectly acceptable part of who you are and probably wouldn’t ever change), and not wanting to do something because of social anxiety (which can still be okay to listen to, but ultimately it is something you could address if you wanted to try).
I think what it comes down to is fear—and what it would take to do it anyway.
When something comes up, whether it’s a telephone ringing or an invitation to go out, you might feel a sense of unease, dread, and a desire to avoid. Some of this could definitely be just who you are and what you like; the way people feel about going to the dentist, or going to the opera, or eating spicy foods—sometimes people just don’t like doing something.
But could you do it anyway? We all know going to the dentist can be awful, but we do it anyway because it’s important for our health. There are people out there who cannot go without horrible panic, and I would guess that those people have anxiety about that experience. The level of that anxiety, or just how much it would take to get there (medication? Therapy?), depends on the person as well as the reasons why they have to go at all.
So, for me, I know that my anxiety is acting up when I’m having a disproportionate response to something (generally in anticipation of it), or when it would take a lot of energy for me to do it anyway. When my thoughts spin and fixate on something, it takes me a lot more energy to face it, because I know I will spend a great deal of the time leading up to it fighting off those thoughts and fears. When I just would rather not do something, but could do it if I had to, then it’s probably introversion.
What’s important for me to work through as I move forward in my life is when my introversion or my social anxiety is holding me back from something I need. If it’s my introversion, then I just need to do it anyway. If it’s anxiety, then I probably need help working through it. And I’ll always be dealing with the question of what I truly need—because I might not need things that other people do. But the trick is to make sure that isn’t just the anxiety talking.
That’s something I have to do on my own. But that doesn’t mean I’m alone.