What It's Like to Be an Extroverted Introvert and Highly Sensitive Male

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Try to explain to people that you are two things that don’t make sense to most of the population, including, at one time, myself. Tell them you are an extroverted introvert and highly sensitive male (HSP) in today’s world. The first question I usually get as people learn this about me is “are you gay” (not that anything is wrong with that. Nod to Seinfeld). But the sad truth is that it is unexpected for men to act a certain way and to have certain feelings and issues. But I am not alone and it took me a long time to find others who were like me. It took me a long time to learn about me.

It started innocently enough as a young boy. I remember having strong emotional feelings most of my young life. Things were either up or down and I felt I was relating to what others felt around me. I also remember, very early on, that music, television and movies were very important to me. All were for the same reason — that I could relate and remember how I felt and where and when it was I saw or heard each of these things. I also recall always being very touched by the lyrics in music. It’s not that the beat wasn’t important either, but songs could make me sad and cry or be happy and energetic. Music has always held a very close place in my heart. That is because musicians pour their hearts into lyrics and depending on your age and feelings, these affect you. At least they did me.

But as I grew into a school age boy, I found the weakness in my extroverted introversion and high sensitivity. Well, I didn’t find the weakness — bullies at my schools did. They found me easily affected by their bullying and as hard as I tried, I could not mask these emotions. At the same time, my extroverted introversion had me wanting to be liked and be part of the crowd, yet also made me different. As time went on my conditions became my insecurity and my own disbelief in myself. I wondered for many years what was wrong with me. Why didn’t others feel these feelings strongly like I did?

As time went on, these bullying years would haunt me and I would struggle through my high sensitivity to ever let them go. This is what us highly sensitive people don’t share — we don’t ever forget how we felt during both the highest happy times in our lives and particularly the lowest painful times. We can recall them on a dime. For years after all these things happened, I didn’t even believe it myself, trying my hardest to bury my authentic self every day and be who I thought others wanted me to be.

But this was quite painful. Yes, it was mentally painful, but fighting, trying to be an extroverted non-sensitive male was physically painful for me. I would have stomach problems all the time from age 16 until I learned about my personality issues. Of course, I would learn in a hard way also, by experiencing low self-worth, leading to stress, to anxiety and finally to depression as I fought my authentic self. I could have given up so easily at this point. It was the lowest point of my life and I thought every day that I would lose my job, my wife and my children. It physically hurt very badly.

But, the good thing about hitting rock bottom is that there is nowhere to go but up. So, the choice was to wallow in my self-pity or do the work to learn about who my authentic self was. I chose the latter and through the help of mentors, professional mental health experts, coaches and self-help books, I found out who I truly was. But, best of all, I found out that being an extroverted introvert is a real issue, as is being a highly sensitive person. I found out that my authentic self was nothing more than the makeup of who I was… who I was supposed to be. So, I embraced it and built skills to work with these personality traits — to both work with them and not allow them to run my life, but work my life around them.

I am a male with these traits. I like sports OK, but like a good conversation around feelings much more. I like to feel my emotions, both laughing and crying. I like to listen to others and have an empathic sense about what they tell me and what they need. I learned to change aspects of my life so that I lived healthier and could work through my personality. I embraced who I was and now realize I am lucky to feel so much and to be able to be an extroverted introvert, because I know that even this writing is because of these personality traits. No, I’m not easy to live with. I have never been, even with myself. But truly, is anyone? No, most people don’t understand when I share this with them. They just don’t have the same empathetic ability to understand what I tell them I’m feeling. I accept all that, and those who love me and want to be with me make that choice as well.

I look at it this way in the end. I would rather feel too much than not feel at all. I would rather deal with the dichotomy of being an extroverted introvert than to only be one or the other. But most of all, I embrace the uniqueness of me, but that also I am not alone. There are many of us out there and once we stop hiding behind what we think others expect us to be, we become who we were meant to be. And that is the true blessing of being our authentic self.

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My Tears Are Not a Sign of Weakness

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I hate crying in front of people. Trust me — as uncomfortable as it probably makes you to see it, it’s a thousand times worse to be the one shedding those tears. I can live with the tears; it’s the assumptions I find you make about me when I cry that I can’t stand. In society, tears are sometimes viewed as a weakness. Being vulnerable and showing your humanity is not something valued in our schools and in our workplaces. Crying is inherently seen as a negative behavior — sometimes even manipulative. I’m here to challenge that.

When I cry, it is not because I’m feeling insecure about myself. It’s also not because I’m “not getting my way.” Most of the time, my tears are from frustration at being misunderstood. They are from the constant microaggressions I experience from our culture that does not understand mental illnesses or view them as actual disorders. My tears come from a history of having my character, abilities and capabilities questioned out of assumptions I am lazy, emotionally unstable or too incompetent to do my job. My tears originate from the disconnect between being proud of myself for coming to work today at all after experiencing a panic attack, and your criticism of me for arriving at 8:02 a.m. instead of 8 a.m. My tears are from knowing, when I call into work because of a migraine, my work ethic will be questioned. My tears come from the realization that performing at 100 percent on 95 percent of the days isn’t good enough when the other 5 percent of the time you assume I am faking being ill.

My tears come from knowing I am doing the best I can at this moment in time with the disabilities I have, and because you don’t take the time to understand or listen, I am disciplined for it. So no, my tears aren’t a sign of fragility. My tears are a sign of perseverance.

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To My Internet Friend With Depression, From Someone Who Believes in You

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To my friend,

I don’t know you in real life, and you don’t know me either, but that doesn’t really mean much in the world of the internet. We are friends through a virtual world, one where we post the best parts and sometimes the worst parts of our lives. I know you are a beautiful woman, with a gorgeous family and I can tell by the posts you share that they mean the world to you.

I am so thankful you have been able to turn to me, to let me see the tiredness in your smile too.

You asked me today about what helps soothe me in my really bad moments. You assured me you know it is not an easy answer, but I can tell you are desperate for any kind of hope. You told me about the struggle you have to get through each day at the moment, and that you are exhausted, lonely and feel isolated. You expressed guilt that you rely so much on your partner for support, but you feel sure you have have no one else to turn to. You asked if I have friends or if I have found that people turned away from me when I started to crumble.

I’m no expert, all I can share with you is my “lived in experience.”

In the bad moments, I soothe myself with sleep. I go to bed and I pray when I wake up, the worst of the storm will have passed. I pray for help and guidance and I hope I will make it through. I take long, hot showers and I walk with my dog. I draw. I talk to my husband, I may email my psychiatrist or message a friend. Sometimes I just sit and cry — often, I just sit and cry. The bad moments pass, I know it doesn’t feel like they ever will, but they do. The intrusive thoughts that tell you over and over again that you can never get through this, they are lies, symptoms of depression itself. Please don’t listen to them, you will get through this, I know it doesn’t seem possible right now, but you will.

That guilt you feel when you rely on your husband, you should never feel that. I know you will, because I still do too, but I am here to tell you that one day you will be able to repay him. I was once told trying to hide my feelings from my dear husband to worry him was pointless. I was told if I opened my eyes and really looked, I would see there was a man who was beside himself with worry already! I’m sure your husband is the same. He is your best friend, let him be there for you. Let him love you and grip your hand firmly on the bad days when you fear you can’t hold on alone.

As for friends, I have some really close ones now, but for a long time, I felt as though I had no one. I was very isolated, and it felt impossible to ever be accepted. The friends I had seemed to pull away when I needed them to be there for me. They seemed to feel that my seemingly sudden breakdown was for attention, not because I had finally fallen apart so much that I couldn’t keep up the act anymore. I found friends through my Christian worship. I looked for the ones who were alone with few to talk to, and I made friends with them. Oh how I need them, and I love to know they need me, too. We nurture and cherish each other.

Loneliness is debilitating. I found it consuming me. I cried all the time if I saw someone out with a group I knew. It felt as though everyone had turned away from me. I just needed to find the right people, they were there, they were waiting. It will be the same for you, in the meantime, until you find your “real life” friends, I will be here for you. And even once you do, I’ll still be here!

Thank you for letting me in. Thank you for being that brave. Please continue to hold on, I would miss you if you weren’t here anymore. Your family will miss you. You will get through this depression, one day it will get better. Let your husband hold your hand and pull you through. Rely on those professionals who have years of knowledge to help support you, too. One day, you’ll be having this conversation with someone else, trying to nurture their tired soul and you’ll see hope for yourself.

Thank you again.

With love,
Someone who believes in you

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

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The Phrase That Keeps Me Going When Depression Gets Rough

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When I grow up. The beauty of this phrase is almost unfathomable. When I grow up. There is so much hope in this simple phrase. It speaks of triumph over difficulties, of growth after destruction, of hope after devastation. It holds an aura of peace and happiness. It shows that growing and changing holds the key to achieving all of one’s dreams. It shows that only by accepting and embracing the constant that is change, will we be able to find a future for ourselves.

Children always dream of what they will be when they “grow up.” Oh, to have this childlike desire for the future. But maybe, that’s just what our world needs. To see our dreams through the lens of a child, to take out the complexity of reaching that dream job or becoming all that we have hoped to become. Simply believe these things will happen. Have the confidence of 6-year-old who, when you ask what they want to be when they grow up, says, “a firefighter,” or ”a surgeon,” or “a dog trainer.” This does not mean we get to skip all of the hard work that goes toward success, but rather, we hold the belief that it is possible to achieve the things we have always wanted as long as we believe in our ability to succeed, are determined enough to work through the difficulties, and never give up.

When I grow up. This phrase is what propels me to keep going when my depression gets rough. I remind myself that I am still growing and that there is still time to achieve everything that my heart desires. I look to the future filled with hope and determination. It helps to remind myself that there is so much more to come and that I must be here for it. Despite the rough waters, I seem to be sinking in right now, I know one day, the sea will become calm and life will be peaceful once again. I am motivated to go to counseling, take my medication, and have self-care days by the image of a smooth, serene body of water when it all gets to be too much. Because when I grow up, oh goodness, there will be so much to celebrate.

A.R Lucas said, ”If there’s even a slight chance at getting something that will make you happy, risk it. Life is too short, and happiness too rare.” I believe we have but one wild and beautiful life, my friends. One chance to do exactly what sets our soul on fire. Do not let limitations or obstacles such as mental illness stand in the way of what your heart wants. Have enough faith in your abilities and your fortitude to persevere through the difficulties. Do not let others’ words tear you down and hold you back. Use their negative, bitter words to build foundations of strength. Find the burning passion that your being so desperately and greatly desires and pursue it with all of your heart. Go on, get it! I believe in you. I believe you are more than capable of achieving your dreams and goals. I believe you are more than capable and worthy of getting what gives you with extreme bliss and great joy. The world is at your fingertips child, grasp your beautiful and gorgeous dreams!

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The Pressure of Being Perfect as a 'Gifted' Person With Mental Illness

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My whole life, I’ve felt different than other people. I have battled mental illness for as long as I can remember. I wasn’t diagnosed until age 20, but I remember having anxiety and depression since I was a young child.

My whole life, people have told me how “gifted” I am. I taught myself how to read and play the piano while in kindergarten. In elementary school, I was the youngest kid put in the gifted program. In middle school, teachers had me help teach concepts to my classmates. In high school, I won awards for being the top student in many of my classes. I won honors for my artistic, musical and creative abilities as well. I had nearly perfect grades and nearly perfect scores on the SAT and ACT.

But all this stuff didn’t really matter to me, because on the inside, I felt completely broken. My social anxiety made me terrified of other people. I was anxious all the time. I felt painfully alone. I was in such a deep depression that I felt empty inside. My classmates prepared to go to Ivy League schools, but those schools seemed too intense and stressful for me. I just longed to find a place where I felt accepted. I wanted to find a safe resting place.

I went to a little college where people seemed kind. My classmates were nice to me. That’s what I cared about most. I won more awards. I had a professor tell me my sophomore paper was better than any she had ever received from her graduate students, and try to convince me to work towards a doctorate. She even said I was “perfect.”

“Perfect” is a word I have always hated. My whole life, people have told me I am perfect because I’m a good student and I’m nice. When people called me “perfect,” I felt there was immense pressure on me to live up to the name. And people were constantly telling me I had to study this subject or that subject, pursue art or music, or something else. It was way too much pressure. I wanted everyone to like me, but whatever subject I chose to to pursue seemed to disappoint others.

If only people knew that behind the high-achieving, smiling student, there was someone who felt empty and broken inside.

I was doing well in my college classes, but in my dorm, I sobbed for hours. Some days, I was afraid to leave my room. I contemplated suicide. I started self-harming. My friends tried to get me to see the school counselor, but I was afraid of being “found out.” I wanted people to think I had it together.

As time progressed, it became more and more difficult for me to hide my illness. One semester, my depression became so obvious that the dean and my parents came to meet with me to try to figure out what to do with me. I defied them all and studied abroad instead.

Finally, my mental illness appeared in all its glory. Everything fell apart. I had my first manic episode. I had psychotic episodes. I had dissociative episodes. I had a mental breakdown. I was hospitalized a few times. After my breakdown, a woman told me my mind was broken and I likely would never be able to go back to school or work again.

I was so angry with her. How did I go from being “perfect” to not being able to function?

It took me a long time to heal from that breakdown. I eventually did graduate from college, but I’m not the “accomplished person” everyone expected me to be. I’ve been working as a caregiver for years. I’m finally back in school, studying to be a counselor. But battling mental illnesses has made many things difficult for me.

I think one of the lies our society tells us is that if someone is “gifted,” they should end up graduating with honors from some fancy college, they should end up with a fancy job and make these big contributions to society. So then you have me, the “gifted” person, who has spent 10 years as a caregiver and having people treat me like I’m dumb. Does this make me a failure?

I say no. I’m back in school studying to be a counselor. But even if it doesn’t work, that’s OK. Maybe I haven’t accomplished things according to the world’s standards. But that doesn’t make me a failure.

I’m 34 and by some standards, I haven’t accomplished much in my life at all. Despite my “giftedness,” I didn’t get a degree from a fancy university. I didn’t get some fancy job. I’m just an ordinary person living in an ugly suburb, renting a tiny, messy house, with an imperfect husband and a series of jobs where I get paid close to nothing for taking care of people. I’m studying to be a counselor, but that might not work either. And that’s OK. Sometimes, life doesn’t work the way we plan.

I am proud of how I juggle a group of mental illnesses and am still able to have friends and a husband and a job I like. I am proud that despite all that I have endured, I have chosen a life for myself that fits me. I am proud that I can help people through my work every day, and encourage people through writing for this site.

It’s OK for me to be “gifted” and not be “living up to my potential,” by society’s standards. Living up to your potential is a lie our society tells us. Forget this arbitrary standard of potential. You don’t owe anything to the world if you are “gifted.” Live your life the way that is right for you. Managing your mental illnesses — that in itself makes you a warrior fighting an important battle. Every day, choose how you want to live. Live your life the way that makes sense to you. I believe that even when battling chronic mental illnesses, we can find ways to have peace and joy, by our own standards. And I believe we all deserve that.

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What I Learned About Stigma When I Looked Up 'Mental' in the Thesaurus

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I have a confession to make. When I hear the phrase “mental illness,” it tends to rub me the wrong way. These words shouldn’t bother me. After all, I write about the topic, sharing my story with the world in an effort to reduce stigma and hopefully help others through their struggles. But to be completely honest, when I admit — even to myself — that I have a mental illness, or when I read something containing those words, it makes me squirm. I think I’ve finally figured out why.

First, we need to consider these questions. When you hear the phrase “mental illness,” what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Is it a negative thought? Does a clip from the nightly news or horror movie play through your mind? Does it evoke images of unkempt people wandering around a psych ward rambling on about things that aren’t there? I admit, sometimes stereotypes such as these invade my mind and that really makes me mad — especially at myself, because of all people, I should know better.

I looked up the word “mental” on thesaurus.com and the results were very telling. Used as an adjective, it simply means “relating to the mind.” But then I continued reading further, and discovered the source of my uneasiness. There were three pages of “words related to mental” and the more I read, the more uncomfortable I became. Here are just a few examples:

Abnormal

Deviant

Weird

Psycho

Crazed

Lunatic

Demented

Deranged

The list went on and on…

I’m sure you see the pattern and get the point. Technically, these words aren’t classified as synonyms for “mental,” but it’s not the technicalities I’m concerned with. The thought that strikes me is, Why are all these negative words — many with downright insulting connotations — even associated with “mental?”

I vividly recall as a teenager using the phrase, “She’s so mental” to describe classmates who were struggling emotionally. I certainly didn’t mean it as a compliment and quite often, it was used to describe me — even by people close to me. If I cried at seemingly inappropriate times or appeared overly emotional, other girls were quick to roll their eyes and dismiss me as “being mental.” The bottom line is the intentions were to insult the person to whom we were referring and it was meant to be derogatory.

When something historically carries with it a negative connotation or stereotype, that’s what becomes embedded in our minds and it’s very difficult to change. When we watch the news, we often assume everyone who commits a crime has a mental illness. Movies with characters who have mental illness are often depicted as extreme and often dangerous. We rarely see success stories on Dr. Phil about people who have bipolar disorder and are productive members of society. After all, that doesn’t make for exciting TV. However the man who burned down his house and was diagnosed with bipolar is likely to earn very high ratings.

Perhaps I’m making a mountain out of a molehill. Maybe I’m the only one who will ever think it matters. It could very easily be written off as semantics. Hopefully everyone who reads this can honestly say words like “deranged” and “lunatic” do not cross their mind upon hearing the phrase “mental illness.”

I believe digging a little deeper demonstrates — at the very least — how powerful our words can be. Think about it. One simple word has over three pages of words related to it and more than half are negative and insulting. Depending on our experience and exposure to these words, many of these stereotypes hold fast in our minds. If the actual meaning of the word was intended in its use, there would be no problem. How often though, do we see it used in a way that paints an ugly picture?

I’m pretty sure most people who know me well wouldn’t describe me as a “psycho” or “deviant,” but I wonder if we are more apt to label a person in the news who is identified as bipolar with an adjective from the related word list? I admit, at times, I’ve labeled myself as such. What does that say about me?

I do realize this does not represent everyone’s perceptions, and I know I am guilty of self-stigmatizing. I can’t help but wonder if it’s partly due to the power of these two words used throughout history to describe a person displaying socially “unacceptable” behavior that is deemed undeserving of the sympathy we show toward physical ailments. The only advice I can give myself is to focus on what “mental” really means and force those related words from the thesaurus out of my vocabulary.

The way we speak, the words we choose and the context in which we use them, are more powerful than we realize. Let’s make a pact to take an inventory of what comes to mind when we hear about mental illness and how we react, and if we are guilty of making assumptions based on all of these words that have become associated with it, let’s make an effort to change that. Even if it’s only in our own thoughts, there is no better place to start.

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